Shooting family portraits while maintaining social distancing is just one of the ways wedding photographer Mike Colón has attempted to shift gears and find new opportunities. (Photo: Shutterstock)
No matter how talented a photographer may be, when the economy shuts down the assignments disappear. We’ve all learned this the hard way in 2020.
World-class wedding photographer Mike Colón found himself in this predicament in March when he went from fully booked to completely available almost overnight.
“A lot of people are having to postpone their weddings,” Colón says. “People typically aren’t cancelling because they still want to get married and have a wedding, but no one’s booking, that’s for sure. High-end weddings, destination weddings, celebrity weddings, all the bookings shut off. And the first few months of the year are when you start booking everything for the rest of the year—even for the following spring. It’s all kind of up in the air.”
Colón initially saw the shutdown as a brief respite from a perpetually packed schedule, but the reality of providing for his family soon snapped him into action.
“It started out like a needed break,” he says, “like ‘This is gonna be a staycation! It’s probably gonna last a few weeks and I’m just going to take advantage of it!’ And then job after job started canceling. All my stuff in New York canceled, weddings canceled, everything just shut off. After about three weeks I was thinking, ‘Okay, I need to get off my butt and do something, figure something out.’”
The first thing Colón figured out is that he could create a quick revenue stream shooting family photos. It’s something he’s done in the past, and going back to it allowed him to efficiently generate assignments while maintaining social distancing.
Colón says he started putting out word that he was down for portraits using social media and community message boards. It’s certainly no replacement for destination weddings, but every little bit counts.
“It’s not like a lot of money,” he says, “and it’s kind of competitive around here. There are lots of families and a lot of family photographers. But I’m actually starting to fill up my schedule, which is crazy.”
Colón says he’s heard from some of the local competition who believe he should’ve shut down completely.
“I don’t know if they’re jealous or mad or what,” he says, “but they’re like, ‘You shouldn’t be doing this. This is not essential business. I shut off my business. I’m just surviving and you’re out here taking work.’ And I’m like, well, it’s essential for me to put food on my table. That’s essential to me. Are you going to pay my bills? Are you going to buy food for my family? You don’t know my situation. I’m the sole provider for my family.”
This challenge is at the core of many Americans’ struggles during the coronavirus shutdown. Colón says he’s taken precautions with his shoots and using the approach he’s seen several others employ: shooting outdoors and maintaining physical distance.
“A lot of folks are doing these front porch photos,” he says. “That’s hit the media and so I was thinking well, okay, if they’re doing that and no one’s cracking down on that and they’re keeping a distance away—they’re shooting from the sidewalk and the family’s on their front porch—what’s wrong with that? We’re allowed to go outside and walk around. So that’s kind of the way I put it out there. My wife posted it on the mom’s page of Ladera Ranch, saying ‘He likes the photojournalistic style anyways, he’s gonna be far away with a longer lens shooting candids and a family shot of you in your front yard or along the creek in Ladera,’ something like that. And it got a huge response.”
Family photo shoots are helping to keep the lights on, but Colón is also trying to keep an eye on the big picture and use this downtime wisely. He says he’s hoping to start developing a YouTube channel with educational content—the foundation for something that can create predictable, ongoing income long after the pandemic has passed.
“I used to do a ton of teaching,” he says. “I did a lot of workshops with small groups of photographers and I did a ton of lectures and traveling. I love teaching. It’s good money and you can schedule it. Photo jobs are kind of at the mercy of the clients calling you versus being able to plan your income and schedule things. It was always the plan to do a YouTube channel, and I think right now, when I’m like ‘I gotta do something,’ this is my chance. There’s no work so I might as well start something long term.
“I know there’s so much more available out there to be doing that would provide more freedom for me,” Colón adds, “versus having to travel and be away from my family. Being able to control my income a little more. Because with weddings you’re at the mercy of when people hire you. You’re just doing the best you can with marketing and then hoping people call you and book you. That’s the same thing with any kind of photography. You’re basically unemployed looking for a job every week.”
“Whereas with the education stuff,” he continues, “I can create some kind of passive income through AdSense or just advertising if I get a big enough audience. So I’m trying to think long term, of something I can do until I’m old and gray. My type of photography is very strenuous and I can’t picture myself at 65 trying to run around ten hours at a wedding. It would just be too much for me. But I think education is something you can do until you’re super old and gray.”
Colón says he’s also been feeling something many others have expressed—a sense that this strange time presents a unique opportunity for personal growth and development, and he’s afraid he may not fully exploit it before life returns to normal.
“This is an opportunity,” he says. “I seriously have a little bit of FOMO [fear of missing out]. This won’t last forever. I need to take advantage of it now and get as much done as I can. And also spend time with my family. So I feel torn. I feel busier now than I’ve ever been, because I know this is an opportunity to do something I’ve been wanting to do. There are so many things I want to do. I know this is going to end soon. Hopefully I can get it done before it’s over.”
For more on Mike Colón’s work, visit his website at mikecolon.com