The world is a little strange, yes? Even though I have been pottering in my own garden, in my home studio, working with still life, flowers, food and such … I really do miss my portrait sessions, and so do my models. So, when I saw a YouTube video for a portrait shoot via Facebook Messenger, I thought, sure, I’ll give that a go!
The basic setup
Some things never really change, like picking the wardrobe. We frequently have mood boards and make, borrow or buy costumes. Frequently a mix of both and we share images with everyone in the team.
Sadly there was no real team this time. My model, Jess, thankfully does a beautiful job with hair and makeup. She tried on a few outfits and sent me phone pics. We selected an outfit and she did her makeup to match. One of my designers (Verdessa Fairy) kindly posted a headpiece to Jess so she could be involved too. Jess hung a white sheet over a bookcase behind her and sat on a chair with her iPad propped on a small table. She was sitting opposite a large window for light. I should have grabbed a behind the scenes image but forgot.
The first method we tried were actually screen captures from my phone (Samsung S9) via Facebook Messenger. They are better than I imagined, but the file size is quite small — under 1MB. You could do the same with any video chatting app, like FaceTime or Zoom.
We found because the iPad was stationary, Jess could not really move much or she would be out of shot (there was a fair bit of hit and miss). We also found if we tried to go horizontal things went a little haywire and cropped. So we stuck to vertical only.
The second method we tried was placing the phone on a vinyl floor tile on the floor. I placed a few flowers around to soften the phone and set my camera on a tripod over that.
The auto eye-tracking on my camera (Sony a7R III) even picked up movement on the phone. I found that the images are much better quality, and the moire was not as bad as I expected (try taking a photo of a PC screen).
I still found that directing could be haphazard, as I normally say move like so and move my hand, tilt up down, left and right. To make this work I had to turn my video off. So obviously I could only give verbal direction.
The screenshots could be edited in Lightroom on my phone but they had to be imported in. I struggle on the phone and prefer to work with a bigger screen, but it is possible. Perhaps if I had been using a tablet instead of a smartphone it may have been a little easier.
The photos with my camera I edited in Lightroom and treated as normal photos. I did find the images were a little yellow, even though my white balance was OK. So I went with it and gave them a bit of an old Polaroid treatment in Exposure X3 (formerly Alien Skin).
All in all, it was pretty easy, and I was surprised out just how well the images came out. The screenshots are pretty small, but good enough for social media.
I am not pretending this is going to replace a normal studio session. But if you needed some emergency headshots for a client, in a pinch it may work. You could crop in further so the phone is not visible (I wanted the phone visible, so people could understand what I was doing).
I would not recommend a family shoot — it really is only for a single person. But like they say, desperate times call for desperate measures … so if you photograph models and are missing it, why not try? If nothing else we had a good catch up just in time for Jess’ birthday. It felt so good to be creating again.
The biggest drawback
The biggest drawback, apart from no makeup artist onset) was that Jess hadn’t been able to have her hair cut and have a proper manicure. Now in the whole scheme of things, not a huge issue. However, Jess was very aware of her nails and the headpiece was holding back her hair which possibly would have covered her face.
In these times when things like hairdressers, barbers, nail salons and beauty stores just aren’t an option, you may find people who might be willing to pose, but then balk at the thought of post-apocalyptic looks in camera!