Stay At Home Jay

The coronavirus pandemic is affecting the lives of people all around the world. Millions are confined to their homes, either in strict quarantine or requested to stay home and only go out for necessary purposes. People from all walks of life - including those working in the field of photography - are finding ways to adapt their life to the new reality.
Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic I have focused on documenting the impact of the outbreak on people's life in The Netherlands. My recent project "Stay At Home Jay" is a short visual storytelling about life at home of a teenager during the COVID-19 epidemic. I added some background shooting information that might be interesting.

Stay At Home Jay
This is Jay, a 15-year-old teenager living in The Netherlands. He too has to stay inside
most of the time. He doesn't really mind that, because he is really obsessed with music nowadays, especially playing piano, keyboard and guitar music. He wakes up with music and sleeps with music. In between there is online-class, music, some school homework, music, physical exercise, music and… music. Throughout the day he turns his home into "The City Of Stars" as he plays the famous melodies from Lalaland or sends the Campanella ("The Little Bell" - Liszt's piano adaptation of Paganini's famous concerto) jingling through the house, then rushing through his repetoire of modern and classical pieces and ending with Clapton's Tears in Heaven on his guitar. His life wasn't always like this. Jay recalls the times that he really hated the piano and guitar, crying and sobbing because this was not his idea of fun. Fortunately, things have changed. The sudden revival of interest in music happened not long before the start of the coronavirus outbreak. Now that the pandemic is keeping Jay at home, he has plenty of time for his rediscovered passion. Suddenly I realize it's not the pandemic that keeps him home, but the music. Oh, well…

Background info
This first picture in the series is an introduction to Jay in static pose and technically speaking the easiest shot. During the epidemic loads of "quarantine" photos have appeared on the internet of people behind doors and windows, hand(s) touching the glass. These images send a serious message: stay safe and keep away from our invisible enemy, at the same time telling us how much we want to go out again and do things that were once so normal. Awkwardly, people in those pictures - posing solitary - were often wearing face masks or protective gloves or both while confined to their homes, to me this is a bit overkill/excessive. I chose to shoot without a face mask or disposable gloves in this popular "behind the window/door" scenario. I asked Jay to close his eyes to create a more dreamy and peaceful look. Additionally, I requested Jay to push his head slightly against the glass. This way his "long" hair would be more visible and striking. Due to the coronavirus the Dutch government has ordered all hair salons to be closed until further notice. Jay is not worried about that, he is getting used to his long hair, even starts to like it and now wants to grow it longer and longer…

New challenge
In pre-corona times life was going fast and full of sports and social activities, now the virus has put life on pause. This pause comes with lots of domestic free time, time to find new challenges at home. Jay found his: playing the keyboard while lying flat on his back. Somehow this picture reminds me of Jimi Hendrix playing his guitar behind his head. That's fine, just don't start licking it!

Background info
For this photo I had to attach the camera to a monopod hanging right above the subject and remote control with a smartphone connected to the camera (Nikon Snapbridge). Tried a couple of shots with eyes open but prefer this expression on his face, eyes closed, fully absorbed in music.

Jumping rope
Now that Jay is stuck inside most of the time it is important to stay active and physically fit. Jay has been doing push-ups, sit-ups and plank exercises for a while and now that the weather has turned more pleasant he is trying jumping rope on the balcony. A nice way to do exercise at home and at the same time breathe the fresh outside air, Jay thought (especially for someone who came from heavily polluted Beijing last year). But the joy was short-lived… after ten minutes Jay complained about "frostbite" in his feet caused by the "freezing cold" balcony floor… Fine. I got my shot!

Background info
Shooting this picture needed careful planning as I wanted to create an "elegant" image of Jay in jumping rope action. The balcony is facing north - so there was hardly any light reaching the balcony while the beautiful trees at the background were brightly lit by the afternoon sun. The contrast created a perfect scenario for a silhouette photo. The door on the right, opened at 90 degrees angle, hid the unattractive brick wall behind and mirrored the attractive background trees.
The challenge here was to "freeze" Jay at the right moment to capture him in elegant "jumping rope" action. Apart from capturing Jay's silhouette "mid-air" it was also important to capture his rope clearly - to show him engaged in jumping rope activity. I choose to freeze him at 1/1250 second shutter speed, fast enough to get a sharp image of Jay and capture the rope clearly (should I have chosen a slower shutter speed, the rope would only have been partially visible or not at all). After seeing the picture Jay said it was worth the frostbite.

Join the lockdown cooking club
Amid the (semi-)lockdown even Jay found some culinary inspiration, to everyone's surprise. With zero cooking experience he starts to show off his (very experimental) home-cooking skills. His very first dish was his "quarantine macaroni" and now he has gone totally wild trying his hand at "isolation pancakes".

Background info
We definitely had most fun shooting this photo. Children love pancakes, even more throwing pancakes :) Can't remember how many times it went wrong but this moment will always be a good memory.
For this shot I had to use a flash because the ambient light in the kitchen was terrible, forcing me to overstep ISO 1600, something I rarely do. By using a flash I could lower the ISO (thus less noise and better dynamic range).

Kick that corona!
Soccer is Jay's favourite outdoor activity. Pre-corona he used to play soccer three days a week at the club, now he is stuck playing home-soccer with his dad. After weeks of abiding the Dutch "stay-at-home" order Jay starts to miss playing soccer with his friends.

Background info
Of all the photos in the series this one was the hardest to shoot. It took a total of 26 attempts to get this result (the same number of attempts it took Dali to get his Flying Cats photo done - only no animal abuse involved here ;) Seems like 26 is magical!)

There were quite a few challenges here:
1) The ball had to be shot with great accuracy, aiming at a spot slighty to the left from the camera (photographer's view). This way the ball would not cover the main subject (Jay) and leave enough space to the right for Jay to appear.
2) The ball should follow a straight line towards the camera, not a curved path. This logically implies that
3) The ball should be kicked hard, making it more challenging to protect the camera when the ball is rushing at full speed towards its bull's eye.
4) To fend off the incoming ball effectively I could impossibly shoot through the viewfinder at the same time. This meant I had to fix the camera on a tripod, then pre-focus on the subject (in continuous focus mode) and pose myself above the camera while pushing the shutter button. A camera with a fast and accurate autofocus performance is crucial for this job.
5) Finally, to create an aesthetically pleasing result the ball kicking action should be well executed from initial swing to "follow through". The subject also had to refrain from swinging his arm or leg in front of his face.

Oh… I should mention that before I got my perfect 26th shot the ball literally went everywhere 25 times: the wall to the left, right, the ceiling, the television, lighting equipment, tripod, the vase of roses on the table (that's why you only see an empty table)…


Everyone stay safe! Hope things will get back to normal soon.