“What is a Front Porch Session and why is it so controversial?”  That’s been 50% of what I see in photography groups on Facebook right now.  The other 50% is “Now offering Front Porch Sessions!”  This, folks, is the dichotomy of the photography industry: Two opposing viewpoints that just try to talk louder and louder than the other until one reigns supreme.  Bonus if you can get an influencer or two to side with you – it helps you be louder.

The wedding and photography industry has always had drastically opposing views.  I have theories about why this is, but that’s for another article.

Any given time, you see arguments like this:

  • Sell your raw files!  Don’t sell your raw files!
  • Change your editing style to meet client requests!  No, don’t change your style, they hired you for your portfolio so deliver that way.
  • Send all photos, uncalled, and unedited if they want them!  No – don’t give our crap, it’s not worth anything!
  • Don’t charge for overtime, it’s a nice thing to do for your clients!  Why have OT fees if you’re never going to use them?  Your time is valuable too.
  • Having a 2nd photographer is necessary!  I’m perfectly capable of doing the job myself.
  • Just do the extra retouching they’re asking – it’s no biggie.  This is several hours of work, you should be invoicing.

… and now this is what we’re seeing:

Front porch sessions are okay!  Front porch sessions are NOT OKAY.

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What is a front porch session?

A front porch session, or FPS, is when a photographer comes and hangs out with you on your front porch (or thereabouts) and from 6-feet away, takes photos of you.

Why are front porch sessions controversial?

Front porch sessions are controversial for a few reasons.  First – trying to find a way to profit during this time doesn’t sit so well with a lot of people.  Everyone’s broke – I get it – but booking paying sessions (even on the cheap) seems icky, especially when whether you’re an essential business is questionable or not.  Ditto goes for the marketing boost you can get.  We’ve all seen the news articles about photographers “giving back” with these sessions and they get publicity.  This strikes a lot of people as distasteful and as taking advantage of a time when many are scared, hurting, and uncertain.  Now is not the time for the spotlight to be on your business.

Second – even if you’re doing them for free, for donations or just for your own creative outlet, you’re still pushing social distancing to the utmost limits.  I appreciate that people have big hearts and want to do something to help out – but there are better ways!

We are not saviours who will save the world with our camera; we’re part of society like everyone else and need to take the same social responsibilities: stay. the. hell. inside.

Why social distancing doesn’t fit with front porch sessions

I’m not only a photographer, but I”m a front line health care professional.  I know that many folks reading this who have been pro-front porch session may already have their backs up and are feeling defensive – but for the sake of this section of the article, please be open to putting aside biases and emotion.

Viruses don’t fly through the air measuring distance and at the 6-foot mark decide “Oops, I gotta stop infecting now – I’m 6 feet away”.  The fact that some people are using 6-feet as a justification for continuing to work shows that they have an inherently incorrect understanding of what social distancing is.

Social distancing is about minimizing risk, and the first step in minimizing risk is to stop doing avoidable things.  (This also means getting out of your own ego and realizing that these sessions are avoidable things.)

It’s about minimizing risk to you, to others, to everyone you may come into contact with for the next 14-30 days and anyone they may come into contact with for the next 14-30 days.

Step 1:  Limit the number of people you have to be around at all.

Step 2:  If you’re in unavoidable situations, then maintain a distance of at least 6 feet.

Unavoidable situations are things like you having to go out for groceries because it’s been 2 weeks since you went and you have no food left.  Or you have to go to the pharmacy to pick up your medication.  Or you’re hiking on a small trail outside by yourself and come across another person – you each move away from each other.  Those are the situations where you need to use social distancing.

If we could just maintain our normal lives but from 6 feet apart, why would they have closed schools?  They could just move the desks 6 feet away.  Why would they have closed restaurants?  They could have just moved the tables 6 feet away.  Medical professionals wouldn’t be worried about having any PPE if they could just do assessments from 6-feet away.

…oh, by the way, have you ever thought about wind?  What happens if you sneeze but your clients are 6 feet downwind of you?  Boom – 6 feet doesn’t so much now, does it?  Do you know that 6 feet (2 meters) only accounts for large droplets and that smaller, aerosolized droplets can spread up to 8 meters? (26 feet)

This is why social distancing is for when you have to go out – because it’s not perfect.  It’s not a guarantee that you’re mitigating the risk but it helps – but it needs to be used in conjunction with halting all non-essential outings.  And folks – photography is non-essential.  Nobody has ever died because they didn’t get their picture taken.

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What makes me so special that I can be so strong with my opinion on front porch sessions?

I’m a healthcare professional and a photographer.  I’m a front line staff.  I’ve already experienced the PPE shortage and have worked for weeks with direct patients without any PPE.  And things are only going to get worse.  More and more people are going to get sick and my odds of being exposed increase every day yet the PPE still isn’t flowing in.  Every day my job gets more dangerous so that we can keep you, your friends and your family alive when they need it most.

My healthcare job makes me an essential service.

If I don’t go to work, people will die, people’s quality of life can suffer, I force my colleagues to have to do overtime to cover the workload and prolong their exposure.

I know what it’s like to be an essential service – and folks, photography is not an essential service.  And if you think you are?  Well, you need to take a good look inwards at yourself, your surroundings, other essential services – and think about stepping down from your pedestal.  Nobody’s going to die if you don’t take photos of them on their porch.  You need to stop, pivot, and shift that perspective.

What can you do instead of Front Porch Sessions?

Front porch sessions aren’t the answer for photographers.  There are things you can do to engage your community, attract new future clients, and bring in revenue other than leaving your house.

Offer mini session gift certificates

People may not have a lot of money to invest in things like photography once this is all over, but mini sessions are more accessible since they are at a lower price point.  Offer gift certificates for mini sessions with the date TBD for when it’s safe to work again.  This will also give people something awesome to look forward to!

Matching gift campaign

For every dollar people spend, you match it.  This is basically a 50% off sale.  Just like with the mini sessions, dates for the session will be determined once it’s safe to do so, but it’s a great way to bring in cash flow during this time.  You can offer family sessions, newborns, maternity, headshots, and even branding sessions this way.

Buy 1 get 1 gift certificates

If you’re not into giving large discounts, you can offer a “buy 1 get 1” gift certificate sale; people pay full price for a session and they get a second one free (or they can give the gift certificate to a friend!)

Print sale for previous clients

If you have those galleries online still, do a massive print sale!  If your lab is closed you need to let people know that the prints will be made once the lab re-opens, but you can offer whopping discounts to your clients to bring in some extra money and also help your clients get some physical products that can decorate their homes and bring back beautiful memories

Figure out your marketing plan

You don’t have to focus on bringing money into your business right now; you can choose to focus on the bigger picture and work on one hell of a marketing plan for when this is all over.  We’re all going to have to pivot a little and figure out where we stand in the industry when it starts to revive – having a plan to be visible is a surefire way to get those profits back up (and quickly!) once life returns to normal.

Offer downloads, ebooks or other templates

If you’re particularly well versed in Canva or InDesign and know that you can produce a series of valuable downloadable products – go for it!  Use those talents.  Even if it isn’t photography related or related to your particular niche or photography.  Are you a kick-ass mama bear who can meal plan like a boss?  Then make a meal planner and add some tips for budget-friendly meals that go a long way.  Are you a super handy homeowner?  Make a guide to “the top 5 easy fixes in your home” and share some how-to with people.  Write an e-book about weddings or photography or anything that you have to share that’s valuable for others.  Start thinking outside the box instead of thinking in terms of ‘front porch sessions’.

Make slideshows from your previous sessions

If you have some extra time on your hands (*looks around at the same 4 walls for 14 days in a row…..yup, definitely have time on our hands*) then go back through 2 or 3 years of sessions and weddings and make social-friendly slideshows for your clients.  They’ll love them – plus they’ll share them and help promote your business.

Keep showing up

Keep doing what you were doing before all of this.  Be there online and don’t hide from all of this.  A lot of people are freaking the hell out right now, but be a pillar of strength and security and keep showing up online for your clients and future clients!  This also extends to new inquiries; be there for them for what they need from you: extra reassurance and compassion right now.

Document your days and show them

Not sure what you want to the photographer?  How about your days in quarantine.  Show what your life is life – challenge yourself to romanticize your life and find the beauty in what’s happening.  Photographer it.  Share it.  Set up some cameras around your house and do a video timelapse of what quarantine looks like – show me 24 hours in 1 minute.  Do a self-portrait challenge.  Try to make beautiful food photos out of the stuff you cook on the regular – fancy up that Chef Boyardee and show the world, it’ll be funny and fun.

Reduce your retainers

Acknowledge that people don’t have a lot of money to spare right now but that they still may want to book.  Lower your retainer rate to make your services more accessible to people.

Offer payment plans

In addition to reduced retainer rates, you should be open to offering payment plans for people wanting your services.  Maybe you’ll divide the payments equally over a few months – if that will help people book with you, then do it!

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There’s conflicting information out there regarding whether front porch sessions are legal.  In Ontario, at the moment, non-essential businesses have been ordered to close.  I know this is also true in many parts of the world.  There are places you can ask regarding whether or not these sessions are legal, including asking your public health unit and your MPP.  In addition to that, though, ask your insurance.  They may feel otherwise and may not cover you.  I’d also ask a lawyer about whether or not you need to add in any extra protective clauses for both you and your client.  That is – if you insist on doing them because they may technically still be legal.

Aside from legalities is the ethics behind them.  Is it ethical to have these kinds of sessions, even if you can find a legal loophole?  This is what’s grinding a lot of gears right now and stirring up emotions and conflict in Facebook groups.  There are people who believe that these sessions are not safe.  It’s a normal human reaction to get defensive when you feel like the safety of a concern.  There are also people who believe this is a safe thing to do.  But I want to end with this:

Even if you think front porch sessions are a safe thing to do, given how many people feel it’s not safe, do current events not make you feel that now is a better time than ever to perhaps simply err on the side of caution?

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Editor’s Note: 6/8/2020 This article was revised to remove a reference to Brittani Hon; in light of learning of recent circumstances, we want to make it clear and transparent that we do not stand behind The Hons or condone their actions, attitudes and behaviours.

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Comment

April 7, 2020
YES!! So well written. Thank you for sharing.
    Thanks so much Judy, it's no doubt a controversial topic but one that I'm proud to say many photographers are speaking up against. Thanks for your support and for your values in public health!
KRISTY A TERHAAR
May 16, 2020
Hi! Great article! I'm in Michigan and photographers are now allowed to shoot outside. What are your thoughts on offering Front Porch Sessions at this point? Several people had contacted me before, but I had explained that we were not allowed to shoot at all during the shut down. Now that we can, do you think it's okay to do them? Thanks so much!
    There's a difference between being allowed outside and being allowed to legally operate your business. Here in Ontario, as of today (May 16th) we can still physically go outside for walks and stuff, but it's still illegal for photography businesses to operate, whether you're outside or inside. We still be starting phase 1 of opening up on Monday and photographers are NOT on the list of businesses that can open, so we'll be a few more weeks for sure. What's the deal in Michigan? Can photographers legally operate? Or is the outside thing just for your personal use (and not to operate businesses)?

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