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Prepare Your Digital Camera to Document a Protest

07 Oct

The good people are Wired have produced this article (http://howto.wired.com/wiki/Prepare_Your_Digital_Camera_To_Document_A_Protest).

“Not only will the revolution be televised, but, as we’ve seen from the Middle East to Wall street, protests are being meticulously documented by ordinary citizens and journalists alike across the globe. Images and video capture people’s attention in ways that oral testimony cannot, and the proliferation of inexpensive, easy-to-use still and video cameras enables anyone to document potential conflict, wherever it may occur. This article presents several tips and tricks for preparing your camera, keeping it safe, and maximizing the usefulness of your protest photos so they can be used in an article or as evidence in a legal proceeding.

Physically prepare the camera

Make sure that your primary batteries, and any backup batteries, are charged. Attach a wrist lanyard, and be prepared to use it. You may be knocked around or jostled, and you may drop the camera. You can use tape to secure the battery door cover, so that it doesn’t fly open if the camera is dropped.

Does your camera require any accessory cables or memory card adapters? Consider bringing them with you. They may be helpful if you want to rapidly upload your pictures, or transfer them to another device for safe-keeping.

Camera Settings

You want to prepare your camera so that you can rapidly power it on and document activities. When the action strikes and you need to respond to a rapidly developing situation, you may be under stress, or get jostled. You want to get your camera ready using the minimum amount of time and effort. Consider changing the following settings in your cameras software:

Startup/splash screen: Does your camera display a manufacturer logo on startup? You may be able to shave a second or two off startup time by disabling this feature.

Picture review: It is peoples’ habit to look at a picture after snapping it. This is helpful if you use the information to re-adjust your picture taking, but it can distract your attention and you cannot take another picture while reviewing the picture. Consider shortening how long your camera displays the review, or disable the feature entirely.

Red eye reduction, facial recognition: Most digital cameras have a red-eye reduction feature that emits a short flash or burst of light prior to taking a picture with flash. You may want to disable this for two reasons. First, it adds a fraction of a second to your picture-taking, which means that it will slow down your documentation of rapid events. Second, it puts the subject of your photograph on notice that they are being photographed. You may have reasons why you wish to avoid this.

Some digital cameras have a feature that recognizes faces, and automatically focuses to capture them. Depending on how fast your camera accomplishes this, you may wish to disable it. If you find that it consistently takes your camera longer to focus, with this feature enabled, then you have to decide whether your camera usage is more concerned with capturing activity or crisply capturing the faces of people.

Automatic Focus/Automatic flash: It is probably best to enable these features. Your goal is to be able to document as quickly as possible, without fussing with camera settings. There are applications where you may want to disable flash (covert photography), but your photographs may be unusable if the lighting is too low.

Image size: Many cameras boast the ability to take large megapixel images. Depending on several factors, including the speed of your memory card, you may wish to shoot pictures at less than the maximum megapixel setting. If the megapixel setting is too large, it may take your camera extra time to save the image, and postpone your ability to shoot another shot. Also, larger pictures take up the space on your memory card faster, perhaps limiting the number of photos that you can shoot before having to upload them somewhere else. On the other hand, a large megapixel image may capture more detail, such as badge numbers, facial detail, etc.

Time Stamp: Some cameras have the option to print a timestamp on your photograph, using the clock built into the camera. Enabling this option is an aesthetic choice. Regardless of whether you enable time-stamping, the time and date of your photograph will be embedded in the metadata of the photograph itself. So you do not have to worry about this information being lost.

Prepare Your Memory Card

You likely use your camera for personal use, and have photographs on it that are important to you. You should backup your photos in case your camera gets lost, or seized by the police. Especially if you have photographs that you wish to remain private. It is a good idea to purchase a separate memory card. This way you don’t have to worry about your personal photographs, you can leave that memory card at home.

If you do not purchase a separate memory card, you should backup your photographs to your computer or the cloud, and then format the memory card. A good format (secure erase) prevents anyone from recovering your photographs from the trash space on the memory card.

There are many utilities to securely erase your memory card. For Windows, there is Recuva, which will look for files after you have deleted them, and give you the option to securely delete them by writing over them with random data. OSX users can use the built-in “Secure Empty Trash” feature, by moving files to the trash, and then selecting “Secure Empty Trash” from the finder toolbar. (OSX 10.4 and greater). For additional piece-of-mind, you can then use the OSX utility “Disk Utility” to “Erase Free Space.”

Finally, you can mark the memory card with a marker or small sticker, so that it doesn’t get confused with similar memory cards, should it be removed and passed around.

Return if found picture

Following this simple step can save your camera if you are separated from it. Make a document on your computer, increase the text size, and then take a picture of it. The picture should contain your contact information (name, email, telephone number, etc.). If you are really ambitious you can make a cute/funny picture, playing on people’s sympathy, should they find your camera. This works best if you have erased the camera, and the photo with your contact information is the first picture. Finally, you can use a computer to create a text file with the relevant info and save it to your memory card.

Synchronize time and date

One of the factors that will determine the journalistic or evidentiary value of your photos is how they can be combined with other photos and testimony to construct a timeline. Sometimes it is enough to capture something notable in your photo, but often, it is important to reconstruct when and where your photo was taken, in relation to other events. This is why it is important to synchronize your camera’s clock to some authoritative time source.

First you should manually set the time on your camera to some accurate time source, such as a web-based atomic clock. Then, wait some period of time, at least an hour, and then take a photograph of the web-based atomic clock with your camera (the website must display seconds); such as: http://tycho.usno.navy.mil/simpletime.html. This will allow a forensic technician to calculate the “drift” of your camera’s clock. Drift occurs because your camera’s time will never be perfectly aligned to the second, and over time the tenth or hundredth of a second errors result in an inaccurate timestamp. It may be the case that someone is called upon to reconstruct an incident using viewpoints and angles from several different cameras, in which case time synchronization is crucial.

Documenting the Protest

You will have to use your judgment regarding who and what to take pictures of. You can keep your camera ready by securing the wrist strap to your wrist. Keep alert for noise or commotion signaling a need for documentation.

But also, it is important to take pictures when there is no action going on. These pictures serve two roles. First, they help establish a timeline of where you, and your group, were at what times. This is relevant to put in context any pictures you may get of misconduct. Every so often, take a picture of a landmark (street signs are good), or of notable persons or objects, such as police officers and/or police vehicles (try to get license plate numbers or vehicle numbers).

Second, pictures of non-violent protest establish a narrative for your photographs. They can serve to rebut allegations that the protest was violent or out of control.

Uploading your pictures over WiFi or cellular internet

If you would like to upload your photos in real-time, either so that people online can follow the action, or because you are concerned that your camera may be seized, there is a solution. Eye-Fi makes memory cards (SD format) that have WiFi radios in them. The Eye-Fi cards can be configured to upload your photos directly to popular photo-sharing websites.

The Eye-Fi card requires WiFi to work, and you might not have WiFi coverage at your protest location. In this case, you can use a mobile hotspot, which makes a cellular connection to the Internet and then shares it via WiFi. Some telephones also have this feature; it is sometimes referred to as wireless tethering.

Original article by Ari Douglas, for Wired.com.

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