22 July 2006. Big dramatic demonstrations like this swept the world during
Israel's invasion of Gaza and Lebanon but they were, on the whole, ignored
by the mainstream media and poorly covered by the alt internet media.
How to photograph street marches
Gavin Gatenby, Possum News Network
29 August 2006
Im constantly amazed at the lack of good photo coverage of demonstrations
on the web. My own photo essays on Sydney demonstrations have been,
to my astonishment,
much admired and widely
praised particularly by Americans.
Over recent months there have been large and feisty marches against
the imperialist wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and most recently against
Zionist aggression in Gaza and Lebanon, but the visual record on the
web was typically of poor quality, if it existed at all. Thousands
marched sometimes hundreds of thousands but apart from
a few thousand passers-by and, if were very lucky,TV viewers
seeing a few seconds of coverage, nobody much saw what happened.
this just isnt good enough. All of us fighting against
these wars need to see, and be inspired by, what were collectively
doing and saying.
marches and rallies are dramatic expressions of public dissent. For
this very reason theyre seldom covered by a mainstream media
that characteristically treats them as a disreputable subversion of
the publics duty to consume, maybe vote, be silent and die.
For this very reason its vital that the alternative media reports
them promptly and well.
I just wish more people would try their hand at this simple and inexpensive
form of journalism. To help those who want to try, I've put together
a few tips and tricks Ive picked up over the years.
At the demonstration
1. Use a good
digital camera, preferably with a 10X optical telephoto lense, or
better (I use a Fujifilm S5000). Carry cards to store at
least 250 shots at the highest resolution your camera permits, spare
batteries and a notebook. Wear shoes you can run and climb in and
a small backpack for your spare gear.
2. Arrive at
the assembly point for the march shortly before the advertised time.
Consult the organisers about the route and the move-off time. You
might even consider seeking this information the day before and, if
youre not familiar with the area, scouting out good vantage
points in advance. The more preparation the better.
3. Use the time
before the march moves off to take pics of the most interesting banners,
placards and tee-shirts. I often photograph these with
telephoto, because if the people holding the placards arent
really aware of your presence you capture a more spontaneous impression.
Alternatively, ask people to hold up their placard. Both approaches
work fine. With these shots in the can, youve already made a
good start. Theyre a good fallback if you dont happen
to catch clear shots of those brilliant slogans during the march itself.
Find a vantage point and take wide-angle shots showing the assembled
multitude. If you have software that automatically assembles
a panorama from overlapping shots (it often comes with digital cameras)
get shots to cover the full scene. Work quickly from left to right
overlapping by around 25 per cent.
5. A few minutes
before the march starts, move several hundred metres down the route
to a vantage point from which to take the all-important
telephoto shots thatll give a graphic impression of its size.
The greater the distance over which the march is going to stretch
out, the further away you should move so you can, hopefully, get the
full length of the procession in the shot. An embankment, a wall,
some steps, a safety barricade, an overhead bridge anything
that gives an uninterrupted view will do. The effect will be greatly
enhanced if the march approaches you down a slope because you see
more of it and the marchers and banners at the rear arent masked
by those in front.
6. Start shooting
on maximum telephoto when the head of the march is around 200 metres
away. Take lots of shots, gradually widening the view as
the marchers get closer. Telephoto images compact distance and restore
to still images some of the emotional power of a moving mass of humanity
that otherwise gets lost. I have a theory that this effect derives
from bringing many faces onto what's almost a single pictorial plane.
As the head of the march passes, stay on your vantage point for a
little while and concentrate on individual banners and placards.
Try to capture a clear view of all the wording on each important banner
or placard. Take lots of shots landscape or portrait format
as necessary. Often marchers will notice you, look straight at the
camera and hold their placard up. This makes for a great image.
8. Get off your
perch and get some shots from within the march, at street level, using
wide-angle or telephoto as necessary. You might have to
run back to the head of the march. This is no time to be shy and retiring.
Dont be scared to ask people to clear away from in front of
that striking banner or to hold it up higher or stretch it out so
all the wording can be read.
9. If possible,
try to repeat the above process by cutting through back streets to
get ahead of the march. Move fast. Pre-march planning will
10. Cover all
the political tendencies and social groups represented.
Theres great news value and human interest in the unity of disparate
groups and individuals around a common aim. Check out some of my photo
essays (links below) and you'll see what I mean.
11. Take lots
of shots. In the pre-digital era, this was the professionals
biggest secret: they burned film because their clients were going
to pay for it. They knew that if you take 10 or 20 shots of the one
subject, its hard not to get a passable one. In the brave new
world of digital, we can all adopt the same strategy without the cost.
12. Watch for
the unexpected: quirky placards, counter-demonstrators,
spontaneous signs of support from passers-by, heavy-handed police
behaviour, provocations. Get these on film. Theyre newsworthy
and important. One of the classic problems with newsgathering is the
tendency to look for the routine and expected and to miss the new
and unanticipated. The old lady with the quirky hand-lettered placard
or the rage on the face of a counter-demonstrator might convey more
about that moment in time than a routine shot of hand-out placards,
however well composed.
Take shots at the marchs destination to show the size of the crowd.
Its best to shoot from near the stage or platform, looking out
into the crowd. Ask the organisers for permission to do this. The shots
you get here may be better than the similar ones youve taken before
the march kicked off.
14. It may be
worthwhile to take portrait shots of the speakers. Take several
of each speaker. If you take just one youre sure to catch them
in a goofy or uncharacteristic moment, which is unfair. Dont be
shy about pushing your way to the front. If you dont recognise
speakers get their names. Approach them directly or ask an organiser.
15. Having an
collaborating with another photographer will make everything much easier.
I can cover a demonstration of up to 20,000, but, beyond that, I reckon
Id be missing important stuff. Work out a division of labour based
on the capabilities of your equipment; coverage of key vantage points;
personal fitness ... or whatever. Extra labour makes everything easier.
For example,an assistant could carry a small, lightweight, stepladder
which is certainly safer and more convenient that clambering
up onto hoardings and rubbish bins!
your images out to the world
miss anything important but make a timely getaway. Remember:
the whole world is waiting for your images!
2. On your way
home, cull obviously inferior images on the camera. This
saves a lot of download time. (Health & Safety warning: don't attempt
if you're driving home).
3. Download your
photos to your computer and pick the best 10 to 15 images.
Its best to carefully select a few representative shots that tell
the story. Do try to massage them to enhance
brightness and contrast. If possible use Photoshop. If not, do the best
you can with the software that comes with your camera or operating system.
I save my shots at 85 dpi and up to 635 pixels wide, to fit the Possum
News Network format and I downsample the image as much as possible without
4. Stack them
down one page with a short introduction and captions as necessary.
Five really good shots are better than lots of small mediocre ones.
I wouldnt use one of those little programs that post thumbnails
of your pics linked to big high-resolution originals. These systems
tend to be painfully slow and a real turn-off for the reader.
5. Try to have
your pictures up within four or five hours of the end of the march.
As soon as you have them on the web, send out an email alert with your
photo essays web address to any alt news-link site that might
link to it, plus, of course, all your friends and contacts.