Photographer Tests the Best Masks for Working During the Pandemic


If you’re a photographer who has to work or is choosing to work during the COVID-19 pandemic, then you’ve probably been looking for a good mask. I was too. I wanted mask that looked professional and felt comfortable. After doing some Amazon searches, I thought I found one that was perfect. Well, I’ve shot a few weddings while masked in the heat now, and it caused me to reevaluate my decision and try other masks out.

Now I know that not all masks are created equal. Some masks hold a lot of heat. Some masks feel uncomfortable. Some masks just don’t feel like they are offering any protection. So I decided to try out different masks to get a better idea of which types of masks are the best masks for photographers to use during the coronavirus pandemic.

While I didn’t have a chance to shoot seven different weddings to test all of these masks out, I did go out on a shoot in 90 degree heat and tested them all while actually shooting. It was a personal shoot, so that I could make sure to have plenty of time to switch masks out without frustrating any clients. During the shoot I hiked through a park with each mask on to get a feel for the mask and then I shot photos while wearing the masks. My biggest concerns on actual wedding days are getting the shots I need, looking and sounding professional, staying safe, staying cool, and being able to move quickly. So I wanted masks that looked good and didn’t inhibit my shooting.

I also wore all the masks indoors while shooting in air conditioning. A big problem while shooting with a mask on is that your breath comes out the top of the mask and fogs up the viewfinder of your DSLR. People who don’t use the viewfinder won’t struggle with this, but it’s very frustrating when you’re trying to capture things inside a church or venue with air conditioning. One last problem area is that masks muffle your voice. It’s hard to give instruction to your clients when they can barely hear you. I don’t like to shout and I don’t want to shout, so a mask that doesn’t muffle my voice is a must.

The Different Masks Tested

  • 3M 8210 Disposable Particulate Respirator
  • Ligart Cooling Neck Gaiter
  • Novelty Schitt’s Creek Themed Mask
  • Retro Floral Pattern Face Mask
  • Cotton Face Mask
  • Cloth Bandana
  • Disposable 3 Ply Face Mask

I’m going to rank the masks in order of my favorite mask to wear while shooting to my least favorite. I’ll be talking about how they look and feel, but feel free to look at the photos and make your own judgements about how good they look. After the reviews of the masks, there are tips about shooting events while wearing a mask. If you already have a favorite mask, then just scroll past everything else I wrote to get to the tips section.

1. Disposable 3 Ply Face Mask

By far my favorite mask. I didn’t think it would be, but here we are. This mask is easily identifiable as a mask that’s being worn for medical reasons (like a global pandemic). It has a professional look to it, because we’re used to seeing so many professionals wear it. Nurses, doctors, dentists, and orthodontists all come to mind when I see this mask. Professionals who are trying to keep us safe while we’re in their offices, which is something I wouldn’t mind having my clients think too. This mask is also one of the most common masks out there. You’ve probably seen hundreds of people wearing these while shopping.

I liked this mask because it was by far the easiest mask to breathe in while shooting. As such, I felt cool the whole time I was shooting. The wire at the top of the mask goes across the entire top part of the mask, allowing you to sculpt the mask to fit your nose and cheek bones so not much air escapes upward (so your viewfinder doesn’t fog up). The elastic bands for the ear loops fit my head well and didn’t irritate my ears while wearing this mask.

The ease of breathing while wearing this mask really threw me off. I think it’s because the sides of the mask don’t lay flat against the face. This allows more air to travel into and out of the mask area. None of the other masks shared this trait. More air travel means possibly more exposure for both yourself and your clients, so it’s a tradeoff. This mask also didn’t muffle my voice nearly as much as some of the cloth masks, which is probably due to the increased air flow and the lightweight material used to make the mask.

Also, while it’s great that the mask is easily recognizable, the sterile blue doesn’t really fit my aesthetic on a wedding day. I know this is a bit vain, but my aesthetic is part of my brand. So, the flip side of this mask being so prevalent and easily identifiable is that I end up looking like everyone else which isn’t always something I want. I wear a suit and tie to every wedding and I would prefer a mask that fits my general aesthetic. I feel like a floral mask, like a floral tie, is a great accent. Or a black mask because something about wearing black seems professional to me (a guy who wears a black suit to almost every wedding he shoots). Aesthetically, this mask looks like it goes with scrubs not with a suit and tie.

My biggest gripe though is that it’s disposable. It’s only meant to be worn once. So every time you wear it you’re creating more trash.

Pros: Professional looking, easy to breathe, cool, great wire, nice elastic bands, little viewfinder fog, hardly muffles the voice

Cons: Single use, too common, color doesn’t fit my style, the amount of air makes it feel less safe than some of the other masks

Amazon link: 3 Ply Disposable Face Mask

2. Retro Floral Pattern Face Mask

This mask is my favorite that I tested. I’m ranking it under the 3 ply disposable mask though. I understand it’s my favorite largely because I like the way it looks and the fact that it’s reusable. If you’re just shooting a few weddings, then I think the superior functionality of the disposable mask trumps the superior form of this reusable mask.

The cloth used in this mask is a synthetic blend. It feels cool to the touch and has a little bit of a shine to it. It has a good wire on top that is long enough to allow you to form the mask to fit your nose, but not over your cheek bones. Much like a floral tie, this mask provides a nice accent of color to what you’re wearing on a wedding day. I love it. I just wish I had a matching floral tie to wear with it and a matching pocket square.

This mask, and all the cloth masks to be honest, share a similar trait. That is that when you breath hard, the material sucks up your nose a little bit, or if you’re a mouth breather it sucks into your mouth. While I never felt out of breath with this mask, it was a bit uncomfortable. It gets worse when you sweat and the material gets wet. I recommend bringing two of these to an event so you can swap them out if one gets wet. It’ll be very helpful. Out of all the reusable masks I tried, this is the most comfortable and gave me the least trouble when wet.

The cloth, though cool and shiny, feels thick. This mask did muffle my voice a little bit, though not much. Also, the wire around the nose mostly kept the viewfinder of my DSLR from fogging up while inside, but it wasn’t as good as the disposable mask. The elastic of the ear bands felt great. I’ve worn this mask quite a bit and never had any trouble with irritation.

Pros: Reusable, professional looking and good looking, easy to breath while dry, good wire, nice elastic bands for ears, little viewfinder fog

Cons: Single use, muffles the voice, harder to breath while wet

Amazon link: Retro Floral Pattern Mask

3. Cotton Face Mask

This is the first mask I bought. I bought it specifically with weddings in mind. I wanted something black to fit my aesthetic on a wedding day and this hits the mark. This is ranked lower than the floral mask because the floral mask material feels better and the floral mask has a larger wire. The size of the wire matters a lot in these masks because getting a good fit over your nose prevents some air from blowing upwards, which fogs up your viewfinder when shooting inside.

On the subject of the material not feeling great, this mask is 100% cotton. While it is lighter than the floral mask, it also has more give to it. What that means is that when you’re breathing hard more of the fabric feels like it’s going up your nose or into your mouth. I want to point out that I never had problems breathing while wearing any of these masks, but there was some discomfort and mild claustrophobia. This mask has gone out on several engagement shoots with me and two weddings, and it’s the reason why I wanted to try a bunch of different masks out. Because I didn’t like the way it felt. Little did I know when I started, that it’s actually pretty decent when compared to the rest of these masks.

Other than the fabric, the place where this masks fails the most when compared to the floral mask is that the wire just isn’t long enough. It barely fit over my nose, and it isn’t centered. This mask was part of a four pack and none of the wires were centered correctly. This means more viewfinder fog when shooting.

Pros: Reusable, professional looking and good looking, easy to breath while dry, good wire, nice elastic bands for ears

Cons: Single use, muffles the voice, harder to breath while wet, more viewfinder fog than the first two masks

Amazon link: Black Cloth Mask

4. 3M 8210 Disposable Particulate Respirator

This mask is similar to the n95 masks doctors wear when treating COVID-19 patients, but it’s not quite the same. This mask is made for construction workers and we originally bought it when we were sanding, painting, and staining a bunch of wood in our garage. You can’t donate used masks, but you can wear them again and write about them. Hence this being included here.

If you need a mask like this, then you need a mask like this. Everything else I wrote doesn’t really matter to you. So let me just tell you what you’re in for with this mask.

This mask doesn’t look great (see my picture above). It fits really tight over your face, and it is uncomfortable. When you take it off you will have marks on your face from where it pushed into your skin. It holds the heat of your breath like no other mask on the list (and unfortunately the stink of your breath too if you’re not fresh and clean inside your mouth). This mask really muffled my voice. The mask doesn’t have uncomfortable ear loops, if that’s a concern. It does have giant rubber bands that go around the back of your head, which are uncomfortable. I didn’t like wearing this mask very much, but it’s the mask I would want if I had to do photos on a packed dance floor or if I had to do photos in close quarters with the wedding party.

Pros: Feels incredibly safe, no ear loop discomfort, no viewfinder fog

Cons: Hot, stinky, muffled my voice, looks weird, very uncomfortable

These types of masks aren’t available on Amazon anymore, because they’re reserved for medical facilities.

5. Ligart Neck Gaiter

This is an incredibly cool (in the literal sense) mask. I purchased this because I recently saw a lot of lifeguards wearing these cooling neck gaiters while working. As a former lifeguard myself, I know lifeguards prefer to wear things that keep them cool, so I figured it was worth trying out. I was right.

The fabric is light and thin. The fabric is perhaps too thin. I don’t stay clean shaven all the time and I could see a few hairs sticking through the fabric. That made me worried that it wouldn’t do a great job at keeping me or my clients safe. Also, it didn’t have a wire for my nose so there’s just gaps on either side of my nose, which meant it didn’t fair well in the test of seeing whether or not it fogged up my viewfinder. I assumed since it was so lightweight and breathable that it would do well there, but it didn’t. It was great at not muffling my voice though. I was clearly audible the whole time I was wearing the neck gaiter.

The fabric feels like it’s going into your nose and mouth when you breath hard. It’s a tight fit and the material feels like it’s clinging to your face. It’s kind of like wearing a tight work out shirt around your face. That said, it was a lot more comfortable to breath in than most masks. Probably the second most comfortable after the disposable mask.

Other than the worry that it wasn’t doing a great job at keeping me from spreading germs, I was also worried about the professional aspect. I like the look of the neck gaiter for personal use. I love that you can pull it down when you’re far away from people and just have it around your neck and then pull it up later to cover your mouth and nose. It looks a lot better than people letting a mask with ear loops dangle off one ear when they’re socially distance (or even worse, pulling the mask down and under their chin so it’s still attached to their ears and it ends up looking like a weird beard). The neck gaiter just doesn’t look professional to me. It looks more like half a balaclava, so like almost a ninja mask. Unfortunately, that’s not a professional look in my opinion. It’s not as bad as a bandana, but still not great.

Pros: Cool, breathable, cool looking, hardly muffles the voice, no ear irritation

Cons: Not professional looking, no wire for your nose, fogs the viewfinder, doesn’t feel safe

Amazon Link: Ligart Cooling Neck Gaiter

6. Bandana

I wanted to love the bandana almost as much as I wanted to love the cooling neck gaiter. I just couldn’t though. The bandana is like a worse version of a cooling neck gaiter. It’s incredibly hot. It doesn’t feel breathable. It muffles the voice quite a bit. There’s no wire around the nose so it fogs up the viewfinder quite a bit. Depending on how tight you tie the bandana, it is either uncomfortable around your face or constantly slipping off and needing to be retied.

The bandana looks really cool, but it doesn’t look professional at all. While the neck gaiter makes you look kind of like a ninja, a bandana makes you look like a soldier in a dusty environment just trying to keep the particles and sand out of your mouth and nose. Which is a cool look, but just not a super professional look in my opinion.

The cloth of a bandana feels like it’s going into your nose and mouth when you breath hard. It’s rougher than the cotton mask. It’s a lot rougher. That’s possibly because it’s a cotton bandana that isn’t being pulled tight against your nose, cheeks, and chin by elastic ear bands. So there’s more give to the fabric. The little bit of moisture this got from my sweat and breath made it really uncomfortable while breathing hard.

Two positive things about the bandana. It feels like it’s doing a better job of keeping you and others safe than a cooling neck gaiter (a cloth neck gaiter would have much the same effect). Also, the other positive is that the bandana isn’t a cloth neck gaiter. The bandana ties in the back and has a triangular shape, so that while it’s hot in the front, your neck stays cool. A cloth neck gaiter on the other hand is just trapping all that heat all around your neck. Which might be awesome in the winter, but where I live it’s really hot outside right now.

I’m not happy the neck gaiter and the bandana ranked so low in my opinion for professional use, because they are the most appealing to me on a personal aesthetic level. I plan to pick up a cloth neck gaiter for the winter, because I just love the look of them so much. I was really hoping one of these could be my new look for weddings. I love the way the fabric can be tucked into the neck of the shirt and I love all the different patterns that bandanas and neck gaiters have when it comes to personal style. Maybe this fall/winter I’ll get a black cloth neck gaiter and sew a wire into the elastic band so I can mold it around my nose. But it’s not winter and that sounds way too hot right now.

Pros: Cool looking, no ear irritation

Cons: Incredibly hot, not professional looking, no wire for your nose, fogs the viewfinder, doesn’t feel safe, uncomfortable to wear when tied tight and easy to slip down when tied loose, harder to breath while wet. claustrophobic

Amazon Link: Bandana

7. Novelty Schitt’s Creek Themed Mask

This wasn’t as hot as the bandana, but it was by far the worst mask I tried. It doesn’t have a wire for the nose. It doesn’t have elastic ear loops. It doesn’t fit tight against the face unless you tie the ear loops tight, since it doesn’t have elastic. This makes the ear loops incredibly irritating and uncomfortable.

Somehow, even though it doesn’t fit snug against the face, it still holds a ton of heat. Somehow even though the fabric feels cool like the retro floral mask, it still holds a ton of heat. You might think that because it doesn’t fit snug against your face that it doesn’t make things uncomfortable when you’re breathing hard, but somehow it feels like it’s still getting sucked into your mouth and nose. It also fogs the viewfinder up when shooting inside. It doesn’t noticeably muffle the voice though.

I wanted to love this mask so much. I only bought it because I love Schitt’s Creek. Originally, it was a gift for my wife, but it just didn’t even come close to fitting her because of the ear loops being too big and not elastic. This mask is really just a novelty. It doesn’t look professional and it doesn’t work well, but at least it reminds me of one of my favorite television programs.

Pros: Reminds me of Schitt’s Creek which brings joy to my life

Cons: Basically everything else… don’t buy novelty masks for work

Etsy Link: Schitt’s Creek Novelty Mask

Tips For Shooting Events In a Mask

Bring two masks so you can switch them out when one gets hot, wet, stinky or uncomfortable. Take breaks to get outside and far away from people so you can take the mask off for a few moments. You will want to take breaks. No matter what mask you wear, it will get uncomfortable and you will want a break. Plan for it.

Keep your breath fresh so your mask doesn’t start to smell like whatever you ate last. Never spray cologne or perfume or body spray in your mask no matter how bad it smells. The mask holds that scent inside, and it’ll overpower you when you put the mask back on your face. Find something that fits your style and keeps you as safe as possible. A good mask, like a good tie or pocket square, can add a little pizazz to the way you look, so find something that makes you look and feel good.

I don’t have a beard. A lot of my friends with beards have mentioned that they feel like masks look ridiculous on them. If that’s a major concern for you, I would suggest a light weight neck gaiter or bandana. Your beard can tuck into or hide behind those. Of the two, I would recommend the neck gaiter so you can sew a wire into the elastic band to get a good seal around your nose. Just make sure to find something light weight if you’re shooting outside this summer, because the added heat on your face is a lot to handle.

Conclusion

Go find a mask to wear to your next wedding or event. Even if it’s just a crappy novelty mask, it’s better than nothing. You don’t need to buy a bunch of masks to try to find the best mask to be a little safer. Just take care of yourself and your clients as best you can.


About the author: Steven Van Elk is an Indianapolis-based photographer who specializes in weddings and commercial work with his wife, Jennifer. To see more of their work, check out their website or give them a follow on Instagram and Facebook. This post was also published here.





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