political demonstrations

Discussion in 'Street and Documentary' started by doug_hagerman, Oct 1, 2002.

  1. Are there any hints about how to photograph a political
    demonstration? Whole books on wedding photography are out
    there: "photograph the parents," "photograph the bride," "make sure
    to use the right kind of film," "lighting in a church," etc.

    What sorts of practical ideas might be offered in the area of street
    photography specifically in the area of political demonstrations,
    protests, sit-ins, etc.?
  2. Bring a moist towel and always keep your eye on an exit.
  3. The most likely (IMHO) reason for there being no books on street photography is that you only deal in variables with street photography. Life doesnt follow a script, people are not always predictable. Things like weddings, regardless of individual twists, locations, tastes, styles, religion, etc, all have certain elements that remain constant and predictable, or at least have variables that are limited to just a few possibilities (ie, skintones of the bride and groom, types of light in the church). Hopefully that makes some sense. As for hints, you have come to the right place, photo.net is awesome, regardless of the drama's that occasionally happen over photocritique ratings or flamewars. I don't have much expirience with street photography, but I'm learning, because I find it interesting. Some things that I might suggest to you would be to look at photos that have been taken before, decide what you like about them, then try to determine your own shooting style. Take a couple different lenses with you, wide, normal, telephoto. Try different things. To me, the best street photography is up-close and personal, taken discreetly with little or no attention being paid to the photographer. Its hard to accomplish this (at least, in my attempts) but it can be done. Practice Practice Practice. Goodluck
  4. Unlike a wedding, I do not think you sit down with the participants of a political demonstration (or possible riot) prior to the event to plan the senario...but, I stand corrected...

    ...when I was in the seminary in Berkeley California in 1966, I knew one of Martin Luther King Jr's photographers...yes, he had photographers...official, credentialed, designated photograqphers! and through him I was pleased to meet Mr. King at one event.

    So, looking at this question a bit differently, Mr. King saw his work as having historical impact...far into the future...and had hired designated photographers and writers to document what he was doing.

    When you are a person in his position, you're not going to just "hope" someone with a camera is hanging around!

    He was a visionary in many different ways, and one of these was to record his impact on human history.

    If you can get in contact with some of the organizers of the event, then you might be able to do a "wedding" type consult prior to the event and plan out specific photo ops.
  5. I would not use a manual even if it existed. If you do not have to freedom to compose for yourself--to express your opinion--what is the point? You can look at "In Our Time" by Manchester for inspiration (it's an anthology).
    Practical advice:
    • Don't favor sides; be an observer.
    • Don't carry a lot of equipment.
    • Know the area so you can move freely.
    • Know the motivation behind the event. You can't tell a story if you don't know what it's about.
    • Street photography is all about reacting to people. For example, if you get surrounded by burly men who are suspicious of you for whatever reason, you should be able to work your way out of it. Or better yet, avoid it by being inconspicuous.
      In this context, it also means dealing with risk. Before plunging into danger ask yourself what you stand to gain; you have your equipment and health to lose. Err on the side of caution until you gain experience.
  6. i second emre's practical advices and would add that depending on
    how volatile the demostration may get. go with a buddy or befriend a
    fellow photog and stay close together. also, the demostrations that
    are not permitted tends to get more rowdy and more arrests occur in my

    on the equipment side, i would suggest two bodies with a (atleast)24mm
    on one and a tele or zoom in the other. you want different
    perspective for your shots. avoid flash if possible...it annoying
    from a demostrator perspective as well as from a photog perspective.
    remember to get the shot first, cropping can always be done later
    assuming you're shooting prints.

    not a pro, but covered numberous protests and demos.
    hope this helped.
  7. one last comment...
    get as close as possible to the subject without hurting yourself.
  8. A few tips that I have found useful -

    - Bring a wide range of film. You may have to deal with all sorts of lighting and situations. I bring some 100, 400, and 3200. Yeah, I know you could just carry 400 and push it, but if things start popping, you want to be able to load and shoot. Labeling film is the last thing you want to do. BTW - there is a reason I bring 100. I'll get to it later.

    - Bring a flash and use it! And remember that you can use a flash with any speed film. I've used it with 3200 and gotten some great shots. This can be VERY useful if the subject is distant. And if the protest starts to get rough, you will want some space between the action and you.

    - Bring the right camera. I bring an old FT2. Built like a tank and not worth a fortune if I loose it or destroy it. This is why I take 100 speed film. The FT2 has a max shutter speed of 1000, and in bright sunlight 400 speed film sometimes outpaces the equipment. With 100 I have more control. I should add that I tend to shoot closer to f4 than f16 most of the time since I like that "bokehy" look. Also bring at least one fast lens (like a 50mm f1.2) and one longer lens (I like a 135mm).

    - This one is VERY important, cheap UV filters! Bring a BUNCH of them. These can save your butt! O.k., your lens. A demonstration is no place for a $45.00 UV filter. And you may very well need a replacement if things get dicey.

    - You will also need a few other things. Bring some bottled water. At least a couple of bottles. Some for drinking and some in case you get tear gassed. If you wear contacts, don't. Wear glasses. If you get gassed, you will need to rinse your eyes. Contacts could wash out. Glasses won't. Bring a towel too so you can dampen it and cover your mouth if needed. DO NOT BRING ANYTHING THAT COULD BE SEEN AS A WEAPON. I mean not even a 2" pocket knife. Also, do not bring a gas mask. That will label you as "not a friend of the law". Carry your stuff in a backpack. Do not place anything valuable in it though (I'll get to that later).

    - A few hints on how to behave. Avoid getting into the fray. A missed shot is nothing. Jail time is. If people sit down and you want to shoot at their level, crouch down in front of them, shoot one shot, and then move to another shot. Get up when you move. The cops will see you as not sitting down, but as observing (hopefully). If the police start using things like bean-bag guns, rubber bullets, rubber stun grenades, etc. just get out of the way. If you are aimed at or someone near you is, get to cover fast. If there isn't any (concrete trashcans are good, one saved me a few years ago), just turn around and get low. Duck your head. Remember that backpack you brought? It can be a nice shield. Once you feel an impact, just get away from the area.
  9. Based on the dismal behavior of iur DC police last weekend i would offer the following:

    1 - Try to have press credentials from a respected news organization. Student newspaper credentials did not mean anything to the DC Police during the IMF protests.

    2 - Try to read the crowd as best as possible. If things seem to be getting out of control - leave (unless of course you want to be arrested).

    3 - Be sure to have imprtant information - lawyers name and number, the serial numbers of the gear you took, a note pad to take note of details as needed, and your health card.

    Try to dress differently than the protesters - like this past weekend college grung would not have been a good thing in the eyes of the police. Same way that you would not want to dress in a shirt and tie at a militant Republican demostartion.

    Hope these help...

  10. Emre says don't use a manual and then gives you one?

    Since I mentioned serendipity in a previous thread, I'll bring it up again (f8 and be there). If something important happens in front of you and you get the shot, you'll be famous. Otherwise, you'll just be tired.

    If you want to improve your chances, I'd say become an insider. Get to know the ones making the strategy and make sure you are there when something does happen.
  11. I wouldn't count on becoming an insider. First off, it is a lot of work. Possibly for a cause you don't believe in. Secondly, nobody is gonna be saying "And at 3:12pm Susan will hold up a sign and get yelled at by a guy in a suit making for a great picture". If you simply hang-out, you will be able to figure out what the overall plan is. Or you can just follow the crowd. Also, pay attention to what people are saying and where they are going. If something happens people will head there or at least start talking about it.
  12. ok guys. here's a suggestion if you want to get to the action. if
    you got the dough buy a radio scanner. find out the police/paramedic
    frequency and tune in. though in a protest, you might see the action
    before others. bring a friend and scope out the area good. four
    eyes are better than two. keep them open and when the baton starts
    swing, shoot shoot shoot cause you'll never know what you'll get
    until you get the negatives.

  13. This is great information. I do need to think a bit more about lens selection and film. I've tried wide lenses, but the difficulty is that sometimes you can't get close enough to the action. And even 400 film is slow if the action runs into the evening...
  14. Doug - That is why I suggest bringing some 3200. That with a fast lens like a 50mm/1.x and a flash will dramatically increase your low-light possibilities.
  15. Here's an attempt at taking pictures at a night-time demonstration. I think I overdid the brightness adjustment in photoshop as they show up pretty dark, darker than the prints.


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