Lights. Camera. Social Distance: Virtual photography is the latest lockdown trend
Photo Credit: Alaya F/Instagram

Let’s face it — after more two months in lockdown, we are all swiftly realising that there are only so many selfies we can take before monotony takes over and that the self-timer function on our phones is quite limiting. So, does that mean that lockdown photoshoots have run their course? Quite to the contrary, ingenuous photographers have discovered a whole new outlet to showcase their skills and unleash their creativity – virtual photoshoots that are completely complaint with social distancing guidelines. On social media, fashion photographer Sasha Jairam has taken to the lens (or rather, her phone) with newfound gusto, unveiling beautiful portraits of Alaya F and Jacqueline Fernandez during lockdown. Nineties heartthrob Milind Soman and his wife Ankita Konwar raised the stakes a notch further by posing for India’s first Zoom magazine cover shoot.

Professional photographers and models share how you can create your very own socially-distant digital spread.

Choose the right tools

Virtual photoshoots conducted via FaceTime or Zoom leave the photographer with the option of either digitally screenshotting photos or pointing their cameras at the computer screen to capture their desired frames. The latter can be tricky as the photographs may display the moiré effect, a wave-like pattern that sometimes appears on screens when a camera tries to capture an image of it, explains photographer Harkiran Singh Bhasin.

Harkiran Singh Bhasin
Harkiran Singh Bhasin

“I recently figured how to shoot via remote access on an Android phone. This means that I can access and control another phone's camera remotely using Any Desk, a free app. Unlike FaceTime or Zoom, this app allows full access and complete control of the camera on the other person's phone. Both the model and photographer must download this app on their phones. While conducting an experimental shoot with model Arlette Grao, I could enable her phone’s flash and switch from the wide angle to portrait mode, as necessary. I was very pleased with the resulting picture quality as most Android phones also shoot RAW files — this allows much higher resolution other than screenshots or pictures of screens,” shares photographer Kevin Nunes.

Arlette Grao
Arlette Grao

Isolate your bandwidth

It’s very important to connect your device to a good bandwidth and disconnect any other device from your Wi-Fi during the shoot, says Bhasin. “This applies to both you and the subject you are shooting. If other devices are connected to your Wi-Fi, the quality of images may be choppy,” he explains.

Prep your shot

Before the actual shoot, ‘see’ the space you will be shooting the subject in, says Bhasin. “You can request for a few images or a walk-through video of the space. This will help you to better visualise the shot. A space with ample window light would be ideal. An overcast day or late afternoon light will give you a more seamless soft light situation,” he says.

Photographer Pranav S Bhatt adds that the size of the light source is the single most important factor in illuminating the subject and plays a key role in determining shadows and reflections. “Have the model photograph various areas of their home or neighbourhood at different times of the day. Pay attention to the backgrounds and the lights and shadows”, he suggests. You could further use inexpensive tools such a white cloth, black paper and aluminium foil as reflectors. Secure the phone to a heavy object using tape and hair ties. You could also experiment with different light sources such as desk lamps and 60-watt bulbs layered with a tracing paper diffuser, he adds.

Lights. Camera. Social Distance: Virtual photography is the latest lockdown trend
Lights. Camera. Social Distance: Virtual photography is the latest lockdown trend
Lights. Camera. Social Distance: Virtual photography is the latest lockdown trend
Lights. Camera. Social Distance: Virtual photography is the latest lockdown trend

Compose your picture

“Use objects such as posters, paintings, indoor plants, lamps, pets and photo frames to tell a story,” says Bhatt. Bhasin says, “Remember that you may not have the option to blur the background while taking the shot. You want to make sure the background is not cluttered so that it does not divert the attention from your subject.” If you are shooting simple portraits, he suggests using a bookshelf or a plant makes in the good background. Nunes adds that shooting on the terrace ensured ample light, while the high-rise in the background added an interesting element to his images.

Keep it simple

“Remember that the model is going to have a lot to do in terms of setting up the shot, moving things around during the shoot, and posing and shooting at the same time. Make sure you keep an open and clear path of communication. Do not over complicate things. Also, keep your phones should be fully charged just before commencing the shoot,” says Nunes.

Shomik Basu, producer at The Bombay Film Company, recently completed a short film that was shot remotely over various locations. “When filming, consistency is key. If you are shooting across multiple locations with multiple actors, remember that lighting and other factors will vary at different times and locations. Planning as much of the shoot in advance will save you valuable time and stress on the actual day of the shoot,” he adds. If your model plans to use makeup, Bhatt suggests having test makeup sessions before the shoot.

Dos and don’ts

These simple tips, Bhatt says, can help you to get the best results from your lockdown photoshoots:

1. Shoot at different hours of the day to get various types of results. Aim for:

  • The golden hours, shortly after sunrise and before sunset.

  • Mid-day. While the light conditions can create harsh and unflattering photos outdoors, indoor photographs can turn out quite well.

  • Twilight, after sunset when the sky takes on a pinkish hue. This creates the perfect background for silhouettes.

2. Keep altering and shifting the angles, rooms, backgrounds, foregrounds and the placement of objects around the subject.

3. Avoid using the auto-flash or repeatedly shooting in the same places with the same arrangements and settings.

4. Don’t shoot only from one specific angle all the time. Variation is key.

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