Mastering Zoom photography in a tough time

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By Whitney Johnson, Director of Visual and Immersive Experiences

Not so long ago, zoom photography meant macro, and remote imaging meant camera traps. But now, my desktop is littered with screenshots I've snapped of colleagues during virtual meetings, usually with a pet on someone's shoulder or a child lurking in the background.

The professionals are doing this too. Pari Dukovic is a master of portraiture, and his gorgeous images of musician Kehlani shot remotely on his iPhone, make it clear that the lockdown in New York hasn't cramped his creativity or style. Speaking to me (on Zoom!) about how the pandemic as changed his relationship with his subjects, Pari says: “I cannot create without them—we are exactly on the same team. It's eye-to-eye collaboration. I enjoy that process.”

Benjamin Rasmussen is transforming those pixelated images from video meetings into works of art (above), amplifying the technology that separates us and the anxiety it causes.

Other photographers have turned to a more intimate, collaborative approach. Nikola Tamindzic has spent the quarantine collaborating with friends and strangers on a new project: "I Am Here, and You Are Where You Are.“ From his New York home, Nikola has done portraits remotely of people in places like Tokyo (above left) and Mexico City (above right).

Even Nikola has been taken aback by the results. “I have to say, discovery of possibilities of intimacy and gentleness involved in this way of shooting is one of the bigger surprises of my professional life,” he says.

In this image, California-based photographer Jessica Chou used FaceTime to capture this intimate portrait of painter and illustrator Shelby Andre Date with her cats, Obie and Puck. Under quarantine, “my focus has been on how we understand the meaning of community,” Jessica tells us. The photographer has been surprised with the changes that remote photo direction requires. “Because I have to expose my thoughts as clearly as possible, the people are invited into the process and feel like active contributors to the photoshoot,” Jessica says. “I think the act of making something tangible out of a conversation between two screens creates a longer-lasting connection."

Josue Rivas is documenting how Native Americans are reminding us of the importance of refection and how to live on Earth. Above, his remote portrait of Xiuhtezcatl Martinez from the hip hop artist’s Philadelphia home. Josue’s remote photography sessions are "similar to a ritual, a space where [we] are making something together. Instead of taking from each other, we engage in a healthy collaboration ... [one photo subject] made a fire and we shared stories. If felt like we knew each other even though we had just met for the first time.“

That’s the point of a superior photo session, whether it is in real life or, often these days, over Zoom.

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Your Instagram of the day

Our turn: Los Angeles, the birthplace of skateboarding, has numerous skateparks throughout the city. This off-the-beaten-track basketball court at Pecan Recreation Center is a great spot for beginners. Though originally a heavily male sport, skateboarding has been attracting more girls, photographer Dina Litovsky discovered. In the past decade, the number of full-time professional women skateboarders has doubled.

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Today in a minute

Speed > racism: For 18 years, historian and photographer John Edwin Mason has visited a rural speedway in Virginia, pictured above. A universal love for ear-splitting auto racing often has overcome, at least temporarily, other divisions, John reports for The Bitter Southerner. His story came out the same week that NASCAR announced it would ban Confederate flags at its races. Note: If you missed John’s heartfelt and powerful Nat Geo essay on protest photography last week, catch it here.

Image + words: "If I fall," Fannie Lou Hamer once said, "I’ll fall five feet and four inches forward for freedom, and I’m not backing off it." Her words came from this timely pairing of two weeks of George Floyd protest images with a century of commentary on the struggle for equality, via the Washington Post. Here are our images from last weekend’s rallies in Washington, D.C., by Delphine Diallo and Nate Palmer.

Closing time: Shuttered since March because of COVID-19, the decade-old Annenberg Space for Photography in Los Angeles, a daring free museum that featured images on the world of hip-hop, the global refugee crisis, and the medium of war photography, has announced it is closing for good. The benefactors say they will be shifting their financial support toward recovery from the pandemic. “It’s a loss for the community, Roger Hill, a board member of Photographic Arts Council Los Angeles, told the Los Angeles Times. It’s one less venue that allows for those interested in photography to have an intimate relationship with the image itself.”

Paying photographers: Newsweek and other publications can’t simply embed photographers’ images from Instagram without their permission, citing Instagram’s terms of service, a judge has ruled. Facebook-owned Instagram made things clearer this week, emphasizing that its terms of service don’t grant websites a sublicense to embed other people’s posts, The Verge reported. A company spokesman told Ars Technica that Instagram’s policies “require third parties to have the necessary rights from applicable rights holder. .... This includes ensuring they have a license to share this content, if a license is required by law."

The big takeaway

Not realistic: How can you social distance in a crowded area of more than 500,000 people inside Kenya’s capital? How do you self-isolate or quarantine when each day of work is the different between food or not. Photographer Brian Otieno is documenting the pandemic from Kibera, taking images, like that above, of Ruth Kavana, who closed her business selling eggs, chips and sausage snacks for a month. “If you are struggling to get enough food to stay alive, you don’t have much time to worry about this thing called coronavirus,” Brian tells us in this story. “People have heard about it, but most of them can’t spare the time to fear it."

Overheard at Nat Geo

Pandemic and protest: Photographer David Guttenfelder has been traveling throughout the Midwest for the past few months, documenting how people were dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. In the photo above, from Casey, Iowa, family members wait in their classic car to lead a parade through downtown, celebrating graduates of the high school class of 2020. In the middle of this assignment, Guttenfelder, an Iowa native, rushed back to his current home in Minneapolis to cover the protests over the police killing of George Floyd.

Subscriber exclusive: Capturing the shutdown in America’s heartland

In a few words

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The last glimpse

Swimming upstream: A spawning chinook salmon navigates the Soleduck River in Washington State to reach the river’s headwaters. where it will spawn. Photographer Sam Abell’s image was published in National Geographic in a May 1984 article about Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. Then as now, salmon remain a symbol of the Pacific Northwest. Our senior photo archivist, Sara Manco, liked Sam’s use of a slow shutter speed. The technique, Manco tells us, “blurred the water but not the salmon, showing just how difficult and slow swimming upstream is for each fish."

Subscriber exclusive: Why we must protect freshwater fish

This newsletter has been curated and edited by David Beard, and Jen Tse selected the photographs. Have an idea or a link for us? We’d love to hear from you at . Thanks for reading, and have a good weekend!

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