Unplugging: Taking a break from technology

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As an April report from the Pew Research Center revealed, more than half of American adults say that the internet has been essential for them amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, and a significant majority (90%) say the internet has been mostly a good thing for them during this time. As brands continue to find new ways to connect with customers, we’ve seen this positive attitude towards technology reflected in commercial photography.

At the same time, we’ve witnessed a seemingly contradictory trend. As technology becomes more ingrained in our everyday lives, occasional “unplugging” has become both a luxury and a necessity.

Popular resorts like Miraval, for instance, feature an array of outdoor activities, all meant to encourage mindfulness and promote wellbeing—while limiting screen time. Other exclusive vacation destinations, located everywhere from Big Sur to Denali Park, don’t provide Wi-Fi or ask guests to give up their devices completely.

At the start of June, the Creative Insights Team at Getty Images announced a new trend: Our Life Offline. According to their research, 41% of people say some of their relationships have been damaged by technology use, speaking to the potentially negative consequences of tech addiction and life online.

They also cited new information on what experts are calling “Zoom fatigue”; because video chats require more energy and concentration than face-to-face meetings, they can leave us feeling tired. Pair that exhaustion with the stress and isolation of quarantine, and it’s no wonder more people are craving a technology break these days.

This movement towards mindful living has been brewing for a long time; last year, customer searches on Getty Images for the term “digital detox” rose by 153%, far exceeding expectations. As consumers carve out more time away from their devices, brands are following suit, and images of life “unplugged” are in-demand in the commercial sphere. Here are our tips for incorporating these kinds of photos into your Licensing portfolio.

conquest-adores by Jonut Runcan on 500px.com

Capture the little things

When we hear the phrase “digital detox,” we might imagine pristine landscapes and wilderness retreats, but not every photoshoot around this theme has to be so dramatic, especially when so many of us are confined to our homes and neighborhoods. These days, a digital detox can be as simple as a family game night in the living room or a barbecue in the backyard.

Brotherhood by Jonut Runcan on 500px.com

Lifestyle photoshoots, particularly those organized around this theme, offer plenty of opportunities for candid “micro-moments” that highlight the beauty of everyday life. Unplugging is all about connecting with loved ones and spending time together, so consider working with family, and look for those emotions in your images.

When you upload your photos to your Licensing portfolio, remember your conceptual keywords; in addition to trendy phrases like “digital detox” or “unplugging from technology”, consider speaking to larger, more universal ideas like “community”, “mindfulness”, or “personal growth”.

Mother & son. by Pablo Reinsch on 500px.com

Give your models an activity

Perhaps the easiest way to get those authentic, relatable “micro-moments” is to give your models something to do! For a timely twist, incorporate an at-home hobby. In May, for instance, “backyard birding” exploded in popularity, with Google searches for “birds” hitting an all-time high.

Home gardens also experienced a boom in the United States, with one gardening installment business telling USA Today that its orders had doubled in a month. In March, the seed company W. Atlee Burpee & Co sold more seed than it had in more than a century in the business, according to Reuters. Many homeowners are getting into gardening for the first time due to lockdown measures.

A day in the backyard or indoor garden with family and friends can easily be turned into a commercial photoshoot, as can an evening of cooking and meal-prep. Have a quarantine haircut planned or doing a craft project with friends? Those are all photography opportunities. Of course, some other trendy quarantine activities include DIY-ing, hair bleaching, and tie-dying, so you’re not limited when it comes to ideas.

Whatever you choose, make sure it’s something your models enjoy. The more comfortable they are, the better the images will be.

Making dough by male hands by Oleksandr Boiko on 500px.com

Get your hands dirty

Okay, you don’t have to get your own hands dirty, but your models can. This year, Facebook IQ identified “getting hands-on” as one of their top emerging topics and trends, with everything from 3D printing to laser cutting entering the mainstream. Visual media has been moving in this direction as well, with more brands using zine-inspired aesthetics and tactile elements in their advertising.

When planning your shoots, consider how you can modify your concept to incorporate the “unplugged” theme. For example, in addition to photographing people listening to music on their phones, maybe you introduce a classic, hands-on vinyl set-up. Or, when you are using a common prop like a tablet, perhaps you also photograph someone reading a physical book or magazine as well.

Happy moments with family by All Nea on 500px.com

Hit the trails

Within the last decade, hiking has grown in popularity, as have other outdoor activities like trail running and jogging. As long as you’re contentious about taking care of the land and follow the “leave no trace” principle, these outdoor spots are ideal for beautiful lifestyle and travel photos—sans devices. “Hiking, biking, BBQing, or just enjoying being outside in nature are all ways to visualize breaking from technology,” the 500px Content Team tells us.

Karina by Crimus Kronos on 500px.com

Maintain a social distance

As restrictions lift, you’ll return to working with models and other people on set. While photos of people video-chatting and live-streaming will continue to be popular, so will photos of face-to-face, in-person interactions. But in the near future at least, these photos might look different than they did before the COVID-19 crisis.

Remember to stay at least six feet apart from your crew and team members, including models, and encourage them to do the same. Think about how social distancing might influence our offline activities; for example, parties might be smaller, lines might be longer, and dinners at restaurants could involve partitions or separators. Lifestyle photos will still evoke feelings of community, connection, and togetherness, but people might be standing or sitting a little farther apart.

Ugly by Vuhlandes  on 500px.com

Showcase a healthy coexistence with technology

Tapping into the “unplugged” trend doesn’t necessarily mean avoiding technology altogether; sometimes, it just means showing a more balanced and beneficial relationship with our devices. According to a 2017 study of 5,000 students in the UK, 71% of schoolchildren reported having taken temporary digital detoxes. Disillusioned with everything from “fake news” to excessive advertising, even this generation of “digital natives” craved a break every now and then.

Illustrating these temporary respites can be as simple as keeping technology in the periphery of your images; instead of including them as a main subject in your photos, you can focus on human interaction with devices in the background. Try to get as much variety as you can out of every shoot. Start with some shots that highlight the positive effects of technology—like its ability to bring us together during this time—and then get some shots where it isn’t so prominent.

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