Meet Lisa Calandrino, a mid-Michigan photographer who used the pandemic as a time to hit the refresh button on her mental health while also starting her own business. 

MICHIGAN—Maybe 2020, during the brink of the COVID-19 pandemic, wasn’t the optimal time to start a business. But Lisa Calandrino of Pábitel Photography wouldn’t have had it any other way. 

She’s a longtime mid-Michigan photographer who decided to take the jump and launch her own photography business, in the middle of a global crisis. 

“My business is still fairly new, but in the last two years it has definitely had visible growth,” Calandrino told The ‘Gander. “I think the extra time 2020 gave me for focusing on Pábitel Photography has really helped pick up my business, because in 2021, I have had more paid sessions than in any of the previous years.”

When the pandemic began, Calandrino was working full-time at the front desk of a Frankenmuth hotel. She said prior to COVID-19, she struggled to find a balance between her full-time job and growing her own business. 

But when things slowed down due to safety measures that kept people from frequenting hotels, her hotel job slowed down, allowing her more time to focus on her business. 

“Throughout that entire time, I could feel and see my business’ growth,” she said. “My exposure on social media grew, and I was also able to use my time outside of the hotel to practice my photography and editing skills.”

Now, Calandrino no longer works at the hotel. Pábitel Photography has her full attention, and as such, she said, things have been moving forward. Now, she is hoping that aspects of life can continue to improve, such as the mental health for herself and others across Michigan. 

“I feel guilty saying this because so many people have been negatively affected by the pandemic, but I honestly think the slowness has been good for my mental health,” she said. “I was only out one shift every two weeks while working at the hotel full-time. That extra day off from work made a huge difference for me, especially since I was able to work on photography so much during my hotel shifts.”

The time away from work allowed Calandrino to spend more time relaxing with her family, she said, whereas before the pandemic she was working full-time at the hotel, coming home to focus on her start-up business and then using her days off to visit her now-husband in Grand Rapids. 

“It was go-go-go every week, and the pandemic really helped me to see how wearing that was on my mental-state,” she said. 

The pandemic did cause some hiccups for Calandrino’s start-up. She didn’t do any photo sessions when safety measures asked people to stay home during the early portion of the pandemic. She always brings a mask to her shoots and keeps 6-feet of distance between herself and those she works with. She also asks people to reschedule if they don’t feel well. 

Calandrino said that, for the most part, people have become more understanding during the pandemic “when it comes to slow service, businesses being understaffed, or less services being available.” 

“I am hoping that we see more changes going forward with actual businesses though as far as higher wages, staff appreciation, and more relaxed sick- and personal- time policies,” she said. 

COVID-19 has, according to Michigan’s latest data report, claimed the lives of more than 21,000. Over 1 million people in the state have, at some point, tested positive for the virus. But those numbers are much lower than where they could have been if not for the development of three safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines. 

More than half of Michiganders are vaccinated, according to the state. But hospitals and health systems remain inundated and near capacity across the state due to the number of unvaccinated people contracting the virus. 

Calandrino, who is vaccinated and thinks everyone who is able should also be vaccinated to keep themselves and others safe, said she hopes that patience with others continues once things are officially back to normal. 

“It’s not a new concept, by any means, but after having all gone through the pandemic together, we should have a new understanding for how one situation can affect so many people differently,” she said. “I hope that is something we can all keep in mind as we move on.”