Photojournalism on the ground in Haiti

NBCU Academy Presents “Behind the Story”

NBC News correspondent Jacob Soboroff and camera operator JB Rutagarama discuss their recent reporting trip to Haiti. They talk about the necessity of planning ahead, including bringing several backup cameras as well as a phone to be a last-resort camera. Watch the video above or read excerpts of the transcript below.

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Jacob Soboroff: What about behind the lens? What are three things that aspiring photojournalists should know about working on a story like this one?

JB Rutagarama: I think you have to be aware — situational awareness — of your surroundings, even though you’re focused on one eye into what you’re looking at in the frame. But you have to be able to see what’s around you. I need to know what’s behind, if somebody is running towards [me]. So that’s the safety part.

The creative part, you have to really focus on your composition. What are you telling the story on, in just that little frame? And then additionally, you always have to be prepared. You have to have backup of backup of backup, you know. I have three cameras and the cellphone is my failsafe. I have it in my pocket, have two of them, and have to be able to basically shoot with that if everything else fails.

Soboroff: Did you ever find that you pulled out the phone and shot anything on the phone?

Rutagarama: I didn’t have to. I did use the third camera for the [liveshot]. And at some point, if you get to the phone, that means all the other steps have failed. You don’t want to get the phone out, but it’s there if you need it.

Soboroff: What was it like for you on the ground, being in Haiti as a photojournalist, but also as a human being?

Rutagarama: I had been to Haiti three times before. And it’s very emotionally draining, because you see the devastation, the poverty. In our jobs, we go to those places, and then you have to sort of shield your emotions from that and just do your job. And that’s the hard part, because you have to disconnect from the devastation you’re seeing in order to do your job, and sometimes that becomes a lot more difficult. You just have to tell yourself: “You’re here for a reason, you’re here to tell that story.” And you should focus on that.

But when you get home, you take the time to digest everything you witnessed, and then at least feel proud that you were able to shine a light on something so devastating. And hopefully you made a difference.