I'm photographing a Bernie Sanders rally for my school newspaper soon, and I was wondering if I should do anything to prepare. I'm comfortable shooting in crowds, even if they get rowdy, but I'm worried about getting a clear view of him. Should I try to arrive earlier (the doors open 2 hours before the event starts) or apply for some kind of press pass? I have a press ID from my school newspaper, but I'm not sure how far that will get me.

Here's the equipment I plan on bringing:

  • Nikon D750
  • Nikkor 24-120mm f/4
  • Nikkor 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6
  • Nikkor 50mm f/1.4

7 Answers 7


Political rallies can be a crap shoot.

Sometimes credentialed media get placed in preferred areas that give good views of the candidates) and other speakers.

At other rallies, I have seen the press cordoned off to areas that limit what they can see and shoot.

In the long run I think it would be beneficial to you to go through the process and apply for press credentials. The worst they can do is deny your request. The experience of applying for credentials, then using them and going through the screening process to enter the venue, as well as picking up any pointers you can get from observing the working pressers will be worth more to you than any shots you might get at this point. If there's still a local newspaper in your area, try contacting the photo department there and ask to tag along with whoever they assign to shoot the rally. Again, the worst they can say is no. They might even let you apply for press credentials through them, which would probably increase your chances of getting approved (unless the campaign is limiting the number of credentials issued to each news organization). You might pick up a mentor in the deal as well. Most press photographers are fairly welcoming of newbies and willing to help a bit, as long as you don't overdo the questions or tie them up at times when they need to be getting the shots they came for.

I've got a friend who shot for a local newspaper at a Trump rally before the 2016 election. They herded all of the media into an area with limited visibility. She tucked her media credentials into her clothes and worked herself through the crowd to a spot much closer to the platform and got some shots none of the other press photogs were able to get.

The question, though, is if she would have even been allowed into the venue at all with that kind of photo gear if she had not had press credentials issued by the campaign on display when she entered via the press gate. Although the Secret Service was screening at the press gate, after examining them in detail, they were allowing cameras and lenses larger through the press gate than what were not being allowed in at the regular checkpoints. Leave your bag in your car. Even with press credentials you probably won't be allowed to enter with a backpack or bag of any kind that isn't transparent.

  • 1
    Thank you for the advice. So I should just email the press office if I can find their contact info?
    – frontlon
    Feb 16, 2020 at 23:17
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    There's probably contact info for press inquiries somewhere on their website. Or the requests for the local rally could be handled by the local campaign office.
    – Michael C
    Feb 17, 2020 at 5:15
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    "A crap shoot" - pun intended?
    – Vikki
    Feb 18, 2020 at 2:20
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    Back in my student journalist days, we just made our own press credentials, and people seemed to accept that. You can't guarantee it, and poitical rallies may require being certified by the organizers themselves, but it can't hurt. Being that its the Bernie Campaign though theres a pretty good chance that by calling up and telling them your a student, they'll give you credentials anyway. Your kind of their target market, and I imagine they are counting on positive press by student publications
    – Shayne
    Feb 18, 2020 at 5:19

Thanks for all your advice! I went to the event yesterday, and I had a great time. The line to get in was extremely long, so I went around the back to get a press pass, which they gave me when I showed my ID. I got a few shots from the press area, then I was able to get within 10 feet of the podium, in the crowd. Secret Service checked my bag, but that was it. I only brought one body, and I stayed with by 70-300 most of the time as I moved between the two press stands. I used my wider lens in the crowd.

  • I'm glad to see you survived! ;-)
    – Michael C
    Feb 19, 2020 at 3:07

I have a different tip (from experience, believe me, South America is dangerous...). Often rallies become riots. So, before the start of the event, scout the area to get to know its precise configuration, topography, buildings and other artifacts. With this info, plan your escape routes in advance, for when things get rough. Also, try to identify unusual spots where you can shoot - vantage points that the rest of the press are unaware of. Good photographers with this kind of common sense are surprisingly rare. But, first of all, be safe.

Bringing expendable body and lenses (as @rackandboneman said) is a great idea, also.

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    With all due respect, in the U.S. presidential campaign rallies have rarely, if ever, devolved into riots. At least not since about 1860 when one broke out at a Lincoln vs. Douglas debate.
    – Michael C
    Feb 17, 2020 at 20:24
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    Unite the right rally? 68 DNC? Several trump rallies, plus mass arrests in 2004 at RNC. Plus RFK assassination, etc.
    – ggb667
    Feb 17, 2020 at 21:17
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    RFK was assassinated in a hotel kitchen after a rally, not at the actual rally itself. It was also over 50 years ago and one of the reasons the U.S. Secret Service started providing protection to presidential candidates as well as the President. Now how many tens of thousands of political rallies by candidates running for U.S. President have occurred without incident in the same 50 years as the five you've mentioned above? (Three of which were not secured by the Secret Service.)
    – Michael C
    Feb 18, 2020 at 0:26
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    @Micheal C , there was a fairly famous one during the 70s where Hunter S Thompson got into an RNC conference and managed to convince a bunch of young republicans that the cameramen where communists, leading to rioting. Its one of the most surreal episodes in 1970s politics, second only to the downfall of Richard Nixon.
    – Shayne
    Feb 18, 2020 at 5:22
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    @Shayne Still very isolated incidents, and an RNC meeting is not a presidential candidate rally with a Secret Service detail overseeing security. If you think there will be any kind of riot at a Bernie rally, I've got a bridge over some ocean front property in Wyoming to sell 'ya. Trump, maybe. Bernie, No.
    – Michael C
    Feb 18, 2020 at 16:08

As a burgeoning political photographer who just shot a bunch of rallies for the first time in Iowa and New Hampshire, I can't speak to the ease or wisdom of getting a press pass, but there was never an issue getting my DSLR and lenses inside the event, nor was there a problem walking around during the event getting shots. You will be one of many photographers working the event and the attendees are usually quite happy to show off their candidate swag and talk to you. As Michael C said above, there is usually an area set aside for credentialed press, typically behind a TV camera riser with no visibility, but the press are generally free to walk around as far as I saw.

The only rally in which I applied for press credentials was the Trump rally in Manchester NH. I was denied and I decided it wasn't worth being turned away if I brought my DSLR (which wasn't explicitly listed on the forbidden items list), so I walked around and shot the crowd with my phone, which turned out better than I expected. I wouldn't recommend that at smaller rallies, where it's helpful to have at least a medium zoom.

I brought one body, a 28-70mm (used 90% of the time) and a 70-300mm in a padded case hooked to my belt. It was a bit of a pain changing lenses but the longer zoom was helpful for larger rallies. It came in handy at the Bernie Sanders rally, which was held at a larger venue and was quite crowded.

You can see the results of my efforts on IG at our project Democracy in the USA: https://www.instagram.com/democracyintheusa/. And my personal feed: https://www.instagram.com/lancemonotone/. I'm happy to answer any other questions you may have.

  • I'm surprised they let you in with the case for the telephoto. Then again, most of my experience has been at large commercial venues where the venue security staff at all events routinely enforces "no camera" or "no lenses over 5"-6" policies on attendees without press credentials.
    – Michael C
    Feb 18, 2020 at 16:22
  • It is entirely possible that this early in the primary season the events (or the candidates) were just not big enough for strict security protocols. They were mostly small halls and education facilities. I did have to go through security screening at the Sanders rally but my camera and lenses weren't an issue. Feb 18, 2020 at 21:07

Off beat suggestion: Get a second body that does the job and that you can afford to lose (D200, D300s, D80...), and only bring that ... then snap like you really don't care.

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    Why do you suggest that?
    – Michael C
    Feb 17, 2020 at 20:25
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    In a situation that can become dangerous, why not expend all your keeping-safe efforts on yourself and your pictures, and none on gear? Also, you can boldly go into risks (eg confiscation, theft, smoke, medium strength laser pointers, needing to use the camera or strap as a defensive weapon, or there is water or paint being sprayed or small objects thrown - not talking water cannons or bricks!) that are unlikely to get you permanently damaged, but could do so to your gear.... Feb 17, 2020 at 22:10
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    HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!! He's going to a political rally where entrance screening is being performed under the auspices of the U.S. Secret Service... I'd say the drive to get there is more dangerous and risky to both personal safety and equipment.
    – Michael C
    Feb 18, 2020 at 0:23
  • Nothing scary about that at all.... Feb 18, 2020 at 11:20
  • Have you ever actually been to a major political candidate rally in the U.S.? Occupy Wall Street or Antifa doesn't count. Major campaigns with well oiled organizations employing professional campaign consultants? With Secret Service details?
    – Michael C
    Feb 18, 2020 at 16:16

Don't try to get the shot everyone is trying to get, especially if they have better connections, gear or crew. Instead try to get the shots you're likely to be able to get and get the most out of them.

Getting some nice shots of the speaker is important, but the rally isn't just about what is being said on stage - it's as much about the people that are there and how they respond to what is being said. Shoot pictures of people that are angry, in tears or cheering. Try to line up shots that have both the speaker and the audience in it.

Look for things that tell the person looking at the photos what it was like to be there. What was the vibe, how did it make you feel to be there? A photojournalist tells a story, by picking subjects and framing them. Your pictures can make the venue look jam-packed or deserted. It can make the rally look streamlined and professional, or messy and amateurish. Think about the story you want to tell and what pictures would tell that story and try to get those shots, instead of shoving your way into the front line for the same picture that everyone is getting.

  • Most of the pros will be getting the same kinds of shots you are talking about. They'll get their "safety" shots of the candidate(s) early, and then concentrate on the crowd. The ones who will spend the entire time shooting the podium are the true amateurs.
    – Michael C
    Feb 18, 2020 at 16:12

When I shot political events we were inspected and our gear left in a room for the dogs to check out. After that, we were issued passes, and then brought up to the bottom of the podium (to shoot nostril shots) in groups while the conference and discussions were happening.

Dress professionally. Hang a couple of cameras so you're not switching things in and out of your pockets (not as big of a deal as when film was here). Pick 2 lenses, possibly 3 tops (so 3 bodies tops)- a tight telephoto 85mm ish, possibly a wide/ultra wide zoom, and then a backup for shooting from far away ~200-400 (REALLY far). You'll want a credentialed press pass, so your journalism teacher should be able to write you a letter on school stationary. You might also reach out to a local newspaper and try to 'buddy up' with a photographer to show you some of the ropes. Don't be an imposition, though, as that's their job.

The campaign itself will give you as much access as they think you're worth to them in press. So discussing publication in a yearbook- an event that won't happen until after the election potentially- isn't as valuable as stating it's copy for a school newspaper discussing candidate voting for local HS kids- their first chance to vote.

Good luck- and seriously here- always know where your exits are. If.. things go south... crouch, don't lie flat. I pray you never have to experience that (I haven't). I have learned from those that did and the lessons they told were insightful.

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