The COVID-19 pandemic has forced business owners across the nation to reimagine the ways in which their businesses operate, creatively considering how they can best accommodate their customers while following the stringent safety requirements that have been imposed upon them.
One of those business owners is Heather Bellini, an alumna of Villa Maria College’s photography program. Since her graduation in the year 2000, Bellini has been busy building her business from a self-proclaimed “side hustle” to a well-established, full-service photography enterprise that provides a full suite of custom services for weddings and corporate events, professional headshots, families and more.
Once Western New York was forced into quarantine, Bellini’s creativity kicked in. “As soon as the pandemic hit, we went into ‘fix it’ mode and immediately began the Buffalo Porch Project,” she said. The Buffalo Porch Project was an initiative that took Bellini and her team on a 2,000-mile journey throughout Western New York.
“Buffalo Porch Portraits were conducted safely,” Bellini explained. “We shot from a distance with a telephoto lens, wore masks and sanitized often. We even carried measuring tape in our camera bags to ensure that all social distancing rules were being met. Families were posed using verbal cues; parents were awesome at helping with that.”
In total, the Buffalo Porch Project took Bellini and her team on an incredible journey that resulted in them photographing 115 families in front of their own homes. “These sessions were extremely emotional,” said Bellini. “So many local families shared their stories about how they had been affected by COVID. I got to know so many families and hear so many stories of loss, togetherness and neighborly love.”
“This project became so much bigger than me,” she said. “This project took on a life of its own. Some days I would smile from ear to ear and other days I would cry…it was an experience that I will never ever forget.
While Bellini did not invent the concept of front porch photo sessions, she did put her own spin on the project. “A friend of mine told me that a photographer had done something similar in another city but was charging money for it,” said Bellini. “I decided to bring it to Buffalo and do it for free!”
As for her time at Villa, Bellini says it helped her reach her creative potential. “Villa taught me to harness my passion and my creative side,” she said. “I enjoyed surrounding myself with others who also shared the same passion as myself. I am still connected to Villa, and my experience as a student will always stay with me as it has helped me to become who I am today!”
After 3 long months, Heather Bellini Photography was able to re-open the doors of its studio in Williamsville. Like most businesses, the impact of the shutdown was far-reaching. “We shut down abruptly on March 13 and we did not reopen until mid-June,” she said. “Over 25 weddings were cancelled or postponed, and every corporate event was cancelled…not to mention the loss of our headshot clients and family portraits. The loss was astronomical.”
Bellini says her team has been busy and are working to re-build day-by-day. Her business, though, has been changed completely. “Clients are now seen by appointment only. We now shoot using telephoto lenses so that we can stay 6-feet away from our clients but make produce images that appear to have been shot up close. We practice hand gestures and verbal cues and refrain from touching our subjects during our sessions. Like everyone else, we’re wearing masks and sanitizing often. We are blessed to be busy again and can’t wait for a booming 2021. I will never complain about being busy again!”
All of the images captured by Heather Bellini Photography can be viewed online at www.buffaloporchproject.com.