LIFE in lockdown has opened up new ways of working for many people. But how do you carry out a fashion, glamour or portrait photo-shoot when the photographer and model can’t be in the same studio - or even on the same continent?

When the coronavirus pandemic led to lockdown in the UK, Yorkshire-based freelance model Natasha J Bella had to cancel an assignment at Birmingham’s NEC. It got her thinking about the notion of travelling to work at photographic studios and locations across the country and overseas. How could photographers keep that going with social distancing and travel restrictions in place across the world?

Within a couple of days of lockdown she had an idea of connecting with photographers via a ‘remote shoot’.

As well as as being a photographic and commercial model, Natasha delivers training workshops through her business The Collaborative Approach, showing how photographers and models can work together to achieve the best creative results. She works in areas like directing shoots, poses and composition, lighting techniques, conveying ideas and building rapport.

Using her expertise and experience of both modelling and photography, she came up with the concept of a ‘tethered shoot’; communicating with photographers via Zoom video conferencing and giving them remote access to camera tethering software on her monitor.

Her first remote shoot was on April 1, with photographer Gary Brown controlling the camera from Huddersfield, and she has since worked with photographers in San Francisco, Seattle and Boston, Thailand, China, France, Switzerland, Germany and around the UK - all from her studio at home in Leeds.

“A remote photo-shoot means that as a model I can work with photographers anywhere in the world,” says Natasha. “I did a shoot yesterday with someone in Shanghai - he’d found my work online.

“The photographers give creative direction, they control the settings and press the shutter. Even in a face-to-face shoot, when we’re in the same studio, you can see the images coming up and work on what looks best. We’re still doing that, but from a distance.”

Natasha begins by connecting to the photographer via Zoom. “They just need reliable Wi-Fi connection, a computer, mic and speaker, and access to Zoom. Once we connect I take them through a briefing and we take a few test shots, then the remote photo-shoot is underway,” she says.

While Natasha manages all the technical aspects at her end, the photographer, via their own computer, has full control of the camera; selecting AF (autofocus) point adjusting aperture, ISO (light sensitivity), shutter speed and white balance.

“These manual settings are accessible via the screen alongside the live view of the camera set up in my studio,” says Natasha. “It allows them to control the settings on my DSLR camera so they can focus and fire the shutter.

“The entire experience is a collaboration between myself and the photographer. Together we discuss ideas, styling, backdrops and lighting, whether for portraits, fashion or glamour, with or without accessories and props. I model for them, taking direction and generally assisting in the studio. As well as posing I move the camera around, but they can change the settings. I don’t want them to feel restricted - I’m their model but I’m also their photographic assistant. I work to their moodboard brief.

“The photographers give creative direction and press the shutter. They own copyright of the images and receive all the raw files after the shoot.”

Adds Natasha: “It’s a really straightforward process, even for those who are not technically savvy. I often work with amateur photographers of varying levels of skill; some know exactly what they want, while others leave things like lighting to me.

“It’s a collaborative process, that’s key for me. We all want good images, and I’m meticulous and passionate about what I do.”

As a model, Natasha has worked closely with photographers and has developed technical skills. She has been delivering training workshops for four years, both group and one-to-one sessions through Zoom, and also works with camera clubs.

“The role of the model has changed over the years,” says Natasha. “Models are businesswomen, and men, and are very much involved in the creative and technical process. It is often up to the model to create the styles and looks. I started to develop my training because people were asking me for my knowledge of styling shoots as well as for my modelling.”

Natasha, who specialises in portrait, fashion, glamour and boudoir modelling, came to it surprisingly late in life. “I have four children, and as a fulltime mum my time was limited. When my youngest child started primary school, I wanted to do something for myself. A photographer came to take some pictures of me at my home, I just fancied it. I loved that photo-shoot - it was so different from all the school runs, the cooking and cleaning up after the kids. I was ‘’me’, not just ‘mum’,” she says.

“I thought Id’ be a bit camera shy, but because it was in my home I felt comfortable. I was confident and enjoyed it, and the photographer, John Gardner of Wakefield, said I was a natural. After seeing the images, my family and friends encouraged me to take it up. So, at the age of 37, I became a model. I thought my time was limited, so I felt this urge to try lots of different things.”

Now Natasha hopes her remote shoots can continue into the future. “I think being in lockdown, not spending time with loved ones and looking for a distraction, has unleashed a lot of creativity.

“And many of us have started using links like Zoom for all kinds of things - art classes, yoga, cooking,” she says.

“Creators want to create. And that doesn’t stop because they’re quarantined. Tethered shoots have been so popular I see this becoming a standard option for photographers who need to get the right shots with the right models but are hampered by distance and time. It saves on travel expenses and other logistics.”

Natasha, who supports the Disabled Photographers’ Society, often works with photographers in wheelchairs, some confined to the home. “I find it so rewarding to work with them on remote shoots,” she says. “A photographer wrote to me after a recent shoot. He’s been diagnosed with cancer and said he found working with me really enjoyable. That meant a lot to me.”

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