WORKSHOPS IN THE TIME OF PANDEMIC
RUNNING WORKSHOPS IN THE TIME OF PANDEMIC: NOT AN EASY TASK, BUT CAN BE DONE
Running Workshops in the time of pandemic is not easy. Covid-19 arrived in our lives in early 2020, and for now it looks like it’s here to stay, at least a little longer. After the first wave, which caught mankind much less prepared than it should have been, we are now facing a second wave pretty much all over the world. While this is not the place to start the umpteenth debate on why this is happening, and while we’d all love to blame someone else (the government, destiny, luck, you name it), now that we know how to contain the diffusion of the pandemic, in my opinion it is us regular people who have a huge responsibility for this second, and violent, return of the virus.
Let’s forget political divides, fake news, conspiracy theories and preconceived opinions for a second, and use facts and logic instead. These are the facts: 1. The virus spreads from a human being to another; 2. Wearing face masks covering your nose and mouth, keeping our hands sanitised and keeping social distancing effectively prevents the virus to spread; 3. Yet, the virus is still spreading. Therefore, logic tells us that the only way this could still be happening, is if people are not careful with point 2. above. This is my story, and I am sticking to it. So please, if you want the virus to go away, don’t waste time in assigning blame and make sure that you do your part, no matter what you believe in, and whom you vote for. Wear a mask, covering your nose and mouth, keep your hands sanitised and keep your social distancing, and make sure everyone around you does as well.
As a professional landscape photographer, running high quality, exclusive Workshops with a limited attendance of three people and One-on-One is a large part of my business. The remaining part of my business involves selling images and large format Fine Art prints. Luckily for me, I can do that from home, and thanks to all the work done during these last ten years I now have a large enough archive of images that I won’t have to worry about going out to shoot more photographs until the world will be rid of Covid-19 (and possibly for the rest of my life, if need be!).
However, running Workshops is something I love to do, and I don’t intend to stop if I can help it. After our summer break, this fall we had five Workshops planned. Four of them were group Workshops, all sold out, and the fifth was a Workshop One-on-One. As it turned out, we could run the first two of our planned five Workshops, both in Italy: one on the Dolomites, and one in Cinque Terre & Tuscany. Unfortunately, we had to cancel the next three, one in Normandy & Brittany, in France, one in Cornwall, in the UK, and one in Iceland, due to travel restrictions and lockdowns imposed by the local governments.
Running Workshops in the time of pandemic is not easy. But, with careful planning and extra security, it can be done. Let’s see how we managed, both the Workshops we could run and those we needed to cancel.
First of all, we had to ensure everyone’s safety onboard our Workshops. To do so, we enforced mandatory surgical face masks onboard all our vehicles. To make sure that we all had masks, that these masks were safe, and that we all had enough masks to replace them regularly, we decided to provide masks to our customers ourselves. More, we provided all our customers with hand sanitiser and sanitised wipes, to make sure that everyone had the means to keep their hands clean and disinfected. Last, to allow enough distance onboard our Workshops we used oversized vehicles, as we always do. Using a 9-seater for just three participants, plus my wife and I, guaranteed that we’d all seat at enough distance from one other.
Then, we made sure that everyone knew and respected all local regulations in force at any time during our trips. Halfway through our last Workshop, Italy introduced some stricter rules, i.e. closing restaurants at 6 pm; however, since hotels with a restaurant built-in were allowed to serve their staying-in customers, choosing one of those allowed us to keep the Workshop running in full safety and comfort, and to enjoy some pretty good cooking even with the new restrictions in place.
Last, we made sure that we were the only group working on any given location, to avoid having to be too close to strangers potentially unrespectful of the rules. This meant we had to change locations if, arriving somewhere, we felt that we couldn’t ensure enough distance between us and other people. When needed, we were able to do so thanks to our deep knowledge of all our destinations, and to having always a lot of extra locations to shoot for any given place. Which, in turn, prompted the consideration below.
I always cringed seeing how many people choose one of those improvised, often cheaper Workshops where the instructor has never been on any given location before getting there with the group. Sadly, there are many of those around. People think that doing so will save them money, when it’s actually the opposite: you’ll pay less, perhaps, but won’t get much value for your money, if any.
Building experience and expertise cost time and money, there is no way around that. Before announcing a new Workshop, we do repeated trips to all the Workshop’s location to explore them, often in different seasons. This is the only way we can know a place like the back of our hands, know where to go and when, know how to get the best images, and – these days – know how to be safe.
Cheap Workshops, on the other hand, are just that – cheap – and if something costs too little, you can be sure that there is a reason for that. In times such as these, choosing a cheaper, less professional Workshop and leader won’t just result in your photographic skills not improving: it can end up with you getting sick as well, or worse.
For those Workshops we have been forced to cancel, I am proud to have been able to offer protection to all my customers, even those who didn’t actually complete their booking and who cancelled on their own volition a long time before I have been forced to cancel a Workshop. In particular, those who paid their Workshops in full have been offered to move their booking to a later date, or store credit, for a nominal fee. Those who cancelled ahead of time, despite not having completed their bookings, have been offered store credit for their deposits, for a very low fee.
As a small business this is not easy to do, but thanks to the quality of our work we have been successful enough to be in the position to offer such protection, despite the losses incurred, and so we did. Once again, choosing a professional outfit paid off, for our customers.
We all hope, together with the rest of the world, that Covid-19 will soon be behind us. However, due to things out of our control, I cannot know now when this will be the case. Until then, we’ll keep doing what we do: plan the best Workshops we can, in the most spectacular destinations we know. Run them with our trademark professionalism, with our endless love for photography and with the outmost care for the safety of everyone involved, be it our customers, ourselves or the strangers we meet along the way. And, if we’ll be forced to cancel a Workshop, we will keep offering our customers the best protection we can.
Running Workshops in the time of pandemic is not easy, but it can be done, and we’ll keep doing it as best as we can: our love for photography and our passion for the sharing of knowledge won’t allow us to do otherwise. See you in the field!
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