Photography is one of those careers that might cause a bit of fear in a parent, should their child set their sights on it.
Decades ago, not everyone had a quality camera accessible in their back pocket. Now, photography is available to just about anyone with a cellphone, making competition fierce, according to Washougal-based photographer Britney Woods.
“It’s definitely a dog-eat-dog world because there’s so many photographers around. You have to find your own style,” said Woods, who specializes in portrait and family photography.
Woods, 28, has lived in Clark County her whole life, and she started her photography business in 2016. She felt it was flourishing — until the pandemic started.
While photojournalists are considered essential workers as they document the COVID-19 pandemic for the media, portrait and family photographers are not. Woods said that people in her photographer circles are operating under the assumption that if they do work, they could be penalized.
“It is really frustrating we can’t be outside with two or three other people. With lenses, we have capability of being 6 feet or 10 feet away from people,” Woods said. “I’m someone who definitely believes in the virus, so my family and friends are taking precautions. I feel that photographers should be able to work, with caution — not an extended family shoot with 20-plus people, but regular family sessions with three to four people, or couples sessions. It’s pretty hard on my mental health, sitting at home not working.”
However, some photographers are still working elsewhere. A hashtag on Instagram called #frontporchproject shows thousands of images by photographers documenting families on their porches during the pandemic. The trend has been covered on local news.
“That’s actually a huge confusion for a lot of us photographers. The news writes articles about them like it’s OK,” Woods said. “I was doing porch sessions for a handful of families … but also got a message by another photographer that we’re not essential and I shouldn’t be working.”
As of Friday, Gov. Inslee’s staff is working on clear guidance for photography services, Mike Faulk, deputy communications director, wrote in an email to The Columbian.
“At this time they are not necessarily permitted under the order without health guidance in place, but we want to provide it as soon as possible,” he wrote. “Staff tell me they hope to have it final next week.”
Currently, the state is in Phase 1 of Gov. Inslee’s plan to reopen the state, where no gatherings of any size are allowed. Once Phase 2 begins — which could open at the earliest on June 1 but is not set in stone — gatherings of five people or fewer will be permitted.
The Columbian caught up with Woods to learn more about her job.
Tell me about yourself.
I grew up in Amboy, Wash. We moved up there because my parents owned the general store. I went to high school at Battle Ground. I grew up with horses on a farm, so animals were a big passion of mine. I did gaming with horses. Now I have two babies, a 2-year-old girl and a 7-year-old boy, and we live up in Washougal.
How did you get into photography?
In middle school, I was that annoying friend who had that disposable camera in their pocket. They all thank me now because I have all the cool pictures. It just went from there. It was a disposable; then I started with a snap and shoot, then I went to DSLR. I have to thank one of my girlfriends actually because she was the one who was like, “Britney, why don’t you do just this for people?” I just needed that little boost.
Is it a type of profession that you feel like you have to “hustle” a lot?
I followed a lot of photographers locally, and in a lot of other states. It helped me find my own way in photography. I think after a while you start comparing yourself with other photographers, which is really hard for you as a photographer. We’re always the worst critic of our own work. One day I was finally was like, I just need to unfollow all these photographers and find my own way. That really helped. I think it is a hard business because so many people are photographers. So many people can pick up that camera.
Can you talk about how COVID-19 has changed your business so far?
It’s actually put a complete halt to it. It’s been hard for me and my family. Thankfully I do have close friends and like my neighbor who have allowed me; like they come to my field and we do little shoots, and with my kids. Then I went around and took pictures of signs in the community, and that helped. It’s making me pull out creativity a little bit more in my mind, beyond photographing families and couples.
What’s something that you would like to see change in the industry?
Photographers should be more supportive of each other. When I first started, it was super intimidating; I did reach out to a few photographers asking questions about my camera, or “What’s a good way of doing this?” or “Can you help me with this?” I can say almost 90 percent of the time, I didn’t get any response. I love my photographer community, but I do feel we could be more supportive of each other. It’s just that competitive side of us because there are so many photographers out there so it’s a hard thing to manage.
What are your hopes for the future?
The bigger picture, getting back to normal. I made my own schedule. I was having at least one session a day. I honestly felt like I was at a perfect place in my business, then this happened. I do feel like once this is over that photographers and other small businesses are going to have to get their “oomph” going again. Clients and advertising, and things like that. My goal is to just get back to where we used to be. But who knows when that will be and that’s what’s scary to me.