One good thing to come out of the coronavirus crisis has been an upsurge of appreciation and love for the people most affected by the pandemic, whether in the community, care homes, or working in the NHS.
There are also lots of opportunities to submit your photographs of the lockdown and the wider affects of the virus, while observing social distancing rules. So while people’s movements might be restricted, it’s also a good opportunity for creative documentary photographers or anyone else who wants to record this uniquely challenging time for posterity.
One of the biggest projects open to the public at the moment is Hold Still, which aims to create a unique photographic record of the UK as it continues to deal with the outbreak. The project is a joint venture between the prestigious National Portrait Gallery in London and the Duchess of Cambridge, who is a keen and talented photographer in her own right. You can submit images until June 18, based on the themes of Helpers and Heroes, Your New Normal and Acts of Kindness. One hundred shortlisted portraits will feature in a virtual exhibition on the gallery’s website and a selection of images will also be shown across the UK later in the year. Full details here.
So if you do decide to enter Hold Still, how can you ensure your images make the cut and go on to get exhibited? A good starting place is to check out images which have already been taken of the lockdown and the wider effects of the virus. There is little point taking a photograph which is very similar to ones which have been published before, so try to find a unique angle. Think about how you can take a picture which captures the particular effects of the lockdown on your community, or on particular people in your area. You don’t need to come up with totally original subject matter – it’s still fine to take a picture of NHS staff, for example, with their permission – but a fresh and original approach to how and where you take the picture will pay dividends.
Then, make sure your images fit the brief: full details of this can be obtained on the website. While Hold Still is not necessarily seeking technically perfect images, following good photographic principles will increase your chances of success. With portraits, for example, make sure you are focussing on the person’s face and try to reduce any background clutter that will distract the viewer’s attention. The portrait should have enough impact on its own, without needing a lengthy caption to tell the reader what is going on and who the person is.
Don’t crop in too tightly either, and don’t fall into the trap of over-sharpening soft images, as you can add haloes and other unwanted artefacts. While the Hold Still organisers won’t be scrutinising images with a magnifying glass or at 200% on screen, a very soft shot is unlikely to make the cut. If you intend to convert to black and white, make sure the image really benefits from the loss of colour and you are not just doing this as a gimmick, or to hide some exposure or focussing error. The same goes for motion blur or intentional camera movement: this is essentially a documentary photography project, so only add ‘artier’ effects if they enhance the image or help to tell the story. Be aware of very tight crops too, or cropping to unusual shapes.
Finally, a quick reminder of your rights as a photographer. While the rules differ country by country, here in the UK you are allowed to take pictures of buildings from a public place, such as the pavement, so long as you are not infringing privacy (shooting somebody getting changed in an upstairs room, for example). Government and military buildings, and transport hubs such as train stations, often have different rules so you need to check. If you do get stopped or challenged, politely explain what you are doing – carrying business cards saying ‘photographer’ can go a long way to allay people’s suspicions. Don’t be bullied into deleting images by other members of the public or private security guards. For a fuller explanation of your rights, See here.
To avoid such confrontations in the first place, be discreet and sensitive to local customs and sensitivities, but don’t look shifty or suspicious or otherwise draw attention to yourself. A lot of it is common sense. Good luck with Hold Still, and make sure you observe social distancing rules at all times when taking the shots – they are there for everyone’s safety.
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