ETT Photography: Keeping you safe during COVID-19

This is the question many photographers are wrestling with finding an answer for at the moment:
How on earth do you keep portrait photography business customers safe in this new COVID-19 world?

Hopefully, it can be this simple:

  1. it’s essential for both my customers and me to adhere to the government guidelines;
  2. I need to inspire customer confidence by taking the pandemic and people’s health, seriously; and
  3. profit margins don’t come into the equation; my customers’ safety is my priority.

I have been reading a lot about how to adapt my business and working environment. Here is what I have put in place so I can re-open the doors to the studio and provide you with a quality photography service, putting your safety first.

To structure this blog and make it relevant, I have answered several questions you may have. This way, you can see I am looking at your safety from all angles. However, if you have questions I haven’t addressed, please contact me via my Contact page here, and I will be happy to answer them for you via email.

I have grouped the questions to make the answers easier to find:

A. Questions about the photography studio
B. Questions about sanitisation and toilet facilities
C. Questions about maintaining social distancing
D. Questions about further methods of reducing the risk of infection
E. Questions about booking

A. Questions about the photography studio

Can I access the studio safely?

The photography studio is in my home, so this is a very valid question. You can reach the studio safely and directly from outside. Access is via a side gate and side door. I open the gate and the door 10 minutes ahead of your appointment time to avoid you having to knock on the door or touch any handles. You can park your car outside and walk directly into the studio.

How big is the studio?

The studio is in an open plan area that measures 9 x 6 metres. This allows us plenty of room to adhere to the 2-metre social distancing rule. All the adjoining doors to the main house are closed during the photoshoot.

How is the air refreshed?

There are bi-folding doors in the studio, measuring 4.5 x 2 metres when open. They give the studio a sense of being outside in the fresh air. In summer these doors are terrific, as the north-facing aspect means that customers can keep cool. For chilly days, I can open the doors ahead of the photoshoot to refresh the air, then close or partially close the doors when you arrive.

B. Questions about sanitisation and toilet facilities

How is the studio kept clean?

I clean all surface areas with anti-bacterial wipes before you arrive and I disinfect the floor regularly. I restrict myself to using props and equipment which I can cleanse thoroughly. This means I use items with hard surfaces that can withstand being wiped down between customers. I no longer use props such as rugs or throws.

How can I clean my hands as I enter the studio?

We all know that hand-washing is so important for us all to avoid becoming infected with the virus. As you walk inside, you will see a hand sanitisation station which I set up for us both to use. It contains a large pump-action hand-sanitizer and packets of antibacterial hand wipes, plus a bin to dispose of these. You will also see me regularly using the wipes during the shoot, to keep us both safe.

Where do I keep my belongings during the photoshoot?

I have put a very large plastic box in the studio next to the sanitisation station. You can put your bags and coats and other bits and bobs in this box during the photoshoot. I wipe down the box inside and out between customers, to prevent any cross-contamination.

Will you sanitise the photographic equipment used?

Yes. I clean my equipment following recognised guidelines. Manufacturers suggest following Roger Cicala’s guidance article on how to clean and disinfect camera gear, which includes an overview of various methods and cleaning products. Read the article here.
I am also following Coronavirus guidance provided by The Association of Photographers.

Will customer toilets be available during the photoshoot?

No, because unfortunately, the government guidance does not permit me to give you access to use these. I will, however, do my best to keep you both safe and comfortable, by minimising the duration of the shoot. There are various ways I can do this, which I explain in more detail below. In an absolute emergency, I can give you/your children access to the toilet next door to the studio.

C. Questions about maintaining social distancing

How will you maintain social distancing?

I have added floor markings to highlight the distance we need to keep between us, as customer and photographer, to keep us safe. As you can see in this image, the area between the 2 black and yellow striped lines shows ‘No-man’s-land’! If at any point, this feels constricting for your children, and they need a break in the session, then there is a secure back garden for them to run around.

How can you help me pose for the photographs?

I usually give verbal directions about how to stand or the pose I’d suggest you adopt. Prior to COVID-19, and if you were comfortable for me to do so, I would tweak your posture a little by touching you gently in the direction I wanted you to move, or perhaps move a hand where it looked more natural and relaxed. I cannot do this whilst maintaining social distancing for obvious reasons. Instead, I will use a technique called ‘mirroring’ whereby I will stand in a particular pose then ask you you copy it, or ‘mirror’ me. (I promise I’m not a closet contortionist in case you were wondering, so no gymnastics needed!)

For most photoshoots, ‘posing’ is not usually necessary. But for us to create the best portrait of you and your family, I need to ensure you are all relaxed. I won’t shoot the image until you look just right and I know you feel ok.

What about if I want to have a close-up photograph taken?

Ironically, the best type of lens for portraits, especially close-ups, is one with a longer focal length. This means that the subject will appear closer to me as a photographer when I look through the viewfinder. Many people use the zoom option on cameras and mobile phones to magnify the subject in the frame to the same effect. Arguably, the best focal length for portraits is 85mm or higher.

This lens flatters the subject’s facial features by flattening the perspective. This is a real benefit because I will still be able to create high-quality close-up photographs of you, whilst simultaneously avoiding having to step within the 2-metre social distancing zone. Look at the images below which demonstrate the effect.

If it’s an extreme close-up that you want, I can use a 200mm lens and also crop the image by about 10%. This means I can stand even further away from you whilst delivering the same quality you are used to, safely.

Will I be able to look at the images before I leave the photoshoot?

Before the pandemic, I frequently showed customers the images as I shot them, to encourage them to relax and be confident about how they looked. I used the LCD screen at the back of the camera to do this. It is affectionately known as ‘chimping’ because of the ‘Ooo-oo-oo’ sound people make when they look on the screen at the back of a DSLR camera. Clearly, to continue this would be in breach of the social distancing rules.

Instead, I can ‘tether’ the camera via a cable, to a large screen in the studio, so the images appear on the screen as I take them on the camera. Whilst these are unedited versions of the final images, it should give you an idea of the portraits created during the shoot whilst still maintaining social distancing.

D. Questions about other measures in place to reduce the risk of infection

How will you reduce the length of time needed for the photoshoot so I don’t have to be there too long?

Current guidance suggests that we should not only observe the 2-metre social distancing recommendation, but we should also minimise the overall time we spend in the company of other people who do not reside in our own households. The more I can prepare for the shoot with you, the more seamless and quick we can make the session on the day.

For example, we can use video messaging to meet ‘virtually’ beforehand, using Zoom, Facetime or WhatsApp. I can show you around the studio ‘virtually’, and the choice of backdrops and props. We can discuss the style and type of photos that you want based on what you will be using them for. Planning all these elements will save a lot of time on the day.

Using the ‘share screen’ option on Zoom, I can show you examples of previous images I have shot. And if you have collected ideas from magazines or Pinterest, you can share these with me in the same way. We can cover aspects such as clothing choices and suitable backdrops to make the most of your skin and hair colour. This will allow me to set up your preferred backdrop(s) and arrange props, ahead of the shoot so I’m ready to start the minute you arrive.

But how can I relax for the shoot if it will be done so quickly?

That’s a good question. I try to keep the atmosphere light in all my shoots and will ask you lots of questions while I’m snapping away. If you can visualise the same technique the vaccination nurses use to distract you before they jab you, I work in a similar way! I also have a series of exercises I can show you which will relax you, your body and your facial muscles before we start. We could even try some traditional Indian Laughter Yoga provided it doesn’t ruin your carefully applied mascara!

Can you change the backgrounds during the shoot?

Yes, I can, but I will only swap out backgrounds that are easy to move to maintain the social distancing rules. For example, I have created some new wallpaper backdrops that I simply peg onto a backdrop rail. I can swap these around quickly and easily for you whilst you wait on the other side of the studio.

I also use 3-metre-wide rolls of background paper for portraits, but these are trickier to swap out and more time-consuming to do so. Ideally, we will have agreed on one main background to use. I can also add different backgrounds to your portraits during the editing process. Don’t worry if all this sounds a bit complicated; I will explain again when we plan your photo shoot.

Will props in the studio be safe to use?

I often use stools, benches and other items as accessories to create different poses and styles. Any hard, wooden or metal props that I can clean to the required standard, between photoshoots, will be able to be used. However, I will not be able to use upholstered furniture items, as these do not lend themselves to being regularly sanitised. If you would like to bring your own props to use if you wish. I would suggest restricting these to clothing, jewellery, hats and other accessories; anything that will fit into the ‘personal items’ box above. This will be sanitised between customers.

Can I bring different outfits and if so, is there a changing area?

The studio is the only room you will have access to for your safety and you can use it to change outfits in private there if you want to. A mirror will be available to adjust hair and make-up etc. I would suggest that you restrict it to just a couple of changes of tops to keep the time to a minimum.

Will there be refreshments available?

Before the pandemic, I provided customers with hot and cold drinks, and for the lucky ones, biscuits and cakes. Until the government guidance changes, the kitchen area will not be in use. However, the studio lights can make it feel quite warm at times, so I will provide bottled water instead for free, to keep yourself hydrated during the shoot. Alternatively, you can bring your own drinks with you.

How do I choose which photographs I want to purchase and how will I receive them?

The usual procedure will apply; I will email you a link so that you can choose your favourite images online. I can either drop the photographs to you by arranging a time when I can leave them on your doorstep, ring the doorbell then step 2 metres back. Alternatively, I can provide the images on a USB stick which I can pop in the post to you.

E. Questions about booking

How soon can I book a portrait shoot?

Now! By using any of the methods shown on my Contact page here. Just leave me your name, an email address and a telephone number to contact you back on.

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog and I hope to see you very soon.