Slowly but surely, our industry is coming back to life and like any other field — or part of society, frankly — photography has entered a “new normal,” one with masks, temperature checks, and individually packaged meals.
Since COVID started, there have been many webinars and different places to get information on how to return to set safely, including industry organizations like ASMP and a few independent companies offering training courses such as Rightway Consulting. All of them provided a ton of valuable information, but the documentation really piled up quickly. I felt it was therefore a good idea to develop a one-pager to list the main protocols we’d be considering for each shoot.
The document below lists 15 measures we try to implement on every shoot. Since each shoot is different, not all 15 measures will always be practical, but I thought both clients and crew would appreciate receiving a document that showed we were taking their health seriously.
While we’ve been coordinating small remote productions for a while now, I recently produced a fully loaded lifestyle production that took place on-location at a residential property, and it put all of our protocols to the test.
One of the protocols includes a questionnaire that we asked each person attending to complete before the shoot, and we asked them to answer the questions again once on site.
I put everyone’s answers into an online gallery so everyone could see how everyone else had responded for peace of mind. Though the shoot itself only took one day, prepping the location was its own separate task. We relied heavily on our location manager to not only find the residential property, but to manage the relationship with the homeowner and coordinate a cleaning crew to come in before and after our shoot to do a deep cleaning of the property.
One protocol we implemented was the display of wayfinding signs to direct traffic on set and reduce bottlenecks of people squeezing past each other. Even though it sometimes took a bit of extra time to walk on the path, which wasn’t always the most direct path from point A to point B, it worked out nicely and gave everyone a lot of space to move around.
Another fundamental change in our production approach was catering. Whereas big shoots with large crews would previously do buffet-style dining, these days each meal needs to be individually packaged and served. Fortunately, we were able to work with a catering company who was very much on top of things, and they created insulated bags for each person that included complete meals. Everyone on set was amazed that such incredible food could still be prepared and delivered in this manner.
As for our workflow during the shoot, we needed to get creative once again. On a pre-COVID shoot, we were accustomed to huddling next to a digital tech to view their monitors as the content would come on to the screens. In order to prevent people from coming into close contact, we set up multiple external monitors in different rooms so the agency could view the work in real-time without having to hover over anyone’s shoulder.
To stream content to the non-attending clients, we set up a separate webcam so they could see everyone at work and get a sense of what the set was like during the shoot. We also had a Zoom call organized to share the digital tech’s screen for remote approvals, and Zoom gave us the opportunity to see the clients face-to-face as well. That provided three different ways for all parties involved to see and hear all parts of the production.
This kind of shoot is a double-edged sword — fewer people on set means everyone’s safer, but it also means things can move a bit slower, as there are fewer hands to carry equipment, props, and wardrobe. That said, this shoot was still a well-oiled machine, and the client was understanding as to why we had to whittle down the shot list a bit in order to have an adequate amount of time for transitions and safety protocols.
In all, the shoot went according to plan, and that’s thanks to the prep work of our team as well as the discipline shown by the crew members and agency representatives during the shoot itself. It also speaks to our communication with the client ahead of time, along with their willingness to be flexible and understanding.
In the end, everyone seemed to feel very safe. We didn’t have any health issues. No one had to be sent home, and no one reported sick weeks after. It went extremely well, and I think it was due to proper communication and planning, and a team that was respectful of everyone else involved.
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