Sigma Shares

Photographing the Essential Workers of Main Street, USA

While the “closed” sign appears in almost every business window in my area because of the COVID-19 lockdown, there are those friends of mine that continue to do what they have to do, because they have to do it. Essential workers… essential people.

And while not considered essential by the “Safer at Home” standards in Wisconsin, I find it essential to being a photographer that I continue to create. And there are ways to do that in a safe and responsible manner. So within those guidelines, as well as wanting personal safety for myself and my subjects, I started a personal project to capture my friends living and coping with life today.

SIGMA 24-70 F2.8 DG DN Art lens on a Sony A9M2. ISO 800; F5.6 at 1/8 second.

The Montello theater is representative of so many businesses with signs indicating they are closed. I was first attracted by how haunting the building lights looked at dusk. After taking a few frames of the building, a lone car drove past, and I knew it was my shot.

SIGMA fp camera with SIGMA 14-24 DG DN F2.8 Art lens. ISO 800; F4 at 1/160 second.

Over the years, my favorite downtown coffee shop has been Planet Perk. A lot of memories taking my mom there, having gatherings with local photographers, as well as my own sanctuary for good coffee, a quiet atmosphere and internet access. While understanding the need to social distance and quarantine, I still worry about my friends that run local restaurants in these trying times. Business does go on for a lot of restaurants by switching to carry-out or delivery services. So, I photographed Planet Perk owner Kenneth Osmond at the front door of his empty restaurant waiting for a customer to pick up their food.

SIGMA 24-70 DG DN F2.8 Art lens on Sony A7R4. ISO 800; F9 at 1/160 second.

My friend Julie Schmidt is a nurse at one of the local hospitals. She pulled into my driveway on a rainy, dreary morning to see how I was coping. One look at Julie’s face through the rain-speckled car window and I knew I had to capture the moment. I had her put her mask and eye guard on to show what she wears every day at the hospital, symbolic of all the medical care professionals in our area. Autofocus was difficult with this image because the camera wanted to focus on the raindrops on the window. So, I just flipped the lens switch to manual focus and made sure the focus was on her eyes.

SIGMA fp camera with SIGMA 14-24 DG DN F2.8 Art lens. ISO 500; F7.1 at 1/125 second.

While so many friends are sheltering at home, it was also apparent which friends were still providing services I have been taking for granted. A good example is Michele, who delivers my mail. I never worry about my mail delivery. It’s always there. Rain. Snow. Sub-zero temperatures. Even COVID-19 quarantine. Magazines, checks (well, when there was work), prescriptions from the pharmacy. Always there. Since I was using this project to be creative, I wanted to be as creative as possible. Since the SIGMA fp camera is so small, I put the camera complete with 14-24mm F2.8 DG DN Art lens inside the mailbox for a point-of-view perspective. To keep not only myself, but Michele safe, I texted her what I wanted to do and was ready for the shot when she drove up.

SIGMA 24-70 DG DN F2.8 Art lens on a Sony A7R4. ISO 1600; F6.3 at 1/800 second.

Sometimes, the essential people are essential people in our lives, such as elderly relatives in care centers. While kept away from family in order to stay safe, not all older people understand this, or understand computers as a way of staying in touch through social media or online video chats. But sometimes, all it takes is seeing a relative showing you the current photo of your new great granddaughter through a window to put a smile on your face. This was another case where autofocus was having a difficult time because of reflections on the glass, so it is very easy with the SIGMA 24-70mm F2.8 DG DN Art lens to switch into manual focus and lock onto her eyes.

SIGMA fp camera with SIGMA 24-70 DG DN F2.8 Art lens. ISO 800; F4 at 1/6 second.

While we are obviously concerned with the current health crisis, there are still needs that require talking to a doctor, nurse, or counselor. And since it may be difficult to visit a practitioner in real life, the internet helps out with services like Telehealth. Counselor Gail Rabe is one of those practitioners who visits via video chat. I used the SIGMA 24-70mm F2.8 DG DN Art lens to capture just enough of the living room to give the sense of location and picked an aperture of F4 to keep the laptop in focus while letting the background blur slightly to be less distracting.

SIGMA fp camera with SIGMA 24-70 DG DN F2.8 Art lens. ISO 1600; F4.5 at 1/8 second.

And some of those essential people live right in our own homes. My wife, Charlene, was designated an essential at the company she works for, which meant setting up a home office. As many who work from home have found, setting up the computer is the easy part. Keeping projects going and communication happening involves email, texts, phone calls, Zoom and team meetings… and working throughout the day and night as needed. To capture the feeling of working those long hours at home, I chose the SIGMA fp camera to photograph Charlene through the “home office” window.

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