The – sometime dangerous – lives of news photographers

The – sometime dangerous – lives of news photographers

Our photographers share their sometimes dangerous experiences capturing the images that tell the news

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Nowadays, photographers are often better prepared than protesters for tear gas, but they still often end up among the injured.

A life lived in camera

Sithikorn Wongwudthianun

When the water cannon fires and the tear gas shoots overhead, one group is not running away – although we are keen not to break our equipment. Press photographers are among those rare people – like emergency service personnel – who run towards danger, whether it's a violent political demonstration, massive flood or a crime scene.

We also get close access to the rich and famous, from politicians and celebrities to criminals and sports stars. It's a perspective most people only see in the papers, through our photos.

One of the perks of the job, taking photos of pretties at an autoshow.

But getting the picture is not always easy, and in some cases it is downright dangerous.

"To create a great photo one must sacrifice," said Bangkok Post photographer Pattanapong Hirunard.

He proved this in dramatic fashion earlier this year when the two of us went to Prachin Buri for a week to cover the floods that had washed over the province. While I tried to stay as dry as possible during the trip, I watched on with awe and surprise as he got into ridiculous positions, showing himself to be one of the most dedicated photographers out there. What was he doing diving into the floodwaters? He simply wanted to capture an angle that no one else could match.

One of Pattanapong Hirunard's "ridiculous" positions. SITHIKORN WONGWUDHIANUN

Thanks to a waterproof case and a GoPro camera, he was able to do so. The whole trip was like this: He jumped in and out of the car, running towards the floodwaters.

Once, he even asked a fisherman to toss a net over him for a picture while he was in the water. Usually fish-eye lens means something else entirely.

In some areas, he was neck-deep in the water, and almost drowned trying to access a temple deep inside the woods. He also got leeches all over his legs from walking through rice fields, picking up skin rashes and itches. The camera and lenses were the only things he made sure to keep out of the water the whole time.

For more than a year we have been using a camera mounted on a remote-controlled helicopter to hover above newsworthy events. Most recently you will have seen these images from protest sites, it's a novel method for showing the scale of the crowds. The trend caught on – I counted seven UAVs on Nov 24 alone at the Democracy Monument gathering.

Here is a UAV photo of Democracy Monument packed with anti-government protesters last November 24. SITHIKORN WONGWUDHIANUN

Normally, UAVs are used for such missions as mapping landslides, tracking receding glaciers to getting an image of other hard-to-reach places. But the Bangkok Post first used it for news coverage more than a year ago.

We tried it in a variety of situations, such as capturing the light decorations for the Queen's birthday and when the futsal stadium was under construction. These photos made quite a splash on the Bangkok Post front page. However, the recipe for success wasn't completely worked out until the King's birthday celebrations last year in Bangkok.

A remote control, helicopter-mounted camera, controlled by Sithikorn Wongwudthianun (in photo) with assistance from Pattanapong Hirunard

The team stayed in a hotel near Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall, waking at 5am to spread out and cover the area. I was the one remotely controlling the helicopter, and I was afraid of attracting the attention of the police – a stranger walking around with a UAV not far from the King had to look suspicious.

It was 8.30am when I got the best shot, and it went viral on the newspaper's Facebook page. A former photo editor once said ''the best photo is the one that needs no caption'', and I experienced this myself with this photo.

The political protests of the past few weeks have not only seen the UAVs in action, but the more down-to-earth methods of news-gathering where photographers can be in the line of fire.

A few weeks ago photographers were injured when protesters and police clashed outside Government House. The Bangkok Post's Patipat Janthong got a skin rash from the tear gas that was dyed purple, while another snapper was hit in the left ear by a rubber bullet. Rumours someone had been shot and killed sparked dozens of phone calls checking the whereabouts of our photographers.

Even after suffering a skin rash in previous tear gas attack, Patipat Janthong was right back at the front lines in Din Daeng for more of the same. PATIPAT JANTHONG

Thiti Wannamontha, who was assigned to follow the ongoing anti-government protest, said he was careful to remember to wear his protective gear.

''I was hit by tear gas during earlier protests this year and two years ago when I wasn't well equipped and I had to get treatment. I came back to the office empty-handed. This time the equipment helped me carry out my assignment safely.''

Last month, he took a photo of a protester trying to flee after police fired tear gas into a rubbish truck at the Metropolitan Police Bureau headquarters. ''The smoke was very thick and I knew I must duck. Afraid of danger? No. I'm more afraid of not getting good photos.''

Bangkok Post Kosol Nakachol is almost hit by a student protesters engulfed in flames 30 years ago. KOSOL NAKACHOL

Another dangerous, recurring fact of life for a photographer is fire, and 30 years ago Kosol Nakachol was close to the action during a demonstration at Ramkhamhaeng University. For Kosol the day began like any other Sunday, until the Bangkok Post's photo editor told him a student was threatening to set himself alight unless the government quit. It was a time of widespread protests against the government and the student had made the threat two days earlier. No one expected the young man to go through with it – and TV crews on hand had decided to have lunch when he did.

Out of the blue, the student declared ''I am a man of my word,'' and lit himself on fire.

Covered with flames, he ran toward Kosol, who stood his ground and snapped a photo that would a year later earn him an Issara award, the Thai equivalent of a Pulitzer, for ''photo of the year''.

What he didn't realise was that his fearless action was captured by a fellow photographer and that was what made the front page the next morning. ''I had no idea what happened or whether he was running toward me or not,'' Kosol recalled. ''I just wanted to take the shot. In the front page photo, you can see me making sure that the film wasn't jammed.''

The front of page to the Thai Rath the next day. That's Kosol in the right photo, checking his camera as the student approaches him.

During the 2010 red shirt protests, those who went out were well equipped and prepared for danger, said photo editor Sarot Meksophawannakul.

''We equipped ourselves with everything – helmets, bulletproof vests and gas masks – but even with all that, we really didn't feel safe at all.''

Photographers often had to brave bullets while covering the protests in 2010.

The day the military made its final push to retake the Silom, Lumpini and Ratchaprasong areas held by the protesters was especially tense.

''All I heard was gunshots and I knew I had to duck if I wanted to stay alive.''

Sarot was one of the photographers who followed the troops' advance.

Why did he put his life on the line? ''We capture history. That's why we have to get the best possible photo to tell the story. Otherwise, what are we doing if we are not telling the truth?''

Dozens of photographers accepted the risk in the 2010 final confrontation, and not all of them survived. Italian photographer Fabio Polenghi was killed by a high-velocity .223 calibre bullet.

''Looking back, it was quite an experience,'' Sarot said. ''It's not often that you will find the crowded Silom area to be deserted with just a cat walking down the street.

Sarot Meksophawannakul's photo of a lone black cat, the only creature daring to venture into Sala Daeng intersection in the 2010 unrest.

''Everything you usually see in a movie – gunshots, soldiers and rebels – it was all there.'' Sarot received the company's employee of the year award, but was it worth risking his life? ''It is not a question of being worth it. I just do my job.''

Learn from listening

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  • access: having the opportunity to meet/talk to someone - มีโอกาสพบ
  • advance: moving forward - การเคลื่อนไปข้างหน้า
  • angle: the shape, measured in degrees, that is made where two surfaces or objects meet; the direction from which something comes, or the direction from which you look at something, especially when it is not directly in front of you - มุม
  • attract attention: to cause people to notice someone or something -
  • award: a prize or a sum of money that is given to someone following an official decision - รางวัล
  • awe: feelings of respect and slight fear; feelings of being very impressed by something/somebody - ความน่าเกรงขาม, ความกลัวเกรง
  • brave: to deal with an unpleasant or difficult situation in order to achieve something - กล้าที่จะเผชิญกับ
  • bullet: a small, metal object that is shot from a gun - กระสุนปืน
  • bulletproof (adj): strong enough to not allow bullets to go through - กันกระสุน,ลูกกระสุนยิงไม่เข้า
  • calibre (noun): a measure of the size of a gun and the bullets the gun fires; the length of the gun barrel, the tube through which the bullet travels - ขนาดลำกล้องปืน
  • caption: a short piece of text under a picture in a book, magazine or newspaper which describes the picture or explains what the people in it are doing or saying - คำบรรยายใต้ภาพ
  • celebrity: someone who is famous, especially in the entertainment business - คนมีชื่อเสียง
  • clash: to fight - ปะทะ
  • confrontation: a situation in which people or groups are arguing angrily or are fighting - การเผชิญหน้า
  • construction: the work of building or making something, especially buildings, bridges, etc. - การก่อสร้าง
  • declare: to state something firmly and clearly - ยืนยัน
  • decoration: a thing that makes something look more attractive on special occasions - เครื่องประดับ
  • dedicated: believing that something is very important and giving a lot of time and energy to it - ซึ่งอุทิศตัวเพื่อ
  • demonstration: an occasion when a group of people gather together to support or protest about something - การชุมนุม
  • deserted: empty - ที่ถูกทิ้งให้ว่างเปล่า  ร้างไป
  • down-to-earth: sensible and practical, in a way that is helpful and friendly - เป็นจริง, ไม่เพ้อฝัน, อยู่ในโลกแห่งความจริง, ไม่ถือตัว, ไม่โอ้อวด
  • downright: completely; extremely - ที่สุด
  • dramatic: exciting and impressive - ตื่นเต้นเร้าใจ
  • drown: to sink under water and die - จมน้ำ
  • duck (verb): to move your head or body downwards to avoid being hit or seen - หลบ, ก้มต่ำอย่างเร็ว
  • emergency: an unexpected situation involving danger in which immediate action is necessary - เหตุฉุกเฉิน
  • equipped: having the necessary supplies, equipment, training, etc. - ครบครัน, ซึ่งมีเครื่องประกอบพร้อม
  • equivalent: the same as; equal to - เท่าเทียมกันกับ
  • fashion: a way of doing something - แบบ
  • fellow: of a person that you work with or that is like you - ซึ่งอยู่เป็นกลุ่มเดียวกัน
  • fish-eye lens (noun): a very wide-angle lens that produces a wide, impressive, but somewhat distorted photo -
  • flames: the brightly burning gases that you see coming from a fire - เปลวไฟ, เปลวเพลิง
  • flee: to leave a place or person quickly because you are afraid of possible danger - หนี อพยพ
  • gathering: an occasion when many people come together as a group - การรวมตัว, การประชุม
  • glacier: a large mass of ice which moves slowly - ธารน้ำแข็ง
  • grenade: a small bomb that someone throws or fires from a gun - ลูกระเบิดเล็ก
  • headquarters: the place where an organisation or company has its main offices - กองบัญชาการ
  • helmet: a strong hard hat that covers and protects the head - หมวกกันน็อก
  • hover: to stay in one place in the air - บินฉวัดเฉวียน,บินร่อน
  • image: a photograph, painting, or other work of art that represents a person or thing - รูปภาพ
  • injured (adj): hurt in an accident, natural disaster, attack, etc. - ได้รับบาดเจ็บ
  • itch: to have an uncomfortable feeling on your skin that makes you want to scratch; to make your skin feel like this - คัน
  • jammed (adj): not able to move - คั่ง
  • keen: very interested, eager or wanting (to do) something very much - สนใจ, ใจจดใจจ่อ
  • landslide: a mass of rock and earth moving suddenly and quickly down a steep slope - แผ่นดินถล่ม
  • leech (noun): a small worm that usually lives in water and that attaches itself to other creatures and sucks their blood - ปลิงดูดเลือด
  • mask: something that you wear to cover part or all of your face in order to hide who you are, for protection or for decoration - หน้ากาก, เครื่องปิดหน้า
  • massive: very large in size, amount or number - ใหญ่โต
  • metropolitan police: the police in responsible for a city - ตำรวจนครบาล
  • mission: an important piece of work that a person or a group of people has been given to do - ภาระกิจ หน้าที่
  • mount: to fix something into position on something, so that you can use it, look at it or study it - ตั้ง, จัดตั้ง
  • newsworthy: interesting and important enough to be reported as news - น่าสนใจหรือสำคัญเพียงพอที่จะนำมาเป็นรายงานข่าว
  • novel: new - ใหม่
  • otherwise: if not; used for saying that if one thing does not happen or is not true, something else will happen, usually something bad - มิฉะนั้น, ไม่เช่นนั้น
  • out of the blue: completely unexpected -
  • overhead (adv): above your head; in the sky - ที่อยู่เหนือหัว
  • packed: crowded; full of people or things - แน่น
  • perk: a benefit or advantage that you get from a situation - ผลประโยชน์เพิ่มเติม, ผลตอบแทนเพิ่ม
  • personnel: the people who are employed in a company, organization or one of the armed forces - บุคลากร, เจ้าหน้าที่, พนักงาน
  • perspective: a view, especially one in which you can see into the distance - ทัศนียภาพ
  • press: newspapers and magazines, and those parts of television and radio which broadcast news, or reporters and photographers who work for them - สื่อมวลชน
  • rare: not often seen or found - หาได้ยาก
  • rash: an area of red spots that appear on your skin when you are ill or have a bad reaction to something that you have eaten or touched - ผื่นคัน
  • rebels: people who try to remove a government or leader by force - ผู้ก่อกบฏ
  • recede: to move back; to move further away into the distance - ถอยหลัง
  • recipe: a set of instructions for cooking or preparing a particular food - วิธีปรุง, ตำรากับข้าว
  • recurring (adj): that happens again and again - เกิดขึ้นอีก,ปรากฎบ่อย ๆ
  • ridiculous: silly or unreasonable and deserving to be laughed at - น่าขัน, น่าหัวเราะ, ไร้สาระ
  • risk: the possibility that something dangerous or unpleasant might happen - ความเสี่ยง
  • rubbish: waste material or things that are no longer wanted or needed - ขยะ
  • rumour: a piece of information, or a story, that people talk about, but that may not be true - ข่าวลือ
  • sacrifice: to give up important or valuable things, so that you or other people can have or do something else - เสียสละเพื่อส่วนรวม
  • scale: the size or extent of something, especially when compared with something else - ขนาด, ระดับ
  • scene: site; a place where something happens or happened - สถานที่เกิดเหตุ
  • set alight: to ignite; to start something burning - ก่อไฟ, จุด, จุดไฟ
  • site: a place where something is located - สถานที่
  • spark: to make something happen - ก่อให้เกิด
  • splash: something that attracts a lot of attention - เรื่องครึกโครม, ข่าวครึกโครม
  • spread: to gradually affect or cover a larger area - แพร่กระจาย
  • stand your ground: to not move when someone attacks you or is going to attack you -
  • stranger: a person that you do not know - คนแปลกหน้า
  • suffer: to experience something very unpleasant or painful - ประสบ
  • survive: to continue to live - มีชีวิตรอด
  • suspicious: making you believe that something is wrong, dangerous or illegal - น่าสงสัย
  • tear gas: a gas used by some police and armed forces to control crowds of people. It hurts the eyes and makes them produce tears - ก๊าซน้ำตา
  • tense: feeling nervous or worried - เครียด
  • threaten (verb): to say or indicate that you might do something bad or harmful, especially in order to make someone do something - ขู่เข็ญ คุกคาม ทำให้กลัว
  • toss: to throw something lightly or carelessly - โยน
  • track: to follow the development or progress of something - ติดตาม
  • trend: a gradual change or development that produces a particular result   - ทิศทาง แนวโน้ม
  • unmanned: (of a machine, a vehicle, a place or an activity) not having or needing a person to control or operate it - ซึ่งไม่มีคนคอยควบคุม
  • velocity: the speed that something moves at in one direction - ความเร็ว
  • vest: a sleeve-less covering for the top part of your body -
  • violent: involving or caused by physical force that is intended to hurt or kill somebody - รุนแรง, ร้ายแรง, สาหัส
  • viral: (of a video, photo, story, etc.) spread across the internet very quickly (like a virus spreading a disease) as people share it with their friends or the news media reports on it - แพร่กระจายผ่านทางอินเทอร์เน็ตอย่างรวดเร็ว
  • water cannon: a machine that produces a powerful flow of water, used by the police to control crowds of people -
  • waterproof: that does not let water through or that cannot be damaged by water - ซึ่งกันน้ำได้
  • widespread: happening or existing in many places, or affecting many people - อย่างแพร่หลาย
  • worth it: useful, important or good enough to be a suitable reward for the time spent or the effort made - คุ้มค่ากับความพยายาม

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