The quarantine has put all of us in the same situation. Businesses have to go fully digital, employees had to quickly switch to remote work, and artists looked for new ways to be creative, despite the current limitations.
Kate Kondratieva, a photographer from Kyiv, Ukraine, worked around the situation in the first week of a lockdown. She came up with the idea to hold photoshoots online on FaceTime, WhatsApp, or Zoom and with her idea tells stories of people from different corners of the world.
This unique way to capture moments resonated with many: Kate has already run around 40 online photoshoots. Kate proved that art does not have borders, and the world’s leading media such as Reuters and The New York Times supported the brilliant idea.
On becoming a photographer
Photography became a part of my life accidentally. I fell in love with a guy who was a photographer and I wanted us to have a little bit more in common. I took the first images with an intent to ask him for advice and be in touch more. I was so motivated to get praise from him that I started to shoot a lot and quickly outgrew him.
Our relationship didn’t work out but photography stayed with me. Seven years later, when someone tells me that I have a natural talent for photography, I laugh looking back.
On online photoshoots during a lockdown
The idea to hold online photoshoots appeared when I was desperately spinning my phone in hands and thinking about what to do next. How do I keep doing what I love while stuck at home? I scrolled through the photos and came across a screenshot taken while talking to a friend long before quarantine. I remember how beautiful the light was at that moment. I thought it was a great photo, so I took a screenshot. This format proved to be a relevant way to capture what is happening to us right now.
I wasn’t looking for clients, and for me, online photoshoots weren’t about making money at all. I just wanted to do photography despite limitations. When people started asking me how much I charge, I answered: “Seriously? Does anybody actually need that?” But when I got dozens of requests, I realized that people saw value in these types of photoshoots and I tried to set a price.
The value of shooting on a webcam is in capturing that exact moment. I was approached by people who had birthdays during quarantine. For them, online photoshoots were the only way to remember the day and have a good time. People who are stuck at home need this type of content as well. I’ve already done about 30-40 shoots so far.
On running the video photoshoot
At first, I ask for a small tour of the room to see what the space looks like. If we plan the photoshoot ahead, I ask when the light is best and whether there are spots with direct light. We choose the time and I suggest what clothes to wear.
Usually, a shoot takes around 30-40 minutes. During this time, we manage to make a series of decent pictures. With one girl, the photoshoot lasted 1 hour 20 minutes, but this the longest it ever took.
To take pictures, I call on FaceTime, WhatsApp, or Zoom and make screenshots. I try different ways to do so. For example, to shoot with the camera through the screen and take a live photo. But I understand that the technical side has to be improved.
I interact with the model during an online photoshoot, just like I do during any other shoot. I tell him or her how to pose, what to do, which props to use. But initially, I’m not suggesting any props because this is a photoshoot of a completely different level. I photograph people where they live. Often, I call just before the shoot and ask to show what they have, and that is what I have to work with later.
It takes me an hour and a half to post-process the images. Mostly, I edit on my phone using VSCO and Unfold apps. The pictures that I take from a computer, I process the same way as well.
On the challenges and limitations of virtual photoshoots
It does not matter which phone you have because what affects the quality of webcam photoshoots is the Internet connection. It’s funny to watch when someone is joking and the response comes with a delay. And although online photoshoots are a cool way out of the situation, they will never replace a physical presence.
It’s also not an issue if there is not enough light in the room, as everything can be fixed during post-processing. However, there’s a different problem: highlights and direct sunlight. For instance, if you can pull the slider down on your phone’s camera to control the exposure, during a Facetime call it’s impossible. When shooting from a webcam, a photographer is limited to where to place the model. In addition, one should avoid white clothes so there are no highlights. I have not yet found another way to improve the technical side.
On art without borders
In fact, the idea of taking comments from the people I photograph came almost before the idea of making photoshoots. I realized that we are all in the same boat but we all have different experiences. I wanted to take pictures of people from different countries and show that art has no borders.
I captured people from the UK, Arab Emirates, Turkey, the US, New Zealand, Indonesia, Georgia, and Italy. I wanted to tell their stories and discover various points of view on the situation. For example, when I had a photoshoot with a girl from Panama, I found out that they have male and female days to go out which is very unusual.
“Now the system is the following: men and women can go out only on different days, three times a week. Women on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and men on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. Escape is prohibited on Sunday. I think this is due to the fact that many couples came to supermarkets together. And in order to somehow level it, the authorities decided to introduce such a system. […]
Most of the time I live here with my boyfriend. I bought a ticket home in May, I planned to get a second degree in Ukraine. However, now it’s not clear how I can get it. And, of course, there is internal fear about work, all my projects have been suspended. It is scary that there will be no opportunity to rehabilitate. Often, I think how this can affect humanity globally. We seemed to be experiencing things even worse – wars, but still, there was no such universal infringement of freedom. We have a promenade under the house – and not a single person is there. And before it was the most popular jogging place.”
I was surprised by the story of a guy from Florence, Italy. He was among the first people I took pictures of and at that time, the events did not seem so serious in Ukraine. He told how thousands of people were hospitalized, how absolutely all his friends lost their jobs, and in order to leave the house, they had to send an e-application.
📍Florence, Italy, @_alexanderklimov_
“Initially, until the whole world was affected, I had a version that the story with the coronavirus is a conspiracy. My friend from Milan was diagnosed. Fortunately, he was already cured. I follow all safety precautions and books, films, and cooking help me not to lose faith. Fortunately, there is a webcam to keep in touch with relatives and friends. […]
Now, during the curfew, we can only go to the pharmacy or to the supermarket, having a printed or handwritten sheet with us indicating the reason for leaving the house in case the police stop you. […]
After quarantine, my dream is to continue my work in fashion. Many whom I know lost their jobs. There is one wish: take the whole situation seriously, avoid contacting people, and stay home. This is the best option for each and every one of us, no matter how sad you feel.”
On the online shooting for McDonald’s
A week after quarantine was announced, one girl wrote to me on Instagram and asked if I work with brands in this format. I replied that I could try and the shoot was approved. After all, everyone needs content, and for McDonald’s, a webcam photoshoot was the way out.
I had a requirement specification with a list of frames I had to take. They found two couples that I had to photograph. One had to be captured in the morning to shoot the breakfast menu. The other – during the day. They ordered delivery with particular menu items, and I suggested where to put the burger, where to sit, so I could catch a ray of sun that falls on the wall.
If during any other photoshoot the main focus is on emotions, in this case, I had to pay attention to different things. For example, I had to make sure a cup is turned the right way and the McDonald’s logo is visible enough. During an online photoshoot for brands, a photograph must sell goods. It has to make people want to order the items on the menu.
On the future of virtual photoshoots
For a long time, I thought that I wouldn’t continue shooting on a webcam when quarantine will be over. But now I think to myself – if a person is far away, then this is an opportunity. If it’s impossible to physically come and organize the shooting, then why not do this? An online photoshoot is a good option to shorten the distance.
When I first was criticized, I answered every person and explained my position. But then I realized that it takes too much of my energy. Unfortunately, the understanding of the whole situation did not immediately come to me, and in the early days, I couldn’t help but think about it. I started my project with good intentions. I wanted to inspire people and show that even as a photographer, I found a way (though not technically perfect) to continue doing what I love.
They wrote to me that I want to take advantage of the situation since I take money for online photoshoots. But it was a necessary measure when there became too many people that wanted these kinds of photoshoots. To me, having negative intentions like what they’ve mentioned is more like pricing up essentials like masks and antiseptics during quarantine.
Webcam photoshoots are a story for those who see value in them, just like I do. This is a great opportunity to continue doing what you love, and not to let yourself lose faith during a lockdown. After all, not doing what you love is what kills you more so than the threat of a virus.
Find more stories on Kate’s Instagram account.
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