The recent murder of George Floyd – and the subsequent protests that have followed – has been an emotional moment in history. Personally, I practiced the importance of photographing these moments during my time at CNN during which I won a Peabody Award for coverage of the Arab Spring Uprising, as well as several Black Lives Matter protests in Atlanta. If you are planning to capture these protests for photojournalistic purposes, here are some things to remember as you take a snapshot of history.
Consider two kinds of lenses: a wide angle and a telephoto. A wide angle lens will show you the whole picture and put you in the scene. The telephoto lens is to help you maintain your distance in case things become too dangerous, but you want to continue capturing the moment.
If you’re covering a protest, always be aware of your surroundings. With the cases of police brutality, many of the protesters are fearful for their lives. In contrast, many of the police are also nervous (as shown by their actions). A single isolated event can be the trigger for anything when the situation is a virtual powder keg. It’s best to avoid being in people’s way and take your photos by following the protesters at their side, in front and at their backs. Also, if you plan on publishing the images and the protester states they do not want their likeness shown, respect their decision and obscure their face or blur it before publication.
Riots can turn into very violent situations. During riots, police are going to use everything they have to control the crowd, so things like rubber bullets, tear gas, stun grenades and water cannons are all things they may use. On the other hand, some rioters may throw things like glass bottles and Molotov cocktails, so be on the lookout for defensive actions from both sides (and remember, some attendees are there to stir the pot as opposed to help the cause).
Things to remember
- Be ready and don’t be afraid to get closer to your subject.
- Your gear should be resilient and weather-sealed.
- Think about where you’re safest at any given moment.
- Using a zoom or fixed lens is your personal preference. Both will give you good results; what matters is your vision of the subject matter.
- If you want to show the truth, don’t choose sides.
- Drink plenty of water and have a snack before joining the protests. It may go on for hours.
- Have a several emergency numbers memorized in the event you are detained and arrested.
- Remember you are documenting history, not a styled shoot. The images you capture literally represent a matter of life and death.
- Be safe.