How to get a national police clearance report in Rwanda

Kigali, Rwanda, by Laura Elizabeth Pohl
(Note: Currently you can get a Rwandan national police report only in Rwanda or at a Rwandan embassy. However, you might be able to get it online in the near future.)

1. Gather all the materials you need for your report:
– passport
– two passport photos
– copy of your passport information page
– copy of your Rwandan visa page
– copy of your employment letter (if you need the report for employment purposes)
– 1200 RWF

2. Visit Rwanda Revenue Authority in Kimihurura to pay for your report. When you enter the building, the receptionist will direct you up one level to the finance office. You’ll have to leave your ID with the guard at the foot of the stairs/elevator before going upstairs. There’s no receptionist in the finance office. Don’t be afraid to interrupt someone and ask for help. Eventually, someone will help you. He or she will need your passport to create a bill denoting that you want to pay for a clearance report. Once you receive this bill, take it back downstairs to the bank (for those of you who have never been, there’s a bank inside RRA). A person there will take your bill and your 1200 RWF and you will receive a receipt. Don’t lose this! You need the receipt for your next step.

3. Go to the National Public Prosecution Authority‘s office between 7 a.m. and noon, which is when they accept applications for police clearance reports. The NPPA is next to the Ministry of Justice and directly across from Parliament. When you’re facing the NPPA’s entrance, turn right and walk along the small path parallel to the building. The first door on the left is where you want to go. Fill out your application form and attach all your other paperwork to it, including the RRA receipt.

4. In about a week you should be able to pick up your police clearance report.


– If for some reason you can’t bring your passport to RRA, the copy of your passport information page should suffice.
– Arrive at NPPA as early as you can to turn in your application. By 7:30 a.m. the place is crowded.
– Check your police report right away for errors. My husband and I saw after the fact that the NPPA misspelled both our names: they spelled my middle name the French way and jumbled up his last name. We had to go back and wait about 30 minutes for the mistakes to be corrected.

What I learned when photography alone couldn’t pay my bills

helen_newThe principal leads Helen to class on her first day at a new school in Jinja, Uganda.

Here’s a list of jobs I held between 2006 – 2008, when I was launching my photography career after two years of graduate school and one year on a fellowship. They’re listed in the order I landed the jobs:

  • Person setting up and breaking down a kiddie obstacle course
  • Person slicing up granola bars and handing them out at trade shows
  • Person handing out dietary supplement samples at a food and music festival (perfect for seeing how fast people can run from you)
  • *Part-time receptionist at a dental school (quit after eight months)
  • *Full-time photographer for a small studio (laid off after four months)
  • Freelance photographer at a wonderful mid-sized newspaper
  • *Part-time substitute teacher (moved to D.C. at the end of the school year)
  • Adjunct photography instructor at a wonderful two-year college
  • Waitress (fired after two weeks)
  • Freelance photographer for a couple NGOs
    *These are the jobs that actually paid me just enough to live on if I had no other work.

I wrote this list to show that sometimes you have to take non-photo work to pay your bills – and there’s nothing wrong with that.

But when I held all the jobs listed above, I did feel something was wrong. I felt ashamed that I couldn’t make it as a photographer, something I thought was my calling, especially when other photographers I knew seemed busy and successful. Everyone says the photo industry is hard. Then why don’t we talk about what we do when the going gets hard – i.e. how we get by when photography skills alone can’t pay our bills?

If I’d been on Facebook back in 2006-2008, I’d probably have felt even more depressed than I already did.

I applied for almost 100 photojournalism jobs in eight months and got three interviews, no offers. I was living with my parents for the first time in 12 years in an area of the country where I had no friends. One cold winter’s night, when it became clear I wasn’t going to get a job for which I’d been told I was a frontrunner, I went for a 3-mile run at 9 p.m., sobbing the whole time.

“Why did I switch from business reporting to photography?” I screamed in my head. “Why did I think I could be a photographer?”

I was hungry for photo experience. I thought of applying for an unpaid internship or volunteer job, but I’d never worked an unpaid journalism job and I couldn’t imagine starting now. Anyway, it was out of the question. I had bills to pay: car loan, car insurance, gas, school loan, food, camera equipment, photo paper and ink (why did some job applications still require print portfolios???), and a big, unexpected medical bill from the previous year. True, my parents did graciously allow me to live in their home for several months (thanks, Mom and Dad!), but I paid them a small rent. They couldn’t help me financially, and I didn’t expect them to. All my work had to be compensated.

So non-photo jobs paid my bills for two years. I pursued my own photo projects and sought career guidance everywhere. That one-hour ride on a commuter van to and from the receptionist job? I photographed an essay on the commuter’s life. That video story I needed to submit for a job application, even though I knew nothing about video? I cold-called the lone video journalist at the local paper and asked for an in-person learning session, to which he agreed.

I also took a calculated risk I hoped would boost my career and pull me out of my depression: I scraped together enough money to move to Nepal for three months. I worked on a couple personal projects, published a couple stories and earned the equivalent of half the cost of my plane ticket. I felt less depressed, but my career was the same when I returned.

And yet, slowly, things changed. I attended an inexpensive photo workshop in my area. One of my pictures won best of the workshop and I picked up regular freelance work for the excellent local paper, where a couple editors helped me when they could. A two-year college asked me to teach a photo course. I still relied on non-photo jobs to pay my bills, but my confidence grew in my career prospects.

When I was living through those two years, especially the first year, I felt awful. I wish I could say I was grateful for what I had. I wasn’t.

But now I’m grateful for how much I learned, like how terrible receptionists get treated and how hard teachers work. I’d always thought of myself as an empathetic person, but my reserves of empathy and humility permanently swelled while working these non-photo jobs. I think that’s served me well as a photographer and as a human being. Also, I grew faster as a photographer during that time than any other, maybe because I was so desperate. I learned to separate my identity from my career. I learned how nice it could be living near my family, which I hadn’t in years. I learned comparing myself to others is no good. Every career has its own progression, ups and downs. I’m OK with that.

Why don’t photography programs teach business skills?

Crystaline Randazzo at photography business workshop | Photo by Laura Elizabeth Pohl

Crystaline Randazzo teaches at a photography business workshop we created and co-led in Kigali, Rwanda, earlier this year.

My wonderful friend and fellow photographer Crystaline Randazzo recently wrote about the lack of business classes in some of America’s best university photography programs. In her words:

I’ve invested a lot of time in the last five years into learning about business of photography. There are amazing photographers out there whose businesses are failing because they don’t understand how to run their businesses. And there are less skilled photographers that are making a good living because they do. I am not saying that photography degrees aren’t teaching valuable skills, but I believe that we are missing the bigger picture of photography as entrepreneurship

I think that if you’re a photographer, then there’s a good chance you will one day be running a photography business. Staff photographer jobs in any part of this industry are few and far between. Remember when The Chicago Sun-Times fired its entire photo staff last year, including Pulitzer-prize winner John White?

Like Crystal, I acquired my business skills through trial and error. A lot of error. I loved studying photojournalism in graduate school at the University of Missouri-Columbia. I had amazing professors and mentors. But I wish I had learned something, anything about business. I believe photography programs should 1) help their students understand the realities of the industry and 2) give them basic business skills to succeed.

So what do you think?

Please don’t photograph for free just because you want to go to [insert country name]

Rwandan coffee farmer by Rwanda photographer Laura Elizabeth Pohl for Catholic Relief Services

Rwandan coffee farmer. Photo by Laura Elizabeth Pohl for Catholic Relief Services.


I’m going to say this straight: please don’t photograph for free just because you want to see Malawi or Cambodia or Haiti.

“But the client will pay for my plane ticket and hotels and meals so it’s worth it for me,” you’re thinking. “And when other potential clients see these pictures, they’ll pay me to go back. That’s practically like getting paid!”

No. It isn’t.

I can think of a lot of reasons not to take assignments like this but there are three I want to highlight.

  • If a potential client wants you to photograph for them, it means they see value in your work. That should include financial value. So negotiate with them. Ask them about their budget. Does everyone else at their organization work for free? No? Then you shouldn’t either. My guess is working for free does not factor well into your cost of doing business. Charging money is a cornerstone of being a financially successful photographer.
  • You’re hurting the industry by working free. When you work without compensation, the client learns that good photographers work for free. The client will continue believing this and keep trying to get photographers to work for free until something happens that changes their mind. Like you starting a discussion about compensation.
  • You’re hurting photographers in those countries who could be working for the potential clients. I live in Rwanda, and I know of other photographers living in Africa who have been asked to lower their rates to below what it would cost the client to fly a photographer to Africa from the United States or Europe – a photographer who’s willing to work for just that plane ticket.

It’s possible to convince a client to pay you to work overseas. I know from experience.

About eight six years ago, I was freelancing in Washington, D.C., when a potential non-profit client contacted me about working for them in Laos. They wanted me to write and photograph some stories. They had “no money,” they said, but would be happy to pay for my air ticket, hotel, meals and in-country transportation.

This was the first time a potential client asked me to travel overseas. I was flattered and excited. I was tempted to say yes right away. But I had almost no money myself, and I just couldn’t. (Hurting the industry didn’t factor into my thought processes just yet.)

I told the potential client that I couldn’t work for free, but I’d like to meet them in person and talk about my 10 years of journalism experience, what I could do for them and why I would charge them. The next day I dressed up, bicycled down to their office and pulled out my presentation: a print portfolio, a video I’d produced and edited, and some print stories I’d written and designed into nice layouts with photos. I talked about the different ways they could use content on their blog, website and in their marketing materials and presentations. At the end I gave them a breakdown of my fees.

The potential client thanked me and said they’d call soon. I didn’t have a good feeling.

A week later, I was out eating pasta with friends when they called. I was surprised and nervous, sure they would say “no thanks” and I’d be disappointed. But instead, they accepted my charges. They saw the value in what I could provide them. Within two weeks I was in Laos.

It might be nerve-wracking to negotiate back and forth with a potential client. It can be disappointing when you turn down a cool gig because the client says they don’t have money. But think of how great it would feel to get paid to photograph overseas. Think of the good you’ll be doing for the photography industry. Value your photography enough to fight to get paid for it.

How to set up a video interview without all your equipment

Improvised video interview setup by Laura Elizabeth Pohl
My friend Aude Guerrucci and I were setting up for a video interview when we found out a reflector, some tripods and a set of headphones got locked into a room for which no one around had the key. You hear about these things happening but you never think it will happen to you – until it does! We scanned the office we were working in and got creative. Our setup wasn’t elegant, but it worked. Here’s what we did:

• We put a 5D Mark III atop three cardboard boxes, but then the lens pointed too low on our interview subject. Aude scrunched up a small, drawstring bag and propped it under the lens. After that improvisation, the lens pointed too high. I grabbed a few credit cards and slid them under the back of the camera. Perfect.

• Though we used a wireless Sennheiser lavalier microphone on our interview subject, we wanted clean backup audio, just in case. I stacked up four cardboard boxes (two medium, two small) and positioned my Zoom H4n recorder and Sennheiser ME 66 shotgun mic atop it, the mic pointing at the interview subject.I set my audio levels at the beginning of the interview.

Then I did what I always tell people not to do: I monitored the audio without headphones. I didn’t have a choice since Aude needed our one available set of headphones to listen to the lav audio. But I also felt OK monitoring without headphones because I know my recorder well. Throughout the interview I adjusted the shotgun mic, recorder and audio levels from my perch behind the cameras and boxes.

• We had four mics receiving audio: the Sennheiser shotgun, the 5D Mark III onboard mic, the Rode mic plugged directly into a 5D Mark II, and the wireless Sennheiser lav plugged into a second Zoom H4n. Overkill perhaps, but audio is super important and I’m pretty crazy about recording clean audio.That said, I don’t consider the Rode mic an ideal audio backup for interviews unless there’s no other choice. In my experience, the Rode picks up too much noise. However, it’s a great microphone for ambient sound. I love recording with it out in the field.

As for the on-board camera mic, I would rather cut an interview from the final video edit or – preferably – reschedule the interview than rely on the low-quality sound from that mic.

• Very luckily, there was a large flipchart and stand in this office. We moved it to the left of our interview subject for fill light.

The results were good. I know we’re not the first professionals to have to improvise an interview setup like this. I’d love to hear what others have done in a pinch.

Improvised video interview setup by Laura Elizabeth Pohl