Here's your guide to having the perfect FaceTime photo shoot

Ellen McAlpine, CNN Underscored
Wed May 20, 2020

If you've been scrolling through Instagram, you've probably noticed people have adapted to staying home in different ways. The big one that's on the rise? FaceTime photo shoots.

You don't need a professional setup. Call up a friend over FaceTime (we'd recommend using your iPhone over your MacBook) and start getting creative. By having your friend snap pics over FaceTime, you'll get cooler and better quality photos than you would taking a selfie. (And you can return the favor.) Plus, with social distancing still in place, you'll spend some creative and fun virtual time with friends.

As models and influencers are finding new ways of working from home, so are many photographers. Getting creative and taking matters into their own hands, FaceTime photo shoots have been on the rise, with major magazines like Vogue participating in the trend.

We spoke to influencer Margot Lee, whose Instagram has a 195K following and whose YouTube channel boasts 437K followers, about how FaceTime photo shoots have become a new way to get creative when it comes to content creation.

When it comes to setting up for a shoot at home, Lee says she focuses on environment and wardrobe to create the vibe she's looking for. "I think the most important things for any shoot are location and then wardrobe and makeup. This hasn't changed for me between in-person shoots and shoots over FaceTime," she says,

We also spoke to Jelani Rice, a photographer who's been adapting to FaceTime photo shoots as well. As a photographer, Rice says, "the most rewarding part is being able to shoot with people that I can't see in person. I've been able to shoot with models in California and upstate New York in the same day, all while being on my couch in New York City." The lack of travel is a huge benefit for both photographers and models.

Interested in getting some FaceTime photos for yourself? We're outlining the best way to get started and get shooting. And no, you don't need to be a model or professional photographer to accomplish the task.

Location scouting

This is a great place to get creative. Whether you're in a small apartment, a house with a backyard, or somewhere in between, it's time to look at your living space with fresh eyes. Take a walk around and consider all your options. Do you have plants or furniture you can move around? A blank wall space or exposed brick? All of these can make great backgrounds for photos.

Taking Lee's advice, think about the vibe and tone you're going for while shooting. If you want something simple, a plain wall is an excellent background. If you're looking for something more cozy, try shooting on a bed or on a couch with a blanket. You should feel comfortable in the space — after all, it's your home!

You can get creative here with camera angles. Angling your phone downward or upward, to the side or straight on, will give you different styles of photos. Rice says working with angles is one of the more difficult parts of shooting over FaceTime, but don't be discouraged.

Finding ways to keep your phone propped up can be difficult. You can try propping it against your computer or some object in the room. Both Lee and Rice say there have been some funny moments during shoots with phones falling and dropping. To avoid this, we'd recommend an iPhone tripod, like this one from UBeesize that's only $19.99. There's also this smaller option, from JOBY, which is $34.95. These tripods can make a huge difference during your shoots.

Finding the light

You'll need to find lighting that highlights you well. You always want to have light in front of you, with accents on the side. Look for a spot near a window and get creative moving lamps and things around. If you have outdoor space, you'll want to be sure you're not in direct sunlight. As the subject of the photo, it'll be difficult to sit there for too long, and even if you can tolerate it, the lighting can be too harsh in the photos. Rice says he likes to shoot during the golden hour, when the sun is starting to go down, casting just the right amount of light outside for photographs.

While Rice says he usually prefers to shoot with natural light, that might not always be possible. "You can use your TV or computer for lighting by having different images on the screen. You can use props such as plants, curtains or even a bed sheet." We love these ideas from Rice, and there are so many more ways to get creative, like using blinds to create shadows in the photo that wouldn't be there otherwise.

If you're looking to up your lighting game, consider a mini LED light, like this one from JOBY ($59.95, originally $69.95). This mini light is designed for content creation like the images you'd get from a FaceTime photoshoot.

Start snapping

Lee says hair, makeup and wardrobe are always a major consideration before she starts shooting. It all depends on the style you're going for. She's tried to capture her experience staying at home and has preferred choices like oversized hoodies and loungewear, while she's seen others on Instagram posing in simple outfits like plain tank tops and jeans. Just keep in mind the vibe you're going for, and you'll be good to go.

The best advice from both Rice and Lee is to have fun and be creative. "Trial and error is really helpful in finding the right angles. If a spot doesn't work then we'll move on or the models will give some effort to make it work," Rice says. Lee says being spontaneous during photo shoots and using her environment has been the most helpful.

When taking pictures, your photographer won't screenshot the FaceTime. If you tap on the screen you'll see a small white circle on the bottom right hand corner. This will take a photo using the other person's camera, which will then automatically save to your device. You'll always get a notification on the screen when a photo is taken. Shooting like this means you can take as many photos as you'd like, and go back to sift through them later.

Pro Tips

After speaking to Lee and Rice, we've rounded up some pro tips.

  • Have the photographer turn off their camera. You can do this by bringing up the control panel by tapping on the screen, swiping up for more options, and clicking Camera Off. In the final image captured there will be a small outline where the photographer's image would have been, but nothing too harsh. This can always be cropped or edited out.
  • Use the back camera of your phone, not the front-facing. While it may seem strange not seeing yourself, the image quality is typically higher on your back camera than the front. Plus, in a typical photo shoot you might not get to see images until the shoot wrapped.
  • Use a tripod to keep your phone propped up and prevent it from falling mid-shoot.
  • Find natural lighting, and don't be afraid to think outside the box with alternative light sources.
  • Get creative! "There's no professional guide to this and I hope there never is. I think it's just a really fun creative way to shoot, discovering what works and what doesn't, and taking a bunch of pictures," Lee says, offering her biggest takeaway from her FaceTime photo shoot experience.

With all of this in mind, you're set to start your photo shoot. You don't need a professional photographer to get started either. Call a friend and take turns being the photographer and the model. FaceTime photo shoots are a great way to get awesome photos to share on social media, and an even greater way to stay connected virtually, while staying safe at home.

Note: The prices above reflect the retailers' listed prices at the time of publication.