Award-winning photographer Luis Sinco of the Los Angeles Times knows first-hand how risky his profession can be. He was embedded with a Marine unit in 2004 during some of the heaviest fighting in Iraq; one of his photos from that battle was published around the world.
Today, young photographers who want to cover the war often ask his advice, and Sinco doesn’t mince words. “Start your career somewhere else,” he told a young woman at last week’s SPJ convention. “If you’re a freelance photographer, you can’t get insurance to go to Iraq. You could lose your arm, and then you’re not going to be a photographer.” Besides, he says, if you don’t have insurance the military will charge you for any medical care provided, which could be tens of thousands of dollars.
Sinco tells the sobering story of a young woman who went to Iraq for two weeks to shoot photos for an agency. Sinco says he warned her not to go out on routine patrols, but she did it anyway and “she got her face rearranged.” The photo agency, he says, owed her nothing.
“Get experience before you go to Iraq or Afghanistan,” he told the photographer at SPJ. “Get to a big city, if conflict is what you want to do, and get your experience at home.”