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A Few Questions Re: Conflict Photography

I was wondering if you guys could answer a few questions I had about conflict photography that I have had trouble finding answers to elsewhere.

I’ll be graduating in May from College and am seriously considering trying to get into conflict photography.It’s always struck me as something very appealing both in the sense of reporting on the reality of what is happening and in the more personal experience of learning about the world firsthand. I am hesitant because I have very little experience with photography and no experience dealing with situations that are as potentially or consistently dangerous as conflict areas. That being said, it is something I am prepared to work for as long as I can do so responsibly and am just trying to figure out the best way to do so.

First, what did your career path look like leading up to where you are now as a conflict photographer? Could you shed some light on how someone would go about seriously pursuing conflict photography, or at least how you did?

Second, in regards to a formal education in photography, what, in your opinion, is the best route for someone aspiring to working in conflict zones? I have little to no knowledge about photography and am graduating in May with a degree completely unrelated to photography or journalism. Would I be better off going back to school or taking some classes on photography and going out and trying to learn as much as I can on my own?

Third, how did you prepare or evaluate when you thought you were ready to go into a dangerous situation as a photographer, how did you learn to assess risk in those situations? I’ve backpacked a little before but it’s a massive leap from backpacking to conflict areas.

And lastly, is it a better route to try and establish a portfolio and get hired with a newswire and learn within an organization or to just freelance? or does it matter?

by RivRod at 2013-02-06 21:19:10 UTC | Bookmark | | Report spam→

I can’t answer you any of your questions, but buried somewhere in Lightstalkers there’s a post by Michael Kamber that does, you may want to look for it.

by Patricio Murphy | 06 Feb 2013 23:02 | Buenos Aires, Argentina | | Report spam→
Thanks for the tip, I’ll see if I can find it.

by RivRod | 07 Feb 2013 20:02 | | Report spam→
I wouldn’t mind hearing from other people as well but I believe this is it, I’ll copy the link below in case anyone has the same questions I did.


by RivRod | 07 Feb 2013 20:02 | | Report spam→
There actually are many excellent threads on this site on this subject. It’s a question that comes up at least several times a year. Use Google Advanced Search since the search engine on here is cranky and mostly useless.

One thing you should plan to do is attend Foundry Photojournalism Workshop, held this year in Sarajevo. Most of the instructors there have had social issue experience, often in conflict situations. If you don’t have experience with telling stories via photography, you will learn a lot about the process there. The instructors are some of the best you will ever have the chance to work with.

by Neal Jackson | 08 Feb 2013 01:02 (ed. Feb 8 2013) | Washington, DC, United States | | Report spam→
Oh, and read this one too:


by Neal Jackson | 09 Feb 2013 13:02 | Washington, DC, United States | | Report spam→
Thanks, I tried using the search function on here with little luck. I’ll give google and that link a shot

by RivRod | 09 Feb 2013 14:02 | | Report spam→
Well while your doing your searching I can give you my personal $0.02 I had always considered pursuing conflict photography but I eventually steered away from it as I learned of the lives of those who do it and the destruction it seemed to inevitably inflict on one’s personal life. It wasn’t thorough research but it came from looking at all the lives of the “greats” and reading a few autobiographies. The ones I read about or met all had divorce, frayed close relationships, ect. I concluded they had more or less destroyed their personal and/or family lives through getting addicted to this “self-sacrificial” sense of importance to their work. I saw a bitter irony in this pursuit of sacrificing one’s life for others while at the same time destroying their closeness and ability to actually have committed and challenging close relationships, particularly with spouses and children.

It reminded me a bit of the “white savior complex” self sacrifice that was really just avoidance of living up to their own responsibilities in exchange for an artificial sense of self-importance.

I’m not saying this assessment is right or accurate but the closer I got to conflict photography the more this was the taste in my mouth. I’m sure their are guys out there that have found a better balance and a healthier approach but I haven’t met them.

It may seem like a heavy question but you really have to ask yourself what you want to do with your life. On the up-side you can always change what you’re doing with your life and perhaps one day I’ll get back into conflict photography… who knows!

by Joseph Molieri | 14 Feb 2013 20:02 | Philadelphia, United States | | Report spam→
“It reminded me a bit of the “white savior complex” self sacrifice that was really just avoidance of living up to their own responsibilities in exchange for an artificial sense of self-importance.”
Joseph, that’s great! You’ve described something I’ve been trying to say for a long time.
Now we have to deal with the phenomenon of white savior worship.

by DPC | 14 Feb 2013 21:02 | Paris, France | | Report spam→
Thanks for the input. I hear what you’re saying and how conflict photography might affect me is something I’ve been thinking very much about. I’m fairly cynical in terms of just how much photojournalism can really do to help other people when people, my genreration especially, are so apathetic and desensitized these days. That also leads to my hesitation re motivations for wanting to enter this field. I’m not sure what the “right” sorts of reasons for getting into conflict photography look like but I’ve really been trying to look at my own motivations and evaluate them. I’d be lying if I said I only wanted to do this because of some urge to exclusively help people and tell these peoples’ stories. While that may be part of it I think the driving force is curiosity. I’ve done a bit of traveling and Ive aways enjoyed getting to know a place and people beyond the stereotypes or tid bits we get in books and on the news. The experience of places and peoples and a sort of “raw” news right in front of me seems to be the strongest reason I want to go. That being said, I’ve also noticed that many, if not most, of the images that I really enjoy seeing aren’t necessarily the ones of “frontlline” fighting but of what is going on around conflict to the people that often get caught up in the middle.

Maybe I’ve spent too much time in philosophy classes but it leads to me question if these kinds of motivations are ethical, in a sense, and not just as voyeuristic as backpacking can tend to be. I don’t want to travel simply for the sake of travelling,I can’t stand to enjoy that kind of travel anymore where I see just how privileged I’ve been and not do anything at all to help those who’ve been disadvantaged.

In any case, I hear what you’re saying and i’m not sure that this is something I’d want to do for the rest of my life. But I firmly believe that, for me at least, trying to decide what I want to do for the rest of my life at the age of 20 can only lead to unhappiness later. I don’t know what I want out of life right now and I don’t think I have to decide just yet.

Sorry for the long winded response and thanks again for the input.

by RivRod | 15 Feb 2013 02:02 | | Report spam→
Yea, I doubt anyone got into photography to be a humanitarian…. I did the travel photo thing for a while and the more I did it the more I realized I wanted to be part of a community and have a real investment with the people and places I was photographing. Without that their will always be a voyeuristic aspect of it. But sometimes you’ve got to start as an outsider before you can get on the inside.

You don’t need to have an answer for the life thing but check in with yourself. For me I realized I wanted to have a wife and family and that if I as going to do that my family would be my priority. So I steered away from conflict photography. So checking in with yourself and seeing what you want can help direct you. I’m kind of a figure it out as you go type person and that can work. But moments of considering what you want out of life can help direct you. Enjoy the journey, the tough parts as well.

by Joseph Molieri | 15 Feb 2013 05:02 | Philadelphia, United States | | Report spam→
Oh, and in response to your second question. ICP in New York has a great 1 year program. The main advantage to it is the contacts you’ll make. Otherwise save up money and just start getting yourself into places. But you should be aware, a lot of photographers are struggling. Even the ones who are getting published. NGO’s and corporate work is an alternate income that a lot are turning to in order to supplement the reduced income from PJ stuff.

If you decide not to do a photo program of school. Take a year and just go for it. Get a plane ticket and do it. Pick up the phone, email, ect and just hustle to get yourself into places and making contacts. Its hard and you may just give up or you might get a great break and connect with the right people. But do it if your itching. You’ll never forgive yourself if you don’t. Just as a disclaimer I don’t mean drop into a warzone. I mean start the photo journey, start in rough places or find an interesting country with turmoil and go for it. Make contacts, make phone calls, make a plan that makes sense and then do it.

by Joseph Molieri | 15 Feb 2013 05:02 (ed. Feb 15 2013) | Philadelphia, United States | | Report spam→
Do you think that there are kinds of work in photography where you wouldnt/dont feel as voyeuristic, like NGO work?

I think that’s what’ll work best for me, checking in time from time and re-evaluating where my life is heading.

Thanks for the ICP suggestion.

I have family in Europe that I was planning on staying with after I graduate, I was thinking of starting there. With all the austerity protests and police clashing with protest I thought it might be a start and then maybe heading to a country once I feel more comfortable with the technical side of photography. On that note, I have a Canon T4i that is more camera than I know how to use right now. Am I right in thinking that having “pro” equipment isn’t (at least for now) entirely crucial? Especially since I don’t have the knowledge to fully take advantage of a “pro” level camera.

by RivRod | 15 Feb 2013 19:02 | | Report spam→
I am a bit more advanced on the road to become a conflict photographer than you. Back in the day I was given two really good piece of advice, perhaps you want to ask yourself those questions as well:

1. War changes and corrupts people. It wont affect you, it will change you inside out. You will NOT be the same person as you were. There are photographers who lost their mind (Jana Schneider), who lost their limbs (Joao Silva), who commited suicide (Kevin Carter), who have no private life (James Nachtwey), who have severe nightmares and depression (Don McCullin, Greg Marinovich), who died on the job (too many to mention!), who were raped (Lara Logan), who are never found (it took 37 years to locate the remains of Larry Burrow, Anton Hammerl may never be found!). I dont know any war correspondent who is not struggling with PTSD, addiction, nightmares, who had not have their collegues killed. Because this comes with the job. You will encounter it once you are on the ground. Are you able to accept it? Is your family going to be ok with it? Is there anyone who will be able to take care of our aging parents when you are dead or without limbs? What if you have to write a will? It may never happen to you but it does happen to people. This is the reality of the front line – a bullet or a bomb will not discriminate, those with AK47s will target you. I have been asked those questions and I had a hard time to find the answers.

2. Planning is the key. Photography school or a job like the army photographer, police photographer, in the newspaper, editor in a TV station (photogs have to edit as well – and this job actually pays). Or handling a part time job and school at the same time. Attend the events → networking is crucial. Join a photography association or a press club, get a menor, get a driving license, do hostile enviroment training, first aid, crowd control – anything that will make your chances of survival better. Set up two bank accounts while you prepare yourself to do the job – even if you have to put lets say 100 EUR in each every month. One will be funds when go on your first assignment – it will help you to cover food, equipment, all the expanses like renting or buying flack jacket etc), the other will serve as emergency. You touch the first one when you go. You never touch the other unless you have to.

You may want to get Canon 5D Mark III with 24-70 lens and another lens 200 mm – perfect gear for starting in journalism. You may rent out lenses if needed (usually Canon retailers offer such service).

For starters try NGOs, local newspapers, attend street demonstrations. TRy to come up with stories you want to tell.

The point is – you may do it, but it has to be planned and very concious decision. Because it may cost you your life.


by Malicia Dabrowicz | 17 Feb 2013 13:02 | St Julians, Malta | | Report spam→
Hi RivRod,

for every question you have you’ll get an answer with an opinion and then another answer with the opposite opinion. So go with your instinct and do what you feel is the right thing to do (not in terms of “this will sell” or “this will win the XX award”).

Yes it’s good that you prepare yourself in beforehand but while doing it, prepare yourself also for the fact that you’ll make mistakes (we all make them); the important thing is what you’ll do with the mistakes you’ve made: learn from them and don’t repeat them.


by Laura Larmo | 17 Feb 2013 13:02 | Milan, Italy | | Report spam→
It’s very coincidental that I just finished watching 2 movies based on conflict photographers just now!

You will find a lot of your questions and queries answered in ways no one can here through words if you watch these movies :

1. Shooting Robert King <—- a MUST see.. you will learn a lot in this
2. Under Fire: Journalist In Combat
3. War Photographer

by ALI ZAIDI | 17 Feb 2013 13:02 | Milpitas, CA, United States | | Report spam→
Ali, how did you get to see the Shooting Robert king? I tried to find it before but never happened…

by ana brigida | 17 Feb 2013 14:02 | Lisbon, Portugal | | Report spam→
Ali, number 3 is my favourite. James can shoot in any position and still is toupet look cool. He’s my hero. ;o)

by Yves Choquette | 17 Feb 2013 15:02 | Montreal, Canada, Canada | | Report spam→
Thanks Mal, Laura and Ali for the input,

Speaking of films, anyone have any opinions on HBO’s Witness series?


by RivRod | 17 Feb 2013 23:02 | | Report spam→
Feet → Ground:
It’s in French but speaking foreign languages i one of the many skills you will need to develop…
And there’s always Google Translate.
The gist? It’s over.

by DPC | 19 Feb 2013 08:02 | Paris, France | | Report spam→
I have to say I think that Mike Kamber’s piece (linked above) is really spot on. Kamber is a giant in the field and his words should be taken seriously, it’s good advice and he puts emphasis on where it should be. In particular, his points regarding learning to shoot good pictures first, and learning about the history of photojournalism, before one goes anywhere near a conflict zone, should be closely considered.

Read the whole thing… but particularly:

“…photography is a meritocracy. In over 20 years, I have never been asked for my degree; in the world of photojournalism, your portfolio is your degree.”

“I also learned a great deal from spending days in the library, reading about photojournalism and looking up, and discovering, each new name that I chanced upon. In this way I found Robert Capa, Robert Frank, Larry Clark, Alex Webb and dozens of others.”

“If you are going to be a photojournalist, you should have a good working knowledge of the history of photojournalism, and of the medium’s iconic images. You can show me nearly any often published photograph from the 20th century and I can tell you who took it and where. I’ve studied the pictures carefully and memorized details about them. This is extremely useful and will help you later as you shoot.”

“To be a photojournalist, you should be informed. I’m was appalled at a group of photographers who showed up in Haiti a few years ago, but did not know who the Duvalier’s were, or know even the most rudimentary history of the country. These countries are not there for you to practice photo-tourism and have an extended holiday. These are people’s lives you are documenting. Be knowledgeable and show respect.”

I got my start, and learnt how to shoot news and documentary pictures (or at least began, I am still learning every day I work) in a similar way:

“I began my “career” by photographing street demonstrations in New York and taking the pictures around to newspapers and wire services. There was easy access to what was happening, which is important when you’re starting out. And even the pictures I was not able to sell helped me to build a portfolio. I also began, almost immediately, to work on long-term projects.”

I could say more but I think that’s enough for now. BUT… if you yourself say that you don’t think that you can shoot a good photograph yet, then please invest the time and energy to learn to shoot good photographs – and to be a good photojournalist (there are important aspects of journalism that come in to the job, and shouldn’t be underestimated in their difficulty) – before you go to a conflict zone.


by Ed Giles | 20 Feb 2013 10:02 | Cairo, Egypt | | Report spam→
The other thing is that before you go anywhere near a conflict zone, invest in some high-end trauma first aid training. You shouldn’t go to one of these places without knowing how – and having the equipment – to stop a rapid arterial bleed, among other things.

by Ed Giles | 20 Feb 2013 11:02 | Cairo, Egypt | | Report spam→
i’m still very young, literaly, but i had the luck to enter the “right road” somehow. my way was the classical one: by coincidence. i started once as ENG assistant, and with the detour of working as a cameraman in the documentary field, today I’m making (more or less, haha…) a living from telling stories through the lens. however. one day I found myself waking up in kigali, shooting my first documentary on the effects of the civil war. with everything that comes with, good cops, bad cops, bandits, guns, secret services, etc. but i had the luck of being with a guy who was doing this for more than twentyfive years (sarajevo in the nineties, rwanda 94, zaire up to 1997, etc.). i got the chance of learning by doing, the luck of not being exploited to this on my own, to learn from one of the best. that’s 4 years ago now. and shure, i’m still learning.

one of the biggest risks in my opinion is to start romanticizing the whole war/crisis-photographer thing. you must not forget that you’re going to areas where people are trying to escape from even in sick ways we even do not want to know how. sure, the idea of flying around the world, living this fast life, always having the best story to tell when back home, etc., is a good one. but for fucks sake, never forget the risks you are taking. never forget that you are no photographer anymore – you are an journalist! you’re telling stories which quite a lot of people do not want to be told. you’re taking responsibility not only for your own life. that’s why you really have to make up things clear with yourself, why you must now THAT you want to this and WHY you want to this.

another big danger (i hope i’m not alone with this opinion) is the euphoria that can come with the romantizing thing. me myself had the chance to go to Iraq, pretty soon after my only second assignment in east-africa. and I was like “sure, lets do this”. it was exactly the thing i was waiting for, i had the chance to earn a load of money. luckily the friend mentioned before was the one who took me aside and gave me a mental slap in the face. i did not go, otherwise i wouldn’t write here right now, i’m pretty sure. i was not prepared to do this by then, and I am not sure if i’m ready to do such a thing yet. the next thing offered was lybia and i’m glad i did not go.

apart of the people on side you are taking responsibility for, everyone has people at home who will not be comfortable with the idea of you in some hot area. don’t forget them, and have always in mind that this has a big potential of mental crises, speaking of moral decisions, sanitiy decisions, etc. you will make friends in this job, friendships that may last forever, you’ll get attached to this people, and you will be worried about this people when not with them. i just came back from nigeria two weeks ago, my colleague stayed longer as my visa expired earlier. some days after i left he got into an holdup, islamistic terrorists. he made it, i really don’t know how, but he made it. but the thoughts cruising in my head after i heard of this didn’t let me sleep for days.

you’re writing that you do not have a lot of experience in photography, then go out and start doing it! anything. read, study other colleagues work, analyze it. try to reconstruct. learn the techniques, the handwork (there is no time on location…). start networking. start photographing for news, even if its only some shitty local poltician in st. ass. try to connect with photographers, journalists that are allready in the business. let them tell you stories and listen really carefully!!!

and now i’m getting definitely to long, sorry fot that, but what i wanted to say apart of the things that have been said allready by the really experienced colleagues in this thread is: do not let you rush into anything. try to keep a clear head anytime and anywhere.

all the best on your way,

by david visnjic | 20 Feb 2013 22:02 | Vienna, Austria | | Report spam→
30 years old Ex British Army 10 years service with experience in recent conflicts I now work in security overseas but have all ways had a love for photography I would like to put my 2 favorite passions in to one job that’s working in conflict zones and Photography any advice for getting started would be much appreciated many thanks in advance Tim
p.s I new to this so any courses that would help me out or people can recommend would be great

by Tim Arnold | 21 Feb 2013 07:02 | Galle, Sri Lanka | | Report spam→
Tim, as often said on here, going to the Foundry Photojournalism Workshop is a fantastic, reasonably-priced learning experience. This year it’s in Sarajevo in July.

RivRod, the equipment is important, but less so than you might think. The Canon T4i is OK for learning, but when you start trying to sell stuff I’d go up to a full-frame DSLR, such as a used 5D Mark II or a used Nikon D700 (make sure either is in good shape, without too many shutter activations). Also, when spending money, focus more on good glass, because that will normally serve you through many continuously-advancing model changes, whether it’s Canon or Nikon.

by Neal Jackson | 23 Feb 2013 03:02 | Washington, DC, United States | | Report spam→
In regards to watching “Shooting Robert Capa” it’s available on Netflix and iTunes, “Under Fire: Journalists in Combat” is also available on Netflix.

by RivRod | 11 Mar 2013 23:03 | | Report spam→

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RivRod, RivRod
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Patricio Murphy, Musician, photographer Patricio Murphy
Musician, photographer
Buenos Aires , Argentina
Neal Jackson, Neal Jackson
(Flaneur, Savant and Scapegrace)
Washington, Dc , United States ( IAD )
Joseph Molieri, Photographer Joseph Molieri
Philadelphia , United States ( PHL )
DPC, Photographer DPC
Paris , France
Malicia Dabrowicz, art promoter/photographer Malicia Dabrowicz
art promoter/photographer
St Julians , Malta ( MLA )
Laura Larmo, Photographer Laura Larmo
Milan , Italy
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ana  brigida, Photographer ana brigida
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Yves Choquette, Photojournalist Yves Choquette
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Ed Giles, Photojournalist Ed Giles
Sydney , Australia
david visnjic, photographer/cameraman david visnjic
Vienna , Austria
Tim Arnold, security Tim Arnold
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