Photo Insight – Cathal McNaughton – Demonstrations in Edinburgh
June 3, 2011
Cathal McNaughton recounts how he captured this dramatic image of a policeman and baton at the G8 Summit protests in 2005
Award-winning Cathal McNaughton has more than ten years? experience covering conflicts and breaking news for national newspapers and international press agencies. He shares his best press photographs and reveals how he captures a subject in ways that others haven?t seen
In February?s Photo Insight (AP 5 February), I wrote about an image of a protester at the G8 Summit in Gleneagles in Auchterarder, Perth & Kinross, in July 2005. The image below was also taken at the summit, but during demonstrations in Edinburgh the day before the meeting started. I was covering the troubles that had broken out for a news agency.
The protests were organised by seasoned protesters who were prepared to take risks to cause maximum disruption. The demonstrators kept moving to different parts of the city in an attempt to stretch the police forces and keep them on their toes. We [myself and the other photographers] could work out where the trouble was likely to break out, so it was a case of following them as they moved from one location to another.
As you can imagine, the atmosphere was quite tense. Thousands of police officers were present to prevent the protests getting out of control. This day was especially tense and I took several other images of riot police chasing protestors. There were many stand-offs and clashes across the city.
We found one spot where there was trouble. A group of police officers had chased some protesters into the gardens on Princes Street and the demonstrators surrounded them. The police had accidentally cut themselves off from their colleagues and things turned quite nasty. People started throwing bins and other debris, and uprooting anything that could be used to attack the police. You can see an upturned bin in the bottom right-hand corner and clusters of uprooted flowers scattered on the ground.
Events had been kicking off for a few minutes and I?d already taken a few shots of a protester throwing a bin at another policeman. The policeman in the centre is holding another policeman?s hat ? his colleague had been knocked over and his hat had fallen off. He was trying to protect his other colleagues who had been cornered. You can see some of them in the background. I was right in the middle of the action ? I had to be on this occasion. There were railings around the gardens, so I had to be inside the enclosed area to get the shots I wanted. I would have been quite close to this policeman when photographing him. He reacted to me taking pictures and what was happening round him, and charged at me with his baton. I managed to stand my ground long enough to get this shot and then I made a hasty exit.
When photographing an event like this, where there is so much going on, you have to remain calm and not run around like a headless chicken. If you don?t, you?ll end up photographing everything and nothing, and won?t come back with any good pictures. You have to pick your moments carefully. I can?t stress enough how important it is to be aware of your surroundings. Know what is happening around you at all times as safety is paramount. Don?t hang around and risk getting into danger for danger?s sake. Take the picture and move on. The situation will be developing around you, so it?s important not to be static.
I used a 16-35mm lens on my Canon ESO-1D Mark II camera. I always carry two bodies with me with different lenses ? a wide lens and a long lens. Most of the time I use manual settings and keep an eye on my exposure, adjusting the settings as necessary. Over the years I?ve developed the ability to know whether to tweak my exposure by 1 or 2 stops, depending on how the light changes, so it?s instinctive now.
As you can never tell what?s going to happen, it?s difficult to plan the shots you want to take in advance. My aim when working on any assignment is to make sure that no other photographer gets a better picture than I do and to tell the story ? whatever the story is that day.
Not everyone is cut out for this sort of photography and you have to know what your limitations are. Sometimes you have to put yourself in uncomfortable situations to get the pictures you want ? it?s not always going to be easy. However, you have to bear in mind that if you go to demonstrations or protests where there is heightened tension, there is the potential you could come to harm. Photographing at events like this is not something that should be undertaken lightly, and while I?m not saying don?t do it, you have to be aware of the dangers. On the flip side, while you need to employ a degree of caution, if you think about what you?re doing for too long you?ll miss the picture, so it?s a question of judgement.
Cathal McNaughton was talking to Gemma Padley
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