As the world begins to open up for travel and prepare for a post-pandemic era, I thought about my photography during this unusual time in our modern history. For instance, like many of you, photography is cathartic for me, a way to relax and relieve stress. If I’m not feeling well, it only takes a nice walk with a camera around my neck to instantly feel better. However, due to the pandemic, it was more difficult for many of us to get out and take pictures. For me, it’s not about the final image either, but the pursuit of it. In fact, I would rather spend most of my time creating than consuming photography. I’d rather be out there taking photographs versus just looking at them. This bias has both benefits and drawbacks. If we are always capturing and never consuming, how can we learn and grow as photographers? I began thinking: if I can’t take pictures like I used to, what would happen to my photography?
During the pandemic, I actually made a conscious effort to photograph less and consume more, specifically my own pictures. By studying my own photographs, revisiting them and constructing articles around what I’ve already captured, I thought perhaps I could grow as a photographer and not regress. It might seem odd that I don’t look at my photos often, but you have to understand that I get tons of review gear every month, take a plethora of images in a short period of time, create content with it and then move on to the next project. Since March of 2020, I’ve written 14 lens reviews and 8 camera review articles for FujiLove. This doesn’t include my non-review articles, the articles I write for other publications, my YouTube videos or the non-Fujifilm gear I’ve reviewed during the pandemic.
As a result, I’ve bought 28TB worth of external hard drives during the pandemic, 80% of them already full of images and videos, including my backups. Because of this, I’m constantly finding folders of images I have yet to look at or images I’ve only looked at once, but never really ‘looked’ at them afterward. For this article, I thought it would be interesting to peek into my hard drives once again, look back at the images I captured during the pandemic and see if I can learn anything from them.
The one thing I noticed is that more than half my images were taken at night, including the feature image of this article (captured on the X-T4 + Sirui 50mm 1.33x Anamorphic). This is understandable since I was doing my best to avoid people while in the middle of the pandemic. In fact, the first article I published for FujiLove at the beginning of the pandemic was about photographing from inside my car to maintain social distancing. I tried doing this during the day, but I realized parking was difficult and it was boring to photograph from inside my car during the day. At night I was free to position my car anywhere along the block and had very little obstruction while trying to photograph a storefront or some point of interest. If I did have to get out of the car, there was little chance of running into anyone since it was in the middle of the night. This style of photography was very helpful during the pandemic and helped me review equipment safely from the comfort of my vehicle.
While photographing at night, having some sort of stabilization was not only useful but in most cases necessary. During the car project, I would rest my camera on my steering wheel and used it as a tripod. I also had my X-H1 and later on the X-T4 with very effective IBIS, being able to hand-hold some images as slow as 1/3 of a second! I also used a monopod or tripod when IBIS wasn’t enough, as I usually kept one of them in the trunk of my vehicle. Tripods were also useful when I wanted to create long exposures, composites or include myself in my images. I also found that I was more patient when I used a tripod, especially when it came to framing and dialling in my exposure. Moving forward, I think I’ll be more proactive when it comes to using a tripod to help further develop my style and creativity. Moreover, using a tripod slowed me down, helping me stay focused, calm and introspective.
On a psychological level, I found that due to the physical isolation during the pandemic, my photographs tended to give off a similar vibe. I spent so much time alone and thinking about the post-pandemic future of street photography, I eventually accepted the reality of it for the time being. Instead of going on my usual photo walks with my friends and colleagues, I spent most of my time alone and lost in my thoughts. Again, healthy sometimes, but not all the time. As the pandemic lingered on, I made a conscious effort to phone family and friends to check in on them, but it was also a way for me to feel connected with other people. Even my portraits of my wife moved from outside in the daylight to an underground parking lot at the local shopping mall, giving off a dark, haunting vibe. Aesthetically, I like the look, but I think it was also how I was feeling. At times I would even ask her to keep her mask on, just so we could look back years from now and remember what it was like to walk around in public with masks on as if we were part of some global costume party.
As I looked deeper through my hard drives, I discovered more lost images, specifically from my last project before the lockdown: Hong Kong. In a previous article, I talked about finding lost photos from this trip, but I found four more folders with 1051 images unedited and unprocessed. I did grab some photos from these folders in-camera, but I’ve never gone through each folder carefully and made my selects. I was certain I had done it but obviously I didn’t. I thought it would be appropriate to finish this article on my pandemic era photography by sharing the last pre-pandemic project I was working on. As a side note, during the pandemic, Hong Kong had a strict three-week quarantine requirement, making it almost impossible for me to justify making a trip the last two years. The quarantine period is now only one week and by the end of summer, there might only be a PCR test required before entering. Moreover, I hope to return to Hong Kong sometime this year to continue my various projects.
If I’ve learned anything during the pandemic, I’ve learned to slow down, shoot less and savour the moments while photographing. Yes, I have a bad habit of not looking back at my photos after, but while I was out there and capturing, I focused on the privilege I have of reviewing so many cameras and lenses to the point that I forget what I’ve captured! I’ve also learned to spend time looking back at the photos I’ve already taken. Putting together retrospective articles like this definitely helps me to do so. As things start to open up, hopefully life will slowly return to a new normal and I can spend more time with people, not just gear. I enjoy playing with new cameras and lenses, but I’d rather spend time with other people and share the joy of photography. I won’t stop taking night photos and I’ll still enjoy my solo photo projects, but I do look forward to travelling and spending time with other photographers again. Let me know how you all coped during the pandemic, if you changed how or what you photographed and what your plans are in the coming months. As I confirm upcoming trips and projects, I will let you know here on FujiLove as well as on my various social media platforms. Thanks for reading, stay safe and happy shooting!