As artists and freelancers, the coronavirus pandemic has changed the way we work—limiting access to inspiring subjects and faraway locations—but many are finding ways to stay motivated while adjusting to these unprecedented circumstances. For several, that means taking their time indoors and using it to focus on projects they might normally not have the energy to complete.
We spoke with twelve photographers about how they’re navigating this challenging time. While some are choosing to tackle new personal projects, others are reassessing their business goals and planning for the future. Whatever the case may be, they’re all channelling the uncertainty of this moment into their work—and reinvigorating their creative practice in the process. Read on for their best work-from-home ideas.
1. Join an online community
“I feel the photography community has gotten closer than ever in just a few days,” the Italian photographer Alina Trifan admits. “There are so many things to do online, from free courses (one honourable mention goes to the course Seeing Through Photographs, offered by MoMA) to zines and even Slack communities that fulfill both my creativity and need for socialising. Community is important, even when we’re living in isolation.”
2. Update your website
“I think a well-done website is still the best business card you can show a client or a gallery, and it has to look professional and showcase your best work,” the still life and food photographer Marzia Gamba says. “So in addition to shooting new work, I’m checking and re-editing my site, adding recent projects, and working on my bio right now.
“I am also using this time to send my work to magazines and publications. I’ve noticed there are so many Open Calls right now, and this is a good opportunity to showcase my latest projects. I find having a daily schedule is very helpful. Write down a list, set some goals, and work on something you’ve put on hold or on the back-burner in the past.”
3. Open an online store
“I’m hoping to update it by shooting new product images over the next couple of weeks. Product photography needs to be consistent, so it isn’t hard to carve out some space in your home to make it happen. You can always get creative using fabrics as backdrops, textured paper, etc. I sometimes take art off the wall and use it as a surface for a still life.
“Every tray, box, or piece of furniture can be used as props. A tripod is critical, and a cable release is useful, though you can always use your camera’s self-timer. Shooting tethered to a computer is helpful for keeping images organised and maximising your workflow.”
4. Ask for feedback
“Now is a good time to seek out an audience that can give you a constructive opinion, whether it’s an editor, curator, client, or another artist,” the Lisbon-based photographer and cinematographer Paula Vázquez Guisande explains.
“Since everyone else is also at home, take advantage of the opportunity. Ask for some feedback, or reach out to people you admire with questions. Connect with people you’d like to collaborate with in the future. It’s always motivating and inspiring to see what other people are working on.”
5. Research a future project
“There are two documentary projects I would currently like to pursue, and everything was already in motion before we all were required to stay home,” the Bern-based photographer Daniela Constantini says. “So instead, I am using this time to do some research and planning.
“While I was studying Documentary Photography and Visual Journalism, we all had to write a paper that described the long-term project we were working on. We had to answer these basic questions: what, who, how, when and why. These are all simple questions that carry the essence of the work we wanted to create.
“Some projects are born, and then the words follow. But conceiving a project from words and then realising it in photographs was an enriching experience for me. I haven’t worked like this since I graduated. But now is a time when I can begin to build a new documentary project—and be ready when the time comes to photograph it. This planning phase will help me determine what I am looking for.
“If you’re planning a documentary project that’s been postponed, use this time to write about it, answer the questions I mentioned, and envision the result: is it a video, a photo-essay, a series of portraits, a combination of the above? This will guide you and keep you focused once you get access to the story you are pursuing.”
6. Revisit a project you thought you’d finished
“For over a year, I’ve been working on a still life series called ‘The Good Dishes’,” the New York City-based photographer JP Terlizzi tells us. “The series utilises the passed-down heirlooms of friends and family and celebrates the memory of family and togetherness.
“Before the pandemic, I was pretty much complete with the project, but now that I’m spending more time inside, there is something comforting by revisiting the project once again and creating new images for the series with a fresh set of eyes. Each week, I give myself permission to create something new.
“Right now, it’s so easy to fall into the trap and procrastinate. My advice? Tackle just one small task. Giving yourself a small creative goal helps the mental and emotional self. I enjoy being immersed in the creative process, and the process of making is cathartic, despite all that is going on right now.”
7. Start a 7-day project
“I just finished a project called ‘7 Days in Isolation. 7 Self-Portraits’, the London-based photographer Oliver Mayhall tells us. “In short, now that I’m unable to photograph anyone because of everything going on, I decided to take seven self-portraits in seven days whilst in isolation and write a short piece/diary entry about each one.
“When working on projects like this, with a set timeframe, it’s important not to be so set on the idea in your head that you don’t experiment and improvise whilst you’re shooting. Often, I will start out with an idea and the end result will turn into something completely different—in a good way!”
8. Try something different
“I always encourage my students at Copenhagen Film and Photo School to take pictures in a way they usually don’t,” the fine art photographer Linda Hansen says. “That can mean using other types of light sources or trying longer shutter speeds. Maybe it’s experimenting with different kinds of cameras.
“Perhaps you use this time to take photos without a camera. Build a pinhole camera. Turn off all the lights except for a tiny hole. Use only the light from your computer or mobile. Move your furniture around the apartment. Follow your gut. Base your choices on a sense of curiosity, desire, hopelessness, or hope. But don’t think too much.”
9. Learn a new skill.
“This is a great time to brush up your skills or learn something new,” the fine art photographer Ashraful Arefin tells us. “To start, I am planning to learn more about post-processing software and studio lighting. Luckily, there are so many useful tutorials and classes available online, from CreativeLive classes to YouTube tutorials by some of my favourite artists.
“I have also been wanting to create a series of cinemagraphs inspired by classical paintings for a long time, and now, I finally have some extra time to prepare for it. I will be creating props and backgrounds, sketching ideas, etc. for this, as I develop new skills.”
10. Organise your archive
“A lot of my images are composites, and over time, I have shot quite a lot of stock photos,” the Norwegian photographer Linda Kristiansen explains. “This has been a good time for me to get them more organised.” As she’s discovered, combing through her archive hasn’t just been helpful from an organisational standpoint—it’s also helped inspire fresh concepts.
“While looking through it all, I have been coming up with new ideas to put together previously unused images,” she says. “I always look for the silver lining, and I think being somewhat isolated forces us to get creative. For me, it’s a good way to find inspiration to keep creating, even when going outside for photoshoots is not an option.”
11. Get back to basics
What was one of the most-mentioned coping strategies among the artists we interviewed? Create for the joy of it, without any additional expectations.
“When we were told that sheltering in place was imminent, I went to my studio and grabbed my Canon Mark IV kit with lens, various diffusion materials, four stands with c clamps, two small sandbags, my travel bag filled with essentials found in my set cart, a tripod, and a few of my favourite props,” the New York-based photographer Beth Galton remembers.
“I’m lucky enough to have large south-facing windows where I am able to set up a small studio using a borrowed table from my neighbour. Instead of having an agenda (e.g. creating more food photos for my website or a video piece), I am using this time to explore.
“Will I produce work worth looking at? In the past, I’d get caught up with this type of worry, but now life is so upside down that I’m simply focusing on exploring the worlds I am creating—and seeing where it will lead me.”
12. Take time to pause and reflect
“We hear a lot of voices coming from 360 degrees telling us that now is the perfect time to create, read, and learn,” the Toronto-based photographer Mary Chen tells us. “However, I think it is also important to stress that this sudden shift in routine is not easy; there will be days where our mental health is not going to be the best or we are just not ‘feeling it,’ so cut yourself some slack.
“The world might feel more hectic than ever right now; for that reason, it is even more important for us to allow ourselves to pause and feel. I am slowly trying to learn to be okay with not doing much and avoid shaming myself when I’m not as productive as I’d like for the day. I genuinely believe that if we give ourselves the time to feel and reflect, the wisdom we gather will, in turn, transform into pivotal insights for our future work.
“I’ve been actively practising meditation and journaling these days and taking things slow. I think the system always encourages us to work harder and faster, but now that we have the luxury to pause, then why not take our time?”
About the contributor
Feature Shoot showcases the work of international emerging and established photographers who are transforming the medium through compelling, cutting-edge projects, with contributing writers from all over the world.