A survey conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of NerdWallet revealed that more than half of Americans (51%) made an effort to shop more at small and locally-owned businesses amid the uncertainty of the pandemic and related closures and restrictions. What’s more, 40% said they were still making an increased effort to do so.

The Covid pandemic hit small businesses hard, but communities around the globe rallied to help their local shops stay afloat during a difficult time. And there’s reason to hope: according to the Small Business Index report, 77% of small business owners are optimistic about the future.

Unsurprisingly, global support for small businesses has also helped influence our visual culture and the world of advertising. Over on Getty Images, customer searches for terms like “shop local,” “support small business,” and “sustainable small business” all rose during the pandemic. What’s more, research from Getty Images revealed that 82% of Americans reported that they were shopping at small businesses as much or more than they did before the pandemic hit.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at how you can illustrate this movement when shooting for your photography portfolio.

Licensing basics

While business-themed content is an evergreen genre in commercial Licensing, there are some things to keep in mind. The first is that you need model releases for any recognizable people and property releases for any privately owned properties, residences, or businesses. When collaborating with a local business, be upfront about your plans for the images.

You might be able to work out a deal where you provide marketing photos for them to use, in exchange for any necessary releases and permission to license some of the photos for use elsewhere and by other companies or brands. Make it clear that when you submit your photos for Licensing, they could end up anywhere, from websites to magazines to billboards. Some businesses will be happy to agree in exchange for a discount on your services, while others might not be a good fit.

When shooting for Licensing, you always want to avoid any intellectual property issues, including branded signage, packaging, clothing or uniforms, and more. Do a sweep of the space before the shoot to remove any problematic elements, or use framing and composition to exclude them from your shots.

Spotlight on: Diversity and inclusion

Following Covid, representation remains as important as ever, with research from Facebook revealing that the pandemic hit businesses led by underrepresented communities and women especially hard. Globally, while 16% of businesses led by men were closed, that number jumped to 20% among businesses led by women. 44% of minority-led businesses in the United States reported lower sales year-over-year, while 29% of other small businesses said the same.

Advertisers, brands, and photographers can help correct these inequalities by spotlighting and uplifting minority-led small businesses and female business owners in their communities. While we still have a long way to go, people are waking up to the importance of representation, in front of and behind the camera: according to a recent trend report by Getty Images, searches for the phrases “small business owner woman” and “Black small business owner” trended over the last year.

Spotlight on: Online shopping

There isn’t one way to support small businesses. Last year’s survey from NerdWallet, mentioned previously, found that from March 2020 through pandemic-related restrictions and closures, 27% of Americans ordered food more often from locally-owned restaurants, while 21% shopped more at locally-owned grocery stores.

And 20% said they spent more online with small businesses. One of the motivations Americans cited for increasing their support of small businesses was that small or local brick and mortar stores had expanded online, making it more convenient to shop. 14% reported cutting back on online spending with larger retailers.

Photographers can visualize the online shopping/technology boom from the perspective of both the shopper and the small business on the other end, from the creation and listing of homemade products to carrying out transactions to the packaging and delivery of those items. Consider teaming up with a friend who runs an online shop and documenting a day in the life of their business.

Spotlight on: Shopping offline

If we return to Getty Images’ trend report on the subject, we learn that more than half of Americans agree that the top way they engage with small businesses is through in-person experiences, with some of the most important aspects of that experience being the attention and personal interaction they receive while shopping.

While online shopping remains a mainstay of our lives post-pandemic, it’s equally important to champion the businesses in your community that bring people together in real-time, whether it’s the local coffee shop or the vendors at your farmers’ market. Maybe it’s a salon or spa, or maybe it’s a garden or nursery. It could be a restaurant or artisanal boutique—you name it.

“Consider how the shopping experience at a small business is different from a big box store,” the 500px team urges. Capture candid moments of customers browsing, connecting, asking for help, and finally checking out or paying (remember to get those model releases). Finally, capture the atmosphere of the place itself and the details that make it unique.

Spotlight on: Sustainability

Last year, The Inside Small Business Survey by The UPS Store revealed that the majority of the general population (66%) and small business owners (67%) agreed that small businesses try to be environmentally responsible. Sustainability is something to keep in mind throughout your commercial portfolio, and that extends to small business shoots as well.

Research from American Express further underscores the significance of ethical practices in business. During the 2021 holiday season, 63% of consumers surveyed said that it was important to purchase gifts that were ethically sourced, while 64% said it was important to purchase gifts that were sustainable or minimize their environmental impact.

When researching the local economy and small businesses in your hometown, keep an eye out for shops that use plastic-free packaging; sell locally-sourced, plant-based products; or otherwise do their part to minimize their carbon footprints, from sourcing to shipping. Those details are all worth incorporating into your shoots.

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