A pandemic is rough in a lot of ways. It makes one afraid to be with another person in the same room. It sure had a big effect on my portrait/boudoir photography. I did not make a single photo in March or April. But then I saw some photographers experimenting with remote shoots. My reaction was, like most people, “But those are pictures taken with a phone camera. Surely they look like crap?” Well, it would seem, that depends on your definition of crap.
Of course you can’t compare low-res phone camera pictures with those taken with 25 megapixel prosumer camera. You can’t control the focus, you can’t control the lighting, and even choosing the framing is tricky. But once you embrace the limitations, there’s actually some fun to be had.
FaceTime on iPhone
I tried FB messenger on laptop first, but I quickly settled for Facetime on iPhone, because it allows for remote Live photos. This avoids the problem with screenshots where the photographer occupies part of the screen.
Not even 1 megapixel
What you get from a Facetime photo session are photos in Apple’s own ‘Live Photo format’, “.HEIC” files. The MacOS Photos application allows you to export those from your iCloud to disk, in JPEG format. The resolution, however, is quite low: 1280 x 716 pixels = 0,9 megapixels. That is not a lot to work with in Lightroom.
So I bought a license for Topaz Labs’ Gigapixel AI. The software allows me to upscale a photo by 4. That is: 1280×720 becomes 5120×2880 pixels. But it is not a naive stretching-the-picture. The AI part recognises shapes (like faces) and recreates what it might have looked like in high resolution, while also reducing blur and noise.
Upscaling takes some time, on my Dell XPS laptop typically 20-30 seconds per photo (thanks to the semi-decent GPU inside – without one it’s more like 20 minutes/photo), So I typically do my culling (photo selection) before the upscaling. I select something like 100 photos that might be worth editing, and the upscaling of all of them takes 30-50 minutes. These are the JPGs I then load into Lightroom.
I have noticed that the quality of the Wifi during the FaceTime shoot influences the photos. Too much lossy compression causes color noise (e.g. gray/green pixels on skin) and digital noise (no sharp borders). Gigapixel AI can sometimes reduce those artefacts, and other times make it worse. So I pay attention to it during the shoot.
I often use the Nik Collection Analog EFX and Silver EFX on these photos, because they give an analog/vintage feel to the photos. I like the light leaks, the local adjustments and the analog-like grain they can add.
All in all, I’m very happy with the results, I get to be creative again. And there’s also a super advantage: nobody has to travel. I have shot with models and friends in Italy, Argentina, Turkey, South-Africa and Romania without having to leave the house,