Photographic Lessons I Learned During COVID-19

2020 was not an easy year. The COVID-19 infested, politically-charged year drove us all a little mad. I started isolating in the first week of March — I had a cold and really didn’t know what it was, so my family and I all stayed away from our respective jobs.

Working remotely was challenging, and though I was working harder to try to keep my job (I didn’t,) I had time on my hands. My take on all this social distancing stuff is don’t leave the house unless you have to — we rarely go out as we don’t want to risk interaction and we certainly don’t want to risk clogging hospitals from the remote possibility of an auto accident.

Luckily I found another job, working remotely, but I had to put in a lot of hours to prove myself. I really wanted to keep this job (I didn’t…)

Photography expeditions lead me to drive to remote locations, the central California coast being one of them, but again, COVID-19, gas money, etc., so with my free time I started walking. Sightseeing in my neighborhood if you will.

I am not a long lens guy. I have a cheap long zoom, and I played with it, but there wasn’t anything within reach of my hose that I found interesting to shoot. I guess I am not a wildlife photographer unless the wildlife comes within close proximity to me.

I tend toward normal to slightly wide. I like the woods, plants, and nature, and though I am close to agricultural areas, I wasn’t finding the things I like to shoot.

And then I found something: snails.

I am not a fan of snails by nature. I’m not repulsed by them, but I am not a fan either. I guess you could say I am neutrally “meh” about them.

During normal times I love to drive. Top down, sunscreened with the wind around me. The time and space dilation of driving is a very non-human experience. Genetically we aren’t built specifically for it, but it matches my ADHD nature of constantly changing stimulus.

But COVID-19 grounded me. I was forced to slow down. Made to walk. Made to take in my environment.

I started walking nearly every morning, camera in hand, looking for a shot. My camera as my muse and my guide, I would trudge off before sunrise looking for my shot and I wasn’t finding it. I could only shoot so many cars, crows, and cats. Neighborhood kids were setting up little farmland vignettes here and there by the sidewalk, lots of painted rocks, but it wasn’t working for me either.

One day on my morning walk, just after sunrise I heard a sickening crunch. I had just stepped on a snail. I looked down to inspect the wreckage and I noted that there were half a dozen of these intrepid explorers, scurrying, for lack of a better word, toward the bushes.

And I found my shot.

The death of its comrade re-taught me a lesson I already knew, but needed to learn again:

Slow down. Take it in. Look around you.

These snail shots led me down a springtime rabbit hole of snail photography that lasted for a few months until the heat set in and my snail buddies went off the grid.

I also managed to reaffirm something that I have battled with. GAS.

Gear Acquisition Syndrome.

It is real.

I am very cautious when I buy to make sure it isn’t GAS setting in. I examine what I am doing and try to solve my problems with the gear I have.

Going handheld in the wee morning hours lost me a lot of shots. Even fast glass was of no help as I was shooting close up and I needed the depth of field. I was pushing the ISO limits of the aesthetic I wanted.

I tried lighting and tripods. It wasn’t happening for me.

I thought long and hard, and I eventually bought a camera with IBIS, a Fujifilm X-H1. It really upped my game. I got a few stops of ISO back and it made all the difference in the world. I bought it used from a reputable dealer so I didn’t break the bank, and I bought it when I had a job, so it wasn’t scary.

This COVID-19 thing is scary, but it has taught me a lot. Just leaving the house on a necessary errand is a treat. I get to drive.

I am unemployed, but I am starting a business venture that presently allows me a better quality of life than I had chasing corporate cheese in the daily rat race.
And it has taught me to slow down and see the snails.


About the author: Michael Keesling is an Academy Award-winning and Emmy Award-winning technologist with a focus on rapid prototyping and deployment. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. His work has been seen in dozens of films, commercials, and television shows, including Saving Private Ryan, First Man, Star Trek Voyager, Star Trek Discovery, Minority Report, as well as The Bourne and Pirates of the Caribbean franchises. Keesling has also been awarded several patents for his inventions. You can find more of his work and connect with him on his website and LinkedIn.