Friday, December 27, 2013


What I take to a riot: helmet, two cameras, one with a 16-35 zoom, the other with a 70-200, a couple of breathing filters, my Cambodian krama, a bunch of Compact Flash cards, press credentials and a bottle of water. Not pictured, my iPhone, a notebook, a pen, earplugs and goggles. Everything gets carried in my Think Tank skin set of pouches

Photographing a riot is a real challenge. It's hard work, dangerous and exhausting. I didn't come to Thailand to photograph riots but as a journalist I have to cover the news when it happens. 

You learn quickly when you're covering something like a riot to pack only the essentials and bring your "PPE." 

Normally when I go out to photograph in Bangkok I pack pretty heavily. A couple of bodies, five lenses, my Micro 4:3 gear, a couple of flashes, memory cards etc. I carry all of it around in either a Domke satchel or Think Tank Retrospective series bag. I've tried belt bags and other carrying arrangements but I keep coming back to shoulder bags. 

This works well for my street photography and covering general news assignments. But I don't want to be changing lenses when tear gas is flying or using fill flash when snipers are looking for targets. So I've modified my working kit for times that I'm going to be covering a disturbance.

When I know I'm going to be getting into a riot situation I leave the primes at home and just take my two zooms. Most photojournalists, especially newspaper ones, use zooms everyday. 

I don't. I much prefer Canon's lovely (but expensive) L series prime lenses. When I'm working on the street, I use the 24mm f1.4, 40mm f2.8 (not an L series, but tiny, cheap and very sharp) 50mm f1.2, 100mm f2 and 200mm f2.8. They're great lenses. But it's just too much to juggle when I'm also focused on all of the things going on around me in a riot situation. 

My kit when I go out expecting trouble is the two bodies and two lenses, a bunch of memory cards. One flash (which I never use, but I can't bring myself to go out without a flash), a teleconverter to turn my 70-200 into a 95-280, a helmet, some breathing filters, two pairs of goggles and a bottle of water. 

The helmet is not "ballistic." It won't protect me against gunfire but it will protect me against rocks, bottles and falling debris, all bigger threats than actual gun fire. 

The breathing filters offer a little protection against tear gas and chemical agents. They're not a replacement for a full gas mask but used properly and in layers they offer enough protection that I can work. Getting a proper gas mask is on my to do list, but I'm having a hard time finding one in Bangkok. 

I carry two pairs of goggles. One pair of swim goggles that fit tightly and keep tear gas out of my eyes and a second pair of safety goggles that goes over the swim goggles and keeps flying debris out of my eyes. Again, a proper gas mask would provide all this protection, but for now I'm improvising. 

I don't normally carry water with me - I can always find a convenience store or shop in Bangkok that sells drinks. I do carry water and eye wash with me when I'm covering a riot. Not so I have something to drink but so I have something I can use to rinse out my eyes or wash my face. 

My kit is the bare minimum for covering this kind of stuff. Photographers who do this all the time have real gas masks, ballistic helmets and sometimes wear body armor. I plan to buy a gas mask as soon as I can. I hope this situation doesn't deteriorate to the point where I need a ballistic helmet or body armor.  

Finally, most of the photos in my archive are available for editorial use or self fulfillment as prints. If you see something you'd like to use or just hang on the wall, click on the "Add to Cart" button and follow the onscreen prompts.