Front Porch Sessions: Fun Trend or Irresponsible Loophole?

At this point, we’ve heard it over a dozen times. Stay inside, and do your part to flatten the curve. It’s a new guideline to help decrease the number of global coronavirus cases, which has gone from nearly non-existent, at least in most people’s minds, to more than 630,000 seemingly overnight.

Even so, communities are still split on how to handle this reality, especially business owners. In a time where we should be practicing social distancing, how close is too close? And how far can entrepreneurs go to make money during a pandemic?

Before we can answer that, we first have to talk about “front porch sessions,” a new trend that brings photographers within a few feet of a client’s doorstep.

In this creative workaround, photographers come to a client’s home and shoot them from a distance on their property – through windows, glass doors, or on porches. Originally called the Front Steps Project, this movement began in Massachusetts, but it’s spreading everywhere. Do a Google search, and you’ll see the trend popping up in places like Ohio, Georgia, Tennessee, Louisiana, and North Dakota.

While some photographers shoot these sessions for free or donate the money to coronavirus relief, there are potential risks. For one, you never know how well a photographer will distance themselves from you or your family.

In today’s From the Industry submission, an anonymous contributor warns us of this unfortunate reality and shares alternatives to the risky trend.

photo by Vanessa Madec

The drawbacks of front porch sessions during COVID-19

[Anonymous]: Dear photographers offering front porch sessions,

Today I woke up feeling emotionally heavy. I felt fear and compassion and anger and so many different emotions. I know you feel these too.

As photographers, many of us are relying on our abilities to think outside the box in order to connect with our communities and clients during this challenging time. We are used to making our income through in-person sessions and suddenly we’re required to back off for the sake of everyone’s health and safety. Recently, there has been a huge surge in the popularity of “porch sessions,” where photographers conduct a family session from the street. While at first, it struck me as a clever workaround for the social distancing era, the more I thought about it, the more it bothered me.

This pandemic is deadly and serious and we should not be searching for loopholes and workarounds. We need to be limiting our in-person interactions to only those that are necessary to our survival for the sake of the medical professionals and essential service workers who are risking their lives for us daily.

I’m sure there are many photographers, maybe even yourself, who are doing these sessions with proper precautions in place and staying well away, but my fear is that, like any trend that gathers this much steam, some won’t. Some will knock on doors and touch doorknobs or get too close and it’s just not something we need to be encouraging at this time.

I know your intentions are good; you want to spread joy and love in a time of crisis, but ultimately, these sessions are irresponsible.

photo by Ap-Art Photography

If you have to touch a gate, doorknob, or pass someone on the street, you could be unknowingly passing the virus or picking it up. When you will inevitably have to get gas for your vehicle, you could pick it up. If you’re not wiping down your gear, computer, everything you touch after coming home – you could pass it or pick it up.

Along with the risk factors come the actual legal factors. In many areas, photography is now deemed a non-essential service and must halt all operations that take place outside of the home. Upon phoning the local health unit I was explicitly told, “Photography is a non-essential business and is required by law to be closed right now.” Similarly, the Ministry of Labour said, “Photographers with a media pass working for a communications company are the exception. All others are non-essential.”

Let’s stand together in solidarity and stay inside; let’s flatten the curve and follow the guidelines that others are following. There are so many alternative ways of using your skills to spread joy and give back to the community. Create a local photo a day challenge so families can start documenting their everyday life and share. Create an online workshop to teach others how to take their very own porch sessions, or even better, couch sessions or bed sessions. We have the power to create movements within our industry by using imagery. Let’s do it in the most responsible way we can so everyone can eventually get back to operating their businesses as usual.

Sincerely, a concerned photographer and community member.

(4) comments

  1. Amy Faith

    I totally agree with the “concerned photographer”. Front porch sessions are cute and still keeps you close to your couples/clients in mind and heart, but your journey to the couples house could be quite a distance, meaning you have to take public transport or drive. Driving means you are isolating, but what happens if you need gas? You are filling up gas stations with even more non-essential people when really it should be food retailers delivery drivers, emergency staff, and careers of the vulnerable ONLY using these stations because they literally HAVE to. The best idea is just to listen to what the authorities are asking and STAY HOME.

  2. You’re not a doctor

    This would be valuable advice if you were doctors, but instead you masquerade as a concerned citizen, with your real concern being stopping other people from doing good in this crisis. Maybe instead of doing that you can do something more valuable with your time? I don’t know, I’m not a doctor.

  3. michelle Schmidt

    Which part of “Just Stay Home” don’t the porch photographers understand? Their reasons for doing this are basically “accommodating” their poor behaviour at best and shameless self promotion at worst. They look desperate rather than professional. JUST STAY HONE.

  4. Julie

    I agree that in some areas, leaving your house AT ALL is not appropriate right now. In geographical areas where going on a walk or bike ride in one’s own neighborhood is a completely safe activity (in fact fresh air in a wide open area and vitamin D are essential to immune-system wellness), bringing a camera along does not suddenly make this activity unsafe. Waving at your friends and neighbors from twenty feet away is a completely safe activity in many areas, having a camera in-hand does not suddenly make this unsafe either. Photographing neighbors from a distance, for free, is personal work. Photographing clients for money (even charity) is business activity. These distinctions as well as considering the locale of the photographer and the client are very important. I have been very disappointed at the amount of useless photographer-shaming going on everywhere right now — including sharing this article as fodder for the shaming.

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