The best way to understand how to photograph or video firearms (including firearms props) is to understand and rigidly adhere to basic firearm safety protocols. For those with experience or previous firearms training, these important safety principles will be very familiar. For those creators just learning how to handle firearms, or maybe experiencing your first-time assignment with guns, please pay close attention as firearm safety is to be respected at all times.

© National Shooting Sports Foundation, Inc.

As part of Firearms Photography & Video Best Practices, there should be no difference between the handling of firearms props or real weapons. Since the end viewer may not realize the difference between a prop gun and a real-world weapon, we always want to err on the side of safety and present the gold standard in safe firearms handling examples.

Caution: Real firearms should never be mixed or in use on-set with prop guns.

Pre Photo Shoot Preparation:

  • Keep all weapons under strict control and out of the reach of minors, models, and assistants.
  • Make sure all weapons are clear or unloaded and free of ammunition before bringing on set.
  • Never have ammunition on-site or on-set. Live fire shooting being the exception.
  • Keep all weapons in locked containers before, after, and during the shoot or when not in direct use.
  • Individual weapons should have cable-style gun locks.  Cable-style gun locks are available for FREE for the asking across most of the USA.  The firearms industry has distributed more than 100 million gun locks since 1998.

Real Firearms and Minors or Felons:

Many states have laws against the Knowing or Reckless Provision of Firearms to Minors. Be sure you follow all federal, state, and local laws.

Also, any individual on-set with a felony criminal record, including drug convictions, can not handle or have access to firearms. Know the law. It is illegal for certain categories of people to ship, transport, receive or possess firearms. These categories include any person:

  • Under indictment for, or convicted of, a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year
  • Who is a fugitive
  • Who is an unlawful user or addicted to any controlled substance
  • Who is an illegal alien
  • Who has been dishonorably discharged from the military
  • Who is subject to a restraining order from harassing, stalking, or threatening an intimate partner or child
  • Who has been convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence
  • Who has been adjudicated mentally defective, or had been committed to any mental institution
  • Who was a citizen of the United States but has renounced citizenship

Weapon Handling Safety Basics:

  • Do not touch the trigger until you’re ready to shoot.
  • Keep firearms pointed in a safe direction.
  • Only point a firearm at something you intend to shoot.
  • Make sure that you positively identify your target before pulling the trigger.
  • Always know and verify what is beyond your target before shooting.
  • Treat all firearms as if they are loaded.
  • Before using any firearm, read its instruction manual and understand how that firearm should be handled.
  • Ensure that your barrel is clean and clear of any debris. If debris is found, ensure that it’s completely removed and the barrel is clean before firing.
  • Inspect and check your ammunition. There are many types of ammunition and using the incorrect type of ammunition in the firearm can lead to death or injury.
  • Keep your firearm unloaded when it is not in use.
  • Do not run, jump, or climb with a loaded firearm.
  • Firearms and ammunition should be stored separately.
  • Do not use drugs or alcohol before or during the usage of any firearm.

Applying these basic rules to your photography and video assignments will ensure that you are properly reflecting core ethics and values that all responsible firearm owners will understand.

Common Dangerous Errors

Let’s go over some dangerous issues that are increasingly seen happening in photography and video creation and how they violate the above rules of firearm safety.

  • Keeping a firearm always pointed in a safe direction includes not pointing it in the direction of the photographer. Often, we’ve seen images of firearms staring directly down the bore of the barrel. This clearly goes against this basic rule.
  • Never point firearms at other models, yourself, or anyone else during the media shoot. All weapons should be “pointed down range” meaning in a direction that has nothing you intend to ever shoot.
  • Not touching the trigger until it’s time to shoot means precisely that. Ensure that your subject does not put their finger on the trigger unless you’re about to capture them firing the firearm. Besides being extremely dangerous, any depictions of subjects with fingers on the trigger can NOT be used in common publishing as it is a blatant violation of the number one rule in safe gun handling.
  • If you are photographing a firearm along with ammunition, make sure you never have the firearms loaded and take extreme care to keep the ammunition separate from the weapon. Creators/photographers/videographers should have the correct ammunition for that firearm to ensure that you’re not embarrassed or potentially mislead an end viewer.
  • When photographing someone climbing a tree stand, they should not have the rifle on their shoulder. They would use a rope and pull the firearm up to them once they were securely safe in the tree stand.


Free Cable-Style Gun Locks:

Firearm Safety – 10 Rules Of Safe Gun Handling:

Writer’s Guide To Firearms And Ammunition:

Firearm Safety First, Last, Always | NSSF: