You may have heard that we have had bad flooding in parts of Iowa this Spring. I am very fortunate, I only had a few puddles in my basement. Some neighbors have reported having several feet of water in their homes.
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I am a bit of a photojournalist at heart-so I had to get out and about and document what was going on. I have photographed car accidents, fires, and now flooding. Here I will share some tips on photojournalist type shoots in crisis situations.
1) Safety first. Not just yours, but everyone else's too. This means be alert to what is going on around you. Know where the police are and where they might want to go next. Stay out of the way of first responders-their jobs are more important than ours. They may be trying to save a life and I don't want to cause them any delay. Watch out for the big trucks and heavy equipment. Stay out of their way and out of their blind spots! All the great images in the world will not save you if you are under the wheels of a vehicle that weighs a few tons or more.
2) Be inconspicuous. That's the best way to avoid getting shooed off. This may mean leaving your best DSLR in the car with your tripods and walking to the scene with a P&S. That's OK, you will be able to get around and maneuver better to get the best camera position. Lugging a load of gear into a flood zone is not a lot of fun-and can be hazardous for your equipment.
3) Dress for conditions-especially wear good sturdy shoes or boots as appropriate and protective clothes as needed. Layer up in case the temperature changes and have a rain jacket or poncho handy. Even a garbage bag will do in a pinch :-)
4) Be friendly. If the chance comes up, visit a bit with other bystanders. You will meet some great people and you may learn more about what is happening and get some great ideas for additional images.
5) Take lots of large pictures. You won't be able to control much but composition and the angle of light, so just keep shooting and worry about sorting out the good shots when you get home.
6) Take a variety of pictures. For example, I tend to put people in context so that the image shows how they are reacting to the environment around them. Other people have a natural tendency to zero in on facial expressions. Try to get both the close up emotional impact and the shots that tell the story behind the emotion, including all the context. It doesn't really take any longer, it's just about forcing yourself to go beyond your usual habits.
7) Be respectful. Understand that you are among people in crisis and treat them kindly, just because it is the right thing to do. Lend a hand and help them out if you get a chance.
Here is an image of flood preparations in Iowa City. I hope to have a couple more flood images online soon.