Katherine Azar, Katherine Azar Photography, LLC March 31, 2014
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 only brings up wilderness safety points such as how not to get eaten by a bear when you are out and about, 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?
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 consider myself to 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 little 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 pastedGraphic.pdf ¬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 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. So losing your hearing is not always the worst thing that could happen. 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.
- 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 it’s worth to my provider. Make sure you are covered appropriately. Again, this protects both you and those you are working with.