Photography In The Time Of Coronavirus – Or Why I Haven’t Taken A Decent Picture In Months.

Like a lot of people just lately, I’ve had copious amounts of time to focus on my hobbies. I’ll elaborate. I’m the guy who pitched a PHD concentrating on photography of the theatre, the seaside, large public gatherings and the interaction of people over the last century. Then the seaside was locked down, public gatherings were banned, the theatres were closed. Story of my life.

Anyway. My department’s had me assisting with our 2nd and 3rd year undergraduates (a process in which I’ve learned at least as much as I’ve managed to teach them) so there’s been that – it’s a little comforting to know that all the other photographers are having the same issues as I am. Because there’s always that need to keep your eyes keen and your tools sharp, so here’s what I’ve been trying.

Well, I tried macro-photography, because I could do it in the back garden:

And astro-photography, because likewise (having some clear skies to see the passing space station was a definite help) :

Like a lot of other people, when I’ve been making my essential trips to buy groceries or whatever I’ve taken a camera with me and worked on my journal of the plague year :

Resort Town On A Bank Holiday Weekend

And I’ve rediscovered my ocean photography project:

I worked on this one quite a bit during 2016-18. It started off because I live in a small town where very little ever happens, which makes it sub-optimal for street photography, and at that point in my life I was far too poor to afford a train ticket. I’d had a project of photographing urban environments after dark, so I began taking pictures of the ocean in the time before dawn – using long exposures to smooth the sea out into mercury.

I kept the project rolling once I started to have money again – it was something to do when I had a couple of free hours rather than a free day (it’s a two hour trip to any town that’s a decent size, three to anything you could call a city). I invested in a Lee big-stopper, which mounted in front of the lens cut down the amount of light hitting the sensor, allowing for long exposure ocean shots in daylight, and that was my project for the summer of 2018. In autumn 2018 I went back to school to start my MA – which as you’ll know had me photographing the theatre, sports and a lot of street and protest work.

Well, the winds of fate have blown me back to it now, and on the basis that I haven’t been able to spend money on going out (or much else apart from an ever growing stack of paperback novels) in the last few months, I went back to the good folks at Lee Filters for a set of graduated filters. Same theory as the dark filter, except that these are dark at the top, clear at the bottom and graduate the level of tint in between the two. The practical result of that is that if you stick one over the lens of your camera, the top of the picture gets less light, and the skies take on a darker shade of blue. In my case I’ve been layering it with the big stopper, setting the scene for something more artistically correct than nature has seen fit to provide.

World Oceans Day Picture

Well the seascape stuff is interesting – because of timing it with the tides, shooting from tripods, considering shots and etc, the process has quite a zen quality to it.

The rest of it, you can keep. Technical challenge or no, I didn’t get into photography to do this stuff. There are photographers who thrive on the pure technical challenge and the process. I am not one of them. I got into photography because it’s a built in excuse to go cool places and meet interesting people. That’s why I’m a street photographer – because of the crazy stuff that you get to see, and because it forces me to keep my eyes open to see them. And while I embrace the challenge of trying to get a high quality image regardless of circumstances, my interest is in the image not the process, and I’d rather see a technically flawed image of something that’s interesting or challenging than a technically perfect one of something that’s not.

That’s why I’ve loved following the Extinction Rebellion. Aside from their cause, I’m there for the colour, the passion and what happens. I’m there for the history, the spectacle, and to not know what pictures I’m going to come away with at the end of the day. That’s a wonderful thing about street photography, and it’s one I’ve written about before.

So. Still no sign of the end of lockdown. Yes, it’s eased. Has it eased enough that I can justify six hours on public transport to go to a city and hopefully do some street photography? No. Has it eased enough for the theatre’s to re-open so that I can get a little work done there? Also no. Will there be a summer holiday season in any way we can recognise? Remains to be seen, I’m not getting my hopes up.

Will my PHD survive in its original form? Can I say that it’s looking increasingly unlikely. The world I was planning to photograph seems to have vanished before my eyes, and who knows when (if) it’ll be back.

In the meantime, I’m getting up at four am to go and get sunrise golden-hour images of the local coast, so I’m going to wrap this up.

The Last Time I Made A 4am Start For Arts Sake (Sunday).


Anyone with an interest in my street photography (with a focus on the Extinction Rebellion) might want to take a look at this little video I made. It’s a video presentation of a conference paper that I’m virtually presenting at the AMPS conference “Connections: Exploring Heritage, Architecture, Cities, Art, Media”. Please feel free to give it a watch.

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