Fancy a FaceTime photoshoot? Photographers get creative amid circuit-breaker measures
The photos may be lower in resolution, but it is the experience that matters, one of them says.
SINGAPORE: “Uncle, you look to your right,” said Nicky Loh, with his camera in hand, ready to fire a shot.
His subjects for the day: A couple in their 70s, all dressed up - Mr John Chua in a neatly pressed shirt and tie, with his wife Theresa in a bright, fashionable cheongsam.
“This is very In The Mood For Love,” said Mr Loh, referencing the iconic Hong Kong romantic drama film by Wong Kar Wai.
“Uncle, you cover aunty’s arm - it looks big in the shot!” His comment drew laughs from his models, who gamely obliged.
Satisfied with the pose, Mr Loh went shutter-happy, like any photographer would. Except, this was no ordinary photoshoot. The Chuas were having their portraits taken - via a Zoom meeting.
Ever since the implementation of circuit breaker measures where only essential businesses are allowed to operate, photographers are now employing new ways to create images from home.
READ: ‘Don’t rush to go out’ after businesses reopen, COVID-19 circuit breaker to ease gradually: Lawrence Wong
From Zoom to Skype and FaceTime, virtual photoshoots can be conducted anytime, anywhere, with the help of teleconferencing applications.
“When the circuit breaker kicked in, I thought about concepts and I realised that families don't get to be together very often, despite staying in the same house,” said Mr Loh.
“I saw this as an opportunity to take family portraits of my friends and strangers, to document this very unique time.”
NEW WAYS TO CREATE
Photographers that CNA spoke to had various methods of producing images - for Mr Loh, it was a deliberate move to use his professional camera to photograph his phone or desktop screen during a call.
“I didn't want to do screen grabs because I still wanted to have the camera in my hands to stimulate an actual shoot,” the 38-year-old explained.
“It’s also a very nice way of documenting how I captured them. For example, I had to use a puppet to entertain kids and get kids to smile for the camera.”
Ever since he posted his concept on Facebook a week ago, Mr Loh has received requests from friends, strangers - and even Singaporeans who are overseas and unable to return home - to have their portraits taken.
He has since taken portraits of 76 families.
“I plan to share these photos online to let people see how others are spending time this circuit breaker period and hopefully take their minds off the bad news every day.”
Samuel Ng, a wedding photographer, also started taking virtual portraits of couples at home during this circuit breaker period. He has tried various platforms and settled on FaceTime due to the “quality of images” he can get.
“FaceTime on the iPhone has a function called Live Photo, which has a long exposure effect. I can get a wider variety of shots, which I can’t get with Zoom and Skype,” Mr Ng said. “And it’s very convenient, you just have to press one button.”
The 29-year-old, who runs a wedding photography company Pixioo with two other photographers, said that taking virtual portraits started out as a way to keep himself occupied.
“If not we will go crazy at home,” he said with a guffaw.
“We also love meeting people and couples, which is something we used to do a lot before the circuit breaker period. The purpose of doing virtual photoshoots is also to reconnect with couples who have shot with us before, and those whose upcoming weddings have been postponed.”
Ever since stricter safe-distancing measures were imposed, many weddings have been postponed - which translates into a loss of income for wedding photographers like Mr Ng. Each month, his company shoots about four to five weddings and they bring in over S$10,000.
“It’s really a lot of money lost so it’s a tough period for everyone,” he said. While he is charging an hourly rate of S$80-100 for the virtual photoshoots - which is about 70 per cent below the usual rates - Mr Ng said that money is not his main motivation.
“At the end of the day, I want to do something meaningful for couples and families. In the future, kids might not have a memory of what happened during this period, so it’s important to document these moments and experiences.”
“Plus, it’s really fun to virtually meet different people from all walks of life. The great thing is they feel really comfortable because they’re at home. They can wear anything they like and just chill.”
MORE THAN SNAPSHOT
Virtual photoshoots might seem like less work for photographers, who typically go out and about while carrying an assortment of camera equipment, both Mr Loh and Mr Ng said there is still merit in their work.
“Of course you can also take family portraits with a timer at home but you are anticipating the shot. I was still shooting as if I was right there with them, waiting for nice surprises,” said Mr Loh.
The difference is the creation of “expressions and moments” that are birthed out of interactions with the photographer.
“Most people will be like, this is just like taking screen grabs! But It’s not that simple - you want to get people to do spontaneous stuff with you.”
Mr Ng agrees. “It’s like pre-wedding photos - couples can choose to take a tripod, put a camera on it and take the photos themselves. But our shots primarily capture interactions.”
“For example, I will ask them questions that help evoke emotions - what’s one thing you like or don’t like about each other? Some would say things like, ‘Your fart’ and everyone has a great laugh.”
There are still preparations which he has to do before a shoot, such as video-calling the couples to get a virtual tour of their home to find a few suitable spots.
“Some of them will say, my house is very messy - there isn’t a nice spot. But I’ll tell them that we should keep it as real as possible because this is your home. It’s not about how it looks, but about creating something sentimental.”
Mr Ng admitted that the process is definitely tougher for the couple, who have to prepare things like an iPhone stand and take directions on-the-go.
“If I can hold a camera, I can just move around however I want. But with virtual photoshoots, there’s a lot of trial and error - you might get frustrated if the couple doesn’t get the angle you visualised.”
“It requires a lot of communication and you just need to be patient.”
Detailed planning was also the way to go for those who resorted to more extreme measures to conduct photoshoots, while adhering to safe-distancing measures.
Vivien Tan, the photographer and creative lead for local online retail store, Love & Bravery, had to organise camera equipment, outfits, props and make-up to be couriered to her model for a lifestyle shoot from home.
The job of shooting photographs was delegated to the model’s roommate, who is not a professional photographer.
“Everything from the styling, to marking out where the model should stand and where the photographer should position herself was pre-planned virtually,” the 27-year-old said.
Ms Tan and her team took three days to plan, which was longer than the time they usually take for normal photoshoots.
“We tried to give them everything they needed to make the process as seamless as possible. Usually on shoot we have the whole team, but it was just the two of them then,” she added.
“The day before the shoot, we even had a call with them to teach them how to use the camera.”
While Ms Tan was tele-communicating with the two-man team throughout the photoshoot, she had “to really trust them” to deliver the photographs.
“I couldn’t be too perfectionistic about it because they made the shoot possible. It could have been a very frustrating experience, but they had no complaints, which I really appreciate.”
‘THE PIXELS REPRESENT ME’
The quality of images produced in a virtual photoshoot may never match up to those taken in a conventional setting, but it is a small compromise to the photographers.
“I’ll always tell the couples that the quality of the images will be acceptable if you want to post it on social media but probably not if you want to print it on a big canvas,” said Mr Ng.
“These photos are really for their keepsake.”
Finding new ways to photograph in this period has also been a learning process for Ms Ng. “I realised there are always ways around things and we can be more flexible with our thinking.”
“Because of the limitations, we have become more open to doing things differently and really collaborating with each other,” she added. “This is an attitude I hope to have even when the circuit breaker period is over.
As for Mr Loh, taking family portraits virtually was a cathartic experience, after having recovered from stage two lymphoma cancer in March this year.
“When I had cancer, I realised that I was so out of touch with life in general. I realised how much I actually cared for my friends, my family and the people who have passed through my life.”
Some friends whom he photographed did not even have kids when they last met, he said.
“If you ask me, the pixelation and the blurriness of the images don’t matter. In some sense this is a new way of reaching out to people around me, as well as strangers to show some kindness.”
“The pixels represent me, slowly piecing back my relationships with people.”