Huntington Beach photographer helps families capture birthdays and celebrations from afar amid a pandemic

Joanna Miriam
Joanna Miriam poses with her 11-month-old daughter Leela and dog Rocco in front of their home in Huntington Beach. The owner of Joanna Miriam Photography takes professional photos of families from her car, commemorating birthdays, graduations and other celebratory events while social distancing.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Joanna Miriam is helping families capture the good moments amid a global pandemic.

The Huntington Beach photographer has been making house calls, photographing families that are celebrating birthdays, graduations and other special events. Due to the spread of COVID-19, these families can’t celebrate in the ways they’d hoped, but with Miriam’s help, they can still document the special day.

“It’s almost therapeutic for the families,” Miriam said. “It’s become a real passion project for me.”

Miriam has spent the last two weeks taking photos of families from her car to ensure adequate social distancing. She shoots everything through her window and sunroof. Sometimes she’ll stand on her car.

Miriam will snap a portrait of the family on the porch and then capture them doing the front-yard activities they’ve been doing “to stay sane” during the pandemic.

She said she’s photographed more than 30 families so far.

Her first job was on March 27, when she photographed a 3-year-old’s birthday party that had a drive-by appearance from a police car and fire truck.

“I was crying, it was really emotional,” Miriam said.

Joanna Miriam
Joanna Miriam and her husband, Dave, with their children, Logan, 3, and Leela, 11 months, in front of their home in Huntington Beach on Friday.
(Kevin Chang / Staff Photographer)

Another memorable event was when she photographed elementary school teachers parading through the streets where their students live. Students held up signs they’d made to celebrate their teachers.

Miriam’s 11-year-old photography business took a significant financial hit when the economy shut down due to the spread of the virus. Miriam said she lost about $20,000 worth of work due to having to reschedule several wedding shoots and other events. However, she isn’t seeking to shore up those big financial losses with her current work.

Miriam is using a much cheaper pricing scale than she used prior to the virus, providing the first photo for free with a Yelp review, and other options to purchase one photo for $30, four for $40, eight for $80 and all photos for $120.

“I am definitely not paying my bills from it,” Miriam said. “Just giving back to the community and, by spinning my wheels now, hopefully come holiday portrait time the community remembers me.”

Miriam has two young kids to care for, and her husband, a flooring contractor, hasn’t worked for weeks. But she believes a community-focused approach to running her business is essential right now.

“I feel like that’s the only way to thrive and survive — it’s not realistic to try and run your business pre-COVID,” Miriam said. “The hard thing about wedding photographers is last year I knew how much money was coming in each month because everything is a year out. To know where every single dollar is coming from and to have that completely cut off and not have a date when everything is going to be reinstated — it probably gives me more anxiety than anything else.”

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