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Wedding photography put on hold

Tough restrictions on Australian weddings now allow only five people to attend, leaving the entire wedding industry without much work for the foreseeable future. But the silver lining is when the Covid-19 storm passes, there will be a helluva lot of marriages to catch up on, providing couples can survive the new social isolation rules!

A representation of the wedding industry right now.

Right now, the only way a marriage can take place is in a group of five: the couple, a celebrant, and two witnesses. If a wedding photographer is to be part of these proceedings, they must be appointed a witness, leaving room for just one family member or friend. The Federal Government has also banned public gatherings of more than two people, so the prospect of an on-location shoot with a couple is no longer do-able.

While it’s not an outright ban yet, the message is clear – postpone or cancel weddings. The harsh measures come after a wedding on March 6 on the NSW South Coast left 42 of the 120 guests –  over a third – testing positive for Covid-19. This spread is thought to have stemmed from just two guests carrying the virus, making weddings appear as hazardous as a trip on the Ruby Princess.

A couple of weeks ago, back when measures were more relaxed and groups could defiantly rub elbows indoors, wedding photographers and the broader industry were encouraging couples to elope – a small ceremony with a handful of healthy family or friends. At the time it seemed like the right balance of taking precaution, coupled with keeping wedding businesses afloat.

Lauren Campbell, a Canberra-based wedding photographer, had this opinion published in The Guardian ‘way back’ on March 19.

‘We all want to be there for our clients to make this crisis as smooth as possible. If weddings are cancelled en masse, then all of our industries will lose their income for the foreseeable future. We would prefer that our couples postpone rather than cancel,’ she said. ‘Obviously everyone’s safety comes first, and what we would love to see is couples downsizing their wedding to an elopement and only going ahead if it is safe to do so. Or rescheduled to a weekday instead of a weekend to help us vendors still earn a living.’

Around the same time leading Australian wedding photographer, James Day, shared a similar sentiment with the Daily Mail.

‘My livelihood depends on it and I was photographing weddings even up until last Saturday (March 21),’ he said. ‘But even I could see how weddings have been a massive part of the virus spreading. People are so practiced at hugging and kissing at a wedding that they don’t know how to do one without all that. Once you throw a few drinks into the mix, you can almost see the germs spread.’

While only two weeks since both articles were published, these quotes seem like they come from an entirely different world. James miraculously managed to shoot a wedding under the new restrictions with a 400mm lens, serving as witness along with the couple’s 90-year old grandmother, but the wedding business has fundamentally dried up. To be fair, most markets of professional photography are temporarily on hold, along with many industries.

With circumstances changing daily, it’d be foolish to speculate how long the threat of the Coronavirus will force limitations on public gatherings and therefore weddings and events. Reports indicate that many brides have postponed weddings until the second half of 2020, and even this might be too hopeful.

Some economic experts are comparing the current dire global economic situation with the Great Depression, with predictions it will have far greater impact than the 2008 global financial crises. Here’s a comforting quote plucked from the New York Times.

‘I feel like the 2008 financial crisis was just a dry run for this,’ said Kenneth S. Rogoff, a Harvard economist. ‘This is already shaping up as the deepest dive on record for the global economy for over 100 years. Everything depends on how long it lasts, but if this goes on for a long time, it’s certainly going to be the mother of all financial crises.’

During the Great Depression in the US, between 1929-1933, the rate of couples tying the knot fell by 22 percent, according to History.com.

Obviously it’s unknown how the current crises will play out in the modern era, but if the Great Depression serves as an indicator then a marriage boom may soon follow. The marriage rate reached an ‘all-time high’ after the Depression, partly attributed to an industrial boom, along with the backdrop of a new world war. No doubt there were plenty of promises during those tough times that ‘when this all blows over, I swear baby doll I’m gonna marry ya’.

Perhaps heading into economic uncertainty and entering a wartime-like state of affairs, which is essentially where we are currently, creates a kind-of perfect storm for marriage and relationship building. People learn life is fragile and it’s worth living more in the moment, don’t take anything for granted, build more meaningful connections, appreciate friends and family, and all that other icky sentimental stuff.

One anecdote from Inside Imaging’s experience, not exactly concrete evidence of a nation-wide trend but worth a mention, is that a friend recently called to say her partner proposed. ‘He said after all this virus shit is over let’s get married, and have a big party’.

And as for the existing wedding plans that have been put on hold, it seems unlikely couples will suddenly abandon them after all this is over. It may even prompt the opposite – there will be no better reason for family and friends to get together and throw a big party in a celebration of unity. Let’s just hope the photography isn’t left in the barely capable hands of good ol’ Uncle Bob.

The foreseeable future will present challenges. There will be no work in the events sector, but photographers can hit pause on their business and look at what needs improvement or adjusting. James made the point that photographers must now adapt and become flexible. Prior to the ban on gatherings of more than two people, James was offering a free session to all couples who were postponing their weddings in April and May.

Now is an ideal opportunity for photographers to look at business and cut down on costs, think about marketing strategies, work on SEO, social media, and building a bigger online presence, connect with other photographers and clients, register for the JobSeeker Payment scheme, and whatever else can be performed from the home office.

Marriage is a rock solid and durable institution. When the time comes, photographers may be so inundated with marriages they will be turning down work. In the meantime, maybe it’s time to abandon that abusive relationship with Adobe!
– Will Shipton

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