Unplugging: Taking a break from technology

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. The post Unplugging: Taking a break from technology appeared first on 500px.

Unplugging: Taking a break from technology

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.

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.

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”.

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 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 . 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.

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.

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.

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.

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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Hands On with the Sigma 100-400mm DG DN: A Budget Superzoom For Sony

Wildlife photographers who shoot with Sony have been limited when it comes to lens choice. The Sony 100-400mm GM was released in early 2017, but the price ($2,500) was out of reach for many. Last year, Sony released the 200-600mm G, which was a bit more budget friendly ($2,000) but is a pretty large lens […]

Hands On with the Sigma 100-400mm DG DN: A Budget Superzoom For Sony

Wildlife photographers who shoot with Sony have been limited when it comes to lens choice. The Sony 100-400mm GM was released in early 2017, but the price ($2,500) was out of reach for many. Last year, Sony released the 200-600mm G, which was a bit more budget friendly ($2,000) but is a pretty large lens to carry around on wildlife hikes.

Fortunately, Sigma recently announced their new 100-400mm Contemporary lens for Sony E-Mount and Leica/Panasonic/Sigma L-Mount. We had the chance to test out an E-Mount 100-400 for a few days – read on to see what we thought.


The look of the lens is traditional “Global Vision” Sigma. It has the same black finish and a little silver “C” inlay. You get a Focus Mode switch (AF/MF – no manual override choice like on the non-mirrorless version of this lens), focus limiter switch (full range, 6m-infinity , and 1.6-6m), OS Mode switch (1, 2, Off), and an AFL button. The lens is also missing the Custom Settings switch (C1, C2, Off) that is found on the non-mirrorless version. Finally, while the lens has a lock switch, it is only enabled at 100mm, and it lacks a tripod collar (which can be purchased separately).

While it’s a lightweight lens, finding good balance might be an inconvenience for those wanting to use it on a monopod without a collar. The optional tripod collar is the same one that comes with the Sigma 105mm f/1.4 ART, and has an arca-swiss foot, but does add some heft to the lens.

The hood incorporates an indented ring, for lack of a better description, that allows for photographers to easily push/pull to zoom instead of twisting the zoom ring. This came in handy for me, as I normally shoot Nikon and the zoom direction is reversed. The friction is almost perfect, allowing for a quick focal length adjustment without overdoing it.

While the build quality isn’t as robust as the Sony 100-400 GM, the Sigma still feels well made, and is dust/moisture resistant. One interesting thing about this lens is that even though it’s longer than the EF/F mount version, it weighs slightly less (1135g vs 1160g+125g for the MC-11). Sigma also says that the lens is compatible with both the 1.4x and 2x teleconverters (L-Mount only). Hopefully E-Mount teleconverters are on the horizon, allowing this lens to reach up to 800mm.


At first glance it seems like this lens is just a Sigma 100-400mm with an MC-11 welded on, but Sigma says this lens was designed exclusively for full-frame mirrorless cameras. The autofocus works well on the variety of Sony bodies we tested it on, including Eye-AF for both humans and animals. Having used the Sony 100-400mm GM a handful of times, there wasn’t much of a difference in terms of autofocus speed and tracking.

Compared to the older Sigma 100-400 Contemporary on a Nikon D750 and on a Canon 7D II, the DN version of this lens seems to have faster overall autofocus (when tested on a Sony a7 III, a7R III, and a9). This is likely due to Sigma’s use of a new stepping motor to provide faster and quieter autofocus. The performance improvement compared to an EF mount 100-400mm with a MC-11 is pretty noticeable—if you have a MC-11, don’t bother saving the $200 to get the EF version.

While the sharpness may not be equal to the 100-400 GM in the corners, the majority of shooters likely won’t notice a difference, other than the slower aperture and having to bump your ISO a bit. Sigma claims the image stabilization in the lens provides up to 4 stops of compensation, which paired with Sony’s IBIS should allow photographers to get sharp images at slower shutter speeds.

The close focus distance of the Sigma isn’t as impressive as the Sony 100-400mm GM, but when comparing 2 images at 400mm taken at the minimum focusing distance, the Sigma seems to have a slight edge in sharpness in this situation. Vignetting and distortion aren’t too bad, but are definitely the most noticeable at 400mm. Chromatic aberration is minimal, even in high contrast situations.

Real World Use & Sample Images

Having used the Sony 100-400mm GM as well as the Sigma 100-400mm for EF with a MC-11, the new 100-400mm DN is definitely an improvement over the DSLR version. When using it at a nature preserve to photograph all sorts of wildlife, it felt like I was using a native lens. The time it took to lock on to a subject was a lot quicker than the adapted version, and the tracking didn’t miss a beat in most situations.

The 100-400mm GM may be a bit sharper overall, and when shooting bursts of photos you may get a few more keepers, but it’s hard to justify the $1,550 price difference for most photographers. Even though the Sony has a faster aperture range, most of the time when shooting wildlife I like to stop down a bit and often shoot at f/8 for maximum sharpness.

If you’re looking for a faster aperture lens, unfortunately the Sigma doesn’t hold a large aperture long, and starts stopping down pretty quickly. Scroll down to see some sample photos (click to enlarge):


Final Thoughts

If you’re looking for a long zoom lens, but don’t want to pay Sony prices, the Sigma is definitely worth a look. At almost a third of the price, the Sigma will allow for more photographers to get the superzoom reach that is needed for wildlife, birding, and sports photography without breaking the bank. It’s also worth looking at if you like to shoot telephoto landscapes.

The Sigma 100-400mm DN for E-Mount and L-Mount will be priced at $949, should be available around July 13th, and can be pre-ordered here.

About the author: Ihor Balaban is a photographer and store manager of the camera store Pixel Connection in Avon, Ohio. To learn more about the store, head over to the Pixel Connection website. This post was also published here.

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