Photo of the Day

Taking FaceTime Portraits During COVID-19 Lockdown

May 4, 2020

By Jacqueline Tobin

FaceTime portrait taken in Germany.
Felix Bürkle, Essen, Germany. He spent 14 days in quarantine but is now free to go out. See more images from Bergerson’s “Portraits in Lockdown” series in the gallery above.

When Israeli documentary, lifestyle, portrait and wedding photographer Sephi Bergerson (who has been based in India since 2002) found himself without any work after the coronavirus started to spread globally, he decided he needed to improvise. For Bergerson—who, like everyone else in the world, was unable to travel or leave home at all—this meant documenting the experience of lockdown around the world through a series of FaceTime portraits—“Portraits in Lockdown”—of individuals or families using his iPhone 11 Max Pro. “I was a bit unsure about the first one but then it just picked up like a bushfire,” he says.

Bergerson starts the session with a video call and then his subject (or subjects) show him around their place so that they can explore shooting options together. “It is an exciting process in the middle of isolation and the people I photograph are fully involved in creating the story and the composition,” he says. “We aim to shoot when the light is good, and if good light is not available, we make adjustments and play around with whatever people have at home. I tell them to show me the light— the kitchen, the windows, etc.—and I decide what the frame looks like.”

Bergerson instructs the subjects where to stand and how to set up their own camera phone and then FaceTime live-videos of 1.5 seconds are taken using a remote camera, all done in a single session. “I shoot while I have a conversation. I tell them I don’t want them to tidy up their home or to dress up. You tend to care less about your appearance during the lockdown,” he says. “Messy room or first coffee of the day; there is no need to change anything in the way people (or their spaces) look. The less you change for the photo, the more authentic it is.”

While the first few portraits were a result of referrals and shoots done featuring relatives and friends around the world, Bergerson eventually opened it up to everyone. More recently, people interested in participating in the project have found him on his website and reached out with requests to participate. The photographer is assisted by his wife Shefi Carmi-Bergerson, who helps set up initial interviews with the subjects and coordinates other aspects of preparing for the shoot. The subjects use everything from tripods to adhesive tape and empty coffee boxes to set up the camera phones, all under Bergerson’s direction.

Admittedly, Bergerson says the quality of the final image in terms of resolution is quite basic, but that this is also a part of the charm of the project. “It is lo-fi and it is beautiful,” he says. “With a little treatment we can make a nice print of these, and whether you are locked alone or with family, this is a great memory of this unprecedented time in history.”

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