Portrait photography is a social occupation and one that, under current circumstances, is hard to do aside from photographing other people in your household. But necessity is the mother of invention, and bored photographers are putting their creativity to good use to come up with ways to keep shooting while social distancing is required.
Enter the FaceTime shoot, where a model who's nowhere nearby is directed by a photographer remotely and photographed with their own phone or computer camera. FaceTime shoots are a fun new way photographers can challenge themselves while collaborating safely.
Jessica Whitaker is among the photographers pioneering this new way to create, and she shared her tips and tricks with Mastin Labs CEO, Kirk Mastin. Check out the whole video for lots of pearls of wisdom. Here are some highlights.
For a name-brand FaceTime shoot, you'll need an Apple device, but you can also use other digital conference apps like Facebook Messenger, Zoom, or Google Hangouts. Some will be better equipped than others to take the photos, but anything that will allow the photographer and subject to see each other where you can take a screen capture will work.
FaceTime is particularly well suited because as long as both devices in play are up-to-date, you can take a Live Photo with the subject's front-facing camera that will show up in your camera roll. As camera quality has progressed through the years, the best image quality will come from the newest iPhones, but older devices are fine, too.
Limitations force creativity and working with a less-than-amazing front cellphone camera or webcam instead of your 5D Mark IV or a7R III will make you and your co-collaborator bring more to the table on an artistic front.
Planning a FaceTime photoshoot isn't that different from planning a regular shoot. A mood board will help you plot your aesthetic and mood and communicate that to the model. Since you won't have sharp glass or dreamy bokeh to lean on, step up the styling, interesting light, or anything you can think of to increase the production value.
Your model can piece together their wardrobe, hair and makeup, and any props from the info you give them. You can also show them what type of lighting you'd like to use, and they can figure out where in their space would accommodate that.
If you've never been to the location of the shoot, have your subject send some photos of the space beforehand so you can get a feel for what's available - the light, backgrounds, props, furnishings, anything you can use creatively.
One of the cool things about FaceTime shoots is that you can collaborate with people on the other side of the planet that you don't have access to otherwise. But, start with someone you know well so that you can laugh it off together as you work past the inevitable technical difficulties.
If the person you're photographing has a phone tripod handy, that's perfect. If they have a camera tripod, you can work with it - they can rig something together, like taping their phone to the tripod. No tripod? You could try a stack of books or other makeshift contraption to lean the phone against or otherwise prop it up, but this is not the path of least resistance. However you manage it, you want the subject to be able to move freely so they can pose as you direct them.
Not to be underestimated, you'll both need a reliable, fast internet connection. Slow internet can introduce lag, making it hard to grab the perfect shot, as well as degrade image quality and cause disconnections.
One of the gear limitations is that you'll need a lot of light to maximize the image quality you have to work with. That means you'll need to have the subject near a window or whatever artificial light source they have on hand. That could be a continuous light in a softbox if you're collaborating with another photographer, or it could be a lamp or the lighting on a vanity.
This Is Not A Selfie
Since you'll be using a selfie camera, part of your mission on a FaceTime shoot is to make sure the photos you make don't look like selfies. Think of a selfie - what are the dead giveaways that someone took a photo themselves.
For one, it usually shows one hand or less, since the other is holding up the phone. Shoulders often end up cut off since you can only reach so far away from yourself to take a selfie. So, you'll want to frame your subject so you can see their hands, or see that one isn't outstretched at least. As you're posing the model from afar, keep this question in the back of your mind: "does this look like a selfie?"
Process To Complement The Image Quality And Content
Got a lot of noise in your shot? Try processing with grain! To complement that grain, you could try retro looks with your processing. Even better if what's in the frame has a retro style to match. Think thematically while making the most of the least. What compelling lo-fi style can you pull off in post?
Don't forget: don't take your FaceTime shoot too seriously! After all, it's a FaceTime shoot. It's silly by default, so roll with it!