What with this being an official course, I have to cover some official stuff in order to pass it. So here goes.
HEALTH & SAFETY
Don’t look at the sun directly through your camera. You could go blind. Well, probably not – unless you did it for ages – but you could damage your eyesight.
Be mindful of weather conditions. If you are out filming for a considerable time in extreme weather it would be easy to get sunstroke/hypothermia if you don’t use your common sense. If it’s hot, take plenty of water with you, wear a hat, use sunscreen. If it’s cold/wet dress accordingly. (Fingerless gloves are an under-rated piece of kit, IMO).
Photography kit can be heavy. Invest in a decent backpack, wheelie bag or similar to ease the load. Or employ a sherpa.
When filming wildlife, the hard and fast rule is that the welfare of the subject is more important than the photograph. It is especially important that you do not get too close to animals that may present a danger. Remember, you are invading their space and they may not appreciate it. Photographers in Richmond Park, clambering over each other to get shots of the deer and freaking the hell out of them in the process, this means you. If you all get gored and end up as Youtube sensations, you’ll have only yourselves to blame. Frankly, it’s almost a shame this guy didn’t. You can download a copy of the Nature Photographers’ Code of Practice from the Royal Photographic Society’s website.
Remember: water and electricity do not mix. Do not stand too close to a river’s edge, use your camera in the bath, or do as this wedding photographer did: fail to pay attention to your surroundings and end up in the church font. Watch it. It’s amusing. It’s accidents like this that show why a recce of your location, prior to a shoot, is advisable. A recce gives you the chance to work out how you are going to compose shots to best effect; check lighting and so on, so that you are prepared on the day. In addition, it provides the chance to do an on-site risk assessment to make yourself aware of potential hazards that you might not spot while busy shooting.
Always pay attention to your own safety and that of those around you. When filming in a public space ensure that your kit – your tripod for instance – does not constitute a trip hazard; that you are not blocking the pavement (which you are not allowed to do) so as to cause members of the public to walk into the road, and that you are generally mindful of others so as to cause no inconvenience or danger in any way. In certain situations – for example, you are doing a shoot in a busy shopping centre – it is advisable to use warning triangles/tape to create a safe space for yourself and alert others to potential danger. An assistant/friend to warn passers-by of potential hazards is also advisable.
Be aware of your surroundings at all times. It is easy to become so caught up in the moment and the urge to get the perfect shot that you place yourself in danger. This was brought home to me when we were practising panning shots. Traffic was passing very close to where we were standing and it would have been all too easy to inadvertently lean forward over the pedestrian barriers while taking a shot… and get taken out by a lorry’s wing mirror. Which would have been unfortunate as we still had an hour or so of class to go.
H&S applies even when the shoot has finished. When using a computer to view and edit your images, it is important to take regular screen breaks. A 5-10 minute break every 50 minutes of continuous use is advised (I need to set an alarm) and you can find out more info about safe computer use, including how to check that you are sitting correctly, here.
In the UK you are generally allowed to take photographs in public spaces. So this means that you can take street shots of passers by, buildings and so on with impunity, provided that you are using the shots for artistic/editorial reasons versus commerical ones (by commercial I mean advertising/marketing – basically using the pic’ to try and sell something). You can also take photos of private property, provided you are in a public place. By contrast, taking a photograph on private land without permission is a surefire way to get yourself in trouble.
Basically, if you or your subject are standing on public property, then you can snap away. And, no, it doesn’t matter if your subject realises the focus is on them. Famously, the photographer Philip-Lorca diCorcia spent two years photographing unwitting passersby in Times Square. The subsequent exhibition – Heads – universally acclaimed by the critics.; only problem was, one of diCorcia’s subjects – Erno Nussenzweig – was not best pleased to find himself the star of the show. Nussenzweig sued diCorcia for using his image without permission and profiting from it financially. The case went as far as the Supreme Court where the judge ruled that diCorcia’s right to artistic expression was more important than Nussenzweig’s right to privacy and found in the photographer’s favour.
However, if someone is engaged in clearly private or personal business, leaving a hospital, say, then best respect their privacy. A case in point is that of Naomi Campbell V Mirror Group Newspapers Limited. Campbell sued MGN for breach of confidence, after MGN published photographs of her leaving a rehab’ clinic. The case went all the way to the House of Lords and Campbell won. So while there is no actual “invasion of privacy” law in the UK (imagine it: how would the papparazi ever survive?) clearly there are limits that you should not extend beyond. Photographing supermodels leaving NA meetings being the most obvious one.
The ideal way around any problems is to get model/location release forms signed by your subject/location owner prior to the shoot, giving you permission to take and subsequently use (in whatever medium currently exists – or will exist in the future) photographs. Remember that children and minors will need the form signed by a parent or guardian. The Royal Photographic Society (www.rps.org) has commissioned a Model Release Form which it is making available to Society members and the public as part of its objectives of supporting photographers. Download it here.
Remember, a public space is not the same thing as a space that is open to the public, so this freedom may not extend to shopping centres, parks, museums/galleries etc. With the latter, you are generally informed that photography is not permitted on entering certain exhibitions. At Tate Modern, earlier this year, I was able to take photographs in the permanent exhibitions but not in the ticketed, temporary ones.
Be aware that there are public areas where photography is strictly not permitted – outside a military base/GCHQ, for example – but again this is usually clearly signposted. Be prepared for severe sanctions if you defy these orders, especially overseas. Back in 2001, British plane-spotters were jailed after being found guilty of spying after taking photos of military planes near Kalamata, Greece. Their sentences were subsequently overturned, but not before they had spent a chunk of time in a Greek jail and suffered considerable financial loss. So if it says “NO PHOTOGRAPHS”, TAKE NO PHOTOGRAPHS.
Privacy Laws differ widely across the globe. France, for instance, has incredibly strict privacy laws. Regardless of whether the photo was taken in a public or private space, under French law every individual has the right to their exclusive image and of who uses their image. This means that you cannot take a photo of someone without getting their permission and you must get their permission every time you want to publish that image. There is some leeway to how the law in France is interpreted. For instance, you can take photographs of public figures going about their public life for journalistic purposes – so in a news context – but you can’t just bang off a load of shots for commercial or general illustrative purposes. Essentially, everyone has a right to their privacy and to be treated with dignity. Which sounds wonderful, until you look back at all the great street photographers whose careers would have been stifled by such laws; Henri Cartier-Bresson being the perfect example.
As with anything to do with the law, there are numerous interpretations, but if you want to find out more this New York Times blog makes for an interesting read, as does this article in Amateur Photographer.
While there might be no legal impediment in the UK to secretly firing off shots of complete strangers in public places and then flogging your edgy portraits for hard cash; where possible and relevant, consider forging some sort of relationship with your subject. Ask them if they mind having their photo taken; have a chat, explain what you’re trying to achieve; maybe find out something about them that you can try to reflect in your shots. In return you could offer to send them some photos via email or if that’s not appropriate (for example, if you are photographing a homeless person living on the street) give them a couple of quid for their time or buy them a sarnie and a cuppa. I’m not saying you have to do this each and every time; sometimes you need your subject oblivious to your lens but at others a two-way relationship can be better than a simple smash and grab. The same deal applies abroad; just because someone’s life is much tougher than yours doesn’t give you the moral right to take photo’s like you’re snapping an animal in a zoo. I took these images in Sri Lanka a few years back. OK, so they’re not the best shots ever and they cost me a couple of rupees as a thank you, but so what? The people I photographed got to go home with a little bit more cash in their pockets and I got some permanent reminders of a most-excellent holiday. Everyone was happy.
PUBLIC LIABILITY INSURANCE
If you are planning to make a career out of photography you should consider taking our Public Liability Insurance and Professional Indemnity Insurance. The former will protect you against the cost of paying or defending a compensation claim made by a member of the public (including clients) for injury or damage to property. For example, if, while working in the studio, a light falls and injures a client – or if someone trips over that tripod I warned you not to block the pavement with. Accidents do happen but, regardless of whether or not they are your fault, you may need to get legal help to defend your position. PLI provides just that backup and will pay out if you are found to be negligent and a claim is upheld against you.
PROFESSIONAL INDEMNITY INSURANCE
Imagine you are booked to shoot a wedding. On the big day, everything that could possibly go wrong does: you forget to do some of the key shots (cutting of the cake); your camera then packs up and, when you get back to your office you find your memory card has corrupted and you have just three shots that are usable. The client is, unsurprisingly, not a happy bunny and decides to sue the pants off you. This is when you will wish you had professional indemnity insurance, as it will cover you for negligence/claims caused by faulty equipment and so on.
For more info’ on both types of insurance just whack photographer’s insurance into Google.
If you only remember two things, make it these: that your batteries are charged and your memory cards aren’t full. It also helps to take your camera with you. Oh, and to take off auto-stabliser when using a tripod. Make that four things to remember. Here endeth the lesson. Happy snapping.