Life & Style

The changing landscape of fashion photography in a COVID-19 world

From a FaceTime photoshoot series done with a model in Russia

From a FaceTime photoshoot series done with a model in Russia   | Photo Credit: Vasanth Kumar

An alternative photography technique using mobile technology is fast emerging as a trend among shutterbugs who have had to adapt to the changing landscape of photoshoots due to COVID-19

When photographer Vasanth Kumar recently set up a photo shoot with a model in Russia, while sitting in Chennai, the only challenge he faced was the language barrier. He turned to Google Translate many times, before his instructions finally got through: “Tilt your head slightly upwards!” Yet the shoot was done in 45 minutes: no flights, no hotels, no studio and no travel expenses. All he needed was a desktop and a video-calling app to create some memorable frames of a room strewn with lavender, and a lone white chair on which the model reclined.

With social distancing being the norm, photographers stuck at home for the first time in years are finding innovative ways to continue to work, by foraying into FaceTime shoots and other forms of remote photography. These are showing so much promise that they are likely to have a lasting impact on photography even after the pandemic. In addition to offering models and clients to work with from anywhere in the world, this is also cost-effective for photographers, and has a negligible ecological footprint, unlike many fashion shoots in exotic locations.

One of the frames from a FaceTime shoot done in Kochi

One of the frames from a FaceTime shoot done in Kochi   | Photo Credit: Edwin J Robert

In yet another experiment, 25-year-old Edwin J Robert, working from his home in Chennai, asked theatre artiste and model Kavya Ramachandran in Kochi to balance her iPhone 8 up a high rim near a window. She was worried that the phone would fall, but Edwin insisted, “Please, please? Just for a second?” He then took the picture on the FaceTime app, which has an inbuilt option to click while on a video call. What took shape was a beautiful frame shot from above with Kavya sprawled on the floor, gentle sunlight filtering through the patterns on her window curtains and caressing her face.

Virtual choreography

Europe was already under lockdown when the nation-wide lockdown came into force in India. But by then, amateur trials in remote photography were underway around the globe.

One such trial caught Vasanth’s attention — an Italian photographer had used the webcam on his desktop to capture images of people and things around him and made collages of them. The quality, however, was very poor. Vasanth took it a step further and tried shooting using Google Duo and Skype. The quality still remained unsatisfactory. Then Apple’s FaceTime emerged — with its inbuilt feature to click pictures while a call is on — as a plausible option across gadgets.

In this frame, the model was in Paris while the photographer shot it in Chennai

In this frame, the model was in Paris while the photographer shot it in Chennai   | Photo Credit: Vasanth Kumar

“Every other app has only the option of clicking screenshots which later have to be cropped and used,” says Edwin, adding that he was quite late to join the bandwagon. By mid-April, the trend had started to pick up in India. Edwin’s first shoot was with a couple in Italy, who were locked down in the same home. “They had real good chemistry and that showed in the frame,” says Edwin. The post garnered a lot of online attention soon after.

Right now, portraits seem to be where all the interest lies, since many people are stuck in their homes alone. “People initially couldn’t wrap their heads around this. I had to show them that it is possible. So, I created a small portfolio just for remote shooting,” says Vasanth, who is currently on his 24th FaceTime shoot. He has shot people across Russia, Spain, France, Egypt, the US and India during the lockdown period. Vasanth has also been producing fashion films which are created by merging successive photographs. “In this, models don’t end the pose abruptly and move on to the next. There is a flow in the movements,” he says. These brief films are then amplified with music that runs in the background.

From one of the FaceTime shoots done by Edwin J Robert

From one of the FaceTime shoots done by Edwin J Robert   | Photo Credit: Edwin J Robert

“I plan the shoot a week after we get in touch. Meanwhile, I’ll ask them to give me a virtual tour of the space, both during the morning and evening. Normally, during a photoshoot, we create a palette, make a set and put up backdrops of the colour we need etc. But here, we need to make use of the colours that are already there. We have to adapt and play with whatever is there,” says Vasanth, adding that since he is self-taught, it helped a great deal in adapting to this medium.

Planning is key, as it is with every other choreographed shoot. A lot of back-and-forth is involved. Pictures and videos of the space are exchanged and, sometimes, a stylist is also involved in deciding the ambience of the frame. At the time of the shoot, the model sets up the device (front camera), as instructed by the photographer sitting miles away. The golden hour (the period of daytime shortly after sunrise or before sunset when the light is softer) is the ideal time to shoot. There is absolutely no artificial lighting involved in such shoots. Also, to be able to direct a choreographed shoot requires patience. Edwin puts it this way: “When you are on set, you have the option of showing them how to pose physically. Here, I am on the call but they won’t be able to see me. So every instruction should be dealt with patiently,” says Edwin.

The road ahead

Recently, Chennai-based actor and photographer Sunder Ramu’s remote photos of actor Shriya Saran, currently residing in Barcelona, grabbed attention online. While Sunder is reluctant to share his technique, as he plans to do more shoots this way even after lockdown, he does hint that remote photography could be the next big thing. This attempt was his way of adapting to the restrictions posed by the lockdown. Over the past weeks, he had also been making use of his terrace: from capturing birds mid-flight to doing a shoot of actor Andrea Jeremiah. For this, she posed at her window, two buildings across from the terrace where he was standing.

Actress Shriya Saran in Barcelona

Actress Shriya Saran in Barcelona   | Photo Credit: Sunder Ramu

In remote shoots, Sunder prefers to have the camera in hand and shoot live rather than instructing someone to shoot themselves. “Another way to implement remote shooting is to make instruction videos for those who wish to shoot by themselves,” he continues, adding that experienced photographers can also turn to consultation by giving advice pertaining to how one can effectively use natural light and available technologies to those who wish to shoot themselves; something that Sunder wishes to do in the coming days through collaborations.

Andrea Jeremiah

Andrea Jeremiah   | Photo Credit: Sunder Ramu

What does this shift mean for photography as a medium? Edwin thinks that this trend is clearly specific to the lockdown phase and that it would scurry back to the way it was once normalcy returns. However, if specific apps are developed, so that remote photography can be done through video calls, then Vasanth sees a lot of potential in this field. Sunder says that the medium itself has already gone through multiple shifts from analog to digital and now phones. This shift too, he feels, is one such survivable shift. He concludes: “It is important to stay relevant and keep learning new techniques to adapt.”

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Printable version | May 26, 2020 3:14:42 AM |

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