By Sarah Kerr and Jackie Zammuto

The Republican National Convention (RNC) begins on Monday, July 18th in Cleveland, Ohio. The following week the Democratic National Convention (DNC) will get underway in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on July 25th. Emotions at the conventions promise to run high and large numbers of protesters are expected in both cities. To help activists who are planning on filming the protests or around the events, WITNESS has put together some tips to keep in mind before, during, and after you film at the RNC or DNC. These tips are adapted from our resources on filming protests and police abuse including our tip sheets on:

Filming the Police in the USA

Filming in Teams: Protests, Demonstrations, Rallies

10 Tips for Filming: Protests, Demonstrations, and Police Conduct

Our allies at the Committee to Project Journalists also just published “Be prepared: steps to staying safe while covering the US political conventions.” While this guidance is aimed primarily at journalists, there is a lot of similar guidance to our own and the tips make sense for any activist to keep in mind. 

Before Filming

Know your rights

It is legal to film police in the United States, as long as you don’t interfere and comply if you’re told to back up. Exercising your rights while respecting officers’ requests can be a balancing act; look to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), The National Lawyers Guild (NLG), The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), or local copwatchers for guidance.

Prepare your equipment/protect your phone

Video takes up lots of space, so pay attention to how much storage is available on your device. Make sure you have a password/passcode on your phone (not a Touch ID). This is essential for protecting phones and videos from searches under the Fifth Amendment. In addition, having auto backup can save footage to the cloud if it’s lost, deleted, or confiscated. Be aware that the police can’t search your phone without your consent or a warrant, but they can take it as evidence. And finally, make sure to set the date and time on your phone or camera.

Have a plan and work in teams

Make a plan for filming and consider working with a team. Think about the intended audience you are filming for and what shots you want to capture. Then, discuss and establish the roles of each team member. Assess the risks associated with each role, such as arrest or injury. Confirm that the filmers accept these risks. Develop an emergency plan in case violence breaks out or a team member is injured. Determine how the team will communicate, e.g., by SMS or walkie talkies.

During Filming

Look out for each other

Have a partner help keep you safe and watch for important situations to document. If your partner has a camera, try to get separate angles of the same incident. Try to keep each other in view. If you are at risk of arrest and want to keep filming, consider giving media cards to a friend who can guard it and replace with an empty card.

Capture details

When safe, document the details of an arrest or violence by filming the identities of individuals involved, the surrounding crowd, injuries, or nearby vehicles. Contextualize details by narrating the incident as you film.

Film continuously

If possible, attempt to film continuously during an incident or after an incident, even while you change positions, locations and shots. This will help show the space you are in and what is or has happened.

Hold camera steady

Hold shots for a minimum of 10 seconds. Keep the camera steady and move it very slowly when changing your position. Avoid jerky movements and zooming.

Consider Livestreaming

Using livestreaming apps like Periscope and Facebook Live can be an effective way to immediately reach an audience with your footage. After filming you can download your livestreamed broadcast and preserve your footage for future use.

After Filming


No matter what method you use, remember to archive and preserve your footage. You never know when your footage may be useful – it could be in the present or 5 or 10 years from now. For more information on how to get started with archiving, check out our Activists’ Guide to Archiving Video.

Think before sharing

Think about how your video can make an impact, and how you can protect yourself and those you film. Instead of immediately uploading to social media, consider first going to a lawyer, the victim or their family, or local activists. If you are interested in uploading your footage online, follow our best practices for uploading eyewitness video to help ensure your video can be easily verified by others.

For additional resources on filming, visit our training library and our WITNESS Media Lab project on filming the police in the United States.

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