Since February 2020, the entire world has been experiencing what is likely a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic. No country was spared, and here at home in the United States, we somehow managed to be one of the most infected countries on the planet. More than a year later, where do we stand?
In a surreal chain of events, we witnessed empty grocery stores and a peculiar obsession with overstocking our homes with toilet paper and paper towels. Who knew that in times of danger, our first instinct is to flock to toilet paper? Soon thereafter, the entire country shut down for the first time in our lifetimes. We all had “stay at home” orders to prevent the further spread of COVID-19 and everyday activities all came to a screeching halt.
The biggest culprits responsible for the raging spread of the virus were “in-person events.” Nationwide, we were forbidden to gather. That situation lasted until just recently. Even now, more than one year later, we are just beginning to encounter public gatherings but with continued restrictions. So, the question arises: “Is it still too early or are we ready to resume in-person events as we knew them?”
It is my opinion — no, my passioned plea — that we begin to organize, attend, and participate in group events once again, especially as it relates to education. Whether it’s traditional in-class training or workshops and seminars, it is imperative to the human spirit, our desire to collaborate face-to-face, and frankly our livelihoods as photographers, that we must allow group gatherings to begin once again, safely.
For more than a year we have made many sacrifices for the greater good. We have been sequestered for months, closed our businesses – some of them for good – and have modified our existence using new technology to maintain some level of communication with each other to avoid complete insanity. That was a pretty good short-term fix, but the time to begin the process of “normal again,” I believe, starts now.
A lot has happened since we were thrown this 100 mile-per-hour health emergency curveball. According to the CDC, as of April 21st, approximately 213 million Americans have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 86.2 million have been fully vaccinated. This number is increasing every day (despite hiccups with the rollout of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine).
Keeping all this in mind, I asked myself again: Are in-person education workshops safe now? I don’t believe anyone can guarantee complete safety when it comes to this virus. But I do believe we are in a much better place in terms of knowledge regarding how the virus spreads, hospitalization levels, and the availability of vaccines. If we combine all of these advances in how we are dealing with the virus per CDC protocols we can have in-person events, especially outdoor events, in a much safer manner.
For me, in-person events must adhere to four guidelines in order to be safe: First, these events must strictly adhere to CDC guidelines. This includes limiting attendance and seating capacity, which leads to the second guideline of importance: social distancing. Events must use multiple entrances and exits to discourage crowded waiting areas and prioritize outdoor events and activities where distancing can be more easily maintained.
Thirdly, masks must be worn both indoors and outdoors. Again, per the CDC, masks offer some protection to the wearer but are also meant to protect those around the wearer. Masks are only effective at reducing transmission when all parties wear them, and so they must be required. Finally, temperature checks must be performed before anyone is allowed to enter a venue to take part in an event. If event organizers and venues can adhere to a handful of safe and simple rules, we can begin to get back to some of the things we love to do, especially as we enter late spring and summer where outdoor events and activities beg to be enjoyed.
Personally and professionally, I have taken a long hard look at where we are in terms of vaccinations and ongoing safety protocols that can be implemented without impeding on the “experience,” and will conduct my first workshop in more than a year, and I encourage others to carefully consider the same. All safety protocols listed above will be implemented during my workshop. The conscious decision to move ahead with this workshop has been personally liberating and I hope it is the same for those who decide to attend.
There has to be a balance at some point to juggle safety with in-person events and I believe that with proper guidelines and consumer cooperation, we are now at that point. I believe it is time to safely move ahead with our lives if we remain diligent.
Image credits: All photos captured prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. Photos by Collin Pierson Photography and used with permission.
About the author: Roberto Valenzuela is a photographer, author, and educator based in Beverly Hills, CA, and is a member of the prestigious Canon Explorers of Light program. He is an avid educator who has shared his skills and experience at large conventions and conferences around the world. He conducts private workshops on lighting, posing, and wedding photography. He has photographed major campaigns for Canon USA including the 5D Mark IV and most recently a global campaign for Canon’s EOS R5 and EOS R6 mirrorless cameras.
Roberto Valenzuela is joining Joel Grimes, Jen Rozenbaum, and Pratik Naik in hosting The Photo Creators Conference from May 3-6 in Tucson, Arizona. During this hands-on conference, a lineup of world-class educators will place a heavy emphasis on personalized instruction and offer exceptional learning opportunities while following the safety guidelines noted above.