Fight, or Light?


On the most recent This Week in Photography show we tackled a topic that lately has been coming up more and more. Photographers covering a disasters like Haiti, Katrina, 9/11, the southern California fires, etc. have to ask themselves – when is it appropriate to put the camera down and help your fellow man?

Or, is documenting the situation, and helping with your skills behind the camera – documenting history, the correct course of action?

Of course there is no “correct” answer. Military photographers in active war zones have to deal with this question, sometimes on a daily basis. Imagine needing to make the choice between shooting with your D3, or your M16. Not getting the “shot” is probably always better than having to get a shot of morphine—or worse.

We “casual” photographers rarely have to deal with this choice. But when it does come—and you have to make the choice—what would YOU do? 

Initially, I thought I’d write this post with suggested guidance on how to handle making the “shoot or help” choice, but instead I’m going to put YOU on the spot…

Here’s a hypothetical situation:

You’re on a photo walk, not really finding anything interesting to shoot. Your camera has an empty CF card, and a full battery. Suddenly you find yourself walking by a hospital. A car speeds up and hastily drops off a badly battered and bleeding passenger. No one else is around. The person is unconscious, and lying just 15 feet from the emergency room entrance.

This is a highly trafficked entrance, but you can’t be sure when a qualified medical person will find the person.

Oh, one last twist… you recognize the person as a prominent, and important political figure.

What would you do? Get the shot, or get help. Sound-off in the comment area below.

  • Mark

    Knowing that I am not a trained doctor in any way, I would be scared that anything I tried to do might make the person worse. Thus, I would snap a few, all the while yelling at the top of my lungs for someone to get their trained ass over there.

  • Elio

    I would get that shot and then tuck away the camera and rush in to call out the medical staff.

  • Hard to say, but I think instincts would be to shoot a few frames, then provide any assistance you can. Calling for help first would be an idea.

  • Time for both I would think.

  • I’m going to say, without even thinking about it, I would help the person get some medical attention. Political figure, bum, Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods even, doesn’t matter who they are. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if that person died while I was shooting them laying helplessly on the ground.

  • I would have to say, that given the parameters of the question, I think I would at the very least snap a couple of pictures, and then try and get some help. That is if the shock of what is unfolding in front of me doesn’t freeze me in my tracks causing me to do neither take pictures or render aid.

  • KyleMullaney

    Call for help start moving toward the subject taking photos hoping I get something decent and planning my shots for when the the real medical team gets there. If I get there first I help with the mind to start shooting as the medical teams get NEAR.

  • Many years ago I had a choice of photography or nursing. I would do what I am trained to do, put the camera down and help the person. A photo worth dollars and recognition, a life is much more. The answer: We do what we do best and for reasons that have meaning to us.

  • I think that steve simon said it right on the show when he said something to the effect of “you are a human first, then you are a photographer”

    in this situation listed above you definitely help the person out. get a qualified professional to start helping. THEN maybe you document the situation…. only if you are really NOT needed as a second set of hands.

  • In this case, the 10 seconds it might take to grab a couple of frames could be totally worth it down the road.

    Here’s another question. Say you took a couple of frames… after helping the guy what do you do now? Do you call the news immediately and try and capitalize on your images, or do you do nothing?

  • I don’t see why you can’t tell the ER front desk and then snap shots of them helping the person. I’d recommend leaving quickly though. I don’t think you can shoot on hospital property without permission. I’ve only done it once. I took my boss down for stitches and had his permission to shoot during the procedure. The doctor was skeptical, but allowed it.

    Link to my ER photos:

  • Depending where I am. Ex. 1 in my country of origin: ignore al else and do my best to bring person fast and safely inside and treated. Ex. 2 in USA: go inside hospital and ask for help worrying that if I do anything (helpful or not) I will be sued. Taking picture of injured? I couldn’t in either case.

  • I should also add that unless there’s something obvious that I can do, like keep pressure on a wound, I wouldn’t touch them. As a motorcycle rider my biggest fear is that some dipshit will kill or paralyze me trying to move me or remove my helmet without knowing what they’re doing. Wait for the paramedics if you’re not sure what to do.

  • *Get* help 1st. (despite having an EMT background in the distant past, I would not try to provide help now, rather seek those in a proper position to help appropriately) Then while help is on the way or attending, get whatever shots I can before they are whisked away.

  • Probably I would agree with the second response. Shoot and get help.

  • I think if there is absolutely no one else around then any humans responsibility is to save another life. I would probably shoot as approaching the person then put it down and help until I could get real help then take pics once a medical team is present. I don’t think the occupation is relevant.

  • I would get help first. Saving a human life is more important to me, than taking a photograph.

  • Both. Grab a few super quick shots on your way over, check on their condition, run into the hospital to grab emergency personnel, and once they take control of the situation then document it from there on out.

  • To answer honestly; I am shooting while running and screaming for help and then when I get there help out.

  • Wow, It’s sad but when you tossed in the “prominent, important political figure” my answer started leaning toward getting the shot. History is being made, document it as you quickly head for the door to call for help. I have no medical training and being that close to an emergency room makes this decision easy. Continue to document as aide arrives.

    Look forward to hearing the discussion on the podcast.

  • There is no doubt that the first thing I would do is run in for help. In medical emergencies every second counts even the 3 or 4 it takes to snap a photo. Definitely the priority is to get help for the individual.

  • Aimee Ford

    This is a no brainer. We are human beings with cameras. Human beings. To claim some documentary privilage in lieu of helping someone in need is irresponsible and reprehensible. We are human beings first, photographers second.

  • Rob

    #9 above has it right: “I’m a human being first and a photographer second.” (Actually, I would say I’m a husband second and a photographer third, but we each have our priorities.) If getting “the shot” is more important to me than helping another living being, regardless of job, status, color or the number of legs they walk on, then what does that make me as a person?

    Looking back at the event what would you rather say: 1) “Check out this great shot I got right before this person died” or 2) “This person is still alive because of something I did.”

  • Kim

    I would ask myself, what is my intention in taking that photograph? Will that photo help do any good? Hello? someone is in need of help. Celebrity or not, we are all just human beings. If I was that person in need, I’m sure I would appreciate someone helping me right away, not stopping to take some photographs. And besides how would you feel, if those seconds spent taking pictures meant life or death. I always try to put myself in that other person’s shoes. I would NOT want someone taking pictures of me in those circumstances.

  • Athena

    WOWWW… You all are some COLD motherfuckers.

    I can’t believe that you would actually have to think about it. Those few seconds that you could be shooting could be critical in potentially saving someone’s life.

    Sheesh. I hope to never be in a situation where someone would potentially have the thought processes that you all admit to having. That’s just WRONG.

  • I would help or get help. Why does anyone need to see photos of this person all bruised and bloody. I would feel bad about taking photos of a person in such a vulnerable state. The photos wouldn’t really serve a purpose but to expose the person’s private life. I understand that places like TMZ would pay a lot of money for the photos, but I just probably wouldn’t feel right doing it.

    I feel like situations like Haiti are a little different. You want to take photos to let people know what is going on. People will help more if they see the destruction and devastation. Or even to take photos of people along with their names, so people can see that their loved ones are okay. That is a way to help and get the shot. I also think if a photographer is going to go down there to shoot photos, they should divide up their time to help and shoot photos. If they were going down there for a week or so, they should help out for the first few days and then take photos for the last couple of days before they leave, or something similar.

  • JP

    No brainer, in the scenario you gave us, ALWAYS HELP FIRST. ALWAYS. Every second counts. This is life and death, not a photo opportunity on a photo walk.

    The twist you put in of a prominent public figure, shooting first, not only is wrong, in my opinion boarders on paparazzi like actions. I have no regard for paparazzi as photographers. Leeches seems a better word for them.

  • Frank T.

    Rush to get help. It is a life which may ride on the edge.

  • Help the person. Unquestionably. I don’t think I would ever take a picture of someone who is hurt.

  • No life is worth 1 picture. I’d get/give help first. If a doctor takes over, then I may get the shot.

  • In the hypothetical situation I would have to help first, or I would have felt guilty for the rest of my life. Having been a medic in the army, and having a lot of courses and schooling in first aid from work, I am confident that I would manage to keep the guy alive till I got help. Then I’d pull my camera and shoot like a maniac when the medical staff took over.

  • I’d be taking photos of the car and driver that has just dumped on the footpath. I think if the person in question would benefit from immediate help, we’d all drop our cameras for a moment.

  • bee

    I’d NEVER take a photo of a badly hurt person. It’s imo against the dignity of this human. I wouldn’t wanted to be photographed in such a situation.

  • I don’t see an issue with photographing an injured person. It happens all the time and some of the most emotional responses I’ve had to photos I’ve seen are accident, fire, disaster, war photos.

    I’ve been reading a book on photojournalism and the chapter on ethics is interesting to say the least. There’s a fine line between informing your readers about what’s going on in the world and turning their stomachs with gruesome photos.

    The scenario proposed by Fred doesn’t seem that complicated from a journalistic viewpoint. Alert someone to his presence so he gets medical attention. If you’re not qualified to offer assistance, then get out of the way. After that then shooting photos shouldn’t be an issue as long as you’re not obstructing the medics. You can decide later of the photos are newsworthy or if you should delete them so they don’t end up on TMZ.

    Would you consider this a newsworthy photo or a paparazzi photo?

  • Rohan Visvanathan

    I take terrible pictures anyway, so I would just forget about the camera and go help the person in whatever way I can. How I would do it, I wouldn’t know until I find myself in that kind of a situation.

  • Stuart Webster

    Medics first then photos, the action of the person being treated and rushed into ED would be much more exciting.

    Win win kind of.

  • I am both a photographer and certified EMT. First aid is first priority even if I miss the shot.

  • Just me around I would what state they are in shouting for help ,would not move them as you could make things worse.As soon as help on the scene then shoot….. If it was a UK politician nick his wallet give him a kick then p*ss on him whilst takin the shot….. (jokin guys)

  • Being a photographer is no excuse to not help during a time of need. I often think of the Kevin Carter photo of the dying boy and the vulture is a classic example He stated he took the photo but helped the boy from the onlooking vulture. It’s a very compelling and emotional image. However, do you not help the child for the sake of the image.

    Steve Simon said it best, “We’re humans first then photographers second”. Our hope our actions reflect that priority.

    As long as we’re in a position to provide help and not hindrance, I believe we’re compelled to do so.


  • dawiva

    Humanitarian efforts first in an emergency. The world has more than enough horror shots available. One life is worth more than any monney, more than fame.

  • 1) As fast as possible, make as many snaps as possible of the speeding car.
    2) Run to help/get help for the injured person.
    3) Contact the authorities to share the snaps I took of the speeding car.


  • Nico Mabaso

    You’ll always get your shots. They might not be as the actions happens sometimes, but in some situations you can squeeze in a shot or two as you are being HUMAN.

    Steve said it best when he said were are Human first. Even though you got sent there with the sole purpose of going to document a certain event or in this case a crisis.

    So help where you can, and shoot in between the breaks. There’s always going to be a break where you can shoot.

  • The fact that the injured person is a politician makes a difference. Politicians, used-car salesmen and the RTA all fall into a group whereby the photo shoot takes priority over any altruistic act. Small children and good looking babes however, would get the first-aid after I’d set the camera up on a tripod and got the cameras time lapse to include me in delivering the life saving aid.

  • As a Photographer and a Volunteer Rescuer, I would drop everything and help, you can be darn sure if something is happening in relation to a disaster or someone in trouble, there will be a camera somewhere pointing at it. I have witnessed this first hand.

    So for me it is a simple answer, humanity v’s humility, I have a duty of Care as a good samaritan, I couldn’t live with myself if there was a slim chance I could have made a difference and chose to record the event instead, that person or persons is a family member, just think of the elation on from the family, that would beat any shot you could have gotten.

    having said that, if it was a disaster in progress, and it was clearly a risk to me and those around me, I would be undercover, shooting my ass off!!

  • Chris


  • Here in Brazil, theres a famous photogaphy blog asking the same question ( I am sure everyone would say that if one could help would help, we are now, here, far frm the action, but the fact is, would you GO there if someone asked? If yes, for how much? Many people (voluntaries) who go there do not receive money from working hard to help, why should a photographer/videographer get money from not helping?
    I think from a certain perpective robots and satellites do a better job telling the truth than most photographers, and if you are not going to take photos of heroes doing the good, then dont do it.

  • If you changed this story by replacing famous person with your wife, husband, child, mother, father, (famous or not)…lying there, would you still take the shot? The person lying on the ground is someone’s son/daughter possibly a mother, father, husband or wife. Would you want someone taking pictures of them first before getting help?

  • John

    I hope instinct would take over and I would help first at least until I thought the situation was under control or people better than I were assisting. However, we’ll never know until we are actually put in the position. With that said, the images that come out of these situations are powerful, impactful and extremely important so perhaps it is important that someone can shoot first.

  • David Michel

    I agree with those that would be shooting the car if during the day else would get the plate number while screaming for help on the way to the ER desk. Not being medically trained touching the person would not be wise as I would probably due more harm than good.

    Would probably shoot a couple shots during the ER attending to document the situation then make sure I am out of the way and wait for the authorities.

    In real life would probably run for help and not even notice the car.

  • Steve Ursell

    If there is a real need for my help or I were asked directly to assist in the situation I would readily put down the camera. However if there were enough people to where my contributing would not be noticeable I would continue to document.

  • Thom

    Go get help and shoot the people helping—which would be much more visually interesting.

  • You never really know what you’d do in any situation. But from where I sit today I think I would be in shock and run to help the person. Then after everything was settled down and over I would realize I had the camera and say to myself “man I should have shot a few pictures”! I’ve been in situations similar but not this tragic that I said the same thing. I can’t remember the specifics but I know I’ve regretted not taking photos when I had the camera in my hand.

    I think when you’re in those situations human instinct kicks in and you’ll forget about the camera. Unless you have been shooting journalism for a long time or something similar, then you become desensitized and would probably take the shots.

  • Dan Fenn

    I hope I would do the “right” thing and help the person the best I could. This could be a case where seconds could mean the difference between life and death, who knows? If I decided to snap away before providing assistance and I later found out the person died, I think the fact I didn’t do everything within my power to help would haunt me for a long, long time.

  • Because I have had lot of first aid training and very little photography training, I assume I would right away. That is what I have learned. If one has been trained in photojournalism, that person would probably shoot first.

    Very interesting question.

  • I would get a shot or two, then go get help, then come back and get as many shots as I could, not feeling guilty at all.
    If I chose to go to Haiti to shoot the suffering that is what I would do, there are people who choose to go to help.

  • Michelle

    I’m a mother first (to two awesome kids, 4 and 1), and. Photographer/documentarian second.

    My instinct in these types of situations is to help first, then shoot later. Not to shoot first then ask if I can help.

    I care more about the subject than I care about getting the shot.
    Maybe it’s just me, maybe it isn’t.

  • I would ask to help first, then shoot later.

  • I’m pretty sure that I’d put the camera down and help the person THEN try to get a shot. The second the real medical people arrive they are going to shoo me away anyway.

    No photo is worth someone’s life. The other thing is that I’m pretty sure you could get in trouble in some states under the samaritan rules if you don’t help someone in trouble and they do die because of it.

  • Alex

    If I was the only person on the spot to help, then first aid surely takes precedence over my picture taking. The hurt individual takes the first consideration.

    However, if there are others who are already offering aid, and I can offer no beneficial support to that activity, then I would tend to step back first for a shot or two.

    Furthermore, consider images such as the shot student at Kent State, the naked Vietnamese girl running from the napalm, and Robert Kennedy’s tragedy in LA. In each case, if necessary the photographer should have rendered aid, but we should not over look the fact that the visual power of those pictures dramatically affected the conscience of a nation. They were watershed images that asked us to question our assumptions, and raised difficult questions we still have yet to completely answer. The media pandering exemplified by paparazzi has somewhat weakened our appreciation of journalistic photography, but nonetheless, we must not forget that there are social and ethical merits to getting some shots, even if the photographic process delays our offering immediate assistance.

  • I think all of the comments already cover this issue quite well, so I will just share the following…

    Imagine you are in Afghanistan shooting the war on terror. You are near a raging river. You see someone floating near the rocks, grabbing on for dear life, screaming for help above the roar of the rapids. Without any help, they are sure to perish. As you look closer, you notice that it is actually Osama bin Laden! Now this is a real ethical dilemma. One question remains: which lens should you use?

  • Jacob

    I would help the man. I think shooting him without his permission in a battered state would be an invasion of privacy.

  • If I’m fast enough, try to get a photo of the car and license plate although I’d probably be to shocked to be fast enough. Second, run inside and get help. I’m not trained in emergency medical techniques and trained help is only a minute or two away. Third, take a couple of shots before/as the medical personnel arrive. Photos might be useful to police, might go to a newspaper, or would probably just sit on my hard drive. As this would be a situation where I was not there as a paid editorial photographer, I would always give aid first.

  • thinking about i know i would help but when i came to pick my camera gear up someone in the uk would have stolen it!!!!

  • I would help the person first by going into the hospital and alerting someone that someone is outside unconscious and needs help.

  • Jim

    I am not sure what I would do in a situation like that but would hope the old military training would kick in and I would be willing to help a person in need before I would try to get a shot of them.
    I don’t think you have to be a train medical person to help and so many times holding a hand is the greatest help of all.

  • My answer is one must assess the situation each time. If your think you can help, that your help might save life, a helping hand is more important than an image. I would have to feel content I acted responsibly in my behavior in the end of the day. I would not like to have an image worth a million, knowing that I could have saved or helped saving someones life, if I had put the camera aside.

  • Kitty Mason

    First do no harm – to the injured person or yourself. One of the first things you learn in classes to become a medic, EMT or just CPR certified is “Is the scene safe?”

    Shoot a couple of shots of the fleeing vehicle to share with the police later, then while yelling for help, do what you can. If you aren’t medically trained to help, you need to get someone who is. As an EMT I don’t have a duty to act unless I’m working but as a human being/good samaritan, if I’m first on a scene and the scene is safe, I always stop at accidents, check on people who’ve fallen in a store or help a choking person in a restaurant, etc. I reach first for any medical gear I happen to have on me, not my camera. And I start asking lookie loos to get help.

    I’d love to get a shot but not at the expense of someone losing their life. It takes only seconds to call 911, yell into the ER, or send someone else for help. It can also take only seconds for someone to die right in front of you. It’s a horrible feeling to have someone die in your arms but I take comfort in the thought that they didn’t die alone. It might not be documented in a photo, but it will be documented for life in my head.

  • I have to make sure the person is okay before taking my first shot. Then when person is out of danger, slip my business card in his pocket and start taking pictures!

  • A tragic story must be told to the world first; and the most effective way to tell a story is with images. After the story is told, the goodness and compassion of human-kind will follow naturally.

    As a professional photographer, your role is to tell the story.

  • brian g

    Having been in a roughly similar situation I would snap pics of the leaving vehicle while I was trying to memorize the license plate number. Then I might further observe the condition of the person to see what might be the next course of action. If they were obviously battered as you say I’m sure I’d be yelling for help the whole time everything was going on.

    BTW my situation happened around 8 years ago and to this day, I still get mad thinking about how the autofocus on the older digital cameras sucked.

  • I would make sure the person got help first by going into the hospital and getting help and then snap pictures.

  • i read on a book of robert capa the same question (and you know his story, i guess)

    i think humanity should be come first of all, always
    in these case “shot” could be seem just as speculation
    and i wouldn’t like at all, definetely !!!

  • The obvious answer to me… you’ve just witnessed a crime. Shoot the information (car plate etc) then run to see what you can do.

    History shows that documentation is important.

  • Chris

    I have no medical training, get the shot.

  • i would probably drop the camera and run inside to get help… then later wish that i had grabbed the shot right before i dropped the camera…

  • Why can’t you do both? You’re not a qualified medical professional – and taking a shot doesn’t take forever and a day – it’s only a few seconds. Take the photo(s) and then see if you can find someone qualified to help medically.

    The flip side is that if this is a political figure, and you try to help but end up not doing something right (CPR, etc.) you could be held liable. I know a doctor that is hesitant to put himself out there due to threat of litigation when he is not officially “on call”…

  • Randy Corgan

    Your first responsibility is to either provide help if you can or get help for another human being. Once help arrives and you are not needed to assist in the first aid then it is appropriate to start shooting. Once we start to believe our profession or hobby is more important that providing assistance to an injured person we need to step back and take hard look our values.

  • Calvin Bartram

    No question at all I would take a few shots then get him/her up and into ER before anyone else could get the shot. The money i could earn from a picture like that would put my daughter through University. Its not even as if its a real person its a polititian after all you wouldn’t waste your time rescuing pond scum would you? Seriously though I really would take the shot it only takes a few seconds and you can relax about finances for a while.

  • My first priority would be to get help for the person, but honestly if I noticed a car drop someone off like that and bolt, I’d probably take a few shots of the car. Wouldn’t think to take any of the person.

  • Gavin

    Depends on so many things.
    In the uk the law states I have no ‘duty of care’.
    As such i would use the following logic.
    If I liked them I would help them.
    If I didn’t I wouldn’t.
    Above this I would not touch them for fear of implication. I have no faith in the police to ensure I’m not implicated.
    In this particular situation I would try to photo the car dropping off. I would then take a couple of photos of the person. I would then run in and call for someone.

  • Kelly Carmichael

    I have been in situation a few times while shooting traffic accidents in Oregon. First and foremost is the safety of you and others around. After medical and/or emergency personnel were on the scene I was then consciously able to go in and photograph the incident.

  • Chris Georgen

    1. Dial 911
    2. Help if your help would be worthwhile
    3. Document

  • Jeff F

    I would first try to get pictures of the vehicle, if possible, to help the authorities out.

    If things happened so quickly that I would not be able to do so, my first priority would be to get help. I only know the basics of first aid, so I would not be any help providing help myself and would most likely cause more harm.

    Once the individual is getting medical treatment, I would then try to take a few shots of the scene.

  • Since I am not trained as a medical professional or search and rescue person, I would be very reluctant to lead the charge to rescue. But, I would not hesitate to volunteer my services to the extent that I am capable, and follow the instructions of trained people to assist. While I love photography and would shoot as much as I could before volunteering, I do feel the saving of human life is more important than a photo.

  • I would run into the emergency room and get help. You don’t want to be the guy who stood there and let someone else die in front of you. If I was so inclined I would take a few shots of the emergency personnel helping the guy.

  • In this particular scenario, where my timely actions could actually make a difference, I think I would run inside and alert the people inside that there was a badly injured man laying outside the entrance.

    Once the medical team had arrived outside, I would have a somewhat difficult decision to make. If the person’s face was visible without showing the extent of their injuries, I might snap a photo, If their face was pretty beat up, I might save them the embarrassment and shoot a photo from an angle not actually reveling who they are, but instead showcasing the medical team quickly rushing to their aid.

    In a different situation though, such as the fires, whether it’s a burning house, or forrest fires, I would not be equipped at all to help in such a situation, and would only get in the way of those who are trained to act fast. In this situation I think I might hang back out of the way of the people who need to get into the action, with a longer lens, and capture the action as an onlooker might see.

  • In this particular situation I think that a lot of people have it right – alert the rescue personnel first. Photography should always come second (or third, fourth, fifth …). I don’t think it’s wrong to photograph something like that but it should never take priority.

  • I tend to always lean on the side of helping your fellow man. There are plenty of times to take photos. We don’t get as many chances to help each out.

  • Jesus Inclan

    It takes a strong person not to want to help. But if you are working for some agency you must put your feelings aside. This is a difficult choice. On the other hand if you are just a tourist with a camera you should do something. Especially if you are an American with a lot to be thankful for!!

  • Prioritize. Can I make a difference in that instant? Would the 5 seconds to grab a few frames change the outcome? I’d probably shoot a few on the way to the victim and then do whatever I could to help.

  • Jim

    As I listened to the discussion I couldn’t help but try to put myself in that situation – in my mind, of course. It would be s struggle for me – I am afraid (probably not the correct word) the immediacy of the situation would cause my compassion to be shown by putting the camera down and join in the digging. The side of me that wants to document for the world would keep telling me to pick up the camera – and I would probably end up doing some of both.

  • Tom

    I liked the idea of getting the details on who callously dropped the person off.
    Pictures be damned…

    weird situation though

    That said: Picture(s) changed my life are many
    1. Child in VIetnam after napalm Life Magazine
    2. Shooting the VC in the head
    3. JFK… enough
    4. I could go on… Pictures on

    Has anyone seen this page? Tell me it doesn’t change your heart. Pictures are like music and literature if taken in context.

  • Lynda

    How could anyone say they would shoot first and then help? Have we lost all empathy? Is that the choice you would want a photographer to make if the person on the ground is you? Or someone you love? Pleeaaasssse! You can’t be serious. The photos you mentioned that changed the world were not taken in “help or shoot” situations. They were taken when nothing else could be done (with the possible exception of the child hit by napalm).

    I have been deeply disturbed by some of the live reporting from Haiti, especially early on. How can anyone justify shoving a camera into a crowd desperately digging to say someone? They should have been DIGGING, not rolling the camera. In a disaster of this magnitude, there would always be other opportunities for the camera once all lifes possible have been saved.

  • It depends. Help when some needs it – put away the camera. Shoot when appropriate – this is a judgement call. Don’t shoot people who are dying or desperate — leave them their dignity. I remember John Isaac – Chief UN photographer saying: he saw a woman and her dying baby in Ethiopia on the roadside. It was a great shot that would be splashed on the front page all over the world. He did not take that shot. He stopped, put away his camera and got her the help she needed — and let her mourn the loss of her baby, away from the prying eyes of the world.

  • This scenario allows a professional photographer to be able to shoot and help. It would be very easy to pop a few frames while moving to aid the victim. On a side note if one ever find themselves in a situation where they need to fight. A nicely constructed tripod comes in awfully handy.

  • Part of the photographer’s help and contribution to the situation is to continue to photograph and document the situation to help prevent future problems. I believe most photographers could make any emergency call first, provide life saving precautions that any reasonable emergency or good samaritan should provide and continue to document and photograph the event in a professional and respectful way.

  • My guiding photographic philosophy: do the right thing- human first; photographer second. Different for everybody…

  • The thought of potentially sacrificing human life for the sake of posterity seems pretty cold to me.

    These kinda questions say more about the person asking them then the people they are designed to help.But if you want the short answer..

    “Ask the victim you are shooting if you should put the camera down and help.”

    R.P. Piper

    “If you think your pictures are great you’re not trying hard enough”

  • Clearly, there is only one option:

    – Setup wireless flashes and triggers
    – Drag the body so that it is in an fashionable pose
    – Take a few hundred photos of it, maybe changing outfits and makeup a couple times to be sure
    – Be careful not to get blood on the seamless
    – Take the photos home, and HDR the ever living crap out of them until they look like something Thomas Kinkade would think looks retarded
    – Upload to flickr
    – Call hospital.

  • RIP

    If it was a person from the Washington I may just find away to give them the same medical plan they are trying to give us. Kick’em to the curb.

  • Hb

    I agree with the comment above. How can any one even think of getting camera gear out at a moment like that!

    Amateur or casual – does it take more than an iota of humane feelings to urge you to help that person before clicking his picture.

  • emanro

    If you are going to be just one more pair of hands helping along with others (distributing food, medicines, etc.) probably you could do more to help by getting the message of extreme need these people have out to the world with your photography.
    But if there’s any way you could actually save a life, bring comfort to one that’s suffering or make a significant difference, even for one person, THAT’s what you should be doing.

  • It is a fine line which should be re-considered each time depending on situation and how serious it is… at least this is how I look at it.

  • get help…with no question.

  • I agree with Galbraith

  • Zoran

    If your trained in first aid by all means help, and if the moment arises take a shot or 2, if not what can you do, other than yell for help and do what you do know and capture the event.
    Look at Steve Simon’s Rwanda pics.
    The helplessness makes others who would not normally see the plight possibly offer their capable assistance.

  • jgive

    The documentary War Photographer answers this very well. James is great. He begs for a mans life who is being beaten, because he is invested in the humanity of what he does. If your doing documentary or photojournalism, you do it because you care about ppl. If you can sit and take photos of ppl and not help when they need or you can help in some small way, you should choose a diff. career. Do fashion so when a model falls you are there to laugh and shoot away.


  • I would have to get help first yelling for staff assistance when you see reaction to this get your ass back out to get the shots, it would be much more dramatic with people hurrying to the scene anyway.

  • Without question, ditch the camera and help out. It doesn’t matter who the injured is. In this situation, your fellow man must come first.

  • Brian

    I find it somewhat depressing that this is something that needs to be discussed. As many others have said, we are human beings first and photographers second. My first instinct will always be to offer any kind of help that I can. Getting the shot will always come second. It makes me sad to know that other photographers don’t think this way.

  • Jeff

    Help out. That’s the only choice.

  • Steven

    If your assistance is the difference between success or failure, you drop the camera and help. If your assistance is not of dire consequence, I think it’s important to document the event, and then lend a hand.

  • Well, I guess that depends on who the politician is. If it is someone I don’t like I would probably take a picture first, maybe several pictures. Maybe a complete 16GB CF card full, you know get the magic hour at both ends of the day… then go into the ER room to tell them that they need to clean up the ER driveway.

    Just kidding of course. I would tell the ER staff and then take some pictures as they help the person. I still wouldn’t vote for them in the next election. No sympathy vote here.

  • Marty

    First: Do no harm… if you don’t know what you are doing.. go get help. Find someone that knows what to do. It is a REAL mistake to move an injured person if you do not know how. Qualified help is so close in this situation that it would be a crime not to go get it. As far as taking a photo first???? GET A LIFE!

  • Ralph Berrett (FullMetalPhotographer)

    I worked as a newspaper photojournalist for over 17 years. I covered the Northridge Quake, one the largest car wrecks in California involving, 75 cars and 14 deaths and more murders, and T/As than I care think about.

    I am not bragging but giving my background for this situation.

    In the case you mentioned. As I walked up to the victim I would be motoring out. There are a couple of reasons. The scene you mentioned is a crime scene. I would also try and get photos of the car and people involved. It would both be news and evidence (Mom was a DA). Then I would check on the victim then get help. I would also shoot the treatment of said victim.

    I had a similar situation years ago. I heard a major T/A on my police scanner raced over to photographic. One of the victims being pulled from the car was a friend of mine. He had a seizure and crashed his car at 55 mph. I got my shots, called his family and made deadline.

    Let me give you my personal bottom line on this subject.
    Scott Bourne and I bumped heads on this subject when the TWIP flickr group started. Shooting, death and tragedy jades you. The first time shoot something like that you will never look through your viewfinder the same way again. I shot my first death scene at 19 for a paper. I still remember it, see it, and smell it. You might call it innocents lost. I have sadly lost track of how many people I watched pass away.

    When you shoot this type of scene you don’t turn off your emotions you channel and focus them through your viewfinder. It is not a game or a snap shot, that you are shooting but someone’s life. I had a basic rule when shooting these events that drove my editors nuts. I always wanted to put a human face to these moments of pain. If you are in that type of situation remember the cost of that image, for the victim and yourself before pressing the shutter.

  • bob hoh

    I would always think first of the person and help in any way I could,what is more important a photo or a human being?

  • If there was no one else around to offer aid or send for help then without question I would render first aid or go for help before taking a photo. If it were me or one of my family members lying there that’s what I would want someone to do for me.

  • Photography satisfies the ego of Man. Helping others defines Man. No choice to be made. 

  • Rudy

    Human beings help each other!

  • I would find it difficult to resist the temptation of snapping a few shots as I approached and called for help. Plus, let’s not forget the legal liability issues of rendering assistance in these circumstances. Sadly, people have been sued even when they were doing what they thought was in the person’s best interest. Better to summon help and snap a few off in the meantime, while reassuring the person that help was on the way and ensuring that s/he’s not going to get hit by a car or something.

  • i think that you could get some good shots up to the point of realizing that your the only one that can help them.

  • Donald Jacob

    Many years ago, I shot news film (yes 16mm film) for a local TV station. It was quite a burning question at times weather to help out or continue to shoot, especially since it was documenting the action. “Most” of the time, police or fire were at the scene although on occasion I did stop shooting and lend a hand assisting. During hurricane or tornado coverage, it was always not always easy to shoot an not help out, but at some point one realizes that the stories our images, weather still or motion, convey are needed and very helpful. If you are trained as a videographer/photographer you might not have the training or skills that trained rescue teams have, and find yourself in need of life saving rescue, taking resources away from the truly needy. Its a very fine but hard line, think before you cross it.

  • I would have to take the shot! Then I would help the person! It’s my profession!

  • Like yourself, Fred, I was a USAF Still Combat Documentary Photographer (Det. 10, 601st Photo Squadron, based out of U Tapao RTNAFS, Thailand, in 1973-74. I was also a stringer for UPI and a number of different papers here in the States. I have had life and death situations happen right in front of me, just as I am sure you have.

    As a military photographer and as a news photographer, I had (and still have) a *duty* to capture the moment and THEN get help.

    Part of capturing the moment would be to attempt to shoot a photo of the fleeing car, as well as the crumpled body. Part of getting help would be calling 911 and describing the scene as I sprinted for the hospital to get help. Although do I have some first aid training, I think it would be stupid to try to help the victim when there is a hospital a few feet away.

    However, any scenario that you propose remains that: a scenario. The reality is that we do not know what we will do until we are in the actual situation. Hopefully, we will do the right thing, but what the right thing is depends entirely on the context.


  • Vigen

    I’ll take a few photos then call for help.

  • prasad

    Before answering to the hypothetical situation on hand, I would like to mention as a photographer or a photo jounalist covering an event or a situation of whatever importance particularly if it is a calamity, the procedure is to record honestly the event while not getting in the way of the people who are doing their respective roles.

    Consciously, if I find there is a absolute need, I will draw a line from the line of my duty and get unto the act of helping the situation. having said that, as a photographer, I should be sensitive to my readers.

    Coming to the ppoint of the hypothetical situation, I would certainly record the situation in front of me for the sake of evidence, and then get the person in to the safe hands of the medics.

  • Juli

    I might take a photo of the accident site before finding a critically injured person. Documenting the vehicle can help in a court case but I would NOT take a picture of the person injured. Closer to the site, I would want to respond to the person’s needs by checking on their condition to see if they were stable or unstable and calling for help.

  • I think I will take some shots just to be able to show and tell about it for history sake. But I will try to help as much as I can.

  • I would rush to the hospital for someone to get help and then start shooting him getting help (taking that wounded person into hospital area etc.) if the circumstances would allow for that. But I wouldn’t shoot that poor man just laying on the street and bleeding out to death… no way…

  • Rob Peinert

    I do medical photography – photographing surgeries, burns, wounds, etc – as part of my job at the hospital I work for in Texas. Luckily for me, most of the time I am taking these photos, the patient is already being taken care of.

    However, there have been a few times when I am in similar situations. That being said, I would make sure the patient is stable first. Then, I would take any photos – also required as part of my job.

    I agree with what many others have said – we are humans first, photographers second. It generally only takes a second to get help or stabilize a patient; then snap away.

  • I think the “taking shots for evidence” approach is is the most reasonable answer given this situation. If you really think about it, in this situation, you’re not worried about composition or exposure, etc. Record and assist.

    On a sidenote Fred, I would be more interested in knowing what photog’s would do given the situation you discussed on TWiP, being on assignment in Haiti, getting paid to take those once in a lifetime shots and being asked to help out instead of taking photos…what would people do then?

  • Dean Nichols

    As a casual photographer first priority would be to assist the injured individual (ie get aid). Getting the shot would be low on my list of priorities… but maybe that is why photography is a hobby and not a profession for me.

    If I was a professional photographer on assignment I would hope that I would be willing to assist in getting help… but getting the picture would be a much higher priority for me than it would be as a hobbyist. Getting the photograph without getting in the way would be a priority.Unless my contribution of aid was significant/timely I would hope that I could continue doing my job of taking photos and allow others to do to their job (provide direct aid, support, organization skills or security).

  • Phil

    It shouldn’t be binary — you should strive to document and expose a crisis situation, so that more can see it and (hopefully) do something about it. But you should not be so callous as to ignore the humanity of the situation, and if need be, you must also step in, put away the camera and assist as your important subject requires.

  • Ralph Berrett (FullMetalPhotographer)

    Look here is the bottom line anyone who said they would take the unconscious victim to the hospital, may have just killed or crippled the victim. Because hey may have severe spinal injuries.

    The best thing you can do is call for help and if there is a wound apply pressure so they don’t bleed out. The only reason to move the victim is they are in danger at the location.

    I know it sounds cold but unless you are trained professional you will cause more harm than help.

  • Pingback: Documenting The Story, When To Put The Camera Down? | Ed Verosky: A Photographer's Blog()

  • I am sure this has been said by a few, but I am not medically trained to help anyone in dire need. This is a very tough situation. On one hand, someone is dying in front of you. On the other hand, your passion is recording this type of thing. I guess I would rush into the hospital and get a doctor or nurse to help them. Maybe then I would capture the doctor and nurse giving aid to this person.

  • peter crummey

    Always take the shot. Others get paid to help.

  • Jane

    I would absolutely go get help first. Photography is not as important as saving someone’s life.

  • Peter crummey

    Check vital signs use cell phone to it’s best and wait. Interview as to how he got into this situation. Do takeq pictures.

  • Lucan

    It’s not always easy to stand aside and be unable to do anything except record the sufferings around one. – Robert Capa

    If you’re a photojournalist your job is to document history. If you’re Joe Public with a camera, it’s not.

  • Stephen

    Definitely try to help as a priority, but the first rule of helping is:
    1. Is it safe to approach
    [Seriously this is what we are taught on basic life support here in the UK, and it seems fairly logical].

    If you are a swift thinking photo minded professional who does not have to think to work out composition and lighting (not me) then I could believe you could take a photo while performing the “is it safe to approach” analysis.

    I don’t think as fellow humans we can appeal the “prime directive” of non interaction with the species we are observing.

  • Ed

    Help first. Photo ops last. The photos aren’t going to help the injured get any better.

  • Stephen

    Sorry for typo above – I meant I do not think that photographers can call upon the “prime directive” [Star Trek concept].

  • In addition to being a photographer I’m a psychotherapist with a trauma specialty. If you don’t help you run a greater risk of experiencing your own PTSD.

  • Emdee

    I’d opt to get qualified help over getting that exclusive shot (which is one reason I’d never make it as a pro photo journalist).

    Motive matters. Is the shot recording something for a reason “people need to see this” / “this is evidence of what happened here” or is it just a way to earn a fast buck from someone else’s suffering by feeding a public taste for voyeurism?

    In the wider issue, photo-journalism is essential and those “eew how could anyone take that?” shots are exactly the ones that ass-kick the rest of the world into taking notice. You help by doing what you can do, and if what you do is responsible journalism, go document those situations and know that you’re doing the right thing.

  • Zoe

    To me honestly the ONLY thing to do, is to run into the emergency room, and get the attention of a nurse to come out for help, and get those photos.

    First of all, I believe we need to be people before we are what we do, and people help people.
    Secondly I believe the shot of medical staff helping these people is a much better photo anyway. After all even if you got that great photo, and it became remembered, what type of reputation would I have made for myself by delying helping the person. I would get much more attention and fame for being smart and getting help, AND getting the photo.

    The second reason is more a justification for the first.

  • Marea

    I would be obligated to help in anyway that I could.
    Since I’m a CPR & First Aid trainer through the Red Cross, I would have to find a safe place for my camera and do what I could to help.

  • Bruce

    Help out, and shoot as the situation allows.

  • AP

    Ok, the first mistake most people do is leap before looking. Assess the situation. protect yourself first, get help and call 911. My DSLR has a video option I can hit it faster than calling 911. 30 frames a second. be safe and get the job done.

  • Scott

    First off, most hospitals don’t allow their staff to treat outside the building. So even 15 feet outside the front door, they might not respond. Best advice would to call 911 so an ambulance is dispatched. Then the best thing you could is capture the work of the paramedics at work as they assist the person. Your community would benefit from a feel good story that yop photos could provide.

  • I agree with Derrick Story from this weeks TWIP broadcast. When I was shooting more journalism back in the 70′, I had an EMS license to render treatment in case I was the first person to the scene. When medical help arrived I would have continued shooting.

  • I have in the past jumped in to help first, then though later what I should have done is… I do not have a Medical degree nor a EMT License – just a father with an active son, so I guess I can help with the basic things, and can get others that do have the training/background…

  • Dave Ewers

    I race down in baja and here in the desets of California and Nevada. I have al will in the future come across racers that have been in serious wrcks in the middle of nowhere. WE as a team always will stop racing and give medical attention and not leave until the proper ambulance/helicopter has arrived. A human life is far more important than winning a race or a photograph.

  • Ralph Berrett (FullMetalPhotographer)

    You know in many ways this question to help is irrelevant. It is a distraction from the real questions. Would you photograph such events and why would you photograph it? That is the real questions. Would you help in many ways is just a distraction so we would feel less guilty about violating someone’s life.

    I will say it this way I am a very Jaded photojournalist. So I tend to be a little blunt and cold blooded.

    If you want to get a feel for what I mean I recommend looking at this:

  • Take a look at this 2007 clip from an episode of This American Life:


  • So nice……………..

  • Lori

    all I am doing is scanning the photography internet world & found your name in the iTunes podcast list and googled it! so this is an intriguing question and if I am to give an honest answer well, I would shoot first ask for a doctor later. actually I shoot on continuous anyway so we are talking minute or two. I work in a hospital and I know a minute or two is taken to ensure proper decisions are made. I also know that a hospital has security outside the doors and someone would find this politician! I think I will subscribe to your podcast and check out your site, Lori