Halden Krog is an award-winning freelance photographer based in Cape Town, South Africa. He spent several years covering major news events such as post war Bosnia and the conflict in Israel. Halden’s work has appeared in renowned international publications such as TIME, News Week, Stern and Paris Match. He has won various awards including the Fuji South African Press Photographer of the Year award in 2002 and 2005, Fuji News Photograph award in 2003 and Fuji Feature Portfolio winner in 2008. He gained international recognition with a World Press Award in the Nature category in 2005 and was named the CNN Photojournalist of the Year in 2009. See some of Halden’s photography in Africa Geographic’s gallery: Red Bull Kings of the Air.
Here is Halden’s advice for aspiring photojournalists in the Africa Geographic Photographer of the Year competition.
“Renowned war photographer Robert Capa once famously said: “If your photographs aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.” When it comes to news, proximity is what its all about.
As a hard news photographer there has never been a situation in the past 15 years that these few words did not resonate somewhere in the back of my mind. I have used it as a guide to attempt to capture the true grit of African news that at times has been as violent as any of the wars I have covered.
News photography requires you to get as close to your subject as possible. Getting close however is risky and requires one to continuously weigh up safety to getting the shot.
Caution can see you walk away empty-handed while reckless means a trip to the hospital or even the mortuary. Close also means there is no room for error as you are right in the face of your subject and moments are fleeting. Re-enactment has no place in the world of news.
Here are some lessons I have learnt along the way.
1. You are not bulletproof
I remember as a young photojournalist having that feeling of invincibility. Nothing could get me. Reality soon set in. I was young and wanting to impress my editor – my first real encounter with a violent crowd. Running head first into the action having cast any fears I might have had aside, the sudden crack of gunshots all around me was like a slap in the face. I was being shot at. I had completely disregarded my own safety and as the shooting continued I woke up to the fact that I had – in my need to photograph what was going on – put myself in harm’s way.
That day I realised that being a photojournalist and member of the media did not guarantee my safety; the small press card I carried in my wallet was no defence against the unhappy masses fighting for what they were promised or the heavily armed safety forces stopping them from moving forward. It dawned on me that if I were to get hurt it would only make the news bulletin that much more interesting. I am not immune to bullets just because I have a camera around my neck. And distinguishing good guys and bad guys in shooting matches is not a prerequisite for those pulling the triggers.
2. Flying objects don’t discriminate
Not long after this I learnt my second very important lesson about getting close to one’s subjects. I learnt this in the most crazy and painful of ways possible. Covering service delivery protests in Soweto near Johannesburg I found myself caught in the middle of an angry mob and frustrated police members. Protesters hurled a volley of rocks and bricks at the police and the police returned fire with rubber bullets. Having not thought of where I had placed myself, I had to choose between running with the protesters and getting hit by rubber bullets or staying put and having bricks and rocks rain down upon me. I chose the former and ran. I still laugh about it today in what I call my Forest Gump moment when “something jumped up and bit me in the buttocks”. Needless to say a rubber bullet hits hard.
3. See past the obvious and think on your feet
As a photojournalist it is easy to cover what’s in front of you. Being a member of the media one is often given front row access to situations that most people would never dream of going near. But there is far more to it than just shooting what is right in front of you. That’s the picture everyone has already seen. You have to develop the ability to see beyond what is in front of you as this helps in creating images that are different. These are the images that evoke emotion or tell the real story of what happened.
If you are in such a situation use the light to your advantage, change you angle or compose your shot using the objects around you in an imaginative way as this all will help in creating memorable images. Close does not mean no creativity. In fact just the opposite, the closer you are the more the need for finding the distinguishing factors.
4. Know your equipment
When the going gets tough there is very little time to sit and think of what lens you should use or if the aperture is right. You either keep up or it is over.
As a photojournalist knowing what your gear is capable of and how to troubleshoot is key. Without an intimate knowledge of your camera lenses and transmission equipment an assignment can be over before it even begins. Operating temperatures of your camera batteries, what the error codes mean and faulty lenses and how to fix it all is essential. And having backups for the backup is a must.
5. Don’t get involved
You need a long nose to stick it in other people’s business, big ears to hear other people’s business and sharp eyes to see other people’s business. But that’s as far as it goes. It’s not your business and it’s not your fight. You are only there to see on behalf of others. Too much involvement and issues such as integrity, objectivity and ethical behaviour come into question. Tell the story and go home.