Documenting EDL protests
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09-09-10, 10:47 AM
Join Date: Jul 2009
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.
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