Tips for better shoots – special #coronavirus edition
A guide to creating hygienic concepts for safe photo and video productions
The end of 2020 is near and, due to the Coronavirus, we’ve all had to live up to unusual rules, especially in terms of our social lives but also of how we work in photo and video productions safely. Despite all efforts and the upcoming vaccines, uncertainties and limitations are likely to be part of our professional activities for some time to come, at least to be expected for the first half of 2021. This is demanding a fair bit of flexibility, responsibility, and therefore, focussing on new topics, especially hygiene, to ensure that producing photography and videos isn’t turning into super-spreader events.
DEKRA-certified Hygiene officer for photo and video productions
When I heard about the possibility to do advanced training as a hygienic risk assessment manager, also called hygiene officer, or in German “Hygienebeauftragte”, I immediately signed up for the course at DEKRA academy and am now certified to assist photo, TV, and video productions in terms of keeping up with the SARS-CoV-2 laws. As the demand for advice is high, with this article I’m sharing my knowledge to help you comply with basic hygienic provisions when shooting. However, these recommendations are by no means legally binding and they may differ from regional laws. The current regulations of the responsible authorities are always decisive, so please make sure to be up-to-date with them. When in doubt you may want to hire a hygienic risk-assessment officer to help you out. If you’re planning to shoot in Berlin or Germany, I’m happy to consult with you so feel free to contact me.
The hygienic concept
The federal states of Germany and the government frequently publish new regulations, especially during lockdown months, that forbid, restrict, or condition certain activities in private and professional contexts, just as the governments of other countries do (and I dare say most of them are more strict). Much as all countries make very different dispositions according to the regional occurrence of infection, they all give instructions with the proviso to break chains of SARS-CoV-2 infections by reducing human contact, heeding hand hygiene, and using protective gear like face masks when in public, all based on the scientific advice by the WHO and national health institutes like the RKI (Robert-Koch-Institut, Berlin).
Currently, in Germany, respectively in Berlin, the “SARS-CoV-2 Infektionsschutzverordnung” (infection protection act) indicates and obliges us to create a specific hygiene concept or -plan for any professional (and partly also for private) trades involving several people being present in one place at the same time. While there’s always a remaining risk, the hygienic concept needs to contain individual instructions and advice on how to keep it to a minimum. Furthermore, information needs to be gathered and handed out (on demand) to the authorities if it occurs that someone who was present at the critical spot is tested positive for COVID-19 afterward.
At a glance, such a hygienic concept is composed of the following elements:
- assessment of the particular risk of infection during the activity in question by reference of specific key data (e.g. number of participants, location size and specifications, critical risk factors)
- generally valid conduct rules (keeping distance, wearing face masks, hand hygiene, etc.)
- individual measures responding to the particular risk factors on the spot (frequency and manner of ventilation, extra protective clothes, logistics, signposting, group limitations, etc.) and briefing of all parties
- list of hygienic and other material to be provided in order to comply with the measures (e.g. certain number of face masks, disinfectant dispensers, etc.)
- agreement of all parties to comply with the concept
- data gathered from all participants present (names, contact data, time and duration of attendance) and consent to use their data (after GDPR § 17)
- documentation as proof of the compliance with the precautions of the hygienic concept
- storage of the data for four weeks and later deletion (after GDPR § 17)
Corona risk assessment for photography and film making involving people
While many companies have the possibility to work remotely and have their employees safe at home our branch builds on manpower and on-set-performance. Now, carrying out our jobs was or might be again forbidden in some places for legitimate reasons – ultimately, when shooting with models and actors, they can’t wear face masks and sometimes need to interact with each other (while totally looking like there never was a pandemic around). Critical motifs like e.g. using cosmetics in beauty commercials, or doing singing performances, not to mention the fact that hair, make-up, and fashion styling require physical contact between humans in the first place do the rest when it comes to estimating how high the particular risk of infection is – little hint: it’s high! Apart from the number of people, duration of production, and location, it’s, therefore, important to take into account what happens in front of the cameras and find reasonable solutions to protect everyone. After all, we want to work further productions and not be quarantined, or worse: go through a severe course of COVID-19. Regarding the foreseeable (partly unprotected) interaction between parties on set, it’s recommended to consider testing the participants for SARS-CoV-2 in advance. Here, the PCR (laboratory) tests are most precise while antigen tests are more rapid and cheaper. Although testing means higher cost to the production it’s definitely worth it, not only for health care reasons. Speaking from the German perspective, the financial penalties for negligently causing new chains of infection are definitely more painful.
How to comply with the COVID-19 rules and still produce awesome photos/videos
I’m sure that by now the general conduct rules about keeping distance, washing hands, and wearing face masks are no new information to you nor to the rest of the team. However, as we’ve all experienced throughout 2020, people still struggle to follow these rules, especially in stressful situations. Given that, on set, everyone is focused on their work and in the past, these rules have never been crucial elements of production we all know that it can be challenging and troubling to work under these new circumstances. For this reason, the following list of the most important hygienic measures also describes how they can be implemented effectively at photo and video shoots, or which other solutions there are to keep everyone safe and healthy. WHO knows but you might find some new information here:
In general, a distance of at least 1.5 m should be maintained between people inside and outside even when wearing regular face masks (you’ll find the reason under “protective gear”). Why is it exactly 1.5 m? Because this is the distance that little invisible drips travel through the air when someone is breathing or talking (or both). Coughing and sneezing can transport the drops a whopping 3–7.5 m, which is why the etiquette here is to do so into one’s crook of the arm or a tissue.
In some places and situations, the risk is higher that people are bumping into each other or stand in someone’s way, e.g. in hallways, at the entrances and exits, in front of and in elevators, in catering areas, etc. Separating the walking directions with guiding lines, or arrows and pointing out waiting zones with enough distance may sound needless but markings have the great effect of reminding people of the current situation. Their brains will do the rest (hopefully). Another important detail is to provide some storage space for the gear and personal items so people won’t place anything in the risky areas where it would be in the way.
When and how to perform hand hygiene is something that we learned as kids (again: hopefully) because hands are carrying a great number of germs. While the Coronavirus is mainly transmitted through the air (droplet infection) it’s possible to get it from contact with surface or body contact (smear infection) when someone infected has touched their nose, mouth (or potentially their eyes – I’ll leave it at that…) before touching us who then touches the own face. The same applies to surfaces as intermediate steps. According to RKI the best way to prevent Corona smear infections is proper hand hygiene.
Washing hands is a science unto itself which is why during the pandemic (or how about in general?) instructions above the sink should help to remember how to do it correctly. Disinfecting hands is a bit easier (not much though) but both forms of rubbing and scrubbing should take at least 20–30 seconds (the duration of imaginarily singing happy birthday twice in a row). Soap and disinfectant destroy the shell of the Coronavirus and make it powerless, so there’s no need to disinfect after washing hands, however, drying the hands (with disposable paper towels) is crucial. Fun fact: germs enjoy soap bars as opposed to liquid soap! So please make sure to provide enough liquid soap, paper towels, and hand disinfectant (with the effective range of at least A – limitedly virucidal).
If you want to know what’s the most important prevention of spreading this sneaky virus in closed rooms with several people, here you go: it’s VEN-TI-LA-TION [ventɪˈleɪʃn] (combined with staying apart from each other). If you’re lucky to have a room/studio with powerful air conditioning available (the good sort that exchanges the air – circulation is dangerous unless there is a HEPA filter built-in) or you want to shoot outdoors where fresh air is around naturally, you’re on the safe side. Otherwise, and I know it’s a terrible turn-off, you’ll need to air the rooms at least every 45–50 minutes for 10–15 minutes. In wintertime, that means that it’s going to be cold all day and work is interrupted and slowed down very much. Unfortunately, there’s absolutely no way around this but keeping it in mind will help you estimate the production’s duration better and possibly add another day if the workload is high. To help everyone think of the necessity of airing you can stick posters to the windows and hang up information on why it’s important. Please also note down every time you’re airing the rooms during the shoot.
If you haven’t seen the location yet or you’re not sure whether there are enough windows that can be opened you might want to visit and inspect it early enough before the production day. If it turns out that there are no (openable) windows it’s highly recommended to find another place as staying in a room with no fresh air wouldn’t be safe, not even when wearing protective gear!
Wearing a face mask in interior spaces should go without saying. Think of it like your underwear – it’s a necessity for hygienic reasons and you can’t miss to wear it when you’re in public (I hope you agree…). A regular face mask should do in all situations where you can keep your distance from other people. It holds back small drops that come out of your mouth or nose and potentially carry the virus. However, there are still aerosols gathering around everyone. As you can, obviously, still breathe through your mask that means that you should stay away from other people’s aerosol clouds. In other words: the distance between people still needs to be maintained. Nevertheless, masks reduce the amount of virus in the air, especially protecting others from yours, ergo everyone should wear one.
Yet, this is theory. In the praxis of productions, we’re facing the need to fall below the 1.5 m distance in order to style the models or actors, AND on top of that, the latter can’t wear masks while working. This doubles the infection risk for the models and triples the one of the make-up, hair, and fashion stylists – shoot! But don’t panic, we can do something about it: first of all, you should consider testing the ones who are exposed to closer contact but a negative test result doesn’t release from the obligation to take further steps.
Hair, make-up, and fashion styling
in closer contact to model/actor
The models/actors and the make-up artists and stylists should be informed that they are going to be exposed to a higher risk of infection. Everyone deserves to decide whether they want to take the risk or not. Furthermore, the rest of the team should know that they have to stay away even more from those who don’t wear face masks. Thus, you guessed it: briefing is key. But you can do more by providing the following:
a. FFP2 masks (or FFP3 or KN95) without a filter for the stylists (and make-up artists) – they don’t only protect the persons around more than regular face masks but also the wearer to a certain degree.
b. Visors – they are no replacement for masks but they can be used additionally. Like so, they are shields against bigger drops (of e.g. saliva) flying towards the wearer.
c. Protective gowns – they keep the clothes free of germs and are recommended for the make-up artists and stylists, especially when working with several models/actors. Needless to say, every switch requires a new disposable gown.
What about gloves? Well, they are necessary when working with food or during cleaning and disinfecting surfaces to protect the skin. However, gloves don’t offer any better protection than proper hand hygiene when it comes to touching other people. On the contrary, gloves can even constitute a fake feeling of safety and lead to negligent behaviour. Therefore, HAND HYGIENE is written in capitals.
interaction between Models/actors
Apart from the possibility to test the models or actors before they are supposed to interact in front of the camera you can also ask them to isolate for at least a week or two before the shoot. Obviously, this is rarely possible when working with highly professional protagonists who are doing other jobs too – unless you have an enormous budget that pays for their lost days…
Understandably, we’re all tired of seeing all this information on COVID-19 – it’s nothing new and depressing above all. However, this is exactly why you should hang up signs and advice all over the workplace: people want to and DO forget about it easily. In the infection protection act of Berlin, signposting is quoted as a required preventive measure at events, etc. Just hang up some reminders and take pictures of all posters you use on the spot as proof. You can find great material on the internet and soon I’m going to offer the lovely graphics from this article – so make sure to come back soon or if you can’t wait to have them reach out!
By now, you must have picked out that not only protective steps are needed for photo and video shoots but also their documentation is required. Having everything photographed and noted down (with the responsible person’s signature) serves you as proof in the eyes of the authorities when there really is a case of COVID-19 infection in your team. Apart from the question of fault, your list of participants can help the health departments to interrupt the chains of infection before they get out of control. You’re literally keeping your fellow citizens safe by having the names and contact details of your team written down (together with their consent) and kept safe for four weeks.
If you’ve ever read my other tips for better shoots you’ve probably learned how important I think it is to provide food for the teams on set. Now, for a change, I’ll tell you that, during a pandemic, it’s a further risk factor in terms of infections because people like to gather in places where there’s food (a bit like wasps but also during winter). On the other hand, eating is just possible when taking off one’s mask. And on top of that unpacked food, e.g. in the form of a buffet (like salads, hummus, etc.) get in touch with potentially contaminated hands, dishware, etc. Et voilà – everyone gets Corona to go. To prevent all of this, you can think of several possibilities which can be combined as you think is complementing your production:
a. Packed food can be provided (and for this dietary preferences should be clarified in advance)
b. Lunchtimes can be staggered over a period of time so fewer people are eating at once
c. Seating arrangements should be organised in a way that there’s enough space between seated persons
d. No alcohol should be provided on set because it might bring forward regardless behaviour and you certainly don’t want a human wasp party at your production
Take it from me: this list can be continued and go into more detailed descriptions of how to do this or that. However, this relatively short overview might help you to get an idea of how to go about your production in these uncertain times. After all, the situation changes almost daily and, furthermore, every shoot is different, respectively requiring further measures. If you want to know a little bit more about what a hygienic risk assessment manager/hygiene officer can do for you, I’ve listed further information here. In case you liked the graphics in this article and want to use them for your production, don’t hesitate to request them from me directly – they are available in English and German in exchange for a small donation. Reach out here!
Stay safe and healthy!
If you enjoyed reading this article, or you found it helpful in one way or the other, I would love to know (reach out)! You are also welcome to support my work and writing by donating whichever amount this is worth to you. I will thank you with lots of telepathic love and more interesting journal entries. Cheers!
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