For decades, photographers have made ordinary, everyday objects look beautiful, strange, and interesting, and they’ve created works of art using limited space and means.
In 1928, André Kertész took a simple but lyrical photo of a fork on a table. In 1930, Edward Weston created a four-hour-plus long exposure of a pepper. In 1959, Harold Edgerton took a high-speed photo of a balloon popping. And more recently, photographers like Drue Photo have been producing impressive shots using the limited resources they have in their homes.
Quarantine n Art pic.twitter.com/IbC5FwArHO
— drue. (@DruePhoto) March 31, 2020
For many of us navigating the age of COVID-19, staying at home has become a creative challenge; without access to studio props and gear, we’re forced to think outside the box.
We reached out to nine photographers who are using this period of uncertainty to step out of their comfort zones, experiment with new techniques, and hone their visions. From portraits to still lifes and everything in between, here are their best ideas for what to shoot when you’re working from home.
1. Monochrome projects
“The series I’m currently making initially derived from a sculpture my seven-year-old made,” the San Francisco-based photographer Lee Materazzi remembers. “She collected an apple, eraser, and toy, and she painted them all black. She then carefully balanced one on top of the other. It created this perfectly composed monochromatic sculpture. The objects then became abstracted, allowing me to see them differently.
“I took this idea and started doing the same thing with objects lying around my home and studio—things that were discarded and cast aside. I group and balance the items together, playing with both their shape and function. I then paint everything all one colour, myself included. At times, it’s hard for the eye to decipher where the objects and paint end and I begin.”
Image by Lee Materazzi
To try this shoot for yourself, you don’t need much. Materazzi uses a medium format digital camera, a basement studio, and some simple studio lights. Feel free to experiment with different colours and shapes—you don’t have to include yourself, of course, if you don’t want to.
2. Miniature stage sets
“No matter where you are, there is almost always enough space and light to photograph small objects in small DIY sets,” the Hong-Kong-based photographer Valentina Loffredo tells us. “Clay, paper, play dough, fabrics, food, you name it—anything can be used for home photo experiments. The results can vary from abstract photography to a set of creative portraits of different characters and figurines.
“Natural light at home can be limited, and the advantage of shooting an object is that it doesn’t move. If you have a tripod (or find a way to place the camera on a stack of books), you can set long shutter speeds and get all the light you need without motion blur.
“I build my own miniature sets with cardboard all the time. I often use three pieces of cardboard of the same colour (one for the floor and two for the walls) that I include in the picture. I also have extra ones that won’t be visible in white and black to soften or darken the shadows. These sets are small so they are handy to carry around. You can move it away from or towards the windows and experiment by placing it at different angles from the light source.”
Image by Valentina Loffredo
3. Sunlit shadows
“Even before the quarantine, I was working on two series in my own home,” the Tbilisi-based photographer Tika Jabanashvili tells us. Whether she’s working with flowers or the human body (or both), shadows and daylight provide the raw material for her photoshoots. “Using natural light adds a wonderful quality to any photo, and it can become an element of the composition itself. I make these photos with the natural sunlight that streams into my room at sunrise and sunset, and I use different objects to create the shadows. “I love capturing the warmth of the sun in my images, and natural light unlocks my imagination. That’s the most important thing when you’re working at home—your imagination. You don’t need much else. All my works were created on a mobile phone!”
Image by Tika Jabanashvili
4. Natural wonders
We might not be able to visit faraway landscapes for the time being, but we can still bring elements of the outside world home with us after a short trip to the backyard, garden or the occasional walk in the park. “My boys and I always collect ‘nature treasures’ in summer and autumn to keep dried indoors—much like squirrels preparing for winter,” the Norwegian photographer Ingelin Norheim tells us.
“This gives me the perfect opportunity to keep creating at any time. Plus, the boys love to go scavenger hunting, even if it’s just in our drawers at home. Life in quarantine can feel a bit blue, but dried flowers, shells, pinecones, colourful leaves, insects, and feathers remind us that better times are yet to come. They remind us that it’s truly the little things in life that matter most and that these tiny treasures from nature can bring so much joy.”
Image by Ingelin Norheim
5. Self-portraits with a theme
“I celebrated my birthday recently,” the Milan-based photographer Marko Morciano explains. “Usually, I try to celebrate it by travelling, and it was difficult for me that this wasn’t an option this year. My birthday is important to me, so I had the idea to take a portrait of myself to mark the occasion, and it ended up being my favourite indoor photoshoot yet.
“I ordered 100 balloons—in different shades of blue—from the internet. I then inflated almost all of them (maybe eighty) to create the set I had in mind. I chose a particular corner in my house that gets great natural light, and I waited for a sunny day to set up in front of my window.
Image by Marko Morciano
“Thanks to my tripod and remote shutter, I was able to make this shot. I’ll have to wait to be able to travel with my friends and family and mark the occasion in person, but I was still able to celebrate with them (virtually) through this image.”
6. Paper cut-outs
This idea comes to us from the photographer and paper artist Rich McCor (aka paperboyo), who travels around the world with paper cut-outs, playing with perspective and making visual puns at some of the world’s most iconic landmarks. Now, he’s challenging himself to do the same thing indoors.
“Last week, I shot an image with a deck of playing cards and a paper cut-out character seemingly being blown out of the window on the end of a kite formed from one of the diamonds from the three of diamonds.
“I had the idea by rummaging around my desk at home and seeing what I could use and develop an idea for—playing cards are immediately recognisable by any audience, so they felt appropriate to use. Then it was a case of messing around with the shapes of the suits until I had an idea I liked and found a set-up I liked. What was great is that all I needed was around the house, and I didn’t need any extra tools.”
Image by Rich McCor
To follow in his footsteps, you’ll need a pack of playing cards, coloured paper, scissors or a craft knife, plus a pen or pencil to draw your pattern. You might also want some tools to dangle or balance your cut-outs, remember you can edit these out in post-processing.
For more inspiration on using paper cut-outs check out our article; How to make a silhouette still life with Dina Belenko.
7. Floating objects
“My indoor photoshoots are usually flat-lays with objects or food, and I especially enjoy creating shots with floating objects,” the minimalist photographer and designer Tommaso Baldi tells us. “To create them, you need a large white paper background, a tripod, and any elements that you want to create your composition and tell your story. You can use a natural light source or artificial light, placed behind the tripod.
“When everything is ready, take multiple photos of every single element, while holding them separately by hand. After you’ve captured all the elements that you need, you’ll delete your arms and hands in post-processing using different layers. A little ‘tip’ that I can share with you is this: don’t forget the shadows and various points of light. These are critical when you’re creating a believable composition with several different photos.”
Image by Tommaso Baldi
To learn more techniques for capturing ‘floating’ food, check out this article about how to create a scrumptious photo composition with flying chocolate and levitating marshmallow letters.
8. Abstract windowscapes
“My studio is now off-limits, as Minneapolis has a stay-at-home mandate, so I’m both researching new projects and finding ways to create from home,” the photographer and visual artist David Goldes explains. “Yesterday, for instance, I set up a camera on a tripod, pointed it at the street through my window, and focused on the window screen.
“Consequently, everything on the street is more or less out of focus, so the picture is really about the quality of light emanating from my street. The screen makes the picture look like a graph or something scientific—all for the better. Now, my plan is to keep making several pictures each day as the city faces two weeks of stay-at-home. I’m on day three of the series.”
Image by David Goldes
9. Self-portraits in the mirror
The New York City-based photographer Erica Reade has been working on her series ‘Reflected’ for years now, and although most of her shoots have taken place outdoors and on the beach, she’s recently moved it inside her home.
“During this time at home, I have turned the camera on myself with my mirrors in a new self-portrait project, flipping an otherwise outdoor photo project on its head,” she explains. “In this particular photo, taken during the first week of quarantine, I dedicated an entire afternoon to shooting with three big mirrors, two cameras, a few outfit changes, and some plants.
“I cleared out the space of its usual furniture; I put my phone away, and I had music playing. I was able to forget the world and simply create for a few hours, and it was incredibly therapeutic. It helped me to channel my anxiety into something productive. Now more than ever, we’re being forced to take long, hard looks at ourselves, internally and externally, personally and as a society. Suddenly, using mirrors felt more significant because of that.
Image by Erica Reade
“I began to shoot a variety of self-portraits, using different dresses, angles, mirrors, and props. By the time I was done, I felt good about my work and even slightly optimistic about the future. While I haven’t formulated a more nuanced direction for the self-portrait project yet, it’s the beginning of something much larger that I am thinking about. It is a vulnerable thing to share my journey, but my hope is that others can relate to this and be inspired to create their own work.”
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.