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Photo studios roll with the COVID punches

Between spring sports, senior pictures, graduations, proms and weddings, this is normally one of the busiest times of the year for area photography studios. Instead, with almost every traditional rite of spring shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the photography industry has been left without much to take pictures of for the past six weeks since mass shutdowns went into effect.

“We’re holding up O.K. so far, but our business has dropped to almost nothing since the middle of March,” said Robert Senn, owner of Robert Senn Studio in Canfield.

A good-sized chunk of revenue for the studios comes from team and individual pictures of spring sports athletes. Spring sports photo days were just getting started when schools began closing.

“We have 25 schools and all of the sports stuff was wiped out,” Senn said. “We have teams with a lot of seniors who still want to do pictures later down the road, but we’ll just have to wait and see how everything plays out.”

Paul Arbogast, owner of Arbogast Photography in Columbiana, handles the Columbiana High School and Middle School sports pictures and was not able to get any in this year.

“All of our school sports stuff was wiped out, that probably accounts for 25-to-30 percent of our revenue,” Arbogast said.

Dunlap Photography in Minerva was fortunate to be able to get three of its spring sports photo days in the books, but saw numerous other cancellations.

“Luckily, we were able to photograph three of our contract schools, unfortunately our other two picture days were scheduled the week following the shutdown,” owner Terry Dunlap said. The shutdown impacted the industry with cancellations of studio portraits of families, newborns and high school seniors, as well as photography for springs sports teams, proms and honors banquets.”

Along with spring sports, Senn said the virus has also altered his studio’s wedding schedule

“So far this spring we’ve had four canceled and six re-scheduled,” Senn said.

One thing the studios will get a chance to take part in is the modified virtual graduation ceremonies planned by area high schools.

Both Columbiana and Minerva, along with several other schools, will be doing a graduation by appointment, with seniors able to schedule a time over a period of a couple of days to walk across the stage with a limited number of family members in attendance. The footage will then be pieced together into one video.

“While we are known for our studio work, a large part of our business also comes from schools and school-related activities. We are blessed to have great relationships with the schools we work with,” Dunlap said. “The close working relationships with faculty, staff, students and families give us a real understanding and appreciation of the impact that the closing meant for them.”

In the absence of business-as-usual, everyone has been forced to think outside the box during the crisis.

“The shutdown inspired us to join with schools and clients to brainstorm new ideas on how to showcase all of the accomplishments for the 2020 graduates,” Dunlap said. “Creating products for them like banners and yard signs are among many of the ways we all were able to celebrate them and make them feel special in such uncertain times. We personally also introduced our first ever drive-thru cap and gown silhouette series for the Class of 2020. Graduates can pull up in the alley beside our building and we can take their picture while still maintaining social distancing.”

“We’ve done some video-conferencing with our staff to bounce around ideas for how we can re-invent ourselves during this pandemic,” Senn said. “The photography business was on a downward trend anyway, so new ideas were something we were going to have to consider even before the crisis hit.”

Senn said he was hoping some business might pick up this summer, but has been preparing for months of inactivity.

“Realistically, I don’t see anything happening until September,” Senn said. “We’re planning for the next few months to be a total loss.”

For now, the emphasis is on taking things one day at a time, with the hope that everyone can emerge on the other side.

“We’re keeping our fingers crossed for fall sports, but right now there isn’t much to do other than take things one week at a time,” Arbogast said. “We’re hoping to re-open our studio in a couple of weeks. After that, we’ll just have to see what happens.”

“We’re going to survive and come out of this,” Senn said. “We have a lot of money still in the bank and we’ve been able to pay all of our staff so far. But I sure wouldn’t want to be someone just starting out right now.”

“We are hopeful that there will be a game plan in place this summer for the fall sports season. In the meantime, we have noticed three distinct trends during this pivot in life,” Dunlap said. “It has renewed many family relationships and traditions, placed a greater value on the client experience, and nurtured a trend back to the value of prints over digital photography files. We are noticing an increase in inquiries for all of these services during this time. It has been a rejuvenating pause in our life, but we are excited to begin welcoming everyone back to our studio where we can nourish old and new relationships as we continue to capture life’s memories and milestones within the new safety guidelines and social distancing.”

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