photographer, visual artist and designer.

On Building a Portfolio Life and Being Adaptable as a Photographer

12 days have passed since the start of the Circuit Breaker.

The past week has seen me complaining about boredom and the lack of freedom to engage in my favourite outdoor activities. Some days, I’m productive and some days, I’m not. Some days, I read that it’s perfectly fine to not be productive because it’s a pandemic we’re talking about. And some days, I ponder the meaning of life.

Working from home is nothing new to me due to the nature of my work, but I suddenly have a lot more hours to myself and my thoughts because of the soft lockdown. My beloved Fujifilm XT2 has been sitting obediently in the dry box since I returned from my trip to Taiwan in mid-March, even though there were days I thought about starting a portfolio in food and product photography. As days go by, it gets harder to stay motivated, especially when cashflow and putting food on the table becomes real concerns. And besides, it might be silly to be trying to get into the food and product photography industry right now when the F&B and retail industries are having problems with cashflow too.

Times are tough.

Many photographers are trying to think out of the box to keep their business going, especially those who weren’t already in commercial photography and making a lot of money with each project. While some have it easier in terms of changing their business model, there are those whose niche do not allow that flexibility. And then there’s also the possibility of market saturation, which might eventually drive the rates down, making photography an unsustainable business and thus defeating the purpose of changing the business model.

At times like this, what can photographers do?

The chances of business returning to normalcy right after the CB ends is quite unlikely. Even as the economy reopens, measures will likely be taken to limit large social gatherings to prevent a second surge of cases. It might take months, if not years, for most businesses to pick up again.

I’ve talked about being antifragile previously and looking back, I think I’ve underestimated the extent of damage a pandemic and lockdown could do to the economy and people’s livelihoods. Many freelancers can barely make any money now. The ones who do are likely freelancers with diversified skillsets.

And this is when having multiple skills and hence building a portfolio life is ideal, if not essential.

Truth be told, it does upset me a little to have to put down my identity as a photographer and videographer to make a living through other means (at least for now). It’s almost as if my portfolio of work as a photographer has been invalidated. But the business is not sustainable right now and it only make sense for me to tap on my other portfolios, which consists of writing, tutoring, translation and transcription, to make ends meet.

Admittedly, not everyone is lucky enough to be able to build a portfolio of work in multiple industries. But if your livelihood is affected by the pandemic, maybe you could use the time to think about the other possibilities and start building your ideal portfolio life.