For BJ Pascual, virtual fashion shoots might be worth trying

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The sought-after photographer reveals how he bounced back from feeling unproductive, how he spends time taking virtual classes, and why he now drinks two cups of coffee a day. Photo courtesy of BJ PASCUAL

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Constraints have historically led to the development of great creative work. As the COVID-19 pandemic forces us to stay at home, the creative community has been challenged to stay afloat while observing social distancing. The problem is, the nature of the work can involve close encounters with other people: video productions and photo shoots are often heavily populated, with individuals coming and going throughout.

But life must go on, and the industry is now applying its creativity on the act of creativity itself. Thanks to video call technology, virtual shoots (whether photo or video) are fast-becoming the new practice. For fashion photographer BJ Pascual, it involves an even more intense collaboration between the photographer and the talent, and has certainly added more layers to the already intricate process. Pascual is set to shoot a project with a brand very soon, and has needed to retool his skills to suit our new reality.

“When we did the casting, we had to ask the models to send in photos of possible corners to shoot at in their own homes, so that also played a part in the final selection [of casting],” says Pascual.

While virtual shoots are now considered to be a viable method of shooting, it still limits the production level of many video and photo shoots. It also requires a much leaner staff, which means that many informal workers (which comprise the creative industry) are still left without work.

“Most of the photographers and creatives I know are freelance, meaning in times of crisis, most of us don’t have any source of income,” Pascual says. “Plus, there’s no government support. So it’s also good that a lot of creative communities have been putting up various fundraisers and relief efforts for those who were hit the hardest in their own sectors — like Shelter Fund which was set up as a platform to photographers to sell archival signed prints.”

Although Pascual says that he’s lucky to have brand partnerships via social media as an alternative source of income, he’s still uncertain about where the photography industry is headed post-quarantine. “All our scheduled shoots have been postponed indefinitely,” he says. “Some are rescheduling and gearing up for June, but to be completely honest, I don’t know if we’re really going to resume work in June, or anytime soon.”

It’s not an easy time for anyone, and Pascual himself admits that he’s not immune to the mental and physical toll of being in quarantine. In an interview with CNN Philippines Life, the photographer reveals how he bounced back from feeling unproductive, how he spends time taking virtual classes, and why he now drinks two cups of coffee a day.

What’s the first thing you do each morning? How does that affect the rest of your day?

I drink a full glass of cold brew to help me get out of bed. I usually just have one. It's been so hard to be productive at home all day, so since a few weeks ago, I’ve been having two glasses a day — one in the morning and one in the afternoon.

What time of day do you feel most productive? Why do you think that works for you?

To be honest, my mind has been all over the place since this quarantine started. It’s been hard to focus on being productive when everyday there’s news about how shitty the national government is handling this situation. I would get bouts of productivity a few times a week like right now, I’m taking a free Modern Art history class at MoMA [The Museum of Modern Art] via this website called Coursera, but otherwise I’ve just been trying to take it easy and maintain some sort of routine by working out. But to answer your question, I’m usually more productive at night although I’ve been trying to do more in the morning.

What do you enjoy most about your job, and what do you find most challenging about it?

I enjoy the process of creating images. From conceptualizing, to pre-production, to shooting, to post-production. I enjoy the whole creative process of collaborating with people and being exposed to their creative energies.

Being in quarantine is quite hard, creatively, and I can’t do much without a team. I do have a “virtual shoot” for a major brand next week, that we’re shooting remotely via video calls to the models and the whole process is very tedious. When we did the casting, we had to ask the models to send in photos of possible corners to shoot at in their own homes, so that also played a part in the final selection. Everything has to be pre-styled and packed by the stylist then sent to the models. We’ve done three pre-production meetings so far and another one to finalize (whereas usually we would only do one), so it’s definitely quite a challenge. We’ll see how it goes when we finally “shoot” it.

How do you deal with distractions?

I’m the worst person to ask this because I’m very easily distracted. What I realized is that I need someone to remind me to stay on track, so I have my manager for that. Kailangan may nangungulit.

With regard to day-to-day challenges, do you have a ritual that helps you through it?

With this whole quarantine experience, my challenge is fixing my body clock. There were days when I’d just stay in bed all day and take long naps. So it came to a point where my normal sleeping time would be 8 or 9 a.m. and I’d wake up at 2 or 3 p.m. It was really bad. So the past few weeks I’ve tried to fix that, by drinking coffee as soon as I wake up and in the afternoon if I’m feeling sleepy, and weight training six (sometimes seven) days a week. I subscribed to Perigon’s online spin classes, too, so that also definitely helped me stay on track ‘cause those classes are scheduled at specific times.

When did you start this ritual? Was there a specific moment that inspired it?

I don’t know when exactly; I'd say a couple of weeks ago? I just realized I was feeling very negative and emotional most of the time, so I hoped resetting my sleep and working out would help fix it.

Are you always able to accomplish this ritual? What do you do if you aren't able to do it? Does it have any bearing on your mood and your productivity?

So far I’ve been keeping it up and it’s worked so far! Definitely a lot more productive recently.

Would you recommend this ritual to other people? Why or why not?

Working out? Definitely. The endorphins your body releases after working out puts you in a great mood.

Are there any apps you use for productivity?

Not exactly for productivity, but Calm, a meditation app, helps me clear my mind and relax so I can stay focused.

How do you unwind after a busy day?

I like to stay in, watch Forensic Files, and sleep.