Photography in the Age of Covid

In this time of social distancing, sheltering in place, and all the other new phrases associated with the coronavirus / COVID-19 pandemic, what should photographers do?

Things You Clearly Can’t Do

One on one type photography is clearly not OK. A photographer should not be doing studio work with models, families, babies, business headshots and so forth. It’s not possible to maintain social distance when you’re working with portrait clients.

Event photography is out, because nobody is holding events! That includes wedding photography, concert photography, business gatherings and the like.

Concert on a train
Concert on a train

What Should Be OK

Personally I don’t see an issue with the following types of photography during this pandemic, provided social distancing is maintained:

  • Wildlife photography
  • Landscape photography
  • Product photography
  • Architectural photography
  • Photojournalism
  • Macro photography

The key is to maintain social distance. That means no traveling in cars with people outside your family, no meeting physically with your clients. Everything has to be done alone.


April 19
April 19

I personally have no issue with watching and photographing trains during the pandemic. It’s typically a solo activity, and you don’t have to get anywhere near people to do it. To me, railfanning is no less safe than going for a walk, and probably safer from a virus point of view as you won’t be passing other people on the sidewalk.

I’ve kept railfanning and intend to keep doing it. If you disagree, please comment and explain why!

Porch Portraits

Some photographers have taken to making “porch portraits”, or “porchraits”. The idea is that a family will come out of their house, stand on their porch, and the photographer will take their picture from a distance and email it to them. For FREE. No contact, social distance maintained, it’s all good.

Calgary-based photographer Neil Zeller has been doing a lot of these #porchraits and posting them on his Twitter account. You should follow him! He’s very talented.

Well, some people think this is not OK. The Professional Photographers of Canada published their opinion that photographers should not be taking porch portraits.

Photofocus ran an opinion piece by Bryan Esler, “Photographers: Stop making porch portraits“.

Their argument seems to be that in theory it should be OK, but in practice people could break the rules by bringing grandparents over or combining families for portraits.

Personally, I think they are overreacting. I think porch portraits are a reasonable compromise.

Macro Work

Don Komarechka is well known for his macro photography, especially his snowflake work. He hosts a podcast, PhotoGeek Weekly, where he discusses photography news with fellow camera geeks. It’s a great podcast.

He used to end every podcast with “Get out and shoot.” Now he ends them with, “stay in and shoot.” Clever.

He advocates taking macro / closeup photos while you’re cooped up in our house. It’s an interesting idea! I’ll keep my eyes open for spiders on the deck…

Just One More Thing

I want to take a moment to acknowledge the recent massacre in Nova Scotia. Words can’t express the tragedy that has affected so many people across the province, and indeed throughout Canada.

I’ve spent a lot of time in Nova Scotia over my lifetime and, although I’ve never been in Portapique, I have been to several of the locations involved – Wentworth, Debert, Shubenacadie, and I’m pretty sure I’ve been to that Big Stop in Enfield where the a**hole who did all this was killed. I’m doing my best to forget his name.

My heart goes out to all the families and friends of the victims.

15 thoughts on “Photography in the Age of Covid”

  1. Hi Steve,
    In the time of Covid-19, a railfan friend of mine and I went out shooting last Saturday. We took 2 cars, each brought a lunch/supper and when we stopped to shoot we maintained the 2 metres. No problem! However traffic was way down and VIA was running with 4 cars and 2 engines on every train (not even many of them). We were out along CN’s Kingston Sub. Almost nobody was riding VIA and some of the major stations were closed with a security guard which meant no washrooms but there was/is always gas stations.
    Hopefully this will end soon as we have big plans for trips this summer.

    • Hey Ian, traffic is definitely down but the trains still move.

      We have plans for this summer too… who knows if we’ll get to act on them? First priority is to stay safe and healthy and avoid spreading the disease. Long distance travel can wait.

  2. The only problem I’m having with Railfanning is the traffic being down like Ian mentions above. Add that to “Precision Railroading” cutting the number of trains and it’s become more of a “gamble” as to whether or not you will find any trains or not.

    Getting out of the house for a couple of hours has been a blessing to me now working from home as it gives me something different to look at and a way to recharge the batteries.

    • Hi Gene, we’ve been living with Precision Scheduled Railroading here with CN and now CP for a while now. Especially on CP, Hunter Harrison didn’t seem to want to run trains!

      Getting out of the house now and then, in a safe way, is key.

      • All Harrison did was cut costs to make shareholders happy. Usually ones that sold off before the effects of the cost cutting (power shortages, angry employees, outraged unions, underserved customers…) started to impact the company. CN has undone some of the damage, CP has further to go. Hopefully CSX hasn’t lost too much business to NS.

  3. I have been continuing to railfan with the COVID-19 ongoing. I’ve never had any issues, and rarely anyone has stopped by me. The trains are still running in southern Alberta so I have been able to do train photography on the Taber, Aldersyde, and Crowsnest subdivisions.

  4. I think the big points have been mentioned already: the nature of the activity means that railfanning should be fine but lack of traffic is boring. For me personally a larger issue is track access. I don’t have a car and so normally I would take a bus. That is obviously verboten, so I need to walk 45 minutes instead. Fair enough, but now the city has closed certain paths, meaning that now I need to either go to a different line than I’d like to, walk along the side of a busy road, or not go out at all. So far I’ve been doing the latter.

    • Hi Michael, do you have a bicycle? Several of the younger railfans around here bike around and get some great railfanning in.

  5. Was recently in Bear Mountain (NY) area to railfan. Caught 3 Metro-North commuter trains and 2 Amtraks on the ex- NYC Hudson line. Also caught a CSX freight drag with 3 DPUs (!) on the ex-NYC West Shore line. So as I see it, if you’re fanning passenger, you’ll do ok.

    • Hi Marv, VIA Rail’s service is greatly reduced here in Canada but some passenger trains are still moving. I’m glad you were able to see a few trains. Thanks for commenting.

  6. Oh to be able to do some railway photography. Here in the uk we are currently allowed 1hr outside for excersise in your local area per day and travel to your local supermarket to obtain essential supplies all keeping to social distancing and backed up by police powers. Boris (our PM) is making a statement Sunday but I’m not holding my breath. Keep posting keeps the spirits up.

    • Hi David, hope you are keeping healthy in the UK. The coronavirus measures are certainly different in other countries and I’m sorry you’re not able to get out very much. Hopefully the restrictions can be relaxed somewhat, data and science willing.

  7. I’ve been trying togo trackside and take pictures, respectfully, too. I get how, for me, it’s a hobby so can’t be prioritized over “public safety” so it’s neat to combine it with other more purpose-driven activities. In some way, this feels like the excitement of seeing an unexpected train and resonates a belief that we’ll the the pictures we can when we can because we might not always be able to.


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