As South African photographers, we have some rather interesting challenges to face. If you’ve ever been caught in a Highveld thunderstorm, or had the wind change direction mid way through your shoot on a Cape Town or PE beach, you’ll know what I mean!
But of course it’s not just the weather we have to contend with. Let’s talk about load shedding. What started as a minor inconvenience quickly became a major issue and put real pressure on small business owners across all industries.
And then - enter Covid-19.
Many of us are lucky enough to work on laptops but for those of us that aren’t, myself included, load shedding eats away at our time for editing. It’s meant we’ve had to rethink the way we do business. And with the restrictions now placed on travel, and self-isolation encouraged, we can’t just relocate to the local coffee shop with a generator and free wi-fi.
It’s also not as easy as just going out and getting a UPS or inverter. Cost is one implication, body corporate rules about what devices you can install are another. Likewise, rushing out to buy a laptop just isn’t an option for many photographers who now find themselves struggling.
So what do we do when the lights go out? When our shoots get cancelled or postponed?
When load shedding started, I found the easiest way to keep on top of my editing was to check the schedule in advance. I blocked out times in my diary when there was load shedding predicted (all stages), and I blocked out times where there is no load shedding. The “no load shedding” times are set aside for times when I know I need access to power: when I need to edit, upload for social media posts, do backups, deliver online galleries, copy USBs etc.
I then aimed to book shoots for times when the power is out. Most of my family shoots are outdoor lifestyle sessions and for my studio work I have two speed lights which I can easily set up to replicate the images I shoot with my mains-powered Elinchroms.
In fact, it was because of load shedding that I had to make sure I was confident with my speed lights. So that’s number 1 on my List of Things To Do During Load Shedding: Experiment with your gear.
Number 2 on my list is create content for social media. I use a scheduling app that I have downloaded on my phone. I upload my favourite images to the desktop version when I can, and then I can write captions for my content using my phone. I say write, but if you’re not keen on the idea of typing captions you can also use a voice memo app that converts your speech to text. I love doing it this way because I can talk freely and edit later.
I also use the downtime to write blog posts. This post that you’re reading right now is one of them. Our photography websites tend to be very image heavy with not much text, and blogging is a great way to make your website more search-friendly on Google. Ideas for posts can be anything from frequently asked questions to a favourite shoot you did. What can you post about that is going to have value for your clients? Self-isolation doesn't mean we need to disappear altogether!
Creation of content doesn’t have to be text and captions only. Do you do printed products for your clients? When was the last time you showcased images of these on your social media? Images of your workspace, your prints, your USBs or print boxes... all of those are great for Facebook and Instagram stories and posts on the go.
Number 3 on my list builds on both number 1 and 2 above. And that’s business strategy. I’m a bit old school in that I still love pen and paper, and I use the time without power to brainstorm new marketing ideas, new services I could offer, new processes and best practices etc. When the lights do come back on, I’m managing my time and being as efficient as possible. I have a notebook full of scribbles that I refer back to often, and because I’m a visual person, writing down my goals and plans helps motivate me to achieve them.
Self-isolation is being encouraged. Now is the time to really take stock of your business and do a deep dive into your systems and processes. Where you can save time? Where can you save money? For example: are there subscriptions you have that are non-essential to your business? That monthly spend can add up over time. You can extend this audit to your personal finances too.
Number 4 is education and research. I use load shedding as an “excuse” to climb on my bed with a book - I’m currently reading Simon Sinek’s ‘Start with Why’ and Robin Sharma’s ‘The 5am Club’. If you’re not into reading, then downloading podcasts to listen to later or watching YouTube tutorials, TedTalks etc can also be a great way to pass the time while still investing in education for both yourself and your business.
Number 5 might be somewhat on the unexpected side but: self-isolation and forced downtime = self-care. It’s an opportunity for you to take time for yourself. When load shedding became a more permanent fixture in my life I realised the gym I go to is on a different grid to what I am on at home. So I changed the time I went to gym. I could get out of the house when the power went off and I could use the time for exercise instead. Because my schedule now meant I would occasionally have to edit at night instead of during the day, I made sure to rest and take time for me so that I still had a balance of working hours and non-working hours during the week.
Of course now I’ll be rethinking my gym strategy - I’m staying out of public areas as much as I possibly can. My weekly dose of Parkrun will be missed, but I have made a choice to be as responsible as I can be. I will do what I can in my immediate community to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
And P.S. washing your hands for 20 seconds is a great time to work on your elevator pitch!
No doubt it’s a challenge. These are testing times for all of us.
Do I still get frustrated with load shedding? Of course I do.
Would I love a laptop and a UPS and a generator? Of course I would.
Am I worried about loss of income due to Covid-19? Of course I am!
But I can do my best to deliver a high level of service to my existing clients - the same way as before. Plus, having strong systems in place now means I’ll be better able to serve future clients.
It just takes a bit of creativity to make the most of our unplugged, quiet hours.
Not photography related but: I'm a history nerd and I loved this article on how the Plague influenced William Shakespeare throughout his life. I also found this article on "Flattening the Curve" super fascinating.
Leigh (Benson) Laskey is a portrait and wedding photographer with over 10 years industry experience. She is fuelled by tea, a love a of history and art, and a desire to share authentic stories through her work. She is also passionate about business education for her fellow South African photographers.
Leigh can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
or on Whatsapp: +27 83 296 8466