Documenting the Pro-Palestinian Protest in London: A Photographer's Perspective
Introduction: Recently, I made the decision to capture the pro-Palestinian protest in the heart of London. This choice was somewhat out of the ordinary for me as I typically steer clear of central London events on Saturdays. The reason behind this hesitation lies in the presence of many "weekend warrior" photographers who aren't professional news photographers but take to the streets during weekends. Their participation both increases competition and, unfortunately, can lead to disruptions for others. However, the importance and potential controversy of this event led me to make an exception.
Preparation: Preparation is key in ensuring that photography during such events is not only easier but also less risky, with a higher likelihood of producing commercially viable photographs.
Risk Assessment: The first step in my preparation was conducting a thorough risk assessment. I anticipated a large number of demonstrators and expected heightened emotions, so I was aware of the potential for volatility. Fortunately, I had received information about a robust policing plan in place to address possible disorder. To navigate this situation successfully, I needed to travel light and maintain situational awareness, both regarding the crowd and the police. Striking the right balance between taking risks to get the perfect shot and ensuring personal safety comes with years of experience.
Equipment: For this event, I relied on my trusty Nikon Z9 mirrorless camera, which boasts speed and an excellent focus engine, capable of capturing up to 120 frames per second. Paired with my Nikon 70-200mm F2.8, a go-to lens for news coverage, I was ready for the fast-paced, on-the-run shots that were likely to arise. However, the Z9's size meant I couldn't blend into the background. I also brought along my laptop and dongle for on-the-spot photo transmission if necessary. Previsualization: Before even stepping into the protest, I had a clear vision of the shots I wanted to capture. These included close-up portraits of demonstrators, wide shots to convey the scale of the march, and any noteworthy incidents. Having this pre-visualized plan was crucial to optimize my time and avoid any wasted moments.
Arrival: Timing was key, and I arrived as the demonstrators converged on Westminster. The scene was bustling with crowds chanting pro-Palestine slogans and waving banners. I maneuvered through the masses to reach Downing Street, a potential flashpoint. While the atmosphere was boisterous, it remained non-violent. It was at this point that I scoped out my vantage points, taking into account the stage with speakers but also understanding that real action might not unfold there. I circulated through the crowd, capturing shots in line with my pre-visualization, all the while remaining vigilant to the crowd dynamics and police presence.
Vantage Points: Establishing the best vantage points was crucial. Although getting high above the crowd was impossible, I settled on two key locations: just outside Downing Street and Trafalgar Square.
Navigating the Crowd and Interactions with Police: Moving through the densely packed crowd while carrying a substantial camera and a rucksack was challenging, but most people were accommodating. It was vital to stay out of the way of the police as they worked in a potentially tricky environment. Keeping an eye on the interaction between the police and the crowd was crucial. Photography Principles: The primary goal when capturing news photographs is to tell a story and provide context: who, what, when, and where. Each photograph should convey a clear message, eliminating any need for viewers to question what's happening. Digital photography offers the advantage of taking numerous shots with minimal cost once you've invested in the equipment. The hope is always to capture the decisive moment, an image that encapsulates the entire story.
What Publications Want - The Narrative and Context: Understanding what publications are likely to want is a constant consideration. Immediate news usage differs from long-term stock photography usage. For example, capturing Muslims praying in the street during the protest might not be suitable for immediate news but could have value as stock photography in the future. Balancing this demand requires ethical reflection.
Relationships with Police and the Crowd: Maintaining a positive relationship with the police is essential, given the demanding nature of their job. A photographer's presence can change the dynamics of a situation, so it's vital to cooperate and show respect. While it's not possible to have a relationship with a crowd, reading its mood, identifying hotspots, and making informed decisions about when to engage or step back are critical skills.
Collaboration with Colleagues: Photographers working these events often collaborate with colleagues, watching each other's backs and assisting when needed. The presence of a friendly face and information exchange can be invaluable.
Getting Up Close and Personal: To capture compelling news photographs, it's essential to immerse oneself in the heart of the action rather than staying on the outskirts. Being in the center of the event is often the key to getting impactful shots.
Knowing When to Call It a Day: Determining when to leave an event is challenging. There's a running joke among news photographers that the most interesting moments occur just after departure. Weather, lighting, and the need to file pictures within a reasonable time frame all influence this decision.
Editing - Onsite or at Home: Deciding whether to send pictures from the scene or wait until returning home depends on individual circumstances. Having the luxury of being home quickly might allow for better editing conditions. However, balancing time constraints is always a consideration.
Reviewing Pictures and the Editing Process: Reviewing and editing pictures under time constraints can be demanding, but experience plays a vital role in making quick decisions. Editing for news photographs is typically limited to minor adjustments, preserving the context and content of the image.
Conclusion: Covering demonstrations like the pro-Palestinian protest in London is challenging and potentially risky, but it's at the core of news photography. The passion for capturing these moments and contributing to the historical record serves as its own reward. While news photograph prices may be low in today's market, the occasional economically valuable photograph and the pursuit of that decisive moment keep photographers motivated in this demanding field.