How To Be A Productive Photographer When You're Stuck At Home
"You shouldn't go outside right now."
That wasn't me telling you what to do. No, that missive is directed at me—"Luca, you shouldn't go outside right now."
I've had to remind myself of that over the last few days, by virtue that everything in me wants to be roaming the streets at the moment, mixing it up with people and making photos.
But that's not the responsible thing to do during a pandemic. So, lest I throw my civic responsibility and consideration to the wind, I'm stuck at home for the time being. And I have to deal with it.
The good news is that being under house-quarantine and social distancing from others doesn't mean I have to fall prey to the lure of videogames or misuse any daylight rewatching films I've already seen.
No, I can fully devote my attention to photography, even from home. The world may be upside down out there, but that doesn't mean I can't keep things straight in here.
I'm betting a lot of you are in the same situation right now, so here's what we can do to make the best out of our current lot, and become better photographers in the process.
Work On Your Craft
One thing I've been doing is working on my craft. Usually, this is what I tell people I'm doing when I want to be left alone and listen to podcasts, but in this case, it means focusing on an important aspect of photography—technique.
There's plenty to document at home—family, roommates, pets, meals you've prepared, your stamp collection—and fortunately for you, these poor souls have no choice but to be your subjects right now. Why not spend this time improving your technique with them?[caption id="attachment_45092" align="aligncenter" width="980"] As you can see, your loved ones are gonna love being your subject[/caption]
This is the moment to start a documentary project and work on your storytelling chops. Paint a picture of what a day in your house looks like by capturing establishing shots, important details, and the things that make up your day. Work on your layering to provide context and eliminate distractions from the frame. Try to anticipate decisive moments by being present in the moment. Capture moments of your loved ones as their true selves. Use motion, color or an extreme focal length to build drama. The possibilities are endless.
Heck, you don't even need anyone else around. You can work on technique with an inanimate object, or by using yourself as the subject. Self-portraits are a great way to learn lighting, posing or camera placement. All you need is a remote, release cable or a timer, some patience and, well, you already have plenty of time.[caption id="attachment_45091" align="aligncenter" width="980"] Bugs are all around you! If you're not freaked out by that fact, take advantage of it[/caption]
Something that's also fun to do is close-up photography with a macro lens. Either set up some still-life objects or find some bugs or plants in the yard to shoot. Use a reflector or flash to bring more light into the scene. Stack focus to capture every detail, or isolate with a narrow depth of field. There's entire worlds to explore with macro, and you don't have to travel far to find them.
My point is, experiment a little, take some chances and you'll learn something new that you can utilize when things return to normal. By working on your technique and craft, you can make any ordinary thing seem extraordinary.
Work On Your Photos
Another project that I've been undertaking is to go through my catalog of photos. There are tens of thousands of images in my Lightroom catalog, so it's a big task, but it's been extremely beneficial to go through them again.
For one, it's a good reminder of where I've been and how much I've grown as a photographer. Looking back, it's easy to see where my technique was not quite there and what I failed to do when I was younger. But it's also been a great way to rediscover hidden gems within my catalog. You'll be amazed at how many photos you might've overlooked when first uploading them.
Another benefit to digging deep into your catalog is that you'll start to detect themes in your work. All of a sudden, diptychs and triptychs of mine grew into full series. So now, every time I unearth a new theme, I collect the photos in an album and sequence them to work together as a series that I can use for a show, a zine, or potentially a book.
These albums don't have to be highly conceptual either—I have collections around simple themes like "Hands", "Reflections" and "Chairs". Sure, one photo of a chair is pretty banal and unimpressive, but put together a hundred photos of chairs from around the world and the series starts to have some meaning and weight.[caption id="attachment_45095" align="aligncenter" width="980"] Some collected photos in my "Hands" album[/caption]
I've also found that as my editing techniques have evolved over time, it's been beneficial to bring those new skills to old photos. This has made my past work fit better into my portfolio alongside newer images. Again, you'd be surprised at how many cringeworthy photos from that short-lived HDR phase can be salvaged into pleasing images with some light editing.
Working on photos has also meant scanning more of my film work using my digital camera. I like to shoot a good mix of digital and film photos, and it's nice to see them all together in my Lightroom library. I've been going back and scanning negatives from as far back as the early '90s, which has been tremendous fun. I'm also taking the time to print more photos, which is something I always recommend to people.
Work On Your Business
Now that I have a few new photo series that I'm excited about, I've been taking the time to redesign my portfolio site. I've sold prints in the past, but I haven't done any updates to my website over the last couple of years, so it's been good to have some time to devote to my side business. While it's a bit tedious and it's a work in progress, it's necessary if I want to get back to selling new prints.
Same goes for you, if you have a photography business or a side hustle, there's a good chance you're not taking bookings or working at the moment. So, take this time to improve your services. This could mean sprucing up your website, coming up with a new logo, making content for social media to attract new clients, or improving your communication and marketing tools.
When we're busy working, it's easy to let these things fall by the wayside, but it's vital to focus on them if we want our photography business to grow.[caption id="attachment_45097" align="aligncenter" width="980"] Sketch out some logos for your business[/caption]
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that it's also a great time to sell off some of your older gear (KEH is offering an extra 5% bonus at the time of this writing). For one, it raises some funds which might come in handy during this lean period, and it gives you the opportunity to trade in for a new kit and learn how to use it. You can sell your gear from the comfort of your home—Matt recently wrote a tutorial on using our online selling portal, if you're not familiar with the process.
Work On Yourself
The last thing I'll mention is that this is a great time to work on yourself—I know I'm trying. You see, I'm not the most patient type, and as I've already covered, I get apprehensive when I sit around the house for too long. So, I've been trying to make the most of my time at home by staying productive, but also learning to be patient and to relax.
There's a lot going on right now, obviously, and it's a time of great uncertainty. My extended family, including several elderly folk, live in Northern Italy, which has been hit very hard by this pandemic. The constant worry is starting to stress me out, so I've been devoting more of my time to self care.[caption id="attachment_45098" align="aligncenter" width="980"] A bike ride is a great way to clear your mind[/caption]
I've been going on (secluded) bike rides at dusk, and I take my time enjoying a good meal at night. I've been spending quality time with my wife and playing more with our cat. These may seem like small things, but they're really important to my well being, and I'd certainly be lost without them.
It's a difficult situation right now, for sure, and it's understandable to feel a bit removed and isolated. But hopefully, our love of photography can provide us with the motivation, passion and focus that will get us through. I know it's been a tremendous help to me so far, and I hope it is to you as well.