How to Safely Photograph a Dangerous Event (Photos from Iraq)


It seems that almost every time I turn on the news these days, there is a new massive, potentially dangerous event such as the protests of the Arab Spring or Occupy (Major City) Protest going on. Since moving to Iraq in 2009, I have shot a number of risky events such as the national elections, cockfighting and political protests. While dangerous events can produce very thought provoking photos, there are a number of things to keep in mind when decided whether or not to shoot them.

Blend in– Do your best not to stand out. If you are in a foreign country, knowing the local language is a big advantage when photographing a dangerous event. At the very least try to learn phrases such as “Pardon me”, “May I take your photo” and “thank you very much.” Wearing local clothes and having the right kind of facial hair will help as well. Make sure to have credentials/passport on hand in case you are questioned by police.

Don’t go alone– Go with at least one friend and make sure to have your cell phone turned on, ready to dial emergency contacts/police.

Be alert– Be aware of your surroundings at all times. Have a sense of the atmosphere of the crowd and be ready to respond accordingly. Keep an eye out for trouble and take appropriate actions to prevent it.

Know the area– Scout the area before hand if you can. The more familiar you are with a location, the less likely it is than an accident will occur.

Know when to leave– No photo is worth putting your life in danger. If the atmosphere of an event becomes too heated, leave.

This list is far from exhaustive, but it is a good list keep in mind as you are considering stepping into a potentially dangerous situation with your camera. What do you think? Do you have any other recommendations?

Chris De Bruyn is an English lecturer and photography instructor at the American University of Iraq-Sulaimani. His work has been featured on VOA News, The Bay Citizen, BBC, and National Geographic. Feel free to visit his website at

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