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Scenario, Would YOU Have Taken The Picture?  
User currently offlineThom@s From Norway, joined Oct 2000, 11963 posts, RR: 41
Posted (12 years 5 months 2 days 21 hours ago) and read 4476 times:

Imagine this: You are at an airport, or at least near one, with your camera. You are just doing some basic plane spotting when... A plane crashes before your eyes. Is you reaction to pick up the camera and start taking pictures of the downed aircraft?

If yes, then one could argue that it is morally wrong (sp?) to "go nuts" with the camera when people are hurt and maybe killed. At the same time pictures that are this exclusive get published world wide, and could make your name familliar around the globe.

So the question is, what would you do? Pick up the camera, or keep it down?

To answer my own question; In my case, I happened to see a plane go down the other day (posted in general aviation thread), but I did not have my camera with me. So even if I wanted to I could not take any pictures. But if I had taken pictures of the accident, would it be "rude" or "unthoughtfull" of me? If I didn't take the picture, would I be chickening out and missing a great opportunity to add an exclusive image to my collection of photos?

I think I would not have taken any photos, at least not before people had been removed, and the wreck empty. I doubt a photo of a wreck with bodyparts lying in it would go down well with most people, so I would wait untill everything that "should not be there" had been removed.

So just a reminder of what I want to know: What would you do in the situation above?

PS! When writing this I am very tired from having just gotten up, so grammar and the post itself may seem confusing at times. But I hope my message was clear.


"If guns don't kill people, people kill people - does that mean toasters don't toast toast, toast toast toast?"
25 replies: All unread, showing first 25:
User currently offlineManzoori From UK - England, joined Sep 2002, 1516 posts, RR: 26
Reply 1, posted (12 years 5 months 2 days 21 hours ago) and read 4425 times:

Hi Thomas,

Interesting dilemna!

I'd like to think if the crash was close enough for me to be able to do something to help then the photos would come second. If on the other hand I was too far away to be of any use then I think I might take the pictures. Any record of the event has got to be better than none and you never know it may help the crash investigators in some way.


 Big thumbs up

Flightlineimages DOT Com Photographer & Web Editor. RR Turbines Specialist
User currently offlineJoakimE From Sweden, joined Nov 2001, 408 posts, RR: 6
Reply 2, posted (12 years 5 months 2 days 21 hours ago) and read 4422 times:

Well, depending on where you are. If the crash site is available to you, either by jumping a small fence (or similar) or if it's outside the airport perimeter, I would make sure to get to the crash site and help any victims involved the best I can. On the other hand, if I have no way to get to the crash site and be helpful, I would wait until I'm sure that everyone on board has been moved, and then snap away...

User currently offlineApuneger From Belgium, joined Sep 2000, 3036 posts, RR: 10
Reply 3, posted (12 years 5 months 2 days 20 hours ago) and read 4414 times:

I guess one would have to decide almost immediately whether he would be able to help people or not. This, of course, depends on the way the crash happened etc. If you see an aircraft crash against a mountain, call for assistance ASAP and then I don't think there's much you could do.

The thing is, what CAN you do when a plane crashes in front of you? You can't just go inside and rescue everybody, simply because you know it's not a safe place to be at that time. You don't know if there are possible fuel leaks etc etc...

So, if I'm 100% sure I could help/assist, I'd go out and try to help. If not, I think I just might try to take pictures. These pictures could help the investigation and maybe help to determine what caused the crash etc... So, even when taking pics, one could really help to prevent further accidents of that particular kind.


Ivan Coninx - Brussels Aviation Photography
User currently offlineJeffM From United States of America, joined May 2005, 3267 posts, RR: 50
Reply 4, posted (12 years 5 months 2 days 15 hours ago) and read 4372 times:

If you are able to get photos of the plane on the way down, it would most likely aid in the crash investigation, and the more pictures you have the better.

As to shooting photos of it on the ground, that is a little different. I would try to help the survivors first, and let the crash investigators take the photos they need. I have seen the results of a human body being pushed through the wreckage of an airplane, it is similar to hamburger, you won't feel much like taking pictures.

User currently offlineMirage From Portugal, joined May 1999, 3125 posts, RR: 13
Reply 5, posted (12 years 5 months 2 days 15 hours ago) and read 4353 times:

On the moment of the accident I would do my best to record for evidence by taking photos but as others have said I would not take photos of the wreckage just after the crash. And now my plug for a situation connected with this topic, I saw this mid air collision between a Hawk and a F-16, I waited 2 seconds to understood what was going on because at that moment you don't want to belive what your eyes are seeing, and then took some shots while the Hawk was going down.

View Large View Medium
Click here for bigger photo!

Photo © Luis Rosa


User currently offlineBigphilnyc From United States of America, joined Jan 2002, 4077 posts, RR: 51
Reply 6, posted (12 years 5 months 2 days 14 hours ago) and read 4323 times:

I go with what Manzoori said word for word.

I do video, so that's even more wild in situaitons like this.

Phil Derner Jr.
User currently offline2912n From United States of America, joined Oct 2001, 2013 posts, RR: 7
Reply 7, posted (12 years 5 months 2 days 12 hours ago) and read 4298 times:

SHoot away. Chances are you are not in a position to provide assistance to anyone in the crash. Amazing how often the would be rescuer winds up being another rescuee because they got into a situation that was overwhelming (ie...citizen sees house fire and rushed in to save people, is overcome by smoke and has to be rescued himself.)

If you reasonably feel that you can provide help, do so. Otherwise stay out of the way of the rescue crews and take photos. Hard to be detached sometimes, but...


User currently offlineAa61hvy From United States of America, joined Nov 1999, 13977 posts, RR: 55
Reply 8, posted (12 years 5 months 2 days 12 hours ago) and read 4290 times:

When I was about 15, I was video taping at DFW, I was taping an AA MD-11 about to land, all of a sudden it banked and the wing came very close to hitting the ground, I turned off the camera and started to walk backwards, luckily it did not crash, but I was told by 3 people to always keep shooting and taping if a plane does crash.

I was at DFW this past summer and I saw a 763 AA doing some BIG S turns, to the point of where it did not look natural to the plane, at one point it was perpendicular to the runway (it was over the runway at that time) I pulled my camera out and started to shoot it, it ended up going around. Needless to say my adrenaline was running!

Go big or go home
User currently offlinePhotopilot From Canada, joined Jul 2002, 3142 posts, RR: 15
Reply 9, posted (12 years 5 months 2 days 10 hours ago) and read 4265 times:

Well as a former photojournalist and newspaper photographer, I can state the following from personal experience.

As a human being, you morally MUST HELP IF YOU ARE ABLE. However you also must know the realistic limits of what you can do. In this I agree with the post above using the burning house example.
As a personal note, I once arrived at a car crash 5 seconds after it happened. The car, just like in Hollywood, burst into flames from a ruptured fuel tank. Even though I was a paid news photographer, the cameras stayed in my car while myself and another motorist stopped to render assistance. Though conventional First Aid practice is not to move the victim, when the car is engulfed, you really have no choice. We got two out.... one lived and the other (a 19 year old young lady) died in my arms. Even though I have CPR and military first aid experience, I couldn't do enough. After Fire Dept and EMS people arrived, I got my cameras and did the required shooting for my paper. On a personal level, it took a long time to stop thinking about that day, something you must realize will happen.

If you can't help, then shoot, shoot and keep shooting and record as much documentary information as you can. As an example, think of the 8mm Zapruder film of the assassination of President Kennedy so many years ago. It turned out to be the ONLY documentary evidence of that event. History learned a tremendous amount of that event because one person kept the camera rolling.
I was also once photographing at a parachute school. A woman's chute malfunctioned (roman candle streamer) and I was shooting with a 300mm and a motor drive. I kept shooting thinking to have a great sequence of an emergency chute deployment. She released from the primary chute malfunction, but for reasons never known, the reserve chute did not open and the woman fell to her death. I kept my finger on the motor-drive button till impact. Now that's REALLY not a pretty sight. The photos of this event were published in Newspapers and magazines and wire-services worldwide. But as the photographer, you also depend upon and work with photo editors to keep within the bounds of what should be published, and what should not. Get it all on film. Don't try to self-edit at the time. Just keep shooting. But later, on a frame-by-frame basis you can make the decision what to publish and what not to.
You must also realize that reputable news organizations and magazines have LIMITS on what they will and will not publish. But there are other publications at the bottom of the feeding chain who will offer big bucks to publish the most obscene material. Only YOU can decide what will or will not be used. This is where your moral values will come to play. Greed vs decency. Know your own limits. While some photos of the parachute incident were published, all the photos were supplied and used later at a coroner's inquest into the fatality. This is why it is vitally important NOT to self edit as you shoot. Under pressure and stress of the moment, you really can't weigh the pro's and cons of each individual shot. So shoot now, think and edit later.

As an aside to this discussion, the police tried to confiscate my film of the parachute incident claiming "that I was in material possession of evidence of a fatality". I refused to surrender the film. It is my personal property, and no police officer (in Canada) may confiscate my personal property. However a judge may issue a subpoena and compel me to present this evidence at a judicial enquiry or inquest. I insisted that the officer call his superiors (the film was out of the camera and firmly in the bottom of my pocket) to clarify this. By standing my ground, the officer had to let me keep my film. I later voluntarily supplied whatever prints (WITHOUT CHARGE) were required to the inquest.

So in summary....
Help if you can.
Know your limits.
Keep shooting.
Never surrender your film.

Thanks for posting such a thought provoking question that makes people think about the morality of what they do.


User currently offlineExitRow From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 10, posted (12 years 5 months 2 days 10 hours ago) and read 4260 times:

Hundreds of photojournalists dealt with this very decision on the morning of Sept. 11th. I am sure there are some horrific photographs taken that day. But, as Stephen mentioned, decency came into play and photo editors had to decide what was considered journalistically relevant and what was just plain macabre. (Which, mind you, is a good litmus test as to which publications are legitimate and which are just tabloid rags.)

One morning, on my way to work, I heard of a suicidal jumper on a nearby bridge. I ran down below it to see if I could get a good vantage point. One never knows if the person standing on the ledge is a regular Joe or maybe a local politician or celebrity. As an occasional freelance photojournalist, I've learned it's best to cover any event like this that happens upon you. I sat there for a half an hour with my camera fixed on a young woman standing on a 8 inch ledge, hundreds of feet up. I was physically shaking. The police negotiated with her and eventually convinced her to not jump. Never before had I thought I'd see someone's life end, right in front of me. Until that morning. It was a very bizarre, but strangely exhilirating event. (TONS of adrenaline.) I now know why war photographers continue to go back to hot zones over and over. It's a unique rush unlike any other. To be an "objective" documentarian of such profound events is a rare privilege.

As for a doomed aircraft, I think it's more a moral imperative to shoot as much as possible for future use in any investigation. The more data to choose from, the closer to an answer investigators can get.

User currently offlineAa61hvy From United States of America, joined Nov 1999, 13977 posts, RR: 55
Reply 11, posted (12 years 5 months 2 days 9 hours ago) and read 4243 times:

"shoot as much as possible for future use in any investigation"

Exactly, thats what everyone said to me.

And if no one was seriously hurt/killed, you could always sell the pictures $$$  Smile/happy/getting dizzy

Go big or go home
User currently offlineBeefmoney From United States of America, joined Oct 2000, 1124 posts, RR: 3
Reply 12, posted (12 years 5 months 2 days 8 hours ago) and read 4230 times:

The only time I've ever been close to witnessing a plane crash while I had my camera with me was when I was at my local general aviation airport.

A Piper Seminole was taking off, and about 50 ft off the ground the right engine backfired and died. You could see the plane yaw and slowly lose altitude. Remember, this is Phoenix in the summer time with 110 degree temps, so a one engined seminole isnt going to climb very well at all. I had my camera next to me, but it never occured to me to pick it up. I just kept watching the wounded plane slowly descend toward the various buildings off the end of the runway. He, thankfully, got the engine restarted and climbed back up and out of harms way, but it sure looked like, had he not restarted the engine, it was going down in the streets of northern Phoenix. But it never occured to me that I might have had a chance at a photo of a crashing aircraft until a few minutes later. I was just too focused on the drama at hand to risk missing it by putting my attention on my camera for even a second.

Sounds weird now, but back then it made sense.

User currently offlinePetertenthije From Netherlands, joined Jul 2001, 3560 posts, RR: 10
Reply 13, posted (12 years 5 months 2 days 7 hours ago) and read 4203 times:

Sounds weird now, but back then it made sense.

Sounds pretty obvious actually. In a situation like that you don't think rationally. You do what your gut tells you. If your gut says you will make pictures you will do so, if your gut tells you to run as fast as you can you will run as fast as you can.

Personally, I think this thread is moot. We don't know how we react in an emergency situation, unless you are trained for odd situations. Even then there may be confusion, just ask any police-officer/firefighter/paramedic.

User currently offlineCkw From UK - England, joined Aug 2010, 813 posts, RR: 12
Reply 14, posted (12 years 5 months 2 days 6 hours ago) and read 4190 times:

This year I was unfortunate enough to witness 2 fatal crashes - Spirit of St. Louis at Coventry, Firefly at Duxford.

In the first instance, I was tracking the aircraft when the wing folded, and just kept shooting - I'm not sure I actually realized what had happened until after impact with the ground. Just shot on instinct. I've never done anything with those pics aside from passing on copies to the CAA.

In the 2nd instance, the aircraft had just finished a pass, so I was no longer watching through the lens. It soon became clear that the aircraft was in difficultly and a crash was likely. There was plenty of time to compose a shot, but I didn't. I'm not sure why not, but I think it was that I had some idea that by deliberately raising the camera to my eye to shoot what I was fairly sure to be a fatal accident seemed almost like participating. Not sure.

Point is, you do not know how you will react until it happens - and you won't necessarily act consistently.

On due reflection I think the right thing to do is "don't think, shoot" - there is plenty of time for moralising afterwards. There is nothing wrong with shooting an event of any kind. The morality of photography comes with how the image is used (if at all). Of course I am speaking only of situations where the photographer is an observer, and not creating a situation.



Colin K. Work, Pixstel
User currently offlineJeffM From United States of America, joined May 2005, 3267 posts, RR: 50
Reply 15, posted (12 years 5 months 2 days 5 hours ago) and read 4187 times:

In Thomas' original scenario, he was asking if anyone would walk up to the already downed aircraft and shoot the wreckage. That I would not do. In my opinion it would be better to help, go get help, or get the hell out of the way for someone else to help.

I've been around enough emergencies to know how I react. So I would not say "We don't know how we react in an emergency situation.. Yes, I had training, but instinct is a major factor.

User currently offlineMia777 From United States of America, joined Sep 2002, 1165 posts, RR: 5
Reply 16, posted (12 years 5 months 2 days 5 hours ago) and read 4175 times:

Some of the most spectacular photos of all time come from situations that would cause a similar reaction. I think that its worth capturing the moment though its really impossible to predict a reaction in a situation like that as has been mentioned above.

This photo that won the Pulitzer http://www.newseum.org/pulitzer/html/5/main.jpg caused my stomach to drop the first time I saw it. I'm suprised the photographer could keep his eye in the lens and take the picture. I think of most of us witnessed that we would react completely differently...


User currently offlineCancidas From Poland, joined Jul 2003, 4112 posts, RR: 10
Reply 17, posted (12 years 5 months 2 days 4 hours ago) and read 4168 times:

because i do what i do (EMT) i'd hae to say that i would not be taking pix but trying to help. but that's just me....

"...cannot the kingdom of salvation take me home."
User currently offlineThom@s From Norway, joined Oct 2000, 11963 posts, RR: 41
Reply 18, posted (12 years 5 months 1 day 19 hours ago) and read 4132 times:

Thank you all for responding to the thread with your thoughts. Many of them were nice eyeopeners to me, and I think I learned a thing or two.

Speaking of your mind acting "weird" when witnessing an emergency, I remember what I was thinking just after the plane crashed;

"It crashed, and only a few people in the world, including myself know it at this time."

You would think that the first thing that should come to mind would be "Gosh, I hope they are alright" but in my case it wasn't. I remember watching the tv minutes later, waiting for the extra news broadcast to come on. But the only program that was being aired was a coocking program. I remember thinking "They don't know yet"

Not untill long after the accident did it strike me that "Hey, I didn't have my camera with me today."

Doubt i could have gotten many pictures anyway. First of all it was very dark at the moment of impact, secondly, being at an air Force Base, Military Police confiscated the films of all those taking pictures of the wreck from outside the fense.


"If guns don't kill people, people kill people - does that mean toasters don't toast toast, toast toast toast?"
User currently offlineMirrodie From United States of America, joined Apr 2000, 7459 posts, RR: 60
Reply 19, posted (12 years 5 months 1 day 14 hours ago) and read 4078 times:
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manzooni, Phil and Photopliot nailed it.

I think documentation of the event in action is key. But of the aftermath is not likely necessary.

My goodness, look at all the Concorde crash footage they had prior to the final descent. That info was vital to the investigation. If EVERY airliner was revered and photographed as much as Concorde, perhaps we would could a greater help to NTSB and like authorities.

Failing that, if I could help without myself becoming a victim, then yes, I would have to.

Forum moderator 2001-2010; He's a pedantic, pontificating, pretentious bastard, a belligerent old fart, a worthless st
User currently offlineCancidas From Poland, joined Jul 2003, 4112 posts, RR: 10
Reply 20, posted (12 years 5 months 1 day 14 hours ago) and read 4063 times:

i think it depends on what vantage point you have. if you are right there and can help, then try to help. if you are further away and cant help but can take pix, take them and turn them in to authorities.

"...cannot the kingdom of salvation take me home."
User currently offlineAa61hvy From United States of America, joined Nov 1999, 13977 posts, RR: 55
Reply 21, posted (12 years 5 months 1 day 13 hours ago) and read 4054 times:

If I recall the guys who got the Concorde before it crashed were spotters.

Go big or go home
User currently offlineStaffan From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 22, posted (12 years 5 months 1 day 8 hours ago) and read 4022 times:

Difficult question, but when seeing something like a plane going down you usually can't do much other than watch it (or take photos). However, taking photos of a severed person in a wreck, I don't think I'd ever do that. I might take photos of a wreck, but not until whoever was in it is gone.

Maybe a little off-topic, but has anyone seen the documentary "War Photographer"? It was shown on TV here about a year back. If I recall, part of the film was about this thin line between what to do, and what not to do. If you haven't seen it I can recommend it, I found it interesting, and moving.


User currently offlineN754pr From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 23, posted (12 years 5 months 2 hours ago) and read 3954 times:

Having seen a near crash which resulted in the aircraft (A320) runing off the runway after 3 aborted landings I can say trying to hold the camera still is your first problem.

User currently offlineThom@s From Norway, joined Oct 2000, 11963 posts, RR: 41
Reply 24, posted (12 years 4 months 4 weeks 1 day 16 hours ago) and read 3917 times:

Staffan, haven't seen the documentary you refered to, but when my class at Upper secondary went to visit a newspaper a year or two ago, we learned about some things to do with what photos can be published and what can't. In example, we were told that the newspaper once were "punished" for shoing a photo of the aftermath from a car crash in which 4 people were killed. The photo only showed the car from the outside, but since it was possible to see the silouettes of the killed people inside, it was untasteful.


"If guns don't kill people, people kill people - does that mean toasters don't toast toast, toast toast toast?"
User currently offlinePhotopilot From Canada, joined Jul 2002, 3142 posts, RR: 15
Reply 25, posted (12 years 4 months 4 weeks 1 day 7 hours ago) and read 3883 times:

Sometimes being a newsphotographer means being "right there" when the drama is happening. It's finding the balance between what is decent and what is not. The necessity to not interfere with the rescue operations, balanced with the need to get the shot. And being fully aware of the legal rights of what you are doing. It's an interesting lifestyle, but obviously not for everyone.
Here's a personal sample of what I mean. I shot this after the car rolled over.


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