News and events transport

See something newsworthy? Get the footage!

OK, so you’ve seen a big problem, and since you carry a very capable camera in your phone everywhere you go, you’ve decided you want to get footage of it so the world can find out about it.

Great! This really helps activists, and can get problems fixed.

When you’re filming or snapping photos, here are some tips to consider, some based on a chat with a Channel 7 journo following a previous foray into this. Obviously these thoughts are in the context of my particular campaigning interests, but hopefully they’re useful more broadly.

Mind you, many of these pointers are also relevant to simply getting photos and video of any newsworthy event, not necessarily just one that highlights a problem to be fixed.

Show the problem. Show the scale of the issue; some context. A crowded train doorway on its own isn’t a problem. The entire carriage being packed, and people giving up and waiting on the platform is a problem.

Make notes about what it is you’re showing, and post those (even if brief) with the material. Are we looking at a tram that’s packed because the three before it were cancelled (so the problem is service reliability) or it’s packed despite everything running smoothly (so the problem is service frequency and the number of trams)? Why is this significant? Is it part of a wider problem?

Don’t mislead. If you’re aiming to get a problem fixed, your photos and video are only part of the evidence — it may be what sparks further investigation, but fundamentally you’ll be wasting your time (and quite possibly set your cause back) if it turns out you implied something which didn’t really happen.

Don’t be creepy or irritate people — when I’m trying to film packed PT, I’m not trying to film individuals, I’m filming crowds. Occasionally I’ll get stares, and I’d be happy to explain what I was doing if ever asked, but do I think there’s a way to film in a crowd while not lingering on specific people, and not giving the impression of creepiness.

If possible, be prepared. Sometimes things happen spontaneously, and it might be a struggle to whip out your phone camera in time and snap a pic or shoot some video. Other things are regular events. For the summer timetable crowding, I knew it was happening every day, so took along a proper camera and positioned myself at the end of the carriage to be able to get good shots.

Be safe and considerate. Don’t do anything silly to get a good shot, and don’t get in the way.

For videos

Hold that shot. You’re aiming for footage in a news report, not a music video, so don’t wave the camera around too much. Hold it still and steady, and get shots of at least 5 seconds each, preferably a bit longer.

Vary the angles. For television footage, they’ll need to chop up your video so it works well for viewers. Be sure to provide a few different angles. For January’s crowded train footage I included a shot through the end-of-carriage door into the next carriage. It was a bit arty, but worked well — they used it — and helped show context as well — it wasn’t just my carriage that was sardine-like.

Video is, of course, better for TV, but photos also sometimes get a run on TV, and online and in newspapers. A mix may be good, if you can manage it!

Don’t talk over it. If you’re trying to be a reporter, rather than a witness (if you know what I mean) then don’t talk over the vision. The noise from the event itself may be more important than a commentary, which can be added later. That said, spontaneous commentary can work okay.

Finally… but critically…

Shoot video in landscape. It seems to be way too easy to forget that whether it’s on the TV news or Youtube, most video is better viewed landscape, not portrait. Turn your phone 90 degrees before you start shooting – it makes much better use of the camera’s resolution.

The very worst crime in this category I ever saw was someone had filmed something off a widescreen television in portrait mode. For heaven’s sake, isn’t it blindingly obvious you’d turn your phone to match the TV screen?

Turns out there’s an iPhone application to force filming in landscape, but of course the people who most need this type of app will never install it.

More on this topic in this amusing video:

Where to take the footage?

Okay, this is easy for me because I’ve built up contacts in the PT world.

But all media outlets these days look for contributions, because good photos and video are invaluable. Contact the newsroom at your preferred outlet, explain what you filmed and why you think it’s important.

For a story to get a good run, it may be better to initially give it to only one outlet unless it’s utterly explosive (perhaps literally).

And be prepared to be interviewed/quoted, though depending what it is, they may be prepared to take it anonymously, or at least not identify who had the camera.

Does this work? Do things get fixed?

A picture tells a thousand words, but it’s also a thousand times more convincing to sceptical authorities who are likely to deny there’s a problem.

I suspect it’s rare to see a direct correlation from this kind of publicity to a real fix (as in New Year’s Eve), but often strong media coverage can be the thing that gets the ball rolling.

The 2006 weekend train overcrowding footage highlighted that 3-car trains were no longer adequate on weekends. Apparently this was news to Connex. Perhaps it would have happened anyway, but a subsequent upgrade led to almost all weekend trains running as full 6-car sets.

Why is the government on the back foot over White Night public transport? Partly because the media picked up a PTUA press release based on photos posted on Twitter on Saturday night, some of which were posted in response to a request for people to snap them.

Happy hunting!

Anybody got extra tips? Leave a comment!

By Daniel Bowen

Transport blogger / campaigner and spokesperson for the Public Transport Users Association / professional geek.
Bunurong land, Melbourne, Australia.
Opinions on this blog are all mine.

5 replies on “See something newsworthy? Get the footage!”

Geez, I didn’t realise that casual filming was so complex. Thanks for itemising all the steps and giving us some good tips.
The only other point I’d add is to ensure YOUR OWN safety while you are filming. E.g. Don’t get run over by a bus while filming a car speeding past a stationery tram. Your footage could well be played at your funeral.

Hi there.

Just wondering what your personal take on filming peoples faces is?

You mention that you try not to linger on them for too long, but I still feel its unacceptable. I have had an intervention order out against someone in the past, and if they saw my face, my uniform on national TV or newspaper, they would know where I worked potentially placing me in danger.

I do everything in my power to stop from being on video/photo, placing things in front of my face, walking around, turning away, but sometimes you don’t notice a camera pointing at you, after all, every cashed up moron has a phone to go happy snapping with.

I also feel very uncomfortable that you are actually encouraging this. I’m sure I’m not the only person with hesitations on being videoed/photographed. Regardless of the order, I would be absolutely livid if my face was put on a news network as part of a public transport campaign (or any other for that matter) and since 20/30 people may be in any one shot, that’s a lot of people who may not share your wish to be a media slut.

I am interested to hear your feedback,
Kind regards

@Roger, anybody can shoot newsworthy stuff if they’re in the right place at the right time. I guess my tips are about making it a bit better/easier for the news outlets to use.

@Cindy, you lost some of my sympathy when your comment descended to insult.

The legal position appears to be: “There are no publicity or personality rights in Australia, and there is no right to privacy that protects a person’s image.” – see:

That said, if I was ever asked not to film/take someone’s photo, I’d comply. I’ve never been asked. I’d hope that someone who had a serious reason for not having their photo taken would ask.

Metro used to have a set of rules on their web site about non-commercial photography. It only seemed to cover photos on stations, not on trains. (It also had some very sensible safety guidelines.) But they’ve since removed this and only now have information covering students and commercial photography:

I recently took some photos where general public were caught up in the photo, face on. I try to wait for a gap where no one is too close to the lens, but sometimes it impossible. Oddly the very next day I realised I was being taken in someone else’s photo, but I was incidental to the shot.

It is a fairly modern problem because of plethora of people taking photos, but not a new problem.

I feel inclined to take photos of overcrowded trams and the people left behind in St Kilda Road in the evening peak, but is there really a point? E class trams may be for everyone, but not for the busiest tram street in the world, as I recently heard.

After seeing an incident at Huntingdale station last night, I can safely say the last thing I wanted to do was whip out a phone and film it. I just wanted to get out of there.

I’m with Cindy, and I’d be asking people if I can photograph them, rather than waiting for people to ask you not to photograph them. Perhaps I’m made differently.

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