Sony Pixel Power calrec Sony

Taking shots: preserving the pivotal moments of protests


Photojournalists remain crucial to our understanding of world events, providing us with front-row views that would otherwise be inaccessible. Of the most universally recognisable images in photography, many are photographs of protests.


Mostafa Darwish, an award-winning visual journalist from Egypt, has spent nearly a decade working on stories around situations of protest, clashes and conflict, not just in his native country, but across the Middle East, Sudan and Turkey.

Maurice Oniang'o, a dynamic filmmaker and photojournalist from Kenya, hasn't been short of international attention for his work covering issues such as FGM and climate change. His more recent work includes a documentary on police brutality, funded by National Geographic.

Together, Mostafa and Maurice, both alumni of the foundation, discuss the challenges of capturing dynamic images of social movements.

Mostafa Darwish, Egypt When tens of thousands of Egyptians filled Cairo's Tahrir Square in 2013, before and after president Mohamed Morsi was ousted by a military coup, Mostafa was on the scene using his lens to document the stories unfolding on the front lines.

His powerful photographs, showing rival groups of demonstrators, were published widely in international media, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, Reuters, Associated Press and The Guardian.

In one image, Mostafa focuses attention on a demonstrator using tear gas to separate him from the protestors behind. In another, he captures the magnitude of the participation in Tahrir Square, with a protester at the centre of the scene gesturing defiantly towards the oncoming crowds.

Asked what he wants people to take away from these images, Mostafa says that the photographs are simply a depiction of a moment in time.

Documenting a protest with photos and video can be an important part of telling the story of what happened and when, he says. You are in this moment not just a photographer, you are a historian.

While protests can be peaceful, they can quickly turn violent. They are unpredictable, and they can transform from peaceful to dangerous in seconds, continues Mostafa. There is a long history of photojournalists putting themselves at risk in order to document these events.

Mostafa has not just been in the line of fire during protests and civil unrest in Egypt, but often a target. I was attacked by Egyptian security forces in 2013 when they raided a camp of protesters at Rabaa al-Adawiya Square, he says.

A year earlier, Mostafa had sustained a head injury during a protest over the slow pace of change in Egypt.

After I was injured in 2012, I started to wear a helmet, he says. In Rabaa, I knew there was a serious risk of being shot and I was more prepared for the unpredictable, wearing full protective gear, including goggles and a bullet-proof vest.

I was mainly centred in a safe spot, only relocating now and then. Despite this, and the police initially being forthcoming with the press, things became dramatically more dangerous. I was attacked. I had my camera taken away. Random beatings, including of colleagues, happened right in front of me.

Here, Mostafa revisits his work and explains the practical and ethical tensions at the heart of photographing violent protests.

A low-flying military helicopter was circling demonstrators in Tahrir Square, Cairo in July 2013, signalling that the military, who had ousted Morsi, had begun to take centre stage in a new phase of political life. This was one of the few moments of peaceful protesting. Shortly afterwards, the tear gas canisters ignited behind me and clashes between police and protestors increased.

Egyptian riot policeman were firing teargas to move back protesters in Tahrir Square. Journalists werent immune. Myself and colleagues were met with the same aggressive policing as the demonstrators. Seven years on, and we're seeing more images of police brutality around the world and of security forces repressing crowds and attacking journalists.

This was the aftermath near the Rabaa Adawiya mosque in Cairo on 14th August 2013, when Egyptian security forces cleared a sit-in of hundreds of supporters of Morsi. It was to become one of the deadliest days for demonstrations in Egypt. It's a haunting image that came shortly after Eid al Fitr, when many Egyptians had spent time with family. Among the billowing smoke is a banner left over from the celebrations reading simply Happy Eid' in Arabic.

Action versus safety Photojournalists who want to document any social issue, be it a riot, a clash or a protest, must always look to find a balance between being safe and staying close to the action.

Try your best to understand the area of the events, the main streets or the side ones and the safest places to run or hide in case something happens, explains Mostafa.

It's also important not to show any partiality with any parts of the protest, the protestors or the police, and to be close to people you know, in case you are injured or you need someone to help keep your equipment safe.

Ideally, try not to use expensive gear. We know how important telephoto lenses are for events such as these, but really try to use cheap gear or stick with your smartphone. And whether it's daytime or nighttime, don't use your flash.

Once your pictures are published, either by local media outlets or on social media, take screenshots and keep them in a safe drive. Some websites archive their news and governments can sometimes play a big role in removing certain material. Never delete the raw material of your coverage.

Maurice Oniang'o, Kenya Maurice was injured covering the annual nationwide Saba Saba demonstrations in July 2020, which calls for both an end to corruption and more investment in public services.

The 2020 event was given extra im
See more stories from thompsonfoundation

More from Thomson


Creating greater transparency and accountability of government

By Henry O. Maina Government is not a machine, but a living thing. It falls, not under the theory of the universe, but under the theory of organic life. It is a...


Thomson Foundation appoints Caro Kriel as chief executive

Thomson Foundation has appointed Caro Kriel - a veteran journalist with more than 20 years' experience in international news - as its new chief executive. ...


Greatest reward: Helping to progress the careers of countless journalists

Thomson Foundation is unique: the place where the cut and thrust of the news industry meets the more strategic international media development sector. Every ye...


Giving Sudanese a voice in rebuilding their economy

Rebuilding Sudan's shattered economy after the 2019 uprising requires the country's journalists to understand and explain the key economic issues to the...


Giving Sudanese a voice in rebuilding their economy.

Rebuilding Sudan's shattered economy after the 2019 uprising requires the country's journalists to understand and explain the key economic issues to the...


Raised voices: Giving women a voice in local media

A unique research project in a remote district of north-west Pakistan has helped to empower women and give them a voice in local media. Thomson was approached...


Remote control: Covid-19 and the smartphone

Ask Spanish television reporter Leonor Su rez what role mobile journalism played during the first wave of the pandemic and she barely pauses for thought. Moj...


Staying Safe: Introducing a journalist s guide to covering protests

Nata a Kova ev is a reporter with the Balkans based 24 hour news channel N1. She is the instructor for our online learning course, Staying safe: Covering protes...


Hidden from view: Reporting on human trafficking and modern slavery

Every journalist wants to go on a rescue mission. But hidden from view, the human trafficking story is one of the most challenging, complex and ethically testin...


Challenges of becoming a journalist in a restrictive society

Maryam Anam is an aspiring young radio journalist in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, a region in north-west Pakistan where women's voices are rarely heard. She is being...


Local news: rebuilding trust and relevance in the pandemic

As the old newsroom clich has it, all news is local. And despite being a global pandemic, the Covid-19 crisis has been felt first in our families, on our doors...


Hard truths in Peru: Journalism without fear or favour

World Voices: Mart n Leandro Camacho, Peru Secuestraron mi pais. Emblazoned on a protest placard and photographed by Peruvian journalist, Mart n Leandro C...


My fellowship in a year of Covid-19

A fellowship with Thomson Media didnt go quite as Hend Kheiralla expected in the pandemic. At home in Sudan, I was used to working remotely for digital enterpr...


Why messaging apps put us in the right place at the right time

You're in a queue. How likely is it that you'll check your messages on your mobile phone? Even the least digital amongst us is spending 30 minutes a day...


Martin Leandro Camacho: The compassionate face of Peru

PROFILE: Young Journalist Award 2020 winner Mart n Leandro Camacho has always been passionate about being compassionate. The 27-year-old spent the formative...


Grounded by coronavirus: The challenges of virtual practical training

Grounded by Covid-19, our trainers have been learning new skills to be able to impart their expertise to their journalist trainees with promising results. Th...


Messaging Apps: Tackling training in the pandemic

Covid-19 may have forced our workshops online but by innovation and experimentation our trainers have continued to teach and mentor often on less conventional p...


When e-workshops are exciting - a blog by Khalida Niaz

Khalida Niaz is a journalist with the Tribal News Network based in Peshawar, Pakistan. She was amongst a group of editors and managers taking part in a course r...


Change at the top for the foundation

Thomson Foundation has announced that Nigel Baker, chief executive since 2012, will retire from the role in July 2021. Nigel has led a significant growth in ac...


Solutions to create trustworthy journalism in a crowded digital world

As journalists today, we are operating in a toxic digital environment where it can often be difficult to distinguish a fact from a lie. The media environment,...


Championing burgeoning talent in a year we will never forget

Announcing the Thomson Foundation Young Journalist Award finalists #TFYoungJournalist If we don't come, hunger kills us, says a Venezuelan merchant as h...


The backbone of professional and independent journalism

The media situation in the Western Balkans is deteriorating as a result of repeated attacks on media freedom and systematic undermining of the profession. The c...


Breaking news: Award shortlist reminds us why journalism matters

On World News Day, we reveal the 12 shortlisted entrants for the #TFYoungJournalist Award, highlighting just why #JournalismMatters. From Brazil's record y...


Tackling underrepresentation of women in media

Trying something new can be a daunting experience, especially when nobody has done it before. The residents of Mardan district in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) prov...


Through the lens: Chronicling daily life and the challenges of Covid-19 in Syria

In his beloved city of Damascus, Syrian photojournalist, Hasan Belal, captures daily domestic scenes, confronts the challenges wrought by the Covid-19 pandemic ...


Bettina Peters (1963-2020)

There has seldom been a greater force of nature than Bettina Peters in the world of international media development. A steely mind and no-nonsense cheerfulness...


Empowering women in Pakistan's rural communities

Progress in bringing womens voices into media has been slow and has been further reduced by local traditional structures that often favour men. Pakistani enumer...


Patsy Robertson: a tribute

The passing of Patsy Robertson at 86 has deprived the Thomson Foundation of a loyal supporter and devoted advocate in the Commonwealth. Patsy resigned as a lon...


Photojournalists: The key to getting published and staying safe

Thomson Foundation trainer and award winning photojournalist Glenn Edwards shares his experience of covering events for national and international publications ...


Uncovering stories with a human dimension

Can journalism build a better world? Thomson Foundation has the privilege of training and working with journalists around the globe who are at the forefront of ...


Taking shots: preserving the pivotal moments of protests

Photojournalists remain crucial to our understanding of world events, providing us with front-row views that would otherwise be inaccessible. Of the most univer...


Competition: Young Journalist Award 2020 is open

One thing has been constant; since its inception in 2013, our Young Journalist Award has been cheering new arrivals in the media industry, introducing some of t...


Capturing change: strategies for safely covering protests

A massive wave of solidarity protests against racial injustice have been staged across the United States and worldwide following a series of killings in the US,...


Covid-19 training in Sudan gets smart on WhatsApp

An innovative online learning course to support the reporting of Covid-19 in Sudan has reached nearly 2000 people across all sectors of media. The course, desi...


Photojournalism: the ethical challenges to covering Covid-19

This article by Savannah Dodd, founder of the Photography Ethics Centre, uses the key principles introduced in her Journalism Now e-learning course The Photogra...


Talent pool gives advice on navigating the pandemic

Weve pooled advice from our international alumni to help journalists navigate their way through the Covid-19 pandemic. From what went wrong in the medias early...


Rwandan journalist s study route to international publication.

Rwandan journalist Christophe Hitayezu first met the editorial team from The Guardian newspaper in London as part of a study tour in a programme to support medi...


Sudan: Support for journalists in the global fight against Covid-19

A unique training course tailored specifically for Sudanese journalists has been devised to help them navigate the challenges of reporting the Covid-19 pandemic...


MoJo Challenge: When a smartphone wins in Covid-19 coverage

Lebanese-based Nisrine Ajab has won the Thomson Foundation mobile journalism challenge and five others have been commended. Nisrine, who is from Beirut, along...


A class of its own: is the e-Workshop here to stay?

The coronavirus pandemic has brought a temporary halt to face-to-face training programmes during lockdown - but prompted experiments with different types of vir...


Supporting Greater Media Independence in the Western Balkans

The Western Balkans region remains beset by political instability, corruption and a chronic lack of transparency. The national media are often captured by veste...


A coronavirus photo essay from Bologna, Italy

Award-winning documentary photographer and Thomson Foundation alumnus Marco Panzetti, achieved international recognition for his coverage of the global refugee ...


The challenges of covering coronavirus: how we can help

Journalists across the globe face unprecedented challenges to report the coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak accurately and safely. The fast-moving story is presen...


Thomson Foundation's summer course - the alumni shaping media

Hundreds of frontline journalists have passed through the Thomson Foundation's prestigious summer course which aims to sharpen reporting skills and teach th...


Thomson Foundation summer course 2020: dates and details

Thomson Foundation has announced the dates for its mobile multimedia journalism programme 2020. August 10 to September 11, 2020 In this intensive five-week ...


Our Tech Challenge Winner: A Royal Visit And Much More

Patrick Obumselu, the winner of Thomson Foundations 2019 Commonwealth Digital Challenge, has been in London meeting mentors and receiving advice on progressing ...


Highlighting violence against South African women

At just 26, Robin-Lee Francke is no stranger to violence against women, having been pistol-whipped, beaten and shot at in the course of her work as a crime repo...


Working against the odds in Syria

When Waad Al Kateab began filming in an Aleppo hospital being destroyed by government forces, little could she imagine that her work would one day be nominated ...


Reporting from the heart of Iraq s deadly protests

Pesha Magid became the trusted voice from Baghdad for many of the world's broadcasters and newspapers after an outbreak of anti-government protests in 2019....


OPEN Media Hub: the story so far

A landmark project to support independent media in 17 countries bordering the European Union (EU) has been extended, as journalists tackle increasing threats to...