Sky News

Above: A breaking-news story is announced by Sky News. Credit: Sky/Fair use.

Breaking Into News

A friend of mine from The Observer newspaper was sitting in a cafe in Jerusalem with a well-known Reuters photographer when, at one moment, an explosion was heard. A rising plume of black smoke was immediately visible--two or three streets away. At this, many people began to panic and run-for-their-lives. As my friend regained his composure he saw that his companion, the photographer, was gone. Scanning the streets around he could just make him out: he was on the move, running as fast as he could towards the blast. This is the instinct of the press photographer neatly summed up: a counter-intuitive interest in what most would want to escape from and avoid.

If you are interested in breaking into press-and-current-events photography, and you live in a metropolis, but are without a formal press-card, don't let your shortage-of-credentials be any hindrance to your progress. In order to pursue this mode of work it is necessary to simply stand ready just as a first-responder emergency service operative might do. Keep one eye on your local news-feeds at all times--waiting for breaking news in your city. In the 1940s, in New York, the independent press photographer Arthur Fellig tuned in a short-wave radio to the same frequency as the NYPD frequency. Fellig listened in to the police despatcher call-outs to on-duty Police, waiting for requests to attend an emergency, and just drove to the address given to get his press pictures. He was so keen that he often arrived before the police-and-ambulance services and so eventually got the nickname "Weegee"--a rough approximation of ouija or ouija-board, a device used to "talk to the spirits."

As soon as some relevant news begins to break it is necessary to immediately drop what you are doing and make your way towards the scene--in the city this is often most effectively done using a bicycle. The creative photographer's purpose upon arrival at any such situation is not to capture the basic news photos: the newspaper pros arriving on scene work quickly and carry satellite-phones that will beam their photos back to their news-provider much faster than any amateur could hope to. No, the brief for the amateur in a breaking-news environment is to carry on working critically and creatively. Look for your own insights and forget what other photographers may be doing around you. There is a herd mentality amongst press photographers, "the pack," once formed, tends to move as one and all individuality is trampled. So, move away from "the pack" and think about your own approach to the event. In all likelihood your photographing will be curtailed at some point by the emergence of a police cordon--no photographer gets past this anyway, with-or-without a press-card. In any such setting there is a time pressure--your freedom to move around will inevitably be cut-off at some moment. The Golden Rule is not to let the brief-duration time window cause you to hurry-and-rush. Just one single astonishing--original and unexpected--photo can secure a reputation in this field, so in these moments it is important to think clearly and calmly.

(22 November 2018)