A few months ago, Annabel North-Lewis was on the go; heading to a few castings each week all over London – even getting jobs as far away as Manchester, UK.
Her days would start at 5am, ready to catch the 6am train for hair and makeup at 8:45-9am. The shoots wouldn’t usually end until early evening when it’d finally be time to head back home to London. But all of this changed due to the novel coronavirus outbreak.
Social and physical distancing are being encouraged worldwide, putting photographers and models in an odd spot since they can’t meet for photoshoots in person. Annabel is one of the many models in said odd spot. Today, the 21-year-old British-Indonesian model has been holding her own photoshoots at home. “I kind of enjoy having photoshoots at home as I wake up a little later, do a workout, and then start shooting. Plus, I can take as many breaks as I want!” she explained.
Having an English father and Indonesian mother, she lived in Bali until she was 17, which gave her the luxury of being influenced by both cultures. She made the move to London alone, as a 17-year-old, to study accounting and finance at Regents University London, but she chose to leave before graduating. “I wanted to pursue my real passion, which is modelling,” she said. Annabel started modelling when she was 15 and was signed by an agency when she moved to London at 17. Though modelling had been on-and-off for the last couple of years, she finally decided to be a full-time model at the beginning of 2020.
Of course, an ideal day on set has had to be adapted to the current situation, leading to solo, at-home photo shoots. Annabel has taken the time and effort to do this by using only a tripod and her iPhone. Lighting was the major technicality she’s battled with.
“Especially living in London where the weather is super unpredictable,
so I would have to schedule in days which I would dedicate to shooting or taking content,” she said.
Before any photoshoots, Annabel prepares some decorations for her in-house set. She noted that she initially started by just placing her tripod on a chair and then immediately starting to shoot. She now puts more consideration into the creative aspect of a photoshoot. For example, she’s been hanging bedsheets against the wall to act as a background. “It takes around ten minutes for me to iron the sheets, hang them up, and place some cute, little plants and decorations for the aesthetic of the photograph,” she explained.
Annabel said that she finds solo, at-home photo shoots delightful since she gets to style the outfits herself and has all the creative direction on it. “My favourite part is choosing the photos and then editing them. Seeing the results is very rewarding and the absolute best feeling!” she exclaimed. That doesn’t mean Annabel faces no troubles. To her, it’s about getting certain angles right because of the inability to check pictures taken from behind.
With no end in sight for the pandemic, doing solo photoshoots may stick around longer than we expect. To this, Annabel said she sees herself doing this type of modelling in the long run, though her looks will eventually fade. “I’d love to work in the PR industry in the future,” she said. Despite the joy and creative opportunity at-home photo shoots have brought, Annabel prefers shooting with a photographer. “Sometimes, an iPhone picture just won’t cut it,” she added. Photographers, in her opinion, know what they’re doing and it’s their job to make their models look good.
It’s not just about solo at-home photoshoots; models are now participating in virtual photoshoots. What’s that now? Think of it as similar to a traditional shoot, with an added twist of video calls and online coordination to produce content.
Looking at it from a photographer’s point of view, Suryo Ramadan, a 24-year-old Indonesian freelance photographer, defines a virtual photoshoot as “basically a photoshoot that you do from a distance when you and your model aren’t in the same place.” Some fresh techniques are used by the photographer. In Suryo’s case, he likes to either screen-shot from his gadget or directly snaps pictures with his camera. Annabel said that she once did a virtual photoshoot with one of her good friends who also takes most of her portfolio pictures. They went on Skype for a “Stay At Home Safari” themed shoot, which turned out better than expected.
Preparations made before starting a virtual photoshoot for Suryo include setting a time and date with the model, then researching online for a few references. He also asks his model about their space so he can identify where the best lighting is. “I find the internet connection plays a major role in a virtual photoshoot too. If it’s possible, I’ll video call my model to see how good their internet connection is,” he said. Not forgetting about props, Suryo prepares some that he and the model have to complement the photoshoot later.
There’s an emotional, mental essence taken into consideration as well. Although the photographer can’t be physically present with the model, the tone and mood of the photoshoot still need to be present. “I try to make the model feel like they’re not alone whilst in self-quarantine,” he noted as an ambition. He then discusses with the model, in a similar way to how he’d normally work on traditional photoshoots, for them to build a connection and sense of comfort. The model’s favourite poses are encouraged so that they become more at ease when strutting in front of the camera.
“My biggest challenge in conducting virtual photoshoots is being able to direct my model while we’re not in the same place. Another big challenge is when the internet connection is laggy. It makes the quality of the video call patchy, which translates to a low quality of the picture,” Suryo said.
All in all, Suryo considers this experience to be a love-hate relationship. “I love it because I miss doing photoshoots, so this has helped me miss them less. But I also feel displeased being unable to take in-person photo shoots,” he explained with some sadness. Having the model and the photographer in the same place creates a better connection and boosts creativity – there’s a chance to experiment in several ways, according to Suryo. “There is a lot to manipulate and play around with for those diverse photographs,” he added.
As for doing this in the long run, Suryo frankly doesn’t see it, although it’s still fun. Perhaps for a special occasion? Suryo started to seriously get into photography in 2017. He usually takes pictures of products, events, corporate needs, fashion shoots, pre-weddings and weddings, as well as personal pictures. An average day at a photo studio would look like five to six hours, depending on the project. Suryo would check out the photo studio or other sites to help him determine that the set will work perfectly with the project. He certainly likes the traditional photoshoots more than the virtual type.
This self-quarantine period has brought a new meaning to creating art through photographs for the sake of commercial, business, or simple personal pleasures. Annabel is finding time to understand to not take the little things in modelling for granted, such as getting hair and makeup done. Suryo, on the other hand, has learned that the skills of directing and building a connection with the model are as important as knowing the camera and photography principles. Though already aware, mastering those skills during virtual photoshoots is highly beneficial.
These creatives also came out with a couple of big, personal lessons. Annabel confessed to constantly pep-talking herself, “don’t be lazy,” even when her body was screaming to rest. She’s not overthinking, remaining positive at all times, and not beating herself up about having a day off. Suryo wouldn’t take his freedom for granted again. He said, “those who survive this pandemic are the ones who could adapt and innovate in all kinds of situations,” he said.