Documenting EDL protests
I have photographed the EDL when they came to Wrexham 12mths ago but there were really only 30 or so and they were contained by police. Anyway, in 2 weeks time they are supposedly coming back with greater numbers to protest a mosque in my town. My question is: Does anyone have any tips to photograph this safely yet still get great shots?
I don't want to shy away from trouble but as I only own one camera and its not insured neither do I want my equipment wrecked. Last time the police just assumed I was a pro or press because of my camera and flash and let me through their barricades to photograph.
Would most press or diocumentary photographers risk violence for that one great shot or is there a cut-off point where you just quit?
Has anyone else photographed this group and had no problems?
Would they hit a girl? Do they ignore people with cameras?
Any feedback appreciated
Always remember demonstrators want to be seen, otherwise they wouldn't be demonstrating, so the more coverage they can get the better, for them that is.
No doubt there will be 'two sides' to the event so be careful that you don't give the impression that you are on one side or the other, try and be seen to be neutral. Another tip is to show a great deal of interest in the placards that they carry and from that you will be able to move on to the demonstrators' faces, if that what interests you.
I've always found that the biggest problem is the police. They have a job to do, normally with the kind of demo you are talking about that means keeping the two sides apart if things turn ugly, so if they tell you to do something my advice is 'DO IT'.
Most demos are carried out in a carnival atmosphere but some can be very intimidating, the G20 last year in particular.
The most menacing I've attended was a meeting of The Black Muslims, followers of Louis Farraknd, in Hyde Park
a couple years ago. It might at first sight looked extremely menacing but it turned out they were just a bunch of posers in dark suits trilby hats, dark glasses and bow ties. Mind you I didn't tell them that!
Thanks for the advice. I will photograph it as a neutral and just basically listen to the police as you suggested. I did photograph the banners etc last time so will see what's on offer this time around,. Great shot you posted, is that a b/w film scan or was it digital? Its got great blacks and contrast.
Digital, RAW converted to B+W
Great shot Abers : )
I've photographed dozens of these. My to five practical advice would be....
1. Don't use flash - it will get snapped off if it gets fruity and it is a dead giveaway if you want to get sneaky pics. Also police reflective clothing looks pants flashed.
2. Get yourself a protective baseball cap or wear a cycling helmet - google hard baseball cap. It will make you feel more confident if it kicks off.
3. Don't take a bag or rucksack if you can avoid - they're cumbersome and police or protesters find them easy to grab and shift you out of the way, trust me!
4. Wear sensible boots - feet always get trodden on so boots are great.
5. Wear neutral colours - grey or tan or whatever. If you wear red, white, blue then the cops will assume you're EDL. Look like a hippy the EDL will assume you're anti-fascist. Wear tactical black and everyone will assume you're undercover police or MI5. Avoid logos too if you can.
You'll be fine seriously. The EDL are a fruity bunch, but they're well policed and have a bark much worse than their bite.
Have a good brekkie because you'll expend lots of energy as the adrenaline flows. It's the adrenaline that will help you get shots you wouldn't otherwise get, so keep up your sugar intake and take an energy bar or two. That's also a good idea if it really kicks off and the police pen you in for a few hours.
Don't worry about shooting a 'balanced' documentary. You're there to get the best pictures yes? So shoot wherever the best images are. Stand back often and assess what will happen rather than steam in. The EDL are a very visual and vocal bunch. In. Every occasion I've found that they play up for cameras rather than shy away. Be mindful to use common sense what is playing up for the media and aggression towards you. They'll often tell you to f-off, and flick the v's at your camera but it's just their manner. Keep shooting until you don't feel safe. I've been inches away from some faces with no problems and been physically attacked shooting from a distance with others. You have to constantly assess the individual's mood.
Camera settings/gear? For me, always ISO 400 and above, shutter priority around and above 1/1000 sec. Forget about the aperture, getting the shot is best and often you're reacting rather than composing. Overall matrix style metering for fire and forget. Lenses? Well if you only have one body then maybe a super zoom is best? I never have anything longer than 200mm fitted. The longer focal length you take the more tempted you'll be to shoot from a distance. The wider the better in my opinion. I use one body with a 14-24mm and the other with a 70-200mm. I often swap the 70-200mm for a 50mm prime or the 24-70mm. I'd say all of the best reaction shots I've taken are 50mm and wider. If you have a wide zoom take it in a belt pouch and start the protest with your longer zoom. As you build up confidence you can swap lenses.
If it does get fruity you WILL get pushed around by all sides. Be prepared for this, however it's rare for serious assaults to happen to media. Having a camera has various affects on how people treat you. The police mostly ignore cameras nowadays, but know your rights in advance and google 'photographers rights'. Take some ID. Never delete unless your life is threatened. Don't stop taking pictures just because someone says so. Shoot first (safely) and argue later is my mantra. Some protesters will assume you're undercover police and hassle you. I find a joke on the side of their political/social bias or "what! With this crappy camera gear and without a batton! (laugh sarcastically here)" works well to confirm you aren't. Anybody asks you who you are and what your doing, you're a photographer covering the protest in an editorial capacity for use in the newspapers. The media could be your biggest problem though. Were a tight knit bunch and pretty much will muscle to the front ignoring all unrecognisable photographers or tv crews. It's dog-eat-dog for the best shots so it can turn into a media bun-fight pretty quickly as incidents happen.
What to shoot? Faces, gestures, chants, banners and placards (the EDL have some very funny spellings and grammar on theirs!), police lines, aggression, clashes, the list really is endless.
Oh, before I forget... Avoid eye contact with anyone. Sound silly, but it's the first part of a dialogue and the key is to blend in on all sides. Iif you make eye contact with protesters it seems to gives them a psychological license to target their abuse and do the old playground 'who the f-k are you looking at'. Similar for the police, they will take it as an invitation to move you on, question you or at least remember you in a melee!
Hope that helps. Have fun and be safe. Get stuck in and you're pictures will shine.
Be nice to see some of your EDL shots so that Karen has some idea what to expect or what's possible. The media I've always found to be accomodating, if not a quick F off soon shuts them up, the only difference between them and you is they're getting paid!
Here's some quickies... Not all EDL...
Hope that helps
Great stuff Ben, Thanks.
Brilliant advice, Ben. Thank you so much for the detailed reply. I was going to take my 100-400mm lens but think I will go with a 12-24 , 24-105 and 200mm lens now instead. I was going to take flash also but will leave that at home. Your shots are exactly the kind I want to get, although I am not sure the demo here will be that big. Never even considered what clothes to wear but it makes sense to be neutral etc..
I feel a lot more confident about the day now
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