Businesses are shut down, restaurants are only available for takeout and it seems like the world has hit the pause button. People are staying at home, and for good reason. But as a photographer who specializes in capturing the moment — namely corporate and community events — I thought it was important to capture what was happening around me.
So how can you go about photographing your city or town’s vibe during this unprecedented time?
Finding a vision
I knew once Michigan’s shelter-in-place order hit, I had to do something to document the effects that Coronavirus was having on our community. Restaurants and businesses were closing, which were at the core of our downtown infrastructure. I knew I had to get out and photograph what was happening around me in my hometown of Grand Rapids.
Before I dive in too deep, I want to caution everyone to take precautions as necessary. When I was out photographing, I made sure to keep several feet away from anyone else. I’m not just talking the recommended six feet — I’m talking 24 feet or more. I waited my turn to cross the street if there were people on the corner, and in a sense, made a “bubble” around every person that was in my view.
Michigan’s governor had encouraged residents — despite the shelter-in-place order — to get outdoors and get some exercise. For me, it was natural to bring my camera along on a walk around town. So that’s what I did. I drove downtown, parked my car and walked several miles.
Embracing the wide view
I knew that for documentary purposes, I would have to showcase the empty streets. But that didn’t mean they had to be boring, straight-on photographs. Instead, I got down low — in the middle of a usually busy street — and pointed my camera up. The two photos below were taken with the Olympus 7-14mm f/2.8 PRO lens.
Doing this allowed me to create a street-level view that was unique and added some dimension. By showing the road markings, I was able to have a foreground element that most didn’t think to add.
The nice thing about these photographs is, after things open up again, you can compare photos.
And don’t feel limited to your city center, either. If you have a bridge overlooking a highway, check that out, too!
Getting up close
I also wanted to highlight some of the businesses around town — whether they were open or closed. To do this, I focused on signs they may have had on their doors or windows. I shot some straight-on, but the most powerful shot of this type was angling myself to show the sidewalk disappear into the distance.
By creating a different angle, I was able to capture the business, but also the atmosphere around it.
Stay creative, no matter where you are!
Even if you decide to stay at home, there are still several opportunities for you to get out and photograph. If you don’t feel comfortable going downtown, roam your neighborhood street, and even your backyard. Find interesting subjects and take the time to look and wander.
If you do decide to go out, be sure you’re keeping yourself safe, and that you’re abiding by any state and local orders. As I said earlier, I was out taking a walk and was carrying my camera with me. I didn’t have a tripod or a lot of gear on my back. I also have an exemption letter for being a part of a news organization (I photograph for a local magazine), which is helpful in case I’m ever questioned why I’m out and about.
What should you do with the photographs you take? Consider donating them to your city. Personally, the photos I take will end up in the City Archives to remember this time throughout history.