Unless you are a big name celebrity or advertising shooter, it’s fair to say that most photography businesses in the UK have been adversely affected by the pandemic. Landscape photography is no exception: even before Covid-19, pro landscape shooters were increasingly dependent on courses and workshops to make money, as income from stock image sales and editorial work has been going south for years.
Indeed, running courses and providing one-to-one tuition has became big business, encompassing well-established companies like Light and Land , through to ‘one person bands.’ We caught up with Melvin Nicholson, who runs one of these smaller landscape photography businesses, to find out how he’s been coping and get his take on the state of the industry. He is currently out in Slovenia, getting some great images.
How have landscape photographers such as yourself been getting through this year and what particular issues as a workshop business have you faced?
I know a lot of a lot of big landscape workshop companies, as well as a lot of smaller single person outfits. There is no doubt that the landscape workshop business has taken a massive hit. The nature of the business is that people pay you a deposit and you draw on that when the workshop runs. If it isn’t able to run because of all the problems with lockdowns and travel restrictions this year, my policy has always been to refund or to transfer to another workshop – I think this is really important.
Although it can be painful financially, you spend years building your reputation and good name, and it can be easily erased by how you deal with customers. Building a loyal customer base is really important to your business, and your customers need to be able to trust you. Also, this industry is not particularly regulated – I only know one company which is ATOL registered, for example. When clients giving you money, there is a high degree of trust you wont go bankrupt.
As things stand, do you think smaller landscape workshop providers will survive?
Thankfully in UK we get a reasonable level of support from the government so your basic bills are paid. Personally, I believe the market will shrink next year and some smaller players may end up falling away unless they diversify. It has been interesting to see how some professional landscape photographers have been quite entrepreneurial, diversifying into providing online content – particularly in the areas of image-editing courses and image/portfolio reviews.
Paul Gallagher is a good example of this; he has spent of lot of time coming up with course content over the summer. I haven’t gone down that route so much as I enjoy being out in location rather than sitting in front of a computer, but I have been overhauling my website with professional help, so I come out of the pandemic in as strong a position as possible. I also read an interesting article that suggested smaller businesses are sometimes better able to manoeuvre and diversify when they need to than bigger ones.
Tell us more about what you have been up to since the second lockdown in England was enforced…
I have been out in Slovenia, planning workshops for next year – I actually feel safer out here than I do back home in north west England! I am discovering some great locations and posting content regularly on social media, and I think this also gives your clients confidence that you are keeping busy and not about to go bankrupt. Also Slovenia hasn’t been ‘shot to death’ like some locations.
I am now getting bookings for courses in the latter half of next year… I am not sure much will change between now and next summer with the virus restrictions, to be honest. Not many landscape photographers from the UK are travelling overseas at the moment, too, so although it’s costing me money to be out here in Slovenia, I am looking at it as an investment, as I am getting a lot of exposure and interest.
Furthermore, it’s keeping me fit and healthy and positive – running a creative business relies a lot on you having good mental, as well as physical health. As we know, being locked down can make you withdrawn and isolated. Anyway, here’s to a better 2021!