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Santa photos are comin’ to town

Santa photos will go ahead across Australia this festive season, as shopping centres and portrait studios revamp the Christmas tradition with a new CovidSafe approach. Santa will observe social distancing and might be wearing a mask in Victoria, and pre-bookings are essential.

Santa photos will look a little different this year. Source: Westfield.

The viability of Santa photos remained unclear for most of the year. While it’s a cherished Christmas tradition, in the broader scope of the losses this year, Santa photos would be another minor sacrifice. The photo industry is already dealing with big casualties across the various sectors, with weddings, events, and the commercial sector taking a major hit.

But there’s always strong demand for Santa photos, and they provide crucial cash flow for many businesses. One of Sydney’s most iconic Christmas photo destinations, the Queen Victoria Building (QVB), exchanged the classic short-and-sweet Santa photo op with an hour-long $55 per person High Tea with Santa. The announcement was met with hundreds of comments from disappointed parents, who don’t want to fork out over one hundred dollars and question whether kids would be happy to spend an entire hour with Saint Nick.

While the QVB is trying something different, many shopping centres are adjusting the traditional Christmas photo shoot with other CovidSafe formulas.

‘Christmas is the biggest trading period of the year for so many businesses. Our business focusses solely on Christmas Santa photos,’ said Kym Aldred, Christmas Memories director, to Inside Imaging. ‘It’s an annual family tradition, and people look forward to visiting Santa and capturing a treasured keepsake – they want them every year. Being a specialist, we make sure it’s a magical and memorable experience for adults and children alike.’

Aldred spent the entire year tinkering away at plans for Santa photos at 20 shopping centres in New South Wales and Victoria. As new information about the Coronavirus became available and Australian state governments enacted various measures, Aldred re-evaluated how to adapt the business model accordingly.

She believes there are two integral factors to the Santa photography experience: allowing children to speak with Santa and tell him what presents they’d like, and creating a ‘treasured keepsake they can take home and keep for years to come’. ‘All the procedures and steps we’ve put in place have aimed to keep those two core factors happening within CovidSafe environment.’

Children cannot, however, sit on Santa’s lap or throne – they’ll have to keep 1.5 metres distance; all clients must pre-book a shoot, as this minimises queuing; there will only be one family per booking, and one family inside the set at a time; and in Victoria all staff, including Santa (under his beard), will wear a mask.

Aldred also brought in hand sanitiser and sneeze guards at sales counters, and touch-points have been minimised, with any exposed locations wiped down between shoots and a complete clean at the end of the day. Customers can also request a contactless shopping experience, whereby they pre-pay and have the photos e-mailed to them.

Christmas Memories hires around 150 seasonal workers – including photographers, customer service operators, and Santas. Shopping centres provide a set, and Aldred’s business handles everything else from handling bookings, staff, supplying photos and dye-sub printing equipment.

‘We’re nervous but excited. That happens every year, and this year is no different. We’ve had to implement so many new procedures and new technology due to Covid,’ Aldred said. ‘Now it’s ensuring that all the things that we put in place work practically and seamlessly. We have one centre opening this weekend (November 7), and two the following weekend, and then the others open in quick succession. We have implemented many Plan Bs and back up procedures in case we experience technical issues. No matter how many times you test things, sometimes they don’t work on the day. But once all the centres open up, the nerves settle and it’s just “go, go, go”.’

One of Christmas Memories’ largest shopping centres is completely booked out for several weekends in November. Aldred has staggered the bookings, and so far it looks like there’s ‘strong interest’.

Christmas Memories doesn’t operate at Westfield Centres, but the shopping centre giant has also announced Santa photos at select locations with a similar CovidSafe plan.

Santa outside the Shopping Centres

At the start of October Brisbane newborn portrait photographer, Claire Pinder, told the ABC she had shot several poses of a well-known local Santa in preparation for Santa-free Christmas portrait shoots. Families will sit for a studio session , and in post-process Pinder will Photoshop Santa and other Christmas elements into the image.

She reported inquiries had tripled compared with previous years, as families were unsure if shopping centres would offer the service this year.

Digital Santa! Source: Claire Pinder/Newborn Studio

Over the other side of the country, West Australians are enjoying more relaxed Covid restrictions than most other states. The Mighty Booths, a Perth-based photo booth hire company, told Inside Imaging some photographers they know are unsure how to approach Santa photos this year, so they’ve decided to use the tools at their disposal to give it a crack.

‘We normally get hired to do Santa photos by other businesses. Some of them are planning on still doing Santa photos this year but are not sure on how to go about it,’ Vilma Rose, The Mighty Booths operations manager, said. ‘We just thought to do it this year because we have the space where we can do it and we have all the equipment anyway from our photo booth business.  Plus we are not sure if the usual avenues to have Santa photos would be available for the public to access.We are hoping to be able to fill a gap, if there’s any’.

The photo booth company is hosting the shoots at The Event Headquarters showroom, with each $45 booking buying a 10-minute session with Santa that includes a small gift, eight photos printed on-site, and an online gallery of all pictures. ‘We believe that there is a demand but whether the public will be open to scheduled Santa photos away from the shopping centres is something that we are not 100 percent sure of.’

For Sydney-based portrait studio operator, Kym Thomson, Santa photos provide a ‘nice little’ supplementary income stream to help during an otherwise quiet period. Each year she turns her studio space into a Christmas grotto, and this year it’s business as usual except there will be half the number of bookings to allow time for cleaning between shoots. There will also be a Covid health check upon entry, consisting of taking each customer’s temperature and asking if they’ve recently felt any symptoms.

Australia is thankfully managing the pandemic at a level where this Christmas tradition may go ahead, and hopefully it marks the beginning of the event photography sector, including weddings, opening back up across the country.

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