Alex Kühni

Photojournalism | Last Updated: January 7, 2021

war photojournalist camera gear

I’m a photojournalist based in the Swiss capital Bern, where I do the usual photographers “hustle” to get food on the table. My passion however, lays with traveling, documenting conflicts and social issues.

Before 2015 I worked in Kyrgyzstan, Gaza, Lebanon, Cambodia, North Korea and the Ukraine. When ISIS took over vast parts of northern Iraq in summer 2014 I decided to make this unfolding war the center of my work.

Between mid 2015 and the Iraqi Army’s recapture of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, in July 2017, I traveled to the region to cover the fighting countless times. Most of my time in Iraq I spent embedded with either the Kurdish Peshmerga or different branches of the Iraqi Armed Forces. During the 9 months of brutal street-to-street battles to recapture Mosul, I was embedded four times with Iraqi troops fighting the madness of urban warfare.

I view camera gear as tools, enabling me to visually document a story. I choose the gear I use for war journalism based on weight, location and versatility. I also consider how the equipment will produce visual continuity. Being in my mid-thirties and relatively fit, normally weight wouldn’t be a huge factor. However, body armor and the merciless heat in northern Iraq made the issue more important.

Normally I would work with fixed focal lengths: 24mm/35mm/85mm, taking about 80 percent of the shots in 35mm. But during the battle for Mosul I often found myself in narrow shooting situations with little time to frame or react. Therefore, I made a compromise between fixed focal length lenses and zoom. I used the Tamron SP 15-30mm f/2.8 Di VC USD at the wide end on a Nikon D5 and the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art on a Nikon D810 (now replaced with a Nikon D850).

The third lens, a Nikon 85mm f/1.8G mostly stayed in my Newswear Small Fanny Pack. The Newswear products are amazing, and in my opinion tailored for photojournalism. I attached a black Peak Design Field Pouch to the fanny pack to hold a Nikon SB-700 speed light.

Of course, personal safety is key working in conflict, among the biggest threat in Mosul were mortars and IEDs. I have used the same body armor since the first time I set foot into a war zone, a VestGuard PRESS Body Armour NIJ, with level VI ceramic plates. Fortunately, they have never been tested so far. VestGuard is a wonderful small company outside London. I visited them many years back and they helped me pick and fit the right model for my size and type of work. The ballistic helmet I wear is the standard Swiss Army model, which I kept from my own time serving.

To protect my eyes, I have Bollé tactical glasses, which are both super durable and light. For all the first aid gear plus one tourniquet, I wear a North American Rescue MEDIC / LEG RIG KIT on my left leg. I always attach a second tourniquet to the vest with a Blueforce Gear Tourniquet NOW! Strap Tourniquet Holder, for quick access.

The backpack shown on the image is the ThinkTank Shape Shifter 2.0. I use it for all my reportage work abroad. The shapeshifter is a perfect carry-on to transport cameras and lenses. On location where I am wearing the two cameras on an OP Tech Double Sling, I use the ThinkTank backpack to hold toiletries, extra clothing and food.

I keep stuff like lens cleaners, business cards, notebook, pens, etc. in a Lowepro GearUp Switch Wrap DLX, to make sure I don’t forget any of those small accessories. I keep my passport and cash underneath my clothes in a Maxpedition Traveler Passport Holder.

While in the field for a couple of days in a row it’s a good idea to keep the cellphone running. Therefore, I use an Xtorm Power Bank Infinity, it’s compact and it lets you charge multiple devices at once.

A flashlight is important working embedded with armed forces. ISIS dug a complex maze of tunnel systems in Mosul and the power in Mosul was mostly out during the night. The Petzl STRIX IR is extremely versatile. I either clipped it on my helmet or used the headband when finding myself in less dangerous places.

As a journalist talking about myself, or in this case my gear, is unusual for me, since it should always be about the people I report on. However, I hope my gear layout might help other journalists on dangerous assignments.

I voluntarily work in war zones. I can show my passport in an airport and be back in safe Switzerland any time I want to. The civilians I met in Mosul with their lives ruined by war didn’t have that choice.

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