The last wedding that Allison Williams, a photographer based in Logan Square, photographed was in the first week of February. That was well before the COVID-19 crisis dominated the city; at that time, things were normal, the guests sat next to each other and no one wore masks or gloves.
But normal marriage celebrations, in-person and with guests, have more or less been banned during the coronavirus pandemic, due to social distancing mandates. This has put large gatherings of all types on hold. A few couples have chosen to conduct their weddings online, put it off until after the pandemic, or simply tie the knot with very few in attendance.
Allison Williams is a member of the Chicago nonprofit, Green Wedding Alliance. The Alliance works to promote socially and environmentally responsible wedding events. Furthermore, Williams gladly photographs all couples, no matter their orientation or how they define themselves.
The “New Normal” is a Dire Situation for Wedding Photographers
What many consider to be the “new normal” poses a problem for wedding photographers, including Allison Williams. Williams generally charges $3,000 to $5,000 for a wedding, and to compound the problem, around 80% of her photography business is weddings. While she does have some nonprofit and corporate work as well, those gigs have also dried up.
“You know, you’re supposed to be photographing people,” she said. “and that’s not happening right now.”
Eleven of Williams’ wedding clients have postponed their nuptials because of the outbreak, and that that number is expected to keep climbing.
Making Lemonade Out of Lemons
To cope with the situation, Williams has been participating in online workshops to fine-tune her photography skills, as well as honing her business plan. She applied to the U.S. Small Business Administration for a $10,000 COVID-19 Economic Injury Disaster Loan in early April, but has not heard back yet. In the meantime, she’s living off her savings. However, she needs to save some of that to keep her wedding business going, despite the stay-at-home order.
Some couples are simply postponing their weddings, but Williams is working with her clients on more creative options.
“A lot of couples are like, ‘OK, we’ll just have our wedding next year,’” she said. “But, for me as a photographer, I would normally have an entirely new batch of clients next year.”
Instead, Williams is suggesting that her clients keep their original wedding date and plan for a more intimate ceremony with just the officiant and her. Fortunately for her, three couples have decided to do just that.
“We already have booked a date. Let’s do something with it, since that was important to you,” she said. “Then we can have a party at a later date and work out our schedules to work it out.”
The first such intimate wedding is planned for June. Williams is still sorting out the details, but sees a small wedding on the couple’s front porch. Or, the wedding could be staged at another location that has meaning to the couple.
Some couples could choose to have their intimate ceremony photographed instead of the typical engagement photoshoot. If they plan to have a wedding reception at a later date, Williams would photograph that event just as she would have at their wedding.
“At the moment, it’s on a case-by-case basis,” she said. “I want to make sure people have these very special moments documented.”
While this wedding season is sunk, the good news is, pandemics can’t last forever, and sooner or later, wedding ceremonies will return to normal. When that happens, Chicago photographers such as Allison Williams will be back in business, better than ever.