“Charlottesville changed everything” is a continual mantra of reporters that don’t actually get into the fray too often – but those of us who covered Ferguson and other actions before – know that it’s been like this for a while.
I’ve been covering protests of all kinds for about 18 years now and have seen them go from simple marches where only a handful of people out of thousands get arrested to dozens getting kettled and pepper sprayed in a small action. The infamous Seattle WTO protests were considered the exception to the rule (not true, as there were many violent clashes over the years), but it wasn’t until Occupy Wall Street that journalists getting arrested and attacked seemed to become a regular thing.
After Charlottesville, I have been getting a lot more requests for advice from photographers and other journalists on what gear they should have to keep themselves safe. Due to the Around the Lens podcast that I do weekly, I’ve got a lot of PJ friends who have even more experience in this sort of thing than me. Many of them cover international conflict, where decisions often come down to life and death., so I asked for their advice on Facebook before I sat down to write this article/list. If you want to check out that thread here’s the link.
Note: this is an on-going list. As I get new or updated info I’ll add to it. If you have any recommendations yourself – please comment below. There’s no particular level of importance with this list – and no – I am NOT recommending that everyone go out and buy everything on this list. Even I don’t have everything here – and I most certainly don’t wear it or carry it to every action.
Battery packs have never been more important in our work and thankfully they’re smaller and cheaper than ever. With cell phones that have larger screens and more power consumption, you’ll want one that will charge your phone more than once and do it quickly. Most of the ones that you get at Best Buy or Target for cheap are fine if you’re just looking for a slow charge and aren’t using your phone all that much. But if you’re covering a protest chances are you’ll be uploading photos and video or livestreaming through the phone and those cheap chargers with a low wattage won’t be enough . That’s why I recommend Anker brand chargers (which you can now actually get at Target as well). They’re cheap as hell and will last during even a full day occupation. Most importantly the higher wattage ones will actually keep up with your phone use.
Here’s the one that I recommend out of their current lineup (which seems to be updated weekly) which is a quick charge and but still small enough to be practical in your bag:
Rain protection, you never know when it’s going to rain… but you also never know when pepper spray and water cannons might be used as well:
There’s a lot of hard drives out there that are rugged, like the Lacie’s but now that you can fit a days worth of photos in a stamp size memory card there’s a lot of options. I’d recommend this one from Sandisk which has high impact sides and is a solid state drive. It’s USB 3.0 and is small enough to actually keep in your pocket and at 250gb it’s enough to store everything until you get home or back to the office.
Personally Recommended bullet proof vest companies: All of these vests will cover you for minimal shrapnel, take the brunt of a bean bag shot and most hand gun fire. For guns more powerful, you’re going to want a vest with plates. All the sites linked here have advice for that level of protection, but here’s all the rating levels and descriptions in one spot.
There are a couple ways to go for this one, full on combat, climbers/bikers helmets and soft helmets.
First is the type of helmet you see military or swat officers often wear, they’ll usually take a bullet, are made of kevlar or some similar product. These are great if you think some serious shit is going to happen but they weigh a ton and also really help make you stand out in a crowd. I’ve got one from Revision Military that was kindly donated to me after Charlottesville when a ex-military friend discovered I only had a climbers helmet. Mine has rails on it so that I can attach go-pros and other accessories. I’ve still yet to actually use it, thankfully as most of the stories I’ve been covering are #resistance related, and not really too much of a dangerous situation.
Basically any helmet will work for front protection from batons or bottles but for the sort of work we’re looking at here, you’ll want something that covers that back of the head as well – which means a helmet like this one.
- Most of our competitors use a foam with a density of 30kg/m3. Our foam has a density of 160kg/m3 so it has more than 5 times the shock absorption in comparison with our competitors.
- Our foam is also very breathable and comfortable to wear even in INDOOR settings.
- Since we have a very breathable foam we’re able to cover the head completely, which is a huge advantage.
- We’re used already by some police forces for the purpose you describe, especially when a hard helmet might be too much and too invasive. So for you as a photographer it would be a great fit.
Covering your ears:
Get yourself a bunch of ear plugs – they’re not just good for concerts they’re good if you’re stuck near a speaker at an event or if the police are using LRADs. Personally I use ones like these, as the higher end nicer ones always seem to get lost. Also, it’s a cheap way to make some friends with other journalists that forgot to bring some.
While most cities and events will accept (to some level) any press credential that looks real enough, NYPD will only accept their own issued credentials as valid (I should know, I’ve been arrested because I didn’t have one). With that said, basically anywhere else in the country you’ll be fine with company or National Press Photographers Association credentials. If you’re a NWU member, there’s the National Writers Union press card issued by the International Federation of Journalists .
Note: It’s highly advisable that you get some level of basic medical training before using much of what’s in the kit below.
Some people sill like to take notes old school, so unless you’re confident your reporters notebook or moleskin won’t get wet, I might look at a waterproof notebook, like this one.
Beyond the battery charger there’s some other thing you’ll need for on your phone:
Some sources for more information: