Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Decisive Moment... The Plane! The Plane!!

Sometime, before a "BIG" news job, your intuition tells you there bound to be a "decisive moment opp" during the unfolding of the event. What do you do? What any good photojournalist will do, plan and more planning before the job!

Case History: "The plane! The plane!" How many of you remember this phrase at "Fantasy Island" on TV? :)

My brief was EIGHT super-duper Mirage fighters are going to fly pass Fort Conwallis, Penang to mark Adelaide becoming the "twin city" with Penang Island; the event is real big deal!

The planes were flown by pilots from Adelaide, Australia. They were based at Butterworth, Malaysia. The display was to mark the Adelaide Week celebration also, thus the "A" formation.

The first thing I did when I was told about this job was to call the officer in charge at RAAF, Butterworth to find out more details like, from which direction the Mirages will zap by; then I went to the spot where I THINK the planes will cross and check out the best angle. Please take note young photogs! The successful photo coverage involved planning, planning and MORE planning!

During my "racee" (rack-kee), I "eye-ball" my lens view point and decided that 20 mm is the best choice. To get a "low down" view, I removed the pentaprism of my Nikon F2 camera and doing that enable me while kneeling down, to shoot like I am lying flat on the road!

All this planning might came to naught because I still do not know how fast the fighters are going to zoom past! I suppose you can call this a "hit or miss" situation? :-)

So when the day came, there I was; looking like a bloody fool kneeing on the road with the "topless" camera waiting and waiting for that moment! And WHEN THEY CAME, they came in one BIG roar! My instinct let the motor-drive rip and rip it was! A whole 36 shots! Films, duh!! And I managed to get one decent frame!

This is one of my favorite shot because of the fleeting moment of the Mirage fighters zooming past in "A" formation and the spectators straining their necks to get a glimpse of the planes. Is that DECISIVE enough for you? :)

" The A Team"

(Click on picture for a great view! Good picture need to be seen BIG!!)

The "A" Team made it to the front page of The Star and a "Top Gun" officer from RAAF called me the next day to congratulate me of the shot. Made my day!

When Clive Carter from Australia saw this picture in a net post, he said:

"A nice shot, like the formation and the excited onlookers. I have made many trips to "Butterworth" back in those days (I was in the New Zealand Air Force at that time.) We often had exercises with the Australian Air Force - Those were great times. Thanks for the memory."

George Rady of USA was more analytic:

"GREAT CATCH!!! Another shot for LIFE Magazine. The thing that impresses me is that we can see faces in the crowd even thought the sky dominates the shot.

The visceral image of warplanes streaking overhead, even if only at play, is just a powerful image given the role of these jets in the later half of the 20th Century. The umbrella is PERFECT!!!

What really hit me about this photo was the image of the current balance of power in Southeast Asia. This was the major topic conversation while I was in Indonesian during the Reformasi in '98. With 200 million Indonesians crowded onto Java and lesser islands, and just a few Aussies holding down all that great infrastructure down under... at what other point in History would that not the ultimate temptation for some Napoleonic character in the Indon army to whoop up Islamic fever (and hungry, bored masses) to ensure that Asia belonged to the Asians, again! Would the world care?

The only thing that would make any ruthless military leader pause is the knowledge that Aussie and New Zealands air superiority would annihilate any attempt to invade. Surely one can't believe that this parade is "entertainment" ? ? ? It's Magellan firing his ship's cannons over the island of Limasawa to show the natives whose got the technology to win - if they are foolish enough to think of a fight.

That's why this belongs in LIFE, or maybe TIME."

Garry Schaefer from Canada agreed:

"This is a truly amazing image. In it lies much for geopolitical analysis as, George has noted.

What is striking to me is the juxtaposition of the beautiful (in an awesome sort of a way) overflight of the machines of death with the excited and almost gleeful expressions on the faces of the crowd below. (Yes, I attend air shows too and do similarly enjoy the sensation as these birds go over.)

As George has also noted, the umbrella is a pure stroke of perfection here. It is easy to see how this made the front page in Malaysia and how it could well have gone further. Thanks for bringing it to us."

My good friend Vincent Thian, Photo Editor of Associate Press; KL commented:

"Hi, Leow, another PERFECT picture from you,even 31 years ago you already a Superman (in photojournalism) while I'm still a baby, ha ha. Can't wait to see more of your old picture,will you show us more?"

Jimin Lai, ex Star and ex colleague said:

"The first time I saw this photo, I went 'wow'. I was even more impressed after you told me how you shot it."

But Goh Chai Hin, who is now a super shooter for AFP in Beijing and once my rookie student in The Star, Penang; gave the most poignant tongue-in-cheek praise...hee hee

"I've seen this picture before, on the wall of the old photo room in Penang Star, when I was a rookie there in the good old days.
I remembered staring at that picture during one of the late shifts, as I rest my legs on top of your desk, and saying "Damn, that old man is good,"

Well looking at it again, all I can say is "Damn, that really old man is really good! Thanks for the memory and the inspiration."

What! No famous Last Words?


Famous Last Words:

To capture the UNEXPECTED, well; decisive moment shots are often than not, ALWAYS UNEXPECTED... you must have your camera READY for the unexpected.

For me, I always have a wide lens on the camera. 20 mm is my favorite lens on my forever "young" Nikon F3P (those years with The Star). Since I was using Canon EOS 1n while working for the other papers, their 14 mm f2.8 became my prime lens. Alas that lens cost so much money that I cannot afford one now!

When I get send to a news job I always try to visualise what lens will be most effective for the job and in this instance the 20 mm pay off effectively.

Remember, a little preparation can mean getting or missing your shot!


heather said...

ha ha.. I can imagine you lying down and with your camera! How nerve wracking, not knowing exactly how fast the planes would be,I mean, maybe they would pass while you were blinking.perfect shot..a good day`s work.That surely would qualify as a "decisive moment"

Peter said...

I've always thought this is one of your best shots. It is most definitely the person holding the umbrella that makes this image so great but the image is even more powerful now I understand the political context. I like the reference to Magellan.