Some photographers are lucky enough to work large shoots that have directors or production managers who manage the logistics of the shoot, leaving the photographer free to focus on creating images but, often, photographers are running large scale shoots without the benefit of a production manager. Instead of just shooting and directing models and grips, the photographer becomes responsible for the whole team, which can include models, grips, assistants, stylists, makeup artists, hair stylists, set dressers, etc. Under these circumstances, with everyone’s safety riding on your shoulders, there are dangers you need to be prepared for.
When shooting in studio, there is usually little more to worry about than keeping everyone fed, making sure bathrooms are accessible, and setting up your equipment properly so it isn’t in danger of falling and taking someone out. But, when you’re on location outdoors, a whole new set of variables appear. If you are not prepared to account for those, you could be putting yourself and your crew in danger. Here are a few things you should consider.
Location Specific Dangers
Some locations come with innate risks that must be prepared for. A local city park is going to be a much safer environment, in general, than the desert or a mountain top. Do your research and find out what you need to be prepared for to take care of your people.
- Fall danger
- Cliffs and mountaintops are a popular location, so it's best to be aware of fall danger and compensate accordingly.
- Local animal life
- In dry, arid places like central Colorado and other parts of the southwest, rattlesnakes, spiders, and ticks are very real threats when shooting outdoors.
- Vehicle danger
- Know whether or not there are moving vehicles around the set and be sure to account for that.
- there was recently a video being shared of a bride and groom taking photos at their wedding. The bride jumped into the water and was immediately enveloped by her dress. It took several people to rescue her from the wet fabric. Maternity and seniors are also often photographed in lakes or streams. Having floatation devices near, being sure to have assistance ready, and knowing what kind of wildlife you will be sharing the environment with, are all important factors when shooting in or near the water.
- Proper foot wear and clothing
- Trekking out to locations could mean rocks, hot sand, snakes, creepy crawlies, or poisonous plantlife. Ensure that you instruct your crew to come prepared with the right kind of gear, especially if your model will be wearing garments that don't protect them from whatever is on the ground.
- Structure dangers
- Abandoned buildings, barns, and old industrial sites can make for really interesting photos, but present a dangers like unstable footing, falling beams, nails, broken glass, and animals making their homes in nooks and crevices.
Weather Specific Dangers
Do your due diligence where weather is concerned and don't underestimate how quickly the tides can turn against you. Check the forecast, but also find out if there are weather related threats specific to the area you plan to use.
- At higher altitudes, even people who have a high sun tolerance will burn quickly.
- Warm clothing
- Proper clothing for cold situations is necessary. If the model is working in clothing not suitable for the low temperature, have a heater or warm clothing available for them to use between shots, and take breaks often to warm up.
- Safe Shelter
- Colorado Springs has a high number of thunderstorms in the summer time, often showing up despite clear weather reports. If a crew is working on location during the summer, they need a safe place to retreat to if a thunderstorm rolls through. Know your location and whether mother nature is likely to force your crew into a safe space.
- Water is a must when shooting out of doors for an extended time. No one works well dehydrated, and that can happen surprisingly fast.
- Escape routes
Many areas in the southwest are prone to unexpected flash flooding. There are also things like mudslides in the Pacific Northwest, and logging roads that become unstable after years of disuse. Planning a way out can save your bacon if one of these unlikely, but highly dangerous, circumstances occur.
There are also things that are good to have in a pack any time you take a crew on location outdoors. Putting together an emergency pack like this is always advisable, whether you're shooting solo, managing a crew, or guiding a family out to a location.
Emergency Bag Minimum Contents
- I generally opt for something sweat resistant with an SPF of 30
- Always have this.
- Bug Spray
- Of particular use for people who are very sensitive to bug bites
- High calorie foods
- People often underestimate how many calories they will burn working outdoors, and many is the story of a model or crew member who passed out on location. Don't let this happen to your crew.
- Secure changing location
- If you have families or seniors who are changing outfits, or models who are switching looks, a secure place for them to change means privacy and also more protection from the elements and wildlife. Gigatent has a great, affordable product called a “Pop Up Pod” that folds up like a large reflector but is fully enclosed so models can switch looks on location. I’ve used it in both the country and on city streets without issue.
- A first aid kit
- Anything can, and often does, happen on set. Headaches, bug bites, cuts, sprains, allergic reactions, the list is endless.
One final thing I would recommend, aside from knowing the location of the closest emergency room, is to consider downloading the NOAA Weather App. It not only gives you the forecast, but also a real-time view of weather in your geographic location, and alerts in case severe weather crops up.
During my last large production shoot, I was working around many of the potential dangers I've listed in this article. I had a crew of 11 in direct sun in over 90 degree heat for several hours at high altitude, vehicles moving close to our location, there was the potential for local wildlife encounters, and clothing changes needed to be made on location. Had I not been prepared for the area and weather I was working in, the chance of one of my crew becoming a heat casualty or being bitten by a rattlesnake would have been very real. We consumed gallons of water, loads of snacks and slathered on several bottles of sunscreen. As a result of the shoot was a success and everyone went home safe.
Any time you run a shoot, whether it's family portraits or a clothing campaign, you’re responsible for the safety of the people you’re leading. This list isn’t completely comprehensive and it isn’t meant to be alarmist. The purpose is to get you thinking about ways you can protect yourself and the people you are responsible for by mitigating the possible dangers of on-location shoots. Use your common sense, do your research, be prepared, and you’ll have a happy crew and a safe shoot.