- Buyer's Guide
Press Kit: What to Pack When You’re Covering the BLM Protests
Over the past week I have spent multiple nights on the streets of Atlanta covering the protests/riots.
I have been tear gassed, hit with water bottles, threatened by members of the crowd and managed to stay safe and sound amongst all of this. I want to share with you some of the gear that I carry, what I do to stay safe, and what I’ve witnessed first-hand – because there’s a lot of good and hope happening too.
One of the most important points I would like to address before going on is the violence taking place. The VAST majority of the people attending these protests are there for the sole reason of making their voices heard, as is their Constitutional right.
I have personally seen and photographed multiple individuals attempting to incite chaos forcibly removed by protesters.
We must continue to support our fellow Americans who wish to have their voice heard, as that is a right we are all granted no matter the color of our skin or political ideology.
What I Carry
Nikon D750 w/spare battery and Really Right Stuff L Bracket – I have shot with a D750 for a couple years now, it provides a great combo of size/weight while still having very impressive autofocus. The L bracket stays on as it provides additional protection the camera and is quick to go on the tripod in my car if the need arises for long exposure shots.
Sigma Art 50 1.4 – I bring one lens and one camera, in the past covering similar events I carried multiple cameras, lenses, flashes etc. I have found due to the hectic nature of these protests being as light and mobile as possible is more beneficial than additional camera gear. I prefer this lens as 50mm can handle everything from portraits to wide shots of the city if I back up enough.
iPhone XR w/ battery bank and charger – Pretty simple, I bring a backup battery as I will occasionally livestream the events and want to avoid being stuck with a dead phone.
Griffin Pocket Tool – This is part of my EDC, the Griffin pocket tool comes in handy for a variety of tasks and helps keep my keys sunk deep in my pockets.
DPx Gear Urban Hest – Not only is this knife a part of my daily EDC, but I consider it to be one of the most crucial pieces of gear I bring with me due to the inspiration it provides. The DPx line of knives are designed and produced by my number one role model in the world of photojournalism, Robert Young Pelton. The conversations I have had with Robert along with his work and stories have been the primary inspiration behind my pursuit of photojournalism both here in the USA and abroad.
Note: this is my personal preference, and carrying a knife in different states or countries would be problematic. Fellow photojournalists also choose not to carry knives or shears to minimize risk.
Streamlight ProTac 2L – Always good to have a light when darkness falls, I like this one as it is small and cheap, I tend to lose flashlights so the price point is important to me.
SKD PIG Brigandine with AR500 plates – While I am not too worried about being shot at these protests, this carrier not only provides an easy way for me to stand out from the crowd as a member of the press, but also allows quick access to the IFAK mentioned below. This carrier was purchased for use at the gym, but has been pressed into service here due to having it on hand. In the future I plan to upgrade to a Velocity Systems package that will be lighter weight and provide better protection.
HSGI IFAK – I keep this on my chest, it has the usual supplies in it. CAT, gloves, quick clot etc. I bring it not only for my safety, but incase I need to help anyone else.
Oakley Tombstones – Eye protection is good to have as these protests have included everything from flying rebar to rubber bullets. I can’t take good photos if I am blind.
Mestel gasmask – This is for handling the tear gas, it gets the job done.
Surgical mask – Because Corona.
Team Wendy Exfil Carbon Fiber Helmet – This helmet is incredibly comfortable, offers “bump” protection and due to its carbon fiber composition is very lightweight. With the various rocks, bottles, rebar, tear gas canisters etc. flying around covering your noggin is a wise idea.
Press badge – It might surprise you to learn that press credentials are non-existent in public spaces. The credentials you see many wear come from the agency or company they work for, I have those, but they are essentially meaningless. The City of Atlanta, Atlanta Police Department etc. do not issue “press credentials” as press is already issued credentials at a national level via the United States Constitution.
Wallet with ID and emergency contact – Wallet is a pretty simple accessory, but I wanted to mention it as it contains emergency contact information incase something were to happen to me. This is a smart idea in situations like this due to the volume of people emergency personnel might end up dealing with.
Water – One of the most important items to have on hand, I am on my feet for hours at a time in 80 degree plus weather, staying hydrated is a must.
Salomon X Ultra 3s w/ Darn Tough socks – As mentioned with water, you are on your feet a lot, comfortable shoes are needed. These Salomons provide a great mix of ankle support, traction and ability to run when the stampedes start. I pair them with Darn Tough socks as they tend to last forever and are very comfortable.
TruSpec 24/7 Series pants – I have many pairs of these pants, they provide plenty of pockets for carrying the various items I have mentioned and hold up well to any abuse you can throw at them. They are local to me too, so that’s another reason I support their brand.
Mean Gene Leather belt – This is my EDC belt, it is stiff and accommodating to any additional weight you might add to it.
Nike or Under Armor golf shirt – Looks halfway professional, breathes incredibly well and the collar helps keep the sun off my neck.
Tips for staying safe
No matter what you bring to a protest like this, your brain is the most important asset. Press often end up between law enforcement and protesters which puts you in a risky position. You are trying to balance staying out of the way of LEO, while still documenting the situation as best you can. Using your brain to stay aware of the situation you are in is a good way to avoid being run over by police or attacked by violent members of the crowd.
When dealing with law enforcement it is best to listen to anything they tell you, now is not the time to argue with them about “freedom of press” unless you want to finish that conversation in zip ties.
When it comes to the protesters, the large majority of the people attending these protests are there for the sole reason of peacefully protesting. The primary objector you will run into are those who are scared of the press capturing their faces in photos, these situations are easy to de-escalate. I simply point out the 20+ government cameras mounted around the surrounding areas, mention the government drones flying overhead and point out a few of the law enforcement photographers on nearby buildings/parking decks. Once the protesters realize that you are not playing a part in government surveillance they tend to calm down.
If confronted with a protester that turns violent (I have not), my plan is to do everything I can to escape and evade the situation.
There’s hope on the streets
While the general outlook on these protests has been bleak, I believe it is important to focus on the positive interactions taking place, as I saw many.
One of my favorite photos I captured shows Command Sgt. Maj. Roy Marchert of the Georgia Army National Guard speaking with a protester about their common love for music.
This wasn’t a cherry-picked moment either, the examples of peace and hope were endless at the protests.
Here we see a protester saying goodnight to a member of the Atlanta Police Department moments before curfew sets in.
Whether you are viewing these photos, protesting or standing on the front lines as a law enforcement officer or member of our military I would encourage you to look at those around you as people just like you.
Jocko Willink drove this point home in a recent video addressing both protesters and law enforcement. “Please please remember the same thing, that you are looking at a person, a person like you, a person with a family, a person with aspirations, a person with hope, a person with pain and sadness and joy and misery, a person with hate and a person with love. A person like you.”
This guest post was written by Luke Crawford.