Remote portraits

I was pretty sure it wasn’t possible.

My client asked me if I could do a series of remote portraits for him and I asked, “What’s that?”

Well, hang on…let me back up a little bit.

I was supposed to travel to D.C. this spring to produce a series of portraits and stories for the Lymphatic Education & Research Network.

They were spearheading an effort to lobby members of congress to fund research for treatment of lymphatic disease, a condition that impacts the lives of millions and has no cure.

Then, COVID happened. The conference was cancelled and I had yet another unexpected hole in my calendar. A few weeks later William Repicci, the President and CEO of the organization called me up and asked that question.

Remote portraits? What do you mean?

“You know,” Bill explained, “I saw an article about a photographer who was connecting with his subjects on Zoom and making portraits by screen shots. Can you do it?”

Bill sent me a link and I was skeptical. “I don’t think it’s going to work,” I said.

“But will you try it?” Bill asked. He wanted to both get his work done and keep us afloat in a difficult time. It was a kind offer and I was grateful.

“I’ll do some tests,” I offered. At which point I texted my daughter and asked, “Can we connect by Facetime and try some remote portraits?”

“What’s that?” she asked. It must run in the family.

We tried a few options and I sent those tests to Bill. “Perfect,” he said and we agreed to do 20 remote portraits for the electronic booklet he was putting together to pitch congress remotely, since they could no longer meet in person.

Strange times call for strange solutions.

And through the series, we refined a process.

I would connect with the subject via Zoom on their laptop or tablet. I asked them to have a second person on site…someone that they were isolating with…and I also asked that they have a smart phone or camera on hand for the actual photography.

Using the Zoom connection, they lead me on a tour of possible settings. After a walk through, I talked them into a location with good lighting and a strong composition. When things were roughed in, I asked them to set the Zoom connection aside, where I could still watch the session unfold and then use the cell phone to take the photo.

They showed me the shots via the Zoom connection and I art directed the changes. “Come closer. Move the camera lower. Have the subject look off to the side and bring their chin down a bit.”

It took a few tries. It was awkward. Odd. Not what I was used to. But we expected that to be the case and everyone was patient with the process. We laughed about it and had a little fun navigating this weird new world we all now inhabit.

When we got a photo that everybody was pleased with, they emailed a high resolution version to me, and I did the production for the final product.

And you know what? It worked. We made connections. We created a strong series that told a powerful story and very soon it will be in front of congress. Let’s hope it leads to change. You can see a video of our full series here.

Thank goodness Bill had faith in me, even when I was uncertain. Thank goodness I took a chance to try something new. There is a path forward. Even when you can’t see it.

Never give up. We can do big things.

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