Face-to-face beauty shoots were cancelled in the wake of Covid-19, but enterprising models and photographers devised online ways to carry on and this approach could be here to stay.
IT STANDS TO REASON that if you’ve been ordered to stay at home then, as a photographer, you’ve got to take on board the fact that any thoughts of a one-to-one shoot with a model in the studio or on location would need to be effectively shelved for the duration. But, intriguingly, that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case, as you can see here. All of the images within this feature were shot remotely by Martin Higgs during lockdown – even the location ones – and all entirely within the letter of the law. It’s yet another case of technology coming to the rescue and, in this case, it’s opened up some intriguing new possibilities.
“I’d always hankered after setting up remote shoots, even before lockdown kicked in,” says Martin. “Alongside photography I also work in IT and so am well versed in what the Internet can offer and so, when everything closed down, it was the ideal opportunity to see what might be possible. It all hinges on a model having access to a decent camera, the necessary knowledge to set up a virtual studio and for there to be a really strong and stable wi-fi signal at each end. However, there are now an increasing number of people offering this service and it gave me a chance to carry on shooting throughout a time when the whole world appeared to be shut down.”
Model Zoi is based in The Hague in Holland, the seat of the Dutch Parliament, so there was no problem whatsoever with the provision of on-site high speed internet, and she used all her ingenuity to come up with a solution as Covid-19 struck and all of her bookings disappeared in an instant.
“I started out as a child model,” she says, “and continued to model part time through my time at university where I studied to be a civil engineer. Then when I graduated in 2008 the financial crisis was really biting and all the work had disappeared. It was a really difficult time and everyone was cost saving like crazy, so I just quit and headed to Athens and started modelling full time.
“I’ve been modelling for eleven years now and, when the pandemic hit, I thought about how I might still maintain an income and so the idea of remote shoots came about. I’ve got a huge wardrobe and can manage my own styling to a high level, plus I have a good quality camera and lenses that photographers can use. I provide a Fujifilm X-T3, plus a 16mm f/2.8, 35mm f/1.4 and 18-55mm f/2.8, and this is attached to a Manfrotto cross bar that’s sat on a professional film stand tripod on wheels. This can extend from 0.5m up to a huge 3m in height, so that it’s possible to take shots looking down as well, with my oak parquet flooring serving as the background.
“I have a 3m background stand available with a choice of art style fabric backdrops and there is plenty of good natural lighting from the large windows I have on two sides, which naturally bounces around off the white walls. I can supplement this with a Yonguo LED light panel, an on-camera speedlight and Sunbounce Pro Zebra and Silver reflectors. I can also arrange for specific extra lighting to be on hand if it’s discussed beforehand.
“The photographer is able to take control of the camera from their end via a Fujifilm plugin for tethered shooting, and direct me via Facetime, which can be over Facebook chat, Skype or Zoom. I can see and chat to them via a large TV screen in the room, while they will be able to see the images they’re taking in real time via Lightroom Classic, with a separate webcam providing a full view of the room. An assistant is also available for hire and together we can move things around and set up the shot and position the camera according to what the photographer is looking to achieve.
“As the session progresses I zip up the JPEG and Raw images and send them over by We Transfer Pro. A typical shoot would consist of around 300GB of data and by the time we’re finished the first batch will already be with the photographer.”
All very impressive, but Zoi goes still further and also undertakes location shoots, and she has a number of places to offer that all feature a rock solid 5G connection. Choices, which are all close to her home, include a beach, white sand dunes, street monuments, a rose garden and a canal side walk, so there’s plenty of variety and it’s even possible for other models to be arranged to be part of the shoot as well.
Martin has undertaken numerous conventional model shoots over the years and is well versed in the challenges and opportunities that are offered by studios and locations. However, remote shooting was something new to him and, given the fact that all other avenues were closed off, if he wanted to continue shooting he had little choice but to take a look at this option.
“I’ve actually found it to be a really good and positive experience,” he says, “and the fact is that, if you can come to terms with it, this potentially gives you the chance to work with models that you might never otherwise be able to use because they’re just too far away. The images you receive are every bit as good as if you had been in the studio yourself, so there’s no loss of quality, and now that I’ve done a few shoots, both in the studio and on location, I’m starting to get a feel for it. I’ve worked with Zoi three to four times now as well as five or six other models, who have been based all around the world.”
Martin is a member of the Tethered Together Facebook Group, a small group of worldwide models and photographers that’s growing daily, and a visit there gives clear idea of what’s possible. There’s a huge variety of images posted and a complete range of skill levels, but what is coming across very clearly is that when a top model is properly set up and is working with a photographer who has mastered the skill set required to remotely direct a shoot, then the
results can be outstanding, and it’s hard to believe the two weren’t in the same room together when the shutter was pressed.
“Every shoot is different,” Martin observes. “Some models, like Zoi, are really on top of things and provide great facilities and, when I’m working with her, I can control the exposure – shutter speed, aperture and ISO – focus point in the frame, AF and shutter, so once I’ve got my pose set up I can direct and shoot in the usual way.
“Sometimes, however, the model might not have a camera that’s suitable for tethering so the only option will be Facetime on an Apple device, usually an iPhone. Here the only control available would be the shutter release and images would be saved to the device’s camera roll. For the best exposure we generally find that the model needs to use their iPhone’s back camera, and the phone itself is preferably held in a tripod with a phone clamp. I much prefer to use a tethered camera and
have full control of exposure and focus, but if you want to remain creative then needs must, and actually results with a smartphone have been surprisingly good.”
While cameras might come in a variety of shapes and forms, so, too, studio facilities vary wildly, and the photographer needs to establish well in advance what costumes, props and settings might be available. “On the lighting front some remote models will offer anything from a ring light through to a continuous light with a soft box,” says Martin, “or even a full studio with use of strobes and different modifiers.”
Logistical issues that can arise include things you would never usually have to consider, such as having to factor in different time zones if you’re working with a model on the other side of the world. Communication is also something to
be aware of if your model is going to be the other side of a room, away from the phone. “Zoi has her phone on a loud speaker,” says Martin, “but it could also be viable, if a model has the long hair to hide it, for her to have a tiny Bluetooth earpiece so that she is able to hear you directing and talking to her more easily.”
Martin is convinced that, once things start to ease off and conventional studio shoots pick up again, there will still be a future for remote working and it’s certainly something that he’s intending to keep doing. The results he’s achieved bear testament to the fact it’s a workable system and it can open up a whole range of worldwide opportunities.
In terms of cost, it can be much more affordable to work remotely since neither the photographer nor the model has to travel, which also has implications for carbon emissions as well, of course. For example, Zoi’s costs start at 90 Euros for the first hour and then 70 Euros per hour after that, which covers either a studio or a location session, and if an assistant is required then it’s an extra 35 Euros an hour. So the cost of a one-hour studio shoot should be well within the budget of most aspiring or full time professionals, and there are lots of options for such sessions to be used in a multitude of different ways.
“If a model happens to be local to me then a photographer could book her to come into my studio for a shoot without her having to travel any great distances,” says Zoi, “so that cuts costs and saves time. You could also audition someone or cast them for a video you’re shooting, and it’s a good way to practice an idea or concept and to hone your model directing skills. I have even had
artists book a session and subsequently use images as a kind of a sketch book for works of art they’re looking to create.”
So the future for this way of working looks to be full of potential, the technology will continue to evolve and a lot of learning has taken place recently. It might never replace the conventional face-to-face shoot but it could certainly become a useful extra option to consider down the line.
Other remote models Martin has worked with:
■ Stephanie Dubois
■ Samantha Mathias, who also has a remote tripod head that can be controlled by the photographer.
■ Nicole Rayner
■ Natasha Bella, who is also a photographer as well as a model, giving her access to a full home studio with the knowledge to use any of the kit she has access to.
Watch the live Lockdown Diary webinar below with Zoi that took place in June.
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