Ted DeCagna has been shooting construction photography since 1997.
I have a current contract shooting the progress construction of the State Attorneys Building in Brooklyn New York which is undergoing major renovation. While shooting on a construction site can be very exciting it can also be extremely dangerous. My current construction site is a 13 story building in New York surrounded on 4 sides by scaffolding and requires constant climbing, descending and shooting behind and next to a team of about 40 construction workers in action. I’d like to share some safety tips and practical photography tips for younger photographers. First last month when shooting and capturing the action in progress I realized I felt like I was on a battlefield. Several workers were using jack hammers to shatter brickwork and I got a little to close shooting and was hit in the arm with a small brick sliver. I was not injured but this warning shot tells me I must wear safety goggles when shooting anywhere near the jack hammer workers. If I was hit in the eye with that big sliver of shooting brick, I could have had a serious eye injury.
I am concerned about hearing loss from these jobs, since the noise level of several jack hammers and compressors and power tools can be quite loud, so I now plan to make sure I have ear plugs to protect my hearing when I get close to the heavy noise zone. Next when descending and climbing the metal stair case scaffolding in very cold or freezing weather its essential to have rubber grip gloves to not only hold the railings tightly but to prevent frost bite from gripping ice-cold metal. I cannot fire the camera and change my dials with gloves on so with in extreme cold weather a tight-fitting pair of gloves with the three main use finger tips cut off can be a smart tip to avoid the frost bite and still be able to fire and turn dials on your SLR.
Of course, a yellow safety vest and tethered hard hat and essential as there’s a lot of ducking under short scaffolding horizontal polls and I recently skimmed my hard hat on a metal beam that knocked it off my head. Had I not had the hard hat clipped to my shirt collar the hard hat would have fallen several stories down on the scaffolding. The hard hat is your battlefield helmet as workers are swinging metal pipes and other dangerous items around you when you’re trying to get to the next progress location, so despite it being a little uncomfortable, its critical to keep that hard hat on at all times.
Climbing and descending scaffolding should always be done slowly as one mis step can easily result in serious injury on the job site. So, comparing a construction site to a battlefield is not such big leap and safety precautions are really important to keep you safe and uninjured.
Finally, I always bring a backup SLR body as climbing to precarious spots is hard enough, if the mini camera computer decides to fail at the worst possible time, you’ll be delighted you have a back up camera body for insurance strapped to your back.