When the coronavirus pandemic sparked lockdowns this spring, people around the world spent their time pursuing creative endeavors, from knitting to cooking. Online learning experienced tremendous growth, and hashtags like #IsolationCreation and #LockdownArt started trending on social media. People painted quarantine murals on their walls, formed virtual baking clubs, and, of course, organized indoor photoshoots.
For many photographers, finding a creative outlet has helped offset the stress of quarantine. Whether they’re working with portraits, still lives, or another genre entirely, they’ve discovered that art can promote healing and provide daily motivation during a challenging time. For those seeking inspiration—and a few unexpected and offbeat ideas—we’ve rounded up this collection of just a few photoshoots you can try at home.
Your backyard is an ecosystem for native wildlife, and depending on where you live, you could share your home with species of birds, reptiles, insects, and bees. Now is a great time to highlight biodiversity and the interconnectedness of life, even in urban areas, so use your garden as a site for local wildlife photography.
To make your backyard more appealing to wildlife, consider installing a bird feeder, butterfly house, toad abode, or water bath for animals. The National Audubon Society also has a helpful guide for setting up a perch for your backyard; all you need is an interesting background, a pretty branch, and a clamp.
You don’t necessarily need a backyard to complete this project, as any local park will also work. Maybe you wake up early and bring out the macro lens for some dewy photos of insects, or you practice high-speed photos of birds in flight. Order a local field guide to help keep track of the species you photograph.
Most importantly, no matter how small or large your subject, remember to respect wildlife and their habitats. It might be your home, but it’s also theirs, so don’t disrupt their natural activities. Luring birds and other animals can be dangerous, so avoid this practice. Instead, work around their schedules (birds are active in the mornings), and keep a safe distance. Learn as much as you can about the species, and look for ways to support conservation in your area through photography.
Initially popularized by influencers on TikTok, the “outdoor mirror challenge” took on a life of its own in recent months. Instead of the traditional mirror selfie, this project involves bringing a mirror outside, placing it on the ground so that it reflects the sky, and stepping into the frame.
You don’t even have to photograph yourself; you can include details from your yard, flowers, architecture, or anything you wish. The idea here is to create a portal into another world, and for that, you only need a mirror and a sunny day with blue skies and puffy clouds.
Self-portraits are a quarantine favorite, and with good reason: they help you understand light, posing, and staging, and they can deepen your understanding of your artistic voice. This project is different in the sense that it isn’t about getting that one perfect selfie. Instead, it’s about creating at least one self-portrait a day.
During this time, a lot of us are going through unexpected changes, like growing our hair out or experimenting with new hobbies, so get creative when documenting these changes. It can be a simple portrait every day when you wake up, or a highly produced shot made with studio lighting, as long as it reflects this period in your life, and forms a cohesive series charting the passage of time.
The great thing about a daily selfie is that it takes the pressure off of being “perfect.” It doesn’t matter how you look, and not every photo has to be your best. This project is all about getting out of your comfort zone, experimenting with your craft, and having fun.
It’s no secret that #quarantinebaking is a standout hobby of 2020, so why not combine two of your talents—baking and photography—to create a single shoot? If you’re new to baking, blogs like the Minimalist Baker and Local Milk make it easy to get started. Use this as an opportunity to practice your food styling and lighting. With the right light and props, you can elevate a home-made dessert or loaf of bread to the realm of fine art.
Be your own model and dress up as someone else. Not to be confused with the selfie, this photoshoot requires you to embody a character, perhaps one from a favorite book or film. Grab your tripod and remote shutter release. Order clothing, accessories, and props online, and transform yourself into someone new. Experiment with makeup, or go all out with prosthetics and wigs. This exercise will come into play later when you resume working with models, giving you insight into how it feels to be on the other side of the camera.
The love letter
This project isn’t a literal love letter but a photographic one. During quarantine, many of us can’t spend time with family and friends, so this is one way to connect with important people during this time. Here’s how it works: look around the house for objects that remind you of someone you love. It can be jewelry from your mother, silverware from your father, a stuffed animal from your childhood, a paperweight you received as a gift from a friend—anything goes.
Once you find your object, think about creative ways to photograph it. Maybe you set up a golden hour still life with light streaming in from your window. Perhaps you create a conceptual scene in miniature, or maybe you stage a self-portrait that incorporates the item as a prop. Once you’re done, print your photo on some beautiful paper, and send it to the person who inspired you.
In our digital world, we sometimes get caught up in making photos for the public, but this particular session is all about making art with one person in mind. Chances are, you’ll end up creating something that resonates with many others in the process.
Alessio Albi created this portrait before quarantine (with a pro camera, not a webcam), but you can see some of his recent webcam work here.
Earlier this year, the Italian portrait photographer Alessio Albi made headlines by setting up a fashion shoot—over video chat. He collaborated with models in his network and directed and photographed them via FaceTime and his laptop’s webcam, screenshotting moments that jumped out to him. Although the equipment wasn’t ideal, Alessio proved that it isn’t the gear that makes the photographer—it’s the imagination.
Blue hour cityscapes
This one is for those in crowded cities, without access to large open spaces. Wait until just after sunset, when the twilight light interacts with the interior illumination of the apartment buildings around you, and then head over to a balcony or roof for a photoshoot. Summertime is especially great for blue hour shots, and cities right now are relatively quiet, so it’s an ideal time to capture your skyline and surroundings.
If your commissions have slowed down during the COVID-19 crisis, consider working with clients remotely. Have them send you their products and photograph them at home. You can even use the software app of your choice to show your photos to clients in real-time and get their feedback. Alternatively, you can video conference on the shoot as you share the images.
If you don’t already have clients for these kinds of shoots, practice your tabletop product photography using what you have at home, and build up a portfolio to send out as part of a newsletter or social media campaign. Don’t be afraid to reach out to local businesses too; as stores open back up, they’ll need high-quality photos of their products.
The lemon challenge
When life gives you lemons, organize a photoshoot. These citrus fruits are affordable and readily available at your local grocery store; they stay fresh for a long time, and most importantly, they’re small enough to photograph using a miniature DIY set at home. The benefit of using such a simple subject is that it forces you to get creative and think outside the box.
Challenge yourself to photograph lemons in as many ways as you can imagine, moving beyond the obvious. Work with different colored backgrounds using construction paper or fabrics you find at home (a bedsheet works), and light it using windows or artificial sources.
Open up that aperture for a shallow depth of field. Spray paint your lemon a different color, or cut it up. Drop it in water for some high-speed photos. Get conceptual, and play with shape and form. Use it as a garnish on a summer beverage shoot. Slice it into thin pieces for a backlit macro shoot—the more offbeat, the better.
Color of the day
We borrowed this idea from Shirley Li, a staff writer at The Atlantic. Every day during lockdown, she set herself a photo challenge, and one of them involved capturing objects of a single color throughout the day.
You can choose any color you’d like from “Gen Z yellow,” which is trending in commercial photography right now, to hot neons or soft pastels. The only rule? Everything you photograph has to have the same hue. Of course, you can always expand upon your key color and add elements with complementary or analogous colors, but the hue must be present in every frame.
In the end, you’ll end up with a series of images united by a cohesive aesthetic theme, and you’ll have a stronger grasp of how colors work together to convey emotion.
Sometimes, an object’s shadow is just as intriguing as the object itself, so think about how you can tell a story using only light. Maybe you create some cut-outs and cast shadows on the wall, in the spirit of shadow puppetry, or maybe you wait until the golden hour to get those long, distorted shadows of items lying around the house.
You can even photograph the silhouette of a family member or a pet (cat ears work well for this), or use lace to create patterns. The challenge here—and the trick—is showing the audience what something is without actually including it in the frame.
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