When setting up a photoshoot, it’s natural to want to go all out and create something that looks really amazing. We’ve already covered how settings like railroad tracks can be very dangerous, and why you should be careful when shooting with sparklers. This time out we’re taking a look at why it’s not always a good idea to use props – and why you still need to keep your health and safety hat on even when you’re in photographer mode.
First of all, you should always consider whether your props are stable or whether they might cause injury or damage by falling. There are plenty of examples of how this could happen. For example, if you have anything hanging from the ceiling, make sure it is absolutely secure. Never have anything heavy or sharp above the head of a model. Never, ever ask them to stand directly underneath something unless you are 100% sure it is secure. Remember, you can always make a composite by taking their portrait first and merging it with a later photo of the scene in Photoshop.
Another example might be something you ask your model to stand or sit on. A skateboard or roller blades might be a great way to inject life into senior photos, but only if they don’t fall over and injure themselves. Make sure anything you are using as seating is secure and not likely to break even with abnormal amounts of pressure. You should also be sure that anything you place a newborn on is totally secure and has no room for them to roll over and off the side.
Remember that you cannot predict how someone else is going to act. What if the model trips up and leans their whole body weight on a prop? Will it take their weight, or collapse and injure them?
Items like glass baubles look so pretty – but they are also very dangerous. Anything that is fragile is liable to be smashed at any point during the shoot, and that means you should avoid it unless it’s impossible to do so. Plastic alternatives are much safer and less likely to get broken – which means they might just have a longer lifespan as part of your prop box as well.
Any broken items should be cleaned up immediately. It’s worth stopping the shoot for a few minutes to make sure that you get the job done right, rather than ending up with shards of glass in someone’s foot or leg. Try not to use fragile or glass items if you can’t help it, and especially never use them in photoshoots that involve children or babies (or animals!).
Health and safety
Remember to keep that same principle in mind even when looking around at your equipment. Trailing cables hanging loosely from lights or scattered across the floor are always a hazard. Imagine how much more dangerous they might be when you get a prop involved! Even if no one gets injured, things can be broken. When working with a client and using their own belongings as props – such as when shooting seniors – this can have serious consequences.
You must protect both your clients and yourself. If they are injured and can later claim that you did not perform due diligence in making sure the studio or location was set up safely, then you could be liable for damages. Even if you did not have to pay, this kind of situation is stressful and unnecessary. You can avoid it entirely if you just take the time to make sure that everything is secure. Tape down loose cables where possible, keep extra or slack cables out of the way, and ensure that children are supervised at all times.
You should also consider the safety requirements of your equipment itself. For example, setting something up too close to the bulb or lamp of your studio lighting could result in a fire or toxic smoke from melting plastic. It’s up to you to make sure that this does not happen.
It really shouldn’t need saying that a loaded gun is an absolute no-no in a photoshoot, in any setting. Even blank rounds can cause damage at close range, and you just don’t need to take the risk. If a client insists that they want a real gun in their photos with them, check, double check, and check again that it is NOT loaded.
The same goes for any other kind of weapon. Swords, axes, or anything sharp should ideally be replaced by stage props. If you must have the real thing, keep it safe and away from untrained hands. Sheaths or scabbards are essential, and you should only remove it from the sheath when you are ready to take the shot. Immediately after, it goes back out of harm’s way again. Unless it’s essential to the shoot, this kind of thing has no place in a studio.
Ruining the shot
Maybe you don’t think about this as a “danger”, but it kind of is. There’s a danger that you might scare off your client, fail to upsell prints and other extras, and lose repeat business. There’s a danger that you might not get as many new clients as you should. This danger is that you let the prop take over the photograph, and end up ruining it.
The truth is, it’s often simpler and better to do a photoshoot without any props at all. If you do use them, the only time they should stand out as the main object is when you are trying to sell them. Otherwise, it’s the model – your client – who should be the centre of attention. Sometimes you can focus too much on the prop and fail to correctly light or frame the model. Sometimes you simply have an ugly prop which takes up way too much of the frame. These mistakes could be costly, and it requires a keen but stern eye to simply get rid of them.
Remember, you don’t have to think about props too intensely when it comes to the actual photoshoot. You can do some things later. You can use sparkler actions to add in pretty light effects and sparkler props after the shoot. You can use Photoshop actions to add in weather, lens flare, or any other effect that you might wish for – even rose petals. If you really believe that the shoot needs it, then it’s simple to add it in during post-production! This ensures that the studio or location remains as safe as possible, and allows you to focus on capturing that model the way they deserve to be captured.
Do you have any horror stories about using props and having it go wrong? Any cautionary tales for other readers? We’d love to hear them in the comments section.