Virtual Photoshoots - Connecting in Isolation

For three months during the onset of the covid-19 pandemic it wasn’t possible to do photo shoots of any kind in person.  It was risky, frowned upon if not technically illegal and also, I had left the city and was staying with my parents, far away from my usual photography subjects.  

I started to see all kinds of virtual photo shoots popping up on Instagram where photographers were doing shoots through zoom or Facebook messenger or other video call platforms.  I decided to give it a try, to attempt to spark a little creativity and make a connection.  Also, Mintroom Studio was having an instagram contest and and the theme was a virtual shoot so it seemed like a good time to try it.

My first shoot was with Emma Bartolomucci, a super talented dancer and choreographer that I have wanted to collaborate on a shoot with for a long time, but we’ve never been able to make the scheduling work.  Luckily, with almost nowhere to go, we were able to make the time!  

The challenges of trying to photograph someone through video chat are many.  I discovered pretty quickly that I much preferred to shoot the ipad with my DSLR rather than to use the screencap feature, even though it made controlling glare a big priority.  As for the actual directing the shoot, not only is it just sort of bizarre to not be face to face, but I had no control over lighting other than what (the very accommodating Emma) could cobble together with lamps and window light and even then we were limited by how our phones processed the light.  What in real life would have been a tiny gesture of ‘lift your chin this way’ turned into me making huge pantomimey movements so she could see where I was pointing in my tiny little square on her screen.  Luckily, Emma is a fabulous dancer and created all kinds of fun shapes to photograph within all of our constraints.  (click on any image throughout the post to see it larger)

I love super sharp focused images, so this was a really interesting exercise for me to let that go.  It isn’t possible to have perfectly sharp, focussed, images when you’re shooting a phone or ipad screen.  I found that I actually enjoyed the challenge, especially in the editing, to see what I could come up with if ‘perfectly sharp’ wasn’t an option.  Once I got over that I actually had  a lot of fun editing and taught myself a couple of new Photoshop skills that will come in handy when I’m back to my more standard photography.   My favourite image is actually a collage that took me a full afternoon to edit together.   I’m really happy with the pop-art-esque image I ended up with!  

And as for the contest - I won!  With this image

My second virtual shoot was with my friend Steph Venerus.  Steph and I have worked together for two summers at the Stephenville Theatre Festival where I was working as a director and performer and she was basically our entire props and set dressing department and was totally amazing at it.  I asked Steph if she would be interested in doing a shoot that plays with light and shadows, I figured that she, as an amazing props person who can literally make a whole show out of almost nothing, would be able to find lots of cool objects to make that work.  We definitely used her resourcefulness - she was hanging her phone from hangers on a clothes rack, she was nailing shadow making colanders into the window frame, it was a whole thing.   Luckily, her room also has two skylights that we were able to use as pretty dramatic sources of light, even if it meant she was crawling around trying to keep up with the light as it moved across the wall.  

My favourite image from the shoot was definitely this one 

it’s dramatic.  I love the light, I love her expression, I love it all.  I had a lot of fun editing this one.

I think my takeaway from these shoots was that virtual photoshoots are definitely not going to become a part of my everyday life,  but I wouldn’t be opposed to trying a few more.  It was a really fun way to reconnect with some rad people I haven’t seen in a long time and make some really interesting images.  I’m very much looking forward to going back to photographing humans face to face, but this was a really fun experiment in the meanwhile!  

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