Updated: Oct 28, 2022
When COVID settled into our lives, it changed our routines, habits and workflows in many ways. As a photographer who shoots landscapes, it wasn't a huge deal, except for the difficulties in traveling longer distances. As a figure/portrait photographer, however, the ramifications were huge and intimidating. How do you work with other human beings in a close and intimate setting for extended periods of time, and certainly the subject of the photograph is not likely to support the concept of wearing a face mask.But for the traveling art model, the consequences are much higher and the situation much more difficult. They make their living from not only shooting in close quarters with photographers and posing for painters, but they travel far and wide to do so. Initially, when everyone thought that COVID would (hopefully) be a short-term thing, model shoots just stopped for the most part. When the light at the end of the COVID tunnel kept receding further and further into the future, people began to get creative.
Enter the Concept of the "Remote Shoot"
Just like people reluctantly turned to technology to social via the ubiquitous "Zoom Calls", travelling art models turned to technology and started offering "Remote Shoots". How does this generally work?Needless to say, I for one was VERY skeptical, especially since much of my photography involves medium and large format film cameras which cannot be "tethered" through software control via the internet. But my good friend, who publicly goes by the modeling name Anoush Anou had mentioned that she was doing remote shoots. After thinking about it for quite some time, I thought I would try it, and if I did try it, I would work with someone that I have worked well with before. I didn't know what to expect, but I could trust and depend on Anoush.
Once a tentative date was set for the shoot, we spent about a week of communication throwing ideas back and forth and me being eductated how it would work. Anoush would set up her camera on a tripod in one or more locations in her home where the natural light would be good for the style of photography that we talked about. We discussed lighting, backdrops and general types of images to go for. Her camera was then "tethered" to her laptop computer, and I would be able to control it, preview the shots and see the results, through Adobe Lightroom on her computer. Her screen would then be shared with me via Zoom and I would be given control of her screen.
The shoot itself was pretty straightforward. Initially, I was able to click on the screen where I wanted the camera to focus. Later on I figured out how to set her camera to autofocus on her face, which made things easy, though it didn't always focus correctly in the low light. Other than that I just gave suggestions to fine tune poses, but Anoush was on autopilot more than usual, and more than I was used to.
Enter the Lo-Tech
Why did I call this post "Hi-Tech Meets Lo-Tech"? Anoush suggested introducing the idea of shooting through an old, worn mirror. We did this first, even though it added delay and complexity to the shooting setup. The camera had to be aimed at the mirror, and the mirror had to be angled to pick up the scene where the pose was and catch the light from the window correctly. I was a mere spectator at this point. But the images, with their mirror defects and added glow around details from the worked great. I might have to consider doing this in person with some photos.
The results ended up that I came away with a variety of great images that were different from my usual images, thought at times the process was kind of frustrating and somewhat out of my control.
Was it a good experience? Mostly yes, and I give a lot of credit for that to Anoush. Would I do it again? Not likely (unless severe social distancing becomes the norm for the very long term), although I might do it one more time with Anoush to visit some of the unexplored shots we talked about. But I'm unlikely to try it again with anyone else. It's just not worth it (for me, your mileage may vary). Here are my reasons...First, I like to shoot figure and portrait with medium and large format film. That cannot be done via a remote shoot. I was limited to Anoush's digital camera and lenses.Second, I like to have the freedom to move around with the camera, try a different angle with the light, etc. This is difficult in this setup as I have to ask the camera/tripod to be moved everytime to a different location and angle.Third, I didn't feel that much of the shoot was really in my control and it relied more on the model's input for both style and process. I was pretty much sitting in front of my computer clicking the shutter and fine tuning compositions and poses.Finally, there is something about working in person with a model having vaguely to do with being "in the moment" and/or "being in the zone", as well as communicating on a different level. Sound, light, eye contact and everything else involved in being in the room working together makes a difference. It is the same and everything else done via "Zoom" or other videoconferencing platforms. Something is missing and it has some affect on the outcome.I am glad I tried this approach, but I look forward to returning to the traditional way of doing photo shoots. However, I do recommend trying this remote shoot concept at least once, and especially if you shoot digital, you may find it more in sync to your approach in working with the human form in photography.Please feel free to ask any questions or leave comments below.