Although a crisis situation may be the dream situation for some photojournalists and press photographers, very few press photographers actually find themselves in the position to cover events such as war, hijackings, kidnappings, marches, riots, etc., unless they currently work for a major newspaper, magazine, or news service and they already happen to be in the area.
However, working independently as a freelance photographer or journalist, should you come across the opportunity to cover a hostile event, there are a few basic rules to follow:
1. Do not, under any circumstances, do anything that might cause the situation to escalate. Stay on the perimeter until you have a clear understanding of the danger involved for yourself and others.
2. Do not do anything that might jeopardize your life or the lives of innocent bystanders, officials, or police officers. Just because you are a member of the press, does not mean that you can put anyone at risk.
3. Do not get in the way of officials who are trying to analyze or diffuse the situation. All hostile events are at risk to become bigger and more dangerous until brought under control.
4. You must at all times follow the direct orders of all officials and police officers at the scene. As professionals in the field, they know exactly what to do. If covering the event, use a telephoto lens to take your pictures. This ensures your safety and a good photograph.
In covering hostile events when tensions are high, unknown factors can creep in to magnify the situation causing even more distractions. This is when your five strategies for preparedness saves the day:
Show up prepared. That means having the right equipment to do the job: camera, notebook, a variety of lenses including a telephoto, batteries etc.
Make sure your Press Cards are current. Know how and when to use your internet press verification if needed.
Maintain a courteous and friendly manner.
Work with the officials not against them.
Uphold the ethics of the press. Never violate anyone’s privacy to get the story.
These strategies will guarantee your safety and increase the likelihood of getting future assignments.
On a final note, if you happen to be the only person, or one of a few to capture a hostile story, your work could be valuable to local or national news outlets such as CNN or Fox News.
So it is alway prudent to have contact information on your cell phone for local broadcasts’ outlets and newspapers. If you think your story might be of national or international interest, contact Associated Press Breaking News (AP) desk. For any news outlet to be interested in your work you must be able to provide the basic journalism facts: who, what, when, where, how and when. You may not have all five, but the first four are easy and could get their attention.