Going contactless: Photography at a distance

Photo Stories

According to a recent survey from Prudential, conducted in April and May 2020, 63% of Americans believe that even after the country reopens, the way we work will never go back to “normal.” Almost six in ten say that they plan to change their personal behavior at work to limit contact with others, and 66% say that worksites will need to be restructured to create more personal space.

For commercial photographers, the loosening of COVID-19 restrictions marks an important transition, one that we have to navigate carefully and conscientiously. In the coming months, in-person photoshoots and collaborations might look different than they once did, and photographers and models—like the majority of the workforce in general—will look for new ways to modify their habits to keep each other safe.

Landscapes, cityscapes, still lives, and wildlife photography are all avenues to explore right now, as they don’t require close contact with other people, but if you do decide to collaborate with models, there are concrete steps to take to prioritize your safety and theirs. Here are our tips for organizing contactless photoshoots as locations around the globe reopen.

Protect yourself

The market for personal protective equipment (PPE) is expected to reach $85.72 billion by 2026, due in large part to the spike in COVID-19 cases. Protective gear like face masks and gloves are now fixtures of our daily lives, and they have an important place on set as well. Come prepared with protective gear for yourself, and ask your models to do the same.

Don’t forget your photography gear, either. You can use 70% isopropyl alcohol to carefully clean phones or anti-bacterial wipes on your camera, and also consider disinfecting the set and any surfaces. Of course, even with these precautions, you’ll want to keep a safe distance of at least six feet from your team members.

Side view of happy mother talking to small daughter in nature, wearing by Jozef Polc on 500px.com

Communicate clearly

Safety comes first, so set some guidelines and ground rules with your models, stylists, makeup artists, and any other collaborators in advance. Keep your crew on the smaller side to avoid crowding on set.

Everyone should agree on clear boundaries, like maintaining a six-foot distance at all times (even with PPE) and practicing frequent hand-washing and sanitizing. Of course, there should be a no-touching or hand-shaking guideline in there as well.

You can use an app like Slack, Yammer, or Trello to keep the lines of communication open. Many photographers have also implemented new policies that are posted on their website and shared with any potential clients or collaborators. Encourage your team to speak up if they’re concerned about anything; their comfort level is your priority here.

Close-up portrait of girl with dreadlocks and green-blue eyes, wearing by Alexander Dadyev on 500px.com

Scout your location

Open, outdoor photoshoots provide plenty of opportunities for social distancing, so consider using a yard or park as your backdrop. If it’s public property, you’re unlikely to need a release, but it always helps to double-check and make sure your location allows commercial photoshoots.

Going forward, outdoor commercial photoshoots might center around concepts like backyard parties, picnics or yoga sessions in the park, and walks in the woods—all with appropriate social distancing. Use a long lens if you have to!

When shooting outside, plan around other people; you’ll want to avoid traffic-heavy hours and crowds. It’s also important to schedule your shoot around the lighting conditions you want; the golden hour, for instance, offers that warm glow that’s so popular these days in commercial photography.

Coronavirus lifestyle by Cristian Negroni on 500px.com

Go paperless

If there are identifiable people in your photos, you must get those signed model releases before uploading your photos for commercial Licensing. While printed releases are still an option, we highly recommend going digital to minimize any chances of transmission.

There are tons of model release apps available online for free or a small fee, and most have a variety of forms to suit your stock photography needs. Releases, Easy Release, and Model Releaser are among the most popular. Simply send your models the release and have them sign it on their devices before sending it back.

Seize the opportunity

According to a March 2020 study from Wunderman Thompson Data, 92% of Americans admire businesses that are acting to stop the spread of coronavirus. 89% believe that the government alone can’t stop the spread but also needs help from companies.

While lockdown measures can seem restricting, they also pose a unique opportunity to create marketable images. As businesses start to reopen, brands will continue to need photographs that highlight their commitment to staying safe, prioritizing the health of their customers, and adjusting to our “new normal.”

This exponential surge in demand represents a new niche for commercial photographers to explore. Of course, that includes pictures of people wearing masks, washing hands, and maintaining a safe social distance while going about their everyday lives, so get creative.

Technology by Marcia Fernandes on 500px.com

Tap into new trends

COVID-19 has changed our lives in ways both large and small. From smaller, micro-events with a limited guest list to an increased focus on health and wellness, these trends offer potential ideas for photoshoots.

Luckily, many of these concepts are also budget-friendly; all you need is a nice outdoor space, a few friends to model, and a creative approach. If you shoot business or workplace-themed images, now might be an ideal time to explore the future of work, including contactless deliveries, remote conferences, and more.

Senior woman with face mask outdoors with shopping, corona virus and by Jozef Polc on 500px.com

Stay authentic

In commercial photography, we talk about authenticity a lot. Right now—perhaps more than ever—customers are looking for a sense of trust and transparency in the brands they support. Encourage a sense of openness and improvisation on set, and consider giving your photos a local twist.

In the wake of this pandemic, we’ll be more focused on our communities, whether that means checking in with neighbors or supporting local businesses, so use your lifestyle photos to speak to hope, resilience, and togetherness. Steer clear of stereotypical or staged photos, and capture the reality of life in a post-coronavirus world.

Check-in with yourself

For commercial photographers, this situation is unprecedented, so don’t force yourself to get back to your regular schedule if you’re not yet comfortable doing so. One of the advantages of Licensing is that you get to decide what to shoot, so if working in close proximity with other people right away makes you feel nervous or apprehensive, it’s okay to wait.

In the meantime, there are tons of other avenues worth your efforts, from conceptual still lives to wellness-themed photoshoots or sessions with family members at home.

You can even organize a photoshoot with models around the theme of video chatting or virtual connections—in April alone, searches on Getty Images for “Virtual Connection” rose by 3400%, with customers looking for photos of everything from virtual graduations to virtual happy hours. There are always creative ways to organize commercial photoshoots that sell, whether it’s in-person or not.

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