The lockdown reality for most full time professional photographers has not been pretty. It’s been immensely difficult – with many receiving little or no financial support. Many, including Wilki ambassador Kevin Morgans, turned to editorial work, image sales and Zoom to deliver talks, but the harsh reality is that more drastic changes had to be made in order to survive as a photographer.
In a super open and honest interview, Kev has shared with us his lockdown reality – how the world closed down one workshop at a time and how a temporary move back to an old career helped bridge the gap.
On the upside, lockdown proved a very positive time for Puffins!
‘For many of us, the past year has been extremely challenging; be it emotionally, mentally, or financially, it’s affected us all in many ways. While I understand my story will pale into insignificance with the heartbreak many have suffered losing loved ones during this pandemic, I want to tell my story and how this outbreak has affected me working as a professional wildlife photographer during these difficult times.
‘Rewinding the clock back to March 2020, I had just returned from a busy two months guiding in the Scottish Highlands. This is one of my favourite times of the year – it’s physically demanding spending each day hiking in the mountains in often extreme weather, but highly rewarding.
‘During this period the first murmuring of the COVID outbreak began to emerge. In fact, the first reports many of us had of the virus becoming reality for the UK, was the 83 Brits sent to Arrowe Park Hospital on the Wirral for isolation – which, ironically, is only a few minutes from my home.
‘Following this, the situation escalated pretty quickly and towards the back end of March the first full lockdown began. To be honest, at this point I was quite thankful for the lockdown, having spent the last few months on a Scottish mountain the thought of an extended rest was lovely!’
‘Maybe I was a little naïve, thinking that lockdown was a bit of a novelty and that in a few short weeks we would all be back to work and our lives would continue. Looking back, I couldn’t have been more wrong.’
‘As the weeks progressed, the situation only worsened. One by one, the pandemic meant I had to cancel work for the upcoming year. First to go were the big foreign tours I was leading to Ethiopia, Brazil & Finland. Shortly followed by all upcoming UK workshops & tours for the remainder of 2020.’
‘Almost overnight, my entire income for the whole year had disappeared.’
‘What followed was a manic period speaking to guests, letting them know the situation. The biggest issue was the uncertainty – making it impossible to make new plans or rearrange workshops to an alternate date. Even now, a year on, we still have the same uncertainty about the future, with so many foreign travel restrictions still in place.
‘Losing an entire year’s income was a massive blow and only having being a full-time professional photographer for a year and a half, I wasn’t eligible for any financial support from the government. Thankfully, I was in quite a privileged position of still living at home! I cannot imagine how much pressure some of my friends and colleagues in the same situation have had to go through trying to pay a mortgage, or support their family during these times.
‘I spent the next few months looking for alternative income streams – this mainly came from writing articles, supplying images to publications and online zoom talks basically anything I could do from home.
‘Probably my favourite piece of work from the summer was supplying an Irish Whisky brand with a series of puffin images. As a way of saying thank you, they also sent me a few bottles of whisky which definitely came in handy on a few occasions during the pandemic!
‘I managed to battle through the next few months as best I could, taking each day as it came. Towards the middle of summer, I began to see light at the end of the tunnel – the UK began to open up again and I could get back to running a few socially distanced workshops in the Welsh hills.
‘Sadly, this was only a short reprieve and as we moved into autumn the situation worsened again.
‘This was the moment I had to make a really tough decision. To get through the winter do I continue on this path or return to other full-time work – hopefully a short-term basis? With a heavy heart, I decided to put photography on a backburner for a few months and return to a regular job.’
‘For the first few weeks, I found it incredibly difficult to adjust, having spent the previous two years exploring distant lands, living an adventure.’
‘I was now sitting at a desk, dreaming of being back in the mountains. Reflecting on this decision now in April (2021) it was 100% the right thing to do at the time. Being able to return to a regular income for a few months was a massive weight off my shoulders, not having to constantly worry about where the next pay cheque would come from.
‘There have definitely been positives as well as negatives over the past year. Not being able to leave the house has forced me to work on areas I would have otherwise ignored in favour of a day out with the camera.
‘One was starting to work through the enormous backlog of images I’ve had sitting on the various hard drives lying around the office. The other being my website – I’ve probably neglected this more than I should over the past few years, so it’s been fun giving it a bit of a revamp and update. Back in October, I was approached by a Scottish-based publisher, and asked to produce a book about my work with one of our most loved seabirds, the Atlantic Puffin.
‘Whilst I haven’t been able to get out with the camera much during the winter, this project has given me a purpose, a focus, something to work towards during the cold dark nights. I have put my all into this book and cannot wait for it to hit the shelves in 2022. Over the coming weeks and months, more details will be announced about this upcoming collaboration.
‘Now that the UK is beginning to open up again you will find me back in the places I love – the Welsh hills, the Scottish Highlands or a remote seabird colony. It’s been tough not being able to visit these locations over the past year, but now were able to travel again it just reminds me how we should never take these places for granted.’
‘Over the past year, I have learned more about myself as a photographer and person than the previous 34 before it.’
‘The pandemic has also made me realize I have made mistakes in my photographic business. Particularly as a full-time wildlife photographer you cannot have all your eggs in one basket as I did (with workshops) you have to diversify. When one revenue stream closes, you need to be able to rely on another.’
‘My drive for this industry is as strong as ever.’
‘This past year has been a massive struggle, where I’ve been at a fork in the road and had to choose which path to walk. The photographic dreams and aspirations I once had have merely been placed on hold. Shortly I will be launching all my new plans, workshops and upcoming tours for the future. So please keep an eye on my website for further details. Please stay safe, and hopefully, I’ll see a few of you over the coming years.’
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