10 Tips for Shooting Protests

Going to school in Berkeley, California, there always seems to be something people are protesting. A few times the past couple years, I took the time to run to some of the demonstrations downtown, and found that they’re always rich opportunities for interesting photographs.

There’s going to be a protest at Union Square in San Francisco tonight at 6pm regarding the election in Iran, so I thought I’d share a few tips for shooting from my experiences.

1. Get In Close

Unlike ordinary street photography, you don’t need to be very cautious about sticking your camera directly in someone’s face, since it’s exactly what most people at the protests are asking for!


I remember seeing one of my buddies taking portraits of people at a demonstrate with his camera only a foot or two from the face of one of the protesters. There aren’t too many other opportunities where so many strangers will let you be so intrusive with your camera.

2. Capture Emotion

There’s going to be all sorts of different emotions on display at a demonstration. People shouting, laughing, cheering, etc… Go to where the action is and try to capture it.


3. Shoot a Lot

Since everything is happening so quickly, it’s difficult to capture exactly the pose or expression you’re looking for. Get into position and take numerous frames (use a continuous shooting mode if you have one). You’ll probably end up with a lot of junk and a few gems.

4. Bring Enough Memory

One of the mistakes I made once was bringing a single memory card and nothing else. When I filled up the card, there was still photos to be shot, and I ended up having to go back and delete photos to make more room. Don’t let this happen to you! Bring extra cards and a laptop to empty your cards onto if they get full.

5. Look for Memorable Scenes

People do all sorts of interesting things at protests that make for eye-catching photographs.


The woman above wasn’t actually posing for a picture but was simply playing with the dog… From the way it’s captured though, it seems like they’re making a political statement, right?

6. Capture Two Things at Once

Look for angles that allow you to tell a story in both the foreground and the background.


In the photograph above, the arms in the foreground and sign in the background both contribute to the story being told.

7. Look for Signs

People will probably bring some pretty interesting signs, and capturing them will help you tell the story of what’s going on.



8. Show Numbers

In addition to getting in close and capturing details and emotions, it’s also good to step back and show the context of what you’re photographing. Two good ways to show the crowd are from getting up high or shooting down a line of people. A wide angle lens would help for a view from above.



9. Capture Conflict

Protests often include counter-protesters, and conflicts between the two sides (and with the police) make for interesting photo opportunities.


10. Shoot Raw

If you have the option to shoot RAW, do it. It will give you much more flexibility in fixing mistakes you make later on down the road. There’s a huge difference in how much you can salvage and fix between RAW and JPEG, so if you have the ability and memory card space to shoot RAW, you definitely won’t regret it.

This list was obviously not comprehensive, but just some things I picked up through shooting protests in Berkeley. If you have any other tips or suggestions (or disagreement), please leave a comment!

  • Jason

    Excellent tips here! Can't wait to see some of the pics from the protest.

  • mike wood

    Good advice for documenting something in the West. But I think adding a section on keeping your head down, watching law enforcement and or the military with an eye on teargas deployment, water cannons, forceful crowd dispersing tactics and so on would be a good idea.

    Shooting a protest (think in Tehran at the moment) and not only are you risking yourself being injured, assaulted or imprisoned, and your camera being destroyed and your memory cards being confiscated, but by posting images of individuals who could face persecution, torture or death by having their images found online by their oppressive regime has to serve a purpose beyond you as the photographer being in the limelight.

  • Jonna Baldres

    I agree with all these! Anyway, here's another tip.

    #11: Always bring extra pack of batteries especially when intending to use flash. &;p

    - Jonna Baldres

  • Jonna Baldres

    And THIS, especially, is also a very important point to consider. &=)

  • Radar

    Excellent tips and I agree with every one of them. Ive done my share of shooting demonstrations. #11 Always use a wide angle zoom, Tip #12 bring plenty of water for your self.

  • Radar

    Excellent tips and I agree with every one of them. Ive done my share of shooting demonstrations. #11 Always use a wide angle zoom, Tip #12 bring plenty of water for your self.

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  • Stewart Kirby

    Another good tip is to bring facial protection, glasses/goggles and some form of breathing mask. Lets face it, tear gas and pepper spray isn’t fun