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Perspectives

Keeping creative during lockdown

Hayley Benoit Headshot (1)

Two weeks before lockdown approached, I was in full on ‘pandemic mode’ like most of London. My brain had switched off photography wise and I was obsessing over live news updates 24/7.

I kept asking myself the question: is my business prepared for a pandemic like this?

The answer? Absolutely not. And it was terrifying.

Like most freelancers, I simply couldn’t get my head round what my next steps would be for my business.

My first worry was money

I knew I wasn’t going to get an income from photography anymore, jobs were getting cancelled and postponed left right and centre, and I was reluctant to purchase anything as I wasn’t sure where my finances were going.

But I told myself that I couldn’t worry too much about that – it was beyond my control, everyone was in the same boat, I just had to work with what I had and hope for the best. I had already anticipated the beginning of the year to be a bit slow as it usually is, so money wise I was prepared (as I could be).

Getting some admin done

I also saw an opportunity to get some administrative tasks I’ve been putting off for a long time out the way. I started small, with monotonous logistical tasks such as:

  • Cleaning up old hard drives and categorising my image library
  • Establishing a strong invoice log so that everything was up to date and categorised
  • Working on my 2019/20 tax return

It’s hard to be in control of everything as a freelancer. You need to wear lots of different hats and sometimes administrative tasks get neglected at times, and you don’t always have the time to keep on top of your finances. Having the time to finally get around to these tasks felt very satisfying and like lifting a weight off my shoulders, allowing me time to focus on the creative side of my business.

Focus on creativity

Getting this done allowed me to focus on something that I know is important, but that a lot of freelancers don’t always think about – my creative skills and abilities. Getting on top of my admin made me feel more in control of my business affairs and allowed me to put more time into focusing on photography, which is both something I enjoy and something I hope will help me pick up work again quickly after lockdown ends.

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Simply figuring out how to remain creative was important to me, so once I had updated my schedule of cancellations, I decided to set tasks to create achievable projects for myself so that I could build a strong portfolio during this time. Updating my portfolio helped me feel in control at an uncertain time. My goal is to create images that people can connect with, and having the time to perfect my portfolio has made me confident that I’ll work more effectively in the future.

One of the things that I found most challenging, was finding the right resources for my projects. I’d spend hours researching things to shoot, creating mood boards on Pinterest and jotting things down. Throughout the planning stage of my project, I realised that food, backdrops and basic resources to create my images were pretty much unavailable or had extremely unrealistic delivery times. Every time I had an idea, I would go to the supermarket, wait in a large queue, only to discover that the ingredients or props I had originally planned to pick up for my shoot were unavailable. Things weren’t as easy to plan as expected so I had to improvise and work with the resources that I had. This is how I managed to achieve this shoot.

Citrus – Fruit – Hayley Benoit – Still Life – Photography – April 2020
Citrus Sun Shoot by Hayley Benoit

Planning shoots and activity around my house has been uplifting, and I’ve also started painting, drawing and puzzles to keep the creative side of my brain active. It’s been great to practise these skills that I wouldn’t ordinarily have the time to do.

"It’s been great to practise these skills that I wouldn’t ordinarily have the time to do."

Something else I’ve found useful is joining a WhatsApp group for photographers, set up by my friend and photographer Donald Michael-Chambers. This has allowed me to connect to photographers from across the world to share inspiration, ideas and topics for discussion. Talking to others in my situation has been brilliant, and the collaborative nature has pushed me to further my own skills and creativity.

What’s next on my agenda?

Preparing for ‘normal: I know it’s important to ensure that the creative stuff I’m getting up to during lockdown pays off when life returns to ‘normal.’ This week I have been doing a lot of research on creative agencies, producers, photographers and publications. I have also written on forums to get some advice on my website and portfolio so that I can have this updated during the lockdown. I’ve found that as people are working from home with a lot more time on their hands, they generally have a clearer headspace to look at these types of things and provide fantastic advice.

Learning new skills: Developing new skills is also on my agenda, there are a lot of free webinars, tutorials and blogs to look at, so whenever I get a spare moment this is something I am starting to incorporate in my daily schedule. I’ve been doing courses in business management, UX and project management, and have found some great webinars through sponsored posts on Instagram.

Creating a newsletter: I’m currently in the process of creating a newsletter for my business, where I’ll provide monthly updates on my work.

I still have more things I’d like to achieve during the lockdown, but the foundations I’ve laid feel great. I’m feeling confident in where my business is headed and have appreciated having the headspace to create a new business model with a fluid workflow. I’ve transformed my usual ‘working from home’ lifestyle in ways that I hope will benefit both my business in the long run as well as my own physical and mental health.

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