The FaceTime shoots are a major trend on Instagram these days, and it’s reshaping the way photographers and actors, models collaborate with each other to capture candid moments.
Right from magazine covers to the candid photographs that you often see on Instagram, everything has gone into a virtual mode due to the ongoing lockdown amidst Covid-19 pandemic. A day’s shoot in a studio or elsewhere, which usually required a photographer, a stylist, lighting unit, and scores of others to help the artist and the photographer to capture that perfect moment, feels like a relic of the past, at least for the time-being. And it has given rise to the trend of a series of virtual shoots where the photographer and artists communicate with each other via FaceTime to shoot pictures.
There’s something quite surreal when you look at these images of people, often stuck in their own homes, posing for the camera. The fact that they are showing a glimpse of their living spaces, far away from studios, gives it an element of realism that’s hard to replicate otherwise. The trend started sometime around March, 2020 and it has evolved into a worldwide phenomenon. Tara Louise McManus, a Mumbai-based photographer, recalls trying to experiment with FaceTime series for fun when she saw some of her friends do remote film directing. “I didn’t really know how it worked, initially. However, now I think that it’s a great exercise for both photographer and model to learn lighting and direction. Photographers just starting out should also give it a go too for that reason,” she says, adding, “My drive was just to bring out the individual’s personality. What we are going through at the moment is tough, and with that already a gloom over our heads, these exercises briefly take away that reality. But really, it’s all about perspective, in all senses of the word!”
So, how does it work? Photographer Abhishek Golecha throws light on the process saying, “We have to do a lot of homework before the actual shoot. I ask the model to send me a video and lots of pictures of their house. It helps me understand what angles and frame would be interesting to shoot, and how the natural light is falling in the living space. You have to also understand the personality of the model and the communication between the two is vital. They have to trust you and you’ve to be patient with them to make them understand what you are trying to do. This is important because they have to do a lot of work, including setting up the camera, make-up, styling among other things. Once the models share the wardrobe options, I create a mood board.” Since most of these images are meant to be shared on Instagram, Abhishek acknowledges that it’s mostly a fun thing to do. “Since we are shooting virtually, the expectations from the shoot are different. But I feel the output comes as a genuine surprise to a lot of people. The picture quality isn’t high, but it’s quite easy to shoot once you understand the process. After some of my images went viral, I’m getting a lot of queries from a lot of models and international agencies. I’m actually working on something quite huge at the moment,” he adds.
For the past few months, several magazine cover shoots have gone virtual and some of the actors, who have posed for such shoots, say that it’s the only option for the time-being. Priya Banerjee avers, “It’s actually a lot of fun and simple to be honest. Once you understand what the photographer wants from you and what angle you have to pose in, it’s quite easy and the whole thing gets done faster. The tricky part is having to get the right amount of natural lighting, which is not in your control, and making sure that the camera at your end is steady. In a way, we are all slaves to our habits, and this has been a welcome change.”
Among South Indian actors, Hansika seems to have taken an immense liking to this concept, if her Instagram feed is anything to go by, even though she acknowledges the challenges that come with it. “One of the fundamental challenges while doing a FaceTime shoot is the communication between the photographer and the artist. So, when a photographer says, “catch the light” – you should understand what they mean and pose accordingly. It’s also quite tiresome, at times, because you have to figure out which corner of the house will look good and what clothes to wear. When you shoot on a set, everything is taken care of. But here, you have to do a lot of things all by yourself (laughs). But it’s actually fun and it gets done faster,” she says. Admittedly, one of the comments that she got for her shoot was “if she lives in Dubai” because her house looks so big! “It’s funny what all people end up noticing when you post such candid pictures,” she laughs.
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While technology has facilitated this trend, sometimes, it’s also one of the biggest hindrances to carry out the whole exercise in a smooth manner. And then, there are other logistical issues involved. “There’s every chance that the network might not be good enough which could disrupt the shoot,” Nicole Madell, model and actress, says, adding, “The first FaceTime shoot I did, our tripod hadn’t arrived yet…can you imagine finally getting a good angle only for your entire makeshift stand to come tumbling down the moment you catch that golden light on your face (laughs).”
The FaceTime series trend has also led to another positive outcome – it has turned artists into creators and collaborators. Not only do they pose for the shoot, but also they are exchanging ideas about what and how they would like to shoot. “Being able to give my creative input, exchanging ideas has been wonderful. It was so refreshing to explore my own creativity and assist in directing and lighting the shot,” Nicole Madell adds.
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Photographer : Tara Louise McManus
Sydney-based photographer Elaine Li, who began experimenting such shoots after she saw an Italian photographer @alessioalbi’s work, believes that, despite the limitations of the FaceTime shoots, it is helping photographers to innovate in a different sense. “It does make you focus on the fundamentals of photography, which is composition, how to use existing natural light, and how to be creative within these limitations. The biggest challenge for me was communicating with artists who are in different continents. I don’t know if this is going to be a norm in a post-Covid-19 world, but it’s a fun way to experiment with photography. There’s a certain character to such images because the models are familiar with the spaces they are posing in. It’s actually quite fun when you as the photographer proposes a new and interesting angle to shoot from, and the model goes oh I’ve never thought that my living space could actually look good,” Elaine Li says.
So, does it mean something after all? Or is it just a fad that will disappear after sometime? Perhaps, sometime in the near future, when people revisit these FaceTime shoots, they might remember those moments when, for a brief period in their lives, they forgot about the world outside their walls. They simply looked into the camera to tell us something. The message might very well be – ”I’m okay. So will you.”
(The author, Hemanth Kumar C R , is a Hyderabad-based journalist and he writes about Telugu cinema, TV shows, and his work has appeared in publications like Firstpost.com, TheNewsMinute.com, SilverScreenIndia, New Indian Express, Film Companion. And 845show.com is his new blog. You can reach out to him on Twitter @crhemanth )