At Least 15 Tips To Stay Safe As A Photographer

Looking after your health and safety as a photographer

Looking after your health and safety as a photographer

Photography can be a sedate and safe occupation at the best of times such as photographing babies in the studio, but working as a press photographer in variable conditions and as someone who does private work, I have experienced situations where my health and welfare were often ‘compromised’ writes Jim Masson ©.

So I decided to collate some of these experiences and list them in no particular order. They are all tips for photographers to stay safe, whether you be professional or amateur.

* Eyesight.

I get an annual eye check each year. As you will appreciate, a photographer is using his/her eyes a lot of the time on the photoshoot, driving, or sitting in front of a computer screen. At the end of last year my optician referred me to an opthamologist. I went private as the waiting time on the NHS was quite long. There were some wee marks showing up near my optic nerve. I ended up having a head scan and all was clear. Nothing serious. But this does raise the issue if you are in business, do you need private medical insurance if the NHS waiting lists are too slow? Something to ponder on.

* Hypersensitivity to flash

Check to make sure no-one you are taking photos of is hyper-sensitive to flash eg epileptic. You can arrange a photo without the flash, but the risk of triggering off a seizure in a vulnerable person is real. It happened to me many years ago when someone I was taking a photo off had a seizure as they were photo-sensitive reacting immediately on the first flash. It was an unnerving experience and I wasn’t prepared for it.

Jim Masson, editor of Down News, provides some health and safety tips for working photographers – professional or amateur.

* First Aid.

No-one knows when an accident is going to happen. I have completed my St John’s First Aid Training. This helps me look after myself and come to the aid of anyone requiring first aid. I have had to use it on a couple of occasions, one at a vehicle RTA and another where someone had twisted an arm and needed a triangular bandage applied. It is re-assuring for the person injured that there is a speedy responder at hand.

* Covid-19 Vaccination.

I know most people are content to have their Covid vaccinations. I’ve had my two and a booster. I’ve remained safe over the pandemic but I’m only too aware how easy it is to become infected. So observe the Department of Health / Public Health Agency guidance at all times.

Public events have been virtually not existent through the Covid pandemic and we are just now coming back to some vestiges of normality but Covid is still active around us. Stay safe! Wear a mask when appropriate, use hand sanitiser and avoid crowds where possible.

* Outdoor Photographers clothing and footwear.

For those photographers who work outdoors, wearing the proper clothing is vital for your health and safety. The boot of my car is like a chest of drawers most days. The golden rule is to stay dry, warm and comfortable. And make sure the clothes you wear don’t have snags that can catch your equipment. Having light waterproofs is a must… and a good umbrella. If you feel comfortable, you will be able to concentrate on your photography all the more instead of shaking with the cold and wet.

Following on from this, footwear is also important. If you are walking in the mountains or very rough ground, mountain boots with ankle support is very useful. They give you traction.

I was covering horse racing one day and as I approached the last hurdle, I slipped on a path where the concrete met the grass. The reason… I was wearing an ordinary pair of shoes with thinnish soles. I fell almost smashing my camera and long lens, and fractured the scapoid bone in my wrist. I was in plaster for almost 4 months! Lesson learned the hard way! Walking shoes too are great if you need the traction but feel the boots are an overkill

* Lifting and carrying.

Many accidents are simply caused by lifting items the wrong way. If lifting moderately heavy items from ground level, you should get a good grip, spread your stance, test the load, and lift straight up, having check there are no obstacles in your path if you are carrying something heavy.

Recently, I was carrying my computer case, camera bag and other items into my office and I tripped on my laptop charging cable. Fortunately it did not break – as that would have meant a trip to Belfast to get a replacement, time and money wasted. But I could have fallen flat on my face – I didn’t, but I make sure now there are no cables dangling out presenting as trip hazards. It is only about 25 feet from where I park my car to the office door but there is many a slip twixt cup and lip.

You can buy a camera strap which is none-slip and makes carrying a shoulder camera bag much more comfortable. I have been carrying camera bags for 22 years on my shoulder and there are signs now of wear and tear. I wish I had found out about this years ago. But you can also get a rucksack type camera back which displaces the camera bag weight better over your back.


Work related upper arm disorders (WURLDS) such as Tenosynovitis, carpel tunnel syndrome and frozen shoulder are known as RSIs (repetitive strain injuries.)

Plasters and joiners experience this as a result of their work, but how does it apply to photographers? Repeated actions with your fingers, hands, wrists, arms and shoulders on a computer over years or in handling you camera badly and equipment can cause RSIs. I’ve had a sore back, neck, arms, and fingers showing poor circulation and tingling. This suggests long-term damage being done through repeated actions possibly sitting at the computer processing photos and writing articles etc. This is a complex area and probably needs a medical diagnosis. However, it is relatively mild and does not impact on me by arm fatigue or shaking and coping an occasional pint of Guinness!

* On Display Screen Equipment.

Poor ergonomics is using a display screen on your desktop computer could lead to musculo-skeletal problems (see WURLDS above).

Certainly I spend a lot of time in front of the computer screen, hence my need to get regular eye checks.

But, if I was an employee using a screen for more than 1 hour a day, I would be entitled to free eye test and a pair of glasses for work at the display screen.

An employer is required to(under the Health and Safety (Display Screen Equipment) Regulations  1992 :

  • do a suitable risk assessment for each workstation,
  • ensure the worker gets regular breaks through the day,
  • provide suitable training and information for the computer operator,
  • ensure the computer has a trip built in to its wiring.

I’m self-employed and tend to work constantly through the day, and repeat the same actions, so not exactly a healthy scenario for me. But I can improve my lot!

I can:

  • adjust the monitor so it has a comfortable angle and is at the correct height,
  • leave a space in front of the keyboard to rest my hands,
  • ensure there are no bit of boxes or equipment under my desk to limit my leg movements,
  • use a swivel chair that has five (stable) wheels and adjust the seat height to suit,
  • adjust the seat back to suit and add in a back support,
  • ensure there is no pressure on the underside of my thighs and backs of my knees,
  • ensure my forearms are working approximately horizontal,
  • and that my wrists have a minimal bending.

Check out the HSE website on manual handling

* Small Step Ladders.

Many photographers carry a set of short stepladders in their car boot. This helps get you up over the crowd, and gives the photos a different perspective from the eye level shots that most people do. But ladders come with risk! If you can get the photo done without using a ladder, that prevents the possibility of an accident. But where this is not possible, measures need to be in place to optimise safety and put controls in place:

If using a short ladder, make sure:

  • the ladder is on solid, level ground,
  • the ladder is fully pushed out,
  • there are no loose steps on it,
  • that the steps are clean,
  • the ladder is tied where possible to prevent slipping,
  • there are no hazards or electric cables,
  • you do not over-reach,
  • you take precautions if working near fragile surfaces/equipment etc,
  • and wear suitable footwear.

It’s a good idea to ask someone to stand behind you too – just in case you fall. Ladders are a constant causes of accidents in the home and in the workplace.

* Electrical Issues.

It is indeed shocking – excuse the pun – that a photographer needs to be alert on the unthinkable… electricity!

As a quick point, if you are using equipment and lights and they are powered from the mains, make sure the cables are taped down properly to prevent trip hazards.

Portable electrical appliance testing (PAT) is important, usually done annually.

  • It ensures you identify faulty equipment quickly and prevent fires and outages.
  • It identifies incorrect fuses being used.
  • It increases the awareness about the hazards from electricity.
  • It identifies inappropriate equipment being used.

You never know when fire will strike. Two weeks ago, I was just going to bed when I checked the kitchen. I smelled burning. The washing machine was just finishing its cycle. Suddenly, there was a flash in the washing machine switch on our new kitchen. I opened the plug up to check to see a wire had come loose. An electrician said afterwards fire can be caused by the rubber on the wire burning up the wire until it finds more fuel to feed on. Lesson learned! Thank goodness I had a clean pair of socks for the morning!

This leads me on to camera batteries.

Can you tell the difference between a good and a bad battery ? Answer – the bad battery can burn your house down.

It has never happened to me (yet), but I know one photographer who had a faulty battery that started to discharge and smoulder in his camera bag with almost disasterous consequences. Fortunately, there was minimal damage. It could have burned his house down, and even his place of work, heaven forbid! A waste recycling plant experienced a major fire last year when a suspected small, round battery that someone had put in the blue wheelie bin discharge settling fire to the dry recyclables. Apparently this has happened several times before. So if you have any really old batteries or ones that are not charging properly, it is best to get rid of them at your local council recycling centre before the worst happens.

* Eyes on the back of your head

When out on a photoshoot you need to be alert to any possible dangers.

Once I did not have my wide angle lens with me on a photoshoot and had to get by with the 24-70mm lens. As I tried to take a photo of a group of people on the pavement in front of a building, I realised I’d been caught out and needed the wide lens. So, I stepped onto the road backwards to get the shot … and almost ended up as roadkill. After waiting for lulls in the traffic I eventually got the photo, but rule number one should have been checking my equipment before I left (to prevent an accident!)

There are many situations when danger has presented itself while on my travels doing press photography. I can remember many years ago, a horse had thrown its rider at Downpatrick races and was storming directly at me. Should I jump left or right ??? I stood still and made the right decision.. it veered to my right at the last moment and crashed through the fence. Phew!

When looking through the lens, you only see what is in the viewfinder. Danger can lurk in strange places eg in the form of a motocross rider. Once I was at the MX racing. I positioned myself to get the riders coming round a bend as they always did. But the organisers had changed the direction of the race and a rider came flying past me spraying me from top to toe with mud – including my camera and lens. It wasn’t a life or death situation, but if I had caught him it might have been!!!

I can remember once another photographer was at a football match and was looking through his lens off the ball. A player gave the ball an almighty kick and it went straight for his head smashing his long lens right off. He ended up with a sore face and a sore pocket!

There are many scenarios where and accident could occur. For example, if doing a photo above a crowd of people from a height, I put my camera belt around my neck, and even tape my lens hood onto the lens. There would be nothing worse than facing an insurance claim.

Photographers need to be insured to protect them from civil and criminal court action. If someone is injured through your actions as a photographer, you will likely be answerable in court.

You need to manage the risk from the onset and show due diligence that you have done so.

So be fully aware when out taking photos. Hazards exist, avoid them.

* Risk

Risk assessment may be defined as: “the identification and protective measures by the evaluation of the risk(s) arising from a hazard(s) taking into account the adequacy of any existing controls, and deciding whether or not the risk(s) is acceptable.” (NEBOSH, 2016).

What is risk assessment ?

  1. Check for hazards (anything than can cause harm).
  2. Work out who may be harmed.
  3. Examine the risk and work out if the existing controls are sufficient or need to be increased.
  4. Take a record of the observations.
  5. Review the assessment.

Check out:

* Grease the Wheels.

It is a good idea if you are a professional photographer to join an organisation such as the British Institute of Professional Photographers.

Also, if you are a press photographer you can join the NUJ which will provide legal and professional advice and support.

And, from a business point-of-view, being a member if the Federation of Small Businesses is also a useful ploy as it provides a wide raft of support, useful if you are a lone pro.

As editor of Down News, I am a member of all three organisations.

* Mental Health

And last but certainly not least, increasingly stress plays a major part in the workplace in world load, meeting deadlines, and when things don’t go to plan, and through general burnout, and it is important to be self-aware and recognise if you feel unwell.

If you feel depressed, anxious, or have other symptoms eg low mood, or burnout, it is wise to talk to your GP in the first instance.

Check out the Public Health Agency website on mental health and how to look after your wellbeing.


Be aware of your surrounding at all times!

This article scrapes the surface of health and safety for photographers. Some areas could have been explored more in depth and other areas such as exposure to noise and fire safety could also be explored.

So, I hope you enjoyed this ramble through health and safety for photographers. It is only a snapshot to help raise awareness of how to look after your wellbeing whether you are amateur or professional.

(This article is coyrighted ©).