With clashes in Spain and especially in Madrid growing in intensity I thought I'd post a few pointers to those photographers who want to cover riots and other such turbulent events. Since 2005 I have recorded, dozens of violent confrontations here in Greece and I hope that these pointers will help keep you safe.
1-NEVER FORGET WHAT'S HAPPENING AROUND YOU. It is easy in the heat of the moment to focus only on what the viewfinder sees and miss dangers around you. Take time out to check on what is happening in your immediate vacinity.
2 - DO NOT TRUST THE POLICE. They are often as dangerous as rocks and bottles thrown. With police officers being called upon to impose unpopular economic and social measures in Europe they are no longer neutral players imposing law and order. Also there is a growing awareness among the authorities that the internet and especially photographs and video are exposing police excesses. This means that you can also become a target if you record such actions. Always be ready to flee if necessary.
3 - WEAR PROTECTIVE GEAR. Helmet, some kind of mask and goggles. This will provide a measure of protection against tear gas and other dangers. But remember such gear also makes you a target for the police as it is also worn sometimes by the most hardcore demonstrators.
4 - NO SHOT IS WORTH BEING HOSPITALISED FOR. Don't take unnecessary risks as an injured photographer is not going to be much use to anyone. There will always be other opportunities.
5 - DON'T ARGUE. If challenged by protesters about taking photos put your camera down and walk away. Riots are highly charged events and not a debating club. If challenged by the police, stand your ground if you can see other photographers/camera operators nearby. Otherwise, run as quickly as possible if you have the chance.
6 - KNOW YOUR GEOGRAPHY. If possible get to know the layout of the area you're photographing as well as possible and that means not just via a map but by walking through it repeatedly. Always have a choice of exit routes if things get out of control.
7 - TALK TO PEOPLE. Let them know who you are and why you are there.This lessens their suspicions that you're working for the authorities. Touch bases, Chat to people you know at the event and they will pass the word on about who you are. This invisible network has saved my hide on many an occasion.
8 - CHECK SETTINGS BEFORE TROUBLE KICKS OFF NOT DURING IT. The middle of riot is no place to be fiddling with buttons and dials and the like. If the worst comes to the worst, put your camera on Automatic. However, always remember where the sunlight light is coming from.
9 - ALWAYS CARRY SPARE MEMORY CARDS with a few pics of area. If you think you're going to be stopped by police, swap out the card in the camera for a spare and then hide it.
10 - BE RESPONSIBLE when posting pictures afterwards. Don't put in peril the people you were photographing. This is a difficult area to give guidelines about but generally speaking you should not be posting photographs that could be used to convict people. Otherwise you are turning yourself and other photographers into targets in future demonstrations.