Photography Using Remote Cameras

Anastasia Shub

Being a photographer in times of lockdown is challenging, to say the least. Being a reportage photographer is almost impossible. Although I normally find the phrase “art never comes from happiness” a bit too exalted, it might be somewhat applicable to the solution I found, which is… shooting through web camera. Being confined within the four walls that is as desperate (or resourceful?) as it can get. At first, I was pretty sceptical of myself – photography without a camera? Am I turning into a pandemic hipster? But having tried this unconventional form of art I became absolutely thrilled – by the newness and film-alike aesthetic of the image.

Another revelation is that inability of physical interaction with the model only brings you two closer – as you are able to peek inside each other’s homes and not be reserved to the “neutral territory” such as photo studio. Likewise, you take equal part in the creative process because both of you have knowledge to bring to the table and ideas that start popping up as you click away.

Another perk of webcam photo shooting is that you can cross borders without leaving the room and you don’t need much to start. But there are certainly some tips to know to make the process as seamless and enjoyable as possible.

1.   Know the setting beforehand. Ask your model to send a photo/video of his place to start “sketching” ideas in your head.

2.   Know the lighting beforehand. I ask my models to write down the hours when the sun enters the room because daylight is photographer’s best friend. Especially when you shoot using your webcam as you can’t adjust f-stop or ISO. So, the quality of the picture hugely depends on the amount of light available.

3.   If your model has no tripod, better shoot using a laptop. It is a more stable option and you’ll save some time and nerves spent on fixing the smartphone on a seedlings pot.

4.   Check the connection in advance. It is very important because you don’t want your model to be all dressed up with nowhere to go.  

5.   Plan on clothing beforehand. This applies to any type of photoshoot and webcam photo shoot is no exception. Color palette of the image should be harmonious, and knowing the setting, the lighting and the clothing will give you total control over the shoot.

6.   Find the tool that works for you, experiment. I used FaceTime, Skype and Zoom. All of them worked differently from shoot to shoot (oh, the wonders of technology). FaceTime produces great Live Photos but sometimes has software bugs and stops saving them. Once I had to re-shoot the whole session because of that. Not fun. On Mac, keep your Photos open to see whether the images are appearing in the gallery.

In-built snapshots in Skype can produce good pictures. However, Skype captures both you and your model at the same time and instantly sends this image to your mutual chat. For me, it takes away some magic if you want to pre-select and edit the photos before giving them away. This is why in this case I prefer taking screen shots manually.

Zoom can produce some sharp, good quality imagery, so is also worth a try.

7.   Be flexible with your approach. Some people shine their brightest when they are NOT POSING. For me, being a reportage photographer is a great help. For others – here is a piece of advice. When the person is “freezing” or performing a bit out of his element – just stop taking pictures. Start “shooting a movie”. Chat away, ask the model to tell a story, to move around the room while doing that, to switch on her favorite playlist, to sit comfortably in the beams of sun, to have a drink, for heaven’s sake! Be a friend, a director, a therapist. In other words – find an individual approach and seize the moment.

As for me – this whole experience has been the coolest shooting journey in a long time. Something so fresh, simple and sincere, with no heavy equipment, race for excellence or inflated expectations. So, one last advice would be – have fun! All these artsy perversions might end very soon, so hurry up to make the most of such pandemic side effects.

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