How Is Covid-19 Affecting Stock Photography?


Photographers, like most others in the world are waking to a new, but hopefully temporary reality. A reality where only essential workers are allowed. For the most part, we photographers are non-essential. Our profession or pastime is one that thrives on being outdoors or interacting with others and so these times are very difficult for all of us.

Professional photographers are being hit hardest by the current world situation. They can no longer go on shoots or meet potential clients. Events such as weddings and conferences have been postponed or cancelled. Nearly all photographers, like many other small businesses and self employed are suffering. 

One of the industry’s biggest sectors is stock photography and video and today we will take a look at just how that sector is being affected. 

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Who would have thought that something so small could bring the world to it's knees. By CDC.

Before The Arrival Of The Virus

It’s fair to say that stock photography and to a lesser degree videography was not in the rudest of health even before the advent of Covid-19. On the whole, stock photography has been in decline in recent years. The main factor causing this was simple supply and demand. Stock photography had become a highly over saturated market with vast amounts of images online. 

Whilst there was still plenty of good photography available, the vast amount of average or mediocre stock made it increasingly difficult for buyers to find what they were looking for. A similar situation was occurring in video stock but not to such a great extent.

I suspect a number of stock libraries had begun to take measures to reduce this over supply problem. One or two seem to have become somewhat aggressive with their approval policies for media. However this does not seem to have been well thought out. Stock reviewers were marking large numbers of media with cut and paste rejection notices. Often these reasons had little or nothing to do with any problems with the stock. It is somewhat of a sledgehammer approach, perhaps designed to deter the occasional uploader but also making it very frustrating for the professionals who need to keep resubmitting to get their own high quality media accepted.

Stock photography has been in decline a while. Even sales of my best selling shot have dropped. By Jason Row Photography

Since The Lockdowns.

March is a traditionally good month in the stock industry, especially in video stock. My own sales had started very well at the beginning of the month with several high value commissions. Compared with a similar timeframe last year, the sales were, day for day, only slightly down. However, in the last tens days all stock sales have come to a grinding halt. 

Of course this is no great surprise. The world has pretty much come to a halt. With the exception of news outlets, the demand for stock has plummeted as non essential workers are sent home and companies closed down. The lockdowns around the world have all happened within a few days of each other. Many of these countries and regions are large buyers of stock such as China, India, European nations and of course the United States. 

The fear of recession and the plummeting stock (shares) market has made purchasers very nervous about committing to projects and hence buying stock.  

Zero sales since the lockdowns began. By Jason Row Photography

What Are The Stock Agencies Saying?

Like me, I am sure now that you have received a Covid-19 email from pretty much every company you have ever dealt with. They tout the usual lines of we are doing everything to protect our staff, we value your business, custom etc. It’s corporate nonsense of course, but at least they are trying.

This cannot be said of all the major stock agencies. From a contributor’s point of view, only two of my major stock agencies have sent emails. The format is the same as mentioned for other companies and are not particularly reassuring for those making significant income from stock. 

All of them however, are attempting to cash in on the current crisis with large portions of their front pages devoted to coronavirus, social distancing and medical themed media. Again not surprising, they are struggling like the rest of us. However a little reassurance for the people that supply them, the graphic artists, musicians, photographers and film makers would, however go a long way in these troubled times. 

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Deserted cities have become the norm. At least for a while. By Jason Row Photography

Reasons To Be Optimistic?

There are some, both short term and long term. In the long term this global event is not going to go on for ever. China is already beginning the journey back to a form of normalcy. The rest of the world will follow suit over the next weeks and months. Slowly but surely, business will pick up for all photographers. Event photographers in particular will probably find themselves very busy in the first few months after the lockdown and possibly unusually busy during the next winter.

In the short term, and this is theoretical, I think stock photographers will see a small but significant bump from this crisis. Here’s why.

At the moment we are at the stage where people are adjusting to working from home. That’s going to take a little while to get settled. However the numbers of people stuck at home means that many of them may well want to use their spare time to create. This maybe websites or movies, projects that may need stock. 

Production companies, web designed businesses etc are ideally placed for home work and will be able to continue on projects already started. They will need stock media for those projects. They will also want to be able to push out new productions. However without the ability to go out and shoot those, they will have to turn, at least partially to stock media.

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Companies that require stock media are ideally suited to home working. By Jakob Owens on Unsplash

These are strange and scary times for photographers, especially those who rely on it for a living. However, it will end, things will get back to normal and we will be able to get out and shoot as we did before. In the mean time, I, like may others of you have projects that have been wanting to get done for years but have not had the time. In my case it’s improving my Youtube channel. What photographic projects are you planning during the global lockdown. Perhaps learning some Lightroom, maybe getting creative with indoor flash. Let us know in the comments below and stay safe. 

About Author

Jason has more than 35 years of experience as a professional photographer, videographer and stock shooter. You can get to know him better here.

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