As a journalist and photographer you are lucky when you get one chance. Depending on topic and conditions, there is even none. Endless talks, persuasion and permits are not unusual to gain access. These hurdles are 99% human made, whether it’s you or the people controlling the access.
If you don’t have a specific assignment I recommend to not only prepare for one topic but have some plan b’s and c’s. Even you have that official permit (and the permit for the permit), it still can get rejected and you won’t be able to do your story like you imagined. Of course there will be opportunities having the right people around you, however you must stay flexible all the time. This is not photography specific, it is part of the experience when travelling in hard to visit places. But not only, it’s actually part of every project, even if the access is super easy.
In Kolkata, when I did Kumartuli, a place that is very easy to walk around and most people are very welcoming, it took me over a week to get the shot I wanted. Some things only happen once a day for a few seconds, like e.g. when workers bless their working place with a short ceremony. That was an essential shot for the story and it took quite some time to get it.
Never start with taking pictures – especially when you feel there could be something essential for your story. To get access you must be patient to gain trust first.
A small example from Kolkata: To get the shot from the roof of a factory I asked about 20 hosts but no one let me go up. The reason was that this means walking through their private homes. I returned back the next days, had some Chai and chatted with them. One day, the manager of a factory finally let me go up – and what a freaking surprise was waiting for me under the roof…
It might be luck. Initially I just wanted an area shot and now I am surrounded by handcrafted zombies and I have all the time in the world to capture them perfectly. After 20 minutes I was done, I almost forgot to make the outside shot. When I returned again the next day, I asked if there is more, but he refused and didn’t let me in a second time. Enough is enough – you have to respect that. I had my chance and I was super lucky to take it.