Let’s shoot with your phone!

In 2020, Photography Is Taking A New Direction In Creativity

No photographer available, no problem. Just DO IT YOURSELF or have them shoot VIRTUAL. This is photography in 2020 during the time of a pandemic.

Since I participated in a virtual photoshoot back in April 2020, it has become more common during the lockdowns and quarantines not just in the US, but across the world. It was conducted on the Zoom platform involving hundreds of other photographers and several models. What is also becoming the norm are non-professional photoshoots by social influencers and public personalities, thanks to the smartphone camera.

Social distancing has made it difficult to organize photoshoots with more than 2 people. When restrictions on travel and mobility also affect photoshoots, it is time to get more creative and that is what we are seeing. One popular example is using social media apps to take photos. If you can’t shoot with the model in person, then shoot with the model remotely with an app. This is yet another example of work-from-home, and that is for the models.

The Facetime app is being used for photoshoots.

Photoshoots In 2020

You may have heard about actor Robert Pattinson doing his own photoshoot for GQ magazine using his personal DSLR. Model Elyse Knowles was shot by photographer David Higgs using Facetime. Model Naomi Campbell just shot her own magazine cover for Essence using her iPhone. The Jacquemus Spring/Summer 2020 campaign is another example of a Facetime shoot featuring model Bella Hadid. These are not your average type of brands and models. Normally these types of shoots would require a professional photographer, makeup artists, wardrobe stylist, creative director and assistants. Now it is possible to just do it yourself or remotely using virtual photography.

Model Elyse Knowles shot by photographer David Higgs using Facetime (Source Elyse Knowles Blog).
Supermodel Naomi Campbell (Left) used her iPhone for a magazine cover (Source Essence Magazine). Actor Robert Pattinson (Right) shot his own photos for an editorial (Source GQ Magazine).

It is not as easy as it sounds. For the models, it requires them to do their own hair and makeup. In the case of Bella Hadid’s shoot with Jacquemus, she had to do her own makeup, hair and styling with direction from the photographer. The wardrobe would have to be shipped to the model ahead of time. Prior to shooting, styles and poses were also tested out. They were then shared with the model over a call, and finally shot using the Facetime app. This could very well be more common even after the pandemic. It reduces costs and complexity, not needing the shoot to be in studio or a rented location. If the model can be shot remotely using an app, it just seems easier but still requires planning and coordination to work.

Model Bella Hadid did a Facetime photoshoot (Source Jacquemus).

Fashion brand GUCCI decided to shoot an ad campaign without using a pro photographer as reported in this Peta Pixel article. Though it was under the direction of someone, the shots could have been taken by a professional who was not credited (who really knows). The quality, as would be expected, seems fine for the web but not exactly for print. Despite that, the shots actually turned out pretty nice, considering it was not captured by a pro (so they claim). Credit here is probably to the smartphone camera’s AI and computational imaging, so this could be proof that in the smartphone era anyone can take professional looking photographs with good composition and direction.

Fashion ad campaign shot by the models themselves, no professional photographer (Source GUCCI).

I tried looking for the EXIF data on the photos to see what cameras were used, but Instagram strips the metadata off. I assume most were shot with a smartphone, but until more information is available or available already, I am just going to assume that the shots were captured with a smartphone or personal digital camera. Gucci was giving the direction for the look and vibe they want to capture, so it was not some randomly captured image which would have made it more authentic in my opinion. In other words, it is still your typical ad campaign and not some images selected at random. The main thing missing is your professional photographer.

The Do’s and Don’ts

Now let me discuss the wrong way of doing a virtual or remote photoshoot. I do not recommend, if you are the photographer, to shoot the image with a DSLR or other digital camera. You are basically shooting the screen, which yields horrible results (e.g. moire effect). The image will result in visual distortions and inaccurate colors. Just capture the image from the app you are using or capture with a screenshot. I found taking screenshots to be better in most cases. When using Facetime you can take what they call a live photo of the subject. It depends on the app you are using, so use that to capture the image rather than another camera.

Imaging quality has significantly improved over the last decade. No more grainy images from smartphone cameras, it now uses better parts and enhancements through AI and computational imaging. That is what many people pay for when they buy a smartphone. Laptop cameras are also getting better. Users also have the option of connecting an external camera, so there are even better options available. Whereas in the past it was about the photographer’s skill, today it is about the digital camera’s features. It is also a sign of the times, so photographers need to adapt to these changes. Right now it is about how to capture the images in a time of a global pandemic, and humans are very adaptive to changes by finding new ways of doing things.

Final Thoughts

I don’t think it matters if the image was shot by a professional photographer or not so long as it is nicely captured. Images are very powerful in conveying a message. What matters is getting that message across, whether to sell a brand or show a scenery. Visual representations are so powerful because they engage viewers with emotion and interest if the image is captured well. A professional photographer is trained in capturing those types of images, but today the technology exists that can allow any person to shoot an amazing still. Even though most photoshoots can do without a photographer, there are times you will still need a professional photographer, like for engagement, wedding, event, maternity and portrait shoots.

The results are not short of criticism. There are photographers who think it looks cool, others say it is too mediocre and even plain horrible. Some how not everyone is on board, but the reason this even happened has more to do with the current situation of a global pandemic. If there were no pandemic, the normal would still be to hire a professional photographer and shoot an expensive ad campaign for the best results. With all the critics, perhaps it is fair to say there is always room for improvements, and there will be lessons to learn from that.

One thing is for sure though, photographers will be competing with AI in the new generation of digital cameras. There is absolutely nothing wrong with using Facetime. The iPhone has a good AI enhanced selfie camera to justify it. Working with the technology (algorithm-based) can yield the best results. For me, I would rather not compete against it, but accept it as a part of enhancing the image creation for photographers. It is up to the photographer how they will use it in their creative process.

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Vincent Tabora

Vincent Tabora

Editor HD-PRO, DevOps Trusterras (Cybersecurity, Blockchain, Software Development, Engineering, Photography, Technology)