Safely Shooting: Twelve Photography Safety Tips from the Safety Queen

April 04, 2014  •  1 Comment

Safely Shooting:

Twelve Photography Safety Tips from the Safety Queen 

 

Katherine Azar 

Katherine Azar Photography, LLC

April 4, 2014

Greg Cazillo and the Safety Queen AKA Kathy AzarBecause of my preoccupation with safety, my family has nicknamed me, "The Safety Queen." Hear about the things in this article and more: http://cazillo.com/articles/keep-shooting/406-photographers-safety-modular-pixel-pocket-rocket-review.html

 

As photographers, when we think about safety, we usually think about our gear. We’re concerned about where to leave our equipment while we are shooting an event for fear of theft. We are careful not to drop or otherwise damage our cameras and lenses. We treat our stuff as we would our precious children. My kids even call my camera my third child.

 

A Google search on photography safety brings up wilderness safety points such as how to avoid being eaten by a bear, keeping your gear safe, safety around railroad tracks, and health hazards of darkroom chemicals. Very few articles are out there about how to keep you, the photographer, safe or even how to keep clients safe. Even then, most of the articles deal with photographing newborns. 

 

In thinking it over, I came up with some of the following safety points for our profession. Can you think of others? 

 

Eight Things Pertinent to Photographers’ Safety: 

 

Be Cautious About: 

  • Where You Stand: Cautionary story: As a former collegiate cheerleader who stood on guys’ hands 7+ feet in the air, I have a great sense of balance. When shooting for a client, though, my training was all for naught as I made a reckless decision in the moment, just trying to get that perfect angle to nail the shot. I needed the vantage point of a tall step ladder and the regular steps just weren’t cutting it. I needed just a liiiiiittle more height. You know the step right under the top of the ladder that says, “Do not stand here?” Well, they mean it. I was fine getting the shot, but then, as I took a step down, the  leg of the wooden ladder snapped and flung me to the ground. My D7000 with grip and 70-200, strapped to me with my Black Rapid Strap, whipped around and nailed me right near my right eye as I hit the ground, tearing my skin open like an eraser being pulled down a piece of paper. Blood was everywhere. I needed nine stitches. In true photographer form, I took a picture of the boo boo. I also handed out a business card in the ER!
  • Stepping Backwards:  It is easy to become so preoccupied with what is in front of you that you forget about what is behind you. There are multiple anecdotal stories of photographers falling over gear, roots, stationary objects, and perhaps worst, into a body of water. Not good for photographer or gear. 
  • Your Hearing: This is true especially for you wedding or event photographers who are in high-volume situations on a regular basis, although it only takes one experience to cause damage. This is another area in which I have unfortunate personal experience. After going to hear a friend play in a band many years ago, I was left with permanent tinnitus, or ringing in my ears. After that, I wore ear plugs whenever I was in loud situations to prevent further damage. However, not wanting to look like a dweeb at a wedding years later, I ditched the earplugs at the reception during which a loud live band was playing. This resulted in a worsening of the tinnitus and the lovely addition of hyperacusis, which means that my ears are super sensitive in addition to ringing constantly. Fun stuff. Not. Protect yourself. There are flesh-colored earplugs out there that are easy to insert and not terribly obvious. 
  • With Whom You Are Working: Trust your gut. Does your client or location make you nervous? Do you need to take a partner with you? Make other plans? Consider your own safety when planning. It may be in everyone’s best interests to have assistants or additional people around. 
  • Legal Concerns: I am not in any way, shape or form a legal professional, so I take my matters to someone who is. 
  • Contracts: Cover yourself with a contract that you make every. single. client. sign. I even have my family members sign it. If your policy is that EVERYONE signs it, you don’t have to apologize to friends about making them do so. Contracts are there to protect both you and your client. 
  • Business Format: Is your business set up appropriately for you? Have you looked into what it means to be a sole proprietor, LLC, or something else? Your lawyer can direct you. 
  • Releases: If you are using your client’s images in any way, photo releases are your friend. Again, a lawyer can make sure everything is worded correctly.
  • Taxes: If you are taking money from people as part of a business, the government wants its share! You can get in big, ugly trouble if you don’t do things right from the beginning. That said, if you haven’t been doing things legally, get yourself straightened out ASAP. All is not lost. Contact your professional (or get one if you don’t have one) and they can help you become legit. 
  • Permits/Permission: 
  • Permit: Lots and lots and lots of photographers operate by the “ask forgiveness, not permission” rule of thumb when it comes to this. How professional does it look, however, when you get kicked off of a property because you didn’t obtain the proper permit. Yes, some of them are ridiculously expensive. So shoot somewhere else. Or wrap the fee into the session fee. Doing the right thing isn’t always fun. 
  • Permission: Another thing I see photographers do frequently is shoot wherever they want without permission from the owner of the property. They see a nice tree or nice field that is “photo-worthy” and just go for it. This makes me very uneasy. What happens if someone gets hurt during the session? Who is liable? (That’s a question for the aforementioned lawyer. Any lawyers out there care to comment?) YOU are trespassing. Not cool. Would you want someone to park in front of your house, walk onto your property, and start shooting in your backyard? Just because a location doesn’t have a house on it doesn’t mean it is fair game. 
  • Insurance: Many vendors even require you to have your own insurance in order to shoot on their property. There are different kinds of policies out there that insure different things. Some insure neglect (like if you drop your camera) and some don’t.  I had to provide a list of all of my gear and its worth to my provider. Make sure you are covered appropriately. Again, this protects both you and those you are working with. 

 

 

Four Things Pertinent to Clients’ Safety: 

 

Be Cautious About:

  • Shoot Location:
  • When planning your location, think about your clients and their safety. A cool stone wall may be a beautiful backdrop or seat for a high school senior, but its proximity to a busy road may be inappropriate for a family with small kids who could make a run for it at any moment! 
  • More generally, be conscious of what the surrounding area is like. Google, “Photographer Mugged” and you’ll come up with plenty of reasons to be aware of your surroundings and plan accordingly. Our big cameras and big lenses are conspicuous. Be careful out there, y’all!
  • How You Speak and Act:
  • Consider your audience and stay classy. It’s fine to joke around, but stay age appropriate and clean.
  • Ask before touching. As photographers, we often want to smooth down fly away hairs, adjust necklace clasps, fix collars, etc. in order to get things right in camera, but always ask someone before getting in their personal space. 
  • Posing: 
  • Check with folks about limitations before posing them. You don’t want to put Dave on one knee before his beautiful bride only to find out that Dave had knee surgery a few weeks prior. I show clients how I’d like them to pose and then ask if they are okay sitting/posing that way. I also tell them to let me know if they become uncomfortable and frequently ask them during the session if they are all right in whatever pose they are in. 
  • Those adorable poses in which you see babies photographed? Many of them are not straight out of camera - they are composites, several images merged to take out hands that are strategically, safely holding the baby. This post is old, but demonstrates the point: http://www.napcp.com/blog.php/2011/11/09/newborn-safety-week/ Make sure you do your research and are properly trained before attempting newborn poses. Safety first!
  • Again, consider the surroundings and the age and physical limitations of your clients. Great, great, great grandma may not be able to climb down the stairs to your perfect spot,  uch less hit that perfect pose and it might not be best to pose the two year old on the ivy covered, interesting brick wall. It’s your job to adjust and make do. 
  • Your Stands: 
  • Lighting stands are cumbersome, top heavy, and tripping hazards. Be cautious about their placement, both in the studio and at events. 
  • Be especially cautious with children who tend to run without looking or grab things without looking up!

 

Phew. Lots to think about. Thankfully, there are plenty of experts out there (not me!) to help you make sure your business, contracts, insurance, accounting, and anything else I’ve forgotten is legit and running smoothly. It’s up to you to look out for yourself and your clients. What other safety issues should we add? 

 

 

Comments

1.Susie Heaver(non-registered)
Hi Kathy, I love reading your blog on safety tips and starting off with your ladder experience! The black ground is wonderful for making photos and images pop. I can read the orange-red type as well as the blue, but maybe you could try making the black more of a dark gray to see if the colors are any clearer. What does yellow type look like? Yellow is the most easily seen color if it's on the right background. It may look good or like a crime scene, but worth a look. Susie
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