6 Things a Photographer Can Do While Social Distancing

As I write this the whole world is dealing with and addressing a worldwide pandemic called Coronavirus - COVID-19. This is a serious situation that we all have the ability to affect. Social distancing and self isolating has become a part of our lives. Those who are able to work from home are doing just that.

As photographers we can take this time to catch up with certain chores that are usually left for more opportune times. If you find yourself with some time on your hands during this odd time I have a few suggestions for you to consider that will help you in the long run. Let’s just call them chores - Necessary chores that are easily put off for later. These really don’t have to be unenjoyable, especially if there’s really no rush.

So here you go. 6 Things a Photographer Can Do While Social Distancing.

Clean your camera and sensor - Dust bunnies sound cute and cuddly, but they’re certainly no friend to the photographer. Most modern cameras have a self cleaning feature that one can use for most common dust specks, but in time there will eventually accumulate more stubborn particles that will need to be dealt with with a direct cleaning of the surface of the sensor.

Sensor cleaning sounds scary. We’ve all been warned how we could ruin our sensor if we do it wrong, or have heard horror stories about how a friend ruined their camera for good trying to clean their sensor. And, in fact, the earlier methods of sensor cleaning could cause scratches if an abrasive dust particle was dragged across the surface of the sensor. I was scared for years to even try it until one day I decided to take an older camera that I had replaced with an upgraded body and attempt to clean the sensor. This sensor was terrible.

I had done some research into the different methods and kits available for one to clean their own sensor. I decided upon one that had a sticky pad that you would dab onto the surface of the sensor. It worked great and at this time it’s the type of sensor cleaner that I would recommend.

But if you still are unable to build up the nerve to try this yourself you can still take some time to clean your camera body and lenses. Once this situation is resolved and we’re all able to mix and mingle again, take your camera body to a camera shop and let them handle the sensor. It doesn’t usually cost a lot.

Clean your lenses. Purchase some good lens cleaner spray and some soft cloths and take some time to carefully clean the front and back elements (glass part) of your lenses. While you’re at it pull out your filters and do the same to them.

Clean and adjust your tripod. We don’t think alot about our tripod until it breaks or quits working. And when it does it’s usually because we have neglected it. We’ve allowed the parts and pieces to corrode or to become out of adjustment.

Most all tripods have some sort of metal parts, be it a screw or the whole thing. Even carbon fiber tripods can have places where corrosive or abrasive material can hide. Saltwater and sand is the worst and it’s recommended that you clean your tripod completely as soon as possible after getting it wet with saltwater. Aluminum can corrode quickly and make disassembly difficult. Rinse your tripod with fresh water right away and disassemble and clean it as soon as you can.

Disassembling your tripod can be a bit intimidating at first but once you do it once you’ll remember the next time. Especially if you do it with a certain amount of frequency. If you’re unsure of your ability to reassemble it, take photos as you disassemble it so that you have some reference when you put it back together again. You can do one leg at a time so that you have the others to reference.

Once it’s apart wash and dry the pieces in fresh soapy water and then rinse and dry completely. Never use oil or WD-40 on your tripod as it will attract and adhere dirt particles which will hinder operation and wear the tripod out prematurely.

Calibrate your monitor. I’ve heard so many people complain that their photos, when viewed on a different computer or their phone, don’t look the same as they did when they processed it on their computer. Sometimes the photo is darker or brighter than it looked or that the colors aren’t right. There are times when someone is printing their photo and it comes back from the printer looking completely wrong.

Computer monitors need to be calibrated every so often. It’s not a difficult chore to do but you will need to invest in a monitor calibration device. It’s a good investment and once you buy one you will own it and use it forever. I use a Spyder 5 Pro but most all are good.

Organize and backup files. It’s easy to come in from a trip out in the field and download all of your photos and then forget about them until you have time to process one or two. They can all add up and then left unattended, including backing them up. Redundancy isn’t just a fun word to say, it’s something that’s important o a photographer when it comes to keeping their work secure for the future. Hard drives and memory cards fail. Accidents happen.

If you’re anything like me you will have ten times more unprocessed files than you will keepers. Create some hard drive space. Thin them out and backup the keepers. In addition to any hard drive backups consider uploading the master files for any photos that you process and finish to some cloud space. Most of us have some free space available to us from our cell phone providers, for instance. Secure some cloud space and create a folder in a file that contains the raw file, the finished processed file in a high resolution/non-lossy format such as PSD or TIFF and even your formatted jpegs for sharing on social media etc. If you do that you won’t need to worry about hours of uploading all of your files, good or bad, and you will have a secure copy of your finished photos, the most important ones.

Clean cards/charge batteries. Don’t wait until the night before a shoot to clean your cards and check your battery charge. If you have multiple batteries consider getting some small round sticky tags to stick onto the batteries that are charged so that you don’t have to put the battery in the camera to check the charge. Take it off of the charger, tag it on the end. Once you use the battery take the sticker off of the end of the battery and stick it on the side so you know that it’s been used and needs to be charged once you get back home.

Learn something new. What a great time to sit down in front of YouTube and pull up a few processing videos. YouTube can be a good place to learn something new or to completely run in the other direction, but you have the power to know if someone there aligns with your vision or not. Whether they have value in their video that you can use to make your photos better.

We have finally come to a place in photography where people understand that digital photos can be shot in a format that allows the photographer to decide how the finished photos will look. They are understanding that many of the processes are similar to what was done back in film days in the darkroom by artistic photographers like Ansel Adams. Talented photographers are usually also expected to be talented in how they process their photos in Lightroom, Photoshop or both. Find some videos that will push your understanding of Lightroom or Photoshop, or both.

Also, in this day and age, there are so many other options for photographers than Lightroom or Photoshop. Give one of them a try, you may like it better. Process some of your photos using the help of a tutorial video using software such as one of my favorite alternatives to Adobe, On1. Give some new software a try. You might like it. You can usually download and install a program for free for 30 days to try it out.

These are all ideas for things to do, but in reality they’re all things that we are doing or should be doing anyway. Zombie apocalypse or not. This is just as short list of six things. I’m sure that you’ll discover more things that you’ve not had time to do because you had too much time away from your desk. I didn’t mention cleaning out Clif Bar wrappers from your backpack. Now’s the time. Make social distancing work in your favor. Then once it’s over you’ll be raring to go. Your camera and sensor will be clean, your tripod will be smooth and functioning properly, your monitor will be calibrated, your files will be organized and backed up, your cards will be clean and your batteries will be charged. And furthermore you’ll be smarter than you were before because you’ve taken the time to learn something new in your down time.

Now. Tell me how bored you are.

I like your list of ‘chores’, @Gary_Randall. They are all sound and make working easier in the long run, and may prevent a disaster. :+1:

Here’s a few additions to your list that should not take long to do:

  • Check batteries in other devices you use, such flashlights, head lamps, electronic flash, and other devices. Recharge, or replace as required.

  • Check over printers to be sure they are working, and printing properly. Clean rollers, remove bits of paper/dust. Run a nozzle check, and if needed, head cleaning. Run a test print when done. This is especially true if you do not print often.

  • Clean the inside of your computer. Dust on fan blades can slow down fans, and dust buildup on the motherboard, CPU, and video cards can cause overheating. Be sure to electrically ground yourself while doing this in order to prevent a static discharge. Also clean any filter screens. Laptops are less prone to dust issues, but if you can, remove the back panel and check for any dust. Also, be sure the air intake and discharge vents are clear and clean. You can use canned air to do these jobs.
    –P

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Gary,

Thanks for taking the time and giving folks some food for thought in these unprecedented times. And thanks PB for the additions.

For me, I’ve been working from home for 8 or more years and so this current environment hasn’t really change my situation much. In fact, I have less idle time on my hands actually due to my job and have had less time to do PS editing, posting, commenting etc. So while I would love to have the time to do some extra cleanup and such, I personally don’t have the cycles! Crazy times indeed.

Lon

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Heck, I just posted a long reply about testing/evaluating a lens in a critique post and then thought, hey, this would be a great exercise for those who are looking for things they can do during some idle time: Here’s a reprint of my comment:

Back to the sharpness issue. I go through this exercise with most all my lenses, especially when I pick up a new one.

1, Google and get yourself a resolution chart, print up a few on 8x11 photo paper (assume you have a printer? Just a plain inkjet will work

  1. Mount these to a large 32x40 mat board - or simply tape them to a flat wall out of direct sunlight, but lit well, diffused.

  2. set up camera/tripod such that you’re filling the frame with the res charts. I like to have it where I can test center and edge resolution/sharpness

  3. If you have a zoom lens, start at the wide angle, take an image at each of the apertures. For simplicity sake, might be easier to stick with the standard apertures, ie f/4,5.6, 8, 11, 16, 22… we all know with the electronics there are many others the camera may select, f/6.3 , f/3.5, f/18 etc. etc.
    Be consistent though which ones you use throughout the process

  4. walk your tripod back with the next focal length, remember to keep the same frame-filling image in your viewfinder.

  5. I use focusing in live view as you’re focusing right on the sensor and not relying on any sw algorithms …

  6. Cycle through all your focal lengths (for example on a 70-200mm lens maybe use 70mm, 100mm, 150mm and 200mm, for example) with each focal length capturing images at the various apertures.

  7. Then back on the computer, sort and start analyzing. In PS I’ll open all the images for a particular focal length (I open from Bridge where you can sort/filter by focal length for eg.) and then use Window>Arrange>Tile all Vertically(or horiz by choice) Zoom in 50 or whatever percent to give a good look at detail/sharpness. One tip here when you have 8 or more images opened, you zoom in to one image, move around to the point in the image you want to analyze, then use the Window>Arrange>Match all and it will zoom in to the same exact point in ALL the image. Sure beats doing this on each of 8 image panes

  8. Determine some sort of criteria judgement. I could be as simple as, Very best, best, good, fair, poor, unusable. And start evaluating. I enter these ratings in a spreadsheet. You might briefly look through all of them and determine which one is the very best and make that your reference. Because remember, it’s all relative… The “best” results on one lens might not match or come close to the “best” results from another manufacturer’s lens. the exercise here though, will tell you which focal lengths and which apertures are the BEST for THAT lens.

  9. Oh, and I do this for both the center of the image, and the edge. Taking a look at the edge will also reveal problems like chromatic aberrations.

If this sounds time consuming… it is. You could easily spend an afternoon doing this - for just one lens, most especially a zoom lens. Obviously quicker for a fixed focal length.

ok, since I went through all the discussion, here’s a screenshot of a spreadsheet that I use. I will print it out and carry it with me and once in a while reference it in the field if I can’t recall which aperture is the sharpest - and which on to never use…

Hope this helps. If anyone would like a copy of the spreadsheet let me know.

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Excellent advice. Cleaning my tripod was something I completed a few weeks ago at the start of this situation. I completely dis-assembled and washed my costly, carbon-fiber Manfrotto. It was a bit intimidating, but it was well worth it. I couldn’t believe how much Atlantic Ocean sand can actually accumulate inside those legs!

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I’m stuck on “Organizing and Backup”, I have some 140,498 images to go through. At the rate I am going if Covid-19 continues until I finish, I will have to fight off the zombies.

Seriously, thanks Gary for putting this out!

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I spent a day while in quarantine tweaking my autofocus on my D500. I found that I was missing a lot of opportunities with my old settings. With a day of practice on robins, it was worth spending the time getting the camera ready for new migrants…Jim

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Finish copying some cards, and do a LOT of editing and backing up!!! Oh yeah, really need to clean my office, too. But editing and backing up, that’s gonna take a lot of hours… Unlike most people, I take more photos in the winter than I do in the summer, and I have a lot left over from 2019. I also need to go back to my files from 2015 and straighten some things out.
Stay safe, everyone!

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So many great ideas here! Thanks! I’m definitely following the “Learn something new” idea. And while looking for learning opportunities online, I discovered NPN! This is officially my first post on NPN. There’s lots of great articles and other learning opportunities here, so I’m really looking forward to exploring everything NPN has to offer. (I also recently joined NANPA. They offer a lot of interesting webinars.)