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Portrait Photography - best practice with Covid restrictions

How a portrait photographer can work safely during Covid 19 restrictions.

Since March 2020, there has been a massive change in the way I have approached taking portraits on location and in a studio environment. As a member of the Association of Photographer I have a great resource for up to the minute guidance, and although most of the restrictions during the initial lockdown, were not initially clear, a professional photographer can continue his work, providing they do not break distance rules wear a mask or suitable PPE, and follow hygiene guidance.

Press photographer and others were out and about taking photographs & video, to capture all that was going on, some of the most poignant images were of NHS staff, patients and others that were directly affected by the pandemic.

Commercial photographers such as myself, had many commissions cancelled and in the case of the hospitality industry — clients were sadly disappearing . Lockdown allowed certain work to continue and such images as those for charity communication were essential and so done.

But now out of lockdown, traveling to ‘work’ for a commercial photographer, may include a drive to a location, and creating a pop up studio or just using a location as the venue for shoots of people. This is where guidance was one thing, but the practical application was another.

As in many locations, screens and social barriers were employed, in the contact of a fixed environment such a retail and public facing situations this was practical, be it involving expensive Perspex sheets or screening, but a photo shoot for an advert or editorial was difficult, not least because the set up is just done for a short time and each location is different.

A portrait is taken often within a small space, often requiring Hair & Make Up artist and an assistant moving lights and adjusting details such as props, removing dust, stray hair and many attention to detail issues that were not considered a big deal, until the world changed and everything changed, Hair & Make-Up were ideally done by the subject/model, and adjustment on set had to be done with care, the assistant/photographer had to wear a mask, any touch had to be with a glove or even disinfected hands. It seemed like a nightmare, but it is possible to be 2 metres away from a subject, it is actually a great distance to be away from a person, using a ‘long’ portrait lens, and appropriate lighting, it is aesthetically a benefit and for me it was the usual distance from a subject, however a mask with my glasses was a problem, this is why I designed an umbrella barrier, a clear umbrella that allowed me to see the subject, focus and shoot with just a lens poking though the transparent barrier. With a 2 metre pole as a physical guide to show the distance between the subject and everyone on set there seemed to be a great system in place, ideally when shooting the subject I want a little distraction around for the subject and myself, any client / art director to be behind the camera, myself and out of eyeline of the subject, this is best practice without covid-19 restrictions, so for me I could insist the set was clear.

So what are the best practice guidelines for a portrait photographer?

I believe the smallest room to use for a portrait , should be well ventilated and be at least 6 metres x 4 metres with a tall ceiling of at leat 2.75 metres and a window. This is for a simple corporate headshot, if you add a MUA (Make Up Artist) & an Art Director, each has to have another 4 Sq metres.

A tethered camera and a socially distanced monitor will help as will the use of a Zoom meeting with a distant client, but strong and stable WiFi are an important requirement to ensure this works.

A physical barrier such as a screen or a minimum distance of 2.5 metres. All surfaces require pre & post cleaning, and there should be easy access to hand gel and antiseptic tissues. There should be a trash bag that all tissues etc can be placed and taken away or safely disposed of at the location, it should not be left for others to clear, always clear away the set and anything you took there, its good practice, safe and appreciated by those who are unaware of content .

For most of the sessions the speed of the shoot meant that the subject would be on set only 10 minutes, however with more complex multi set up shoots, the model was on set for an hour, but the space was much larger and there was great ventilation, and all protocols observed so a safe and successful session was completed.

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Portrait Photography in a Pandemic