Sunday, May 30, 2021

Photoshoot of the future.


I want you to imagine the studio of the future, where we would have cameras with assistants available to photographers hundreds of kilometers away from the subject getting photographed.

The photographer gives instructions by looking through the camera’s viewfinder and directs the person (or people) getting photographed. The raw files are sent over instantaneously for review and processing. We already see something like this in other fields. For instance, doctors practice tele-medicine. We have robotic surgeries performed over the internet, with doctors and patients separated by hundreds of kilometers. These remote applications deal with health and sometimes life-or-death decisions.

With increasing bandwidth and internet speeds and cameras becoming better at tracking subjects and keeping a focus-lock on eyes, it is only natural that the photographer need not be physically present, but can relay instructions over the internet and get the photos clicked. If you think this is in the distant future and is the stuff of science-fiction, well, then I recently got a taste of the future!

A little back story: A client had booked me for a head-shot earlier this year. Then the second wave of the pandemic hit and we went into yet another lock down. My client's deadline wasn't negotiable, and so the only solution available to us was to shoot virtually.

Lights, Camera, Action!

Here’s what we came up with.
The location: I did a virtual tour of my client’s house to identify spaces with good window light and clean walls.
The assistants: The client's family 😊.
Reflectors: Steel plates and hand-held mirrors to bounce light back when required.
The camera: Well, as the adage goes the best camera is the one you could not take along, and the next best one is the one you have. In our case, the only camera at our disposal was a cell phone camera. The camera could shoot in raw, and we used Lightroom to save DNG files.
The direction: I gave instructions using a Bluetooth headset. One earbud was with my client so that I could instruct her on posing, and the other was in the ear of my "assistant" (my client's son)!
Bringing it all together: We set up a conference call on the "camera" so that I could see what the cellphone camera was seeing.
These days cellphone cameras have a lot of megapixels. On a side note, it feels like witchcraft that such a small sensor can pull in so many megapixels!
I was able to crop in and still get a reasonably good resolution. And since we shot in DNG, I had some latitude in pulling back blown highlights and bringing up shadows a bit without creating noise.
This is just a cellphone and you can see some of the photos from the shoot.
Below are some photos from the shoot.

Portrait using natural light

Portrait using natural light

The Remote Photographer

In the future, it's not difficult to imagine a modern mirror-less camera connected to a computer that sends out a live feed to a photographer hundreds of kilometers away, while the photographer instructs the assistant on-site about how to hold the camera, how much to zoom, work camera angles, etc. Simultaneously they can give instructions to the subjects as well. There could also be a motion sensor tracker which tracks the human something like the Microsoft kinect and the mimics the action using a humonid or a drone at the other end, who knows.

Will it replace in-person shooting? I don’t think so. I am certain I would have come up with more ideas if I were on location. But for certain kinds of shoots, especially where a client cannot travel or the photographer cannot travel, I think this will work out.
In the future, a photographer could have multiple studios or borrow studios and work in New Delhi studio for an hour, then the next hour work Singapore and the one after that in San Francisco. I don’t see it happening for landscape photography where the fun of the shoot is visiting the place. This future is coming, and the only prohibiting factor – for now – is the cost, and that will also go away. It is not a question of “if”, it’s a question of “when”.