Best photos of 2018: Defining moments in an action-packed year

The Straits Times' picture desk shares the inside story of how the team covered the historic Trump-Kim summit, and highlights some of 2018's other memorable moments.

For the photojournalists of The Straits Times, this year had its defining moments, such as the Super Blue Blood Moon and the 33rd Asean summit. But nothing came close to when the leaders of the United States of America and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea met here on June 12.

It was the first time either leader had set foot on Singapore soil. "Planning for it was a mammoth task which gave many of us sleepless nights," said Ms Stephanie Yeow, the paper's photo editor.

Without specific information on hand, planning the coverage was challenging as the team could only anticipate the most plausible scenarios, she said.

On June 10, the day both leaders were due to arrive, 10 photographers from The Straits Times spread out along the route the motorcades were expected to take.

A veteran photographer of 19 years, Mr Kelvin Chng, 42, was assigned to photograph Mr Kim Jong Un's limousine as it arrived at St Regis hotel in Tanglin Road.

To get a good spot, he arrived there at 5am, only to find other members of the press already waiting. "By late morning, more than 50 photographers and videographers had turned up, not including the public who wanted to see Kim," he said.

"We were packed together like sardines; our clothes drenched with sweat, my bare skin against the next guy's bare skin. Everyone was pushing in a tug-of-war for the best angle, yet trying to conserve our energy for the actual moment."

When Mr Kim finally arrived at 6pm, it was pure chaos, he said.

"The crowd started screaming," said Mr Chng. "I lifted my camera, autofocused on the motorcade and fired frame after frame without being able to look through the viewfinder at all."

When the North Korean leader decided to take a walk at the Sands SkyPark two days later, photographer Mark Cheong, 30, was off duty but was activated as he was nearby with his camera.

"I immediately stashed my gear in my bag and went up to the SkyPark like any other paying customer," he recalled. "I managed to get close to where Mr Kim was going to walk past - it was obvious because of the security detail in that area - and it was all going well until the bar manager did a bag check on everyone and made me dismantle my camera."

"I ended up getting only blurry mobile phone photographs of Mr Kim, but I did manage to get a good picture of his famous sister, Ms Kim Yo Jong, up close as she left the SkyPark, so the effort was not wasted after all," he said with a laugh.

For Mr Kevin Lim, the photographer at the scene of the summit, it was a moment he had spent days preparing for - checking his equipment, testing his memory cards, and planning how he would transmit his pictures back to the office in the shortest possible time.

Security on the big day was "watertight", said Mr Lim, 36, who was searched by local police and then security officers from both the United States and North Korea.

 
 

"The North Koreans were very strict," he recalled. "They made me press my camera shutter button repeatedly to make sure that no projectiles would fire out of my lens."

When Mr Kim and President Donald Trump appeared at both ends of the walkway, Mr Lim's adrenaline surged. "All that preparation and anticipation led me to this moment," he said. "It was pretty surreal when they shook hands for the first time, and I was not more than 20m away."

As this was happening, other Straits Times photographers were getting into position to cover the leaders' departures.

Mr Ong Wee Jin, 35, who was waiting with his cameras outside the Shangri-La Hotel, where Mr Trump was staying, was redirected to get a photograph of his plane, Air Force One, taking off from Paya Lebar Air Base. He raced to a block of flats in Sengkang overlooking the air base and arrived, unbeknown to him, with just minutes to spare.

"I found a good spot on one of the topmost floors and knew there was still time before the plane took off, so I decided to call a colleague nearby to discuss an alternative photo angle for him," he said.

Clutching the unwieldy 200-400mm telephoto lens set-up with his left hand and dialling with his right, Mr Ong was taken by surprise when he heard the roar of jet engines. Immediately, he threw down his phone and steadied his camera, squeezing off as many frames as he could before the blue and white plane vanished into the distance.

As fate would have it, he got the picture of Air Force One against a backdrop of Housing Board flats, and his phone survived the impact.

Ms Yeow said her team did well over the three days, capturing some of the strongest images that would remain synonymous with the Trump-Kim summit in Singapore.

"For all of us who covered this historic event, it was adrenaline-pumping," she said. "Even though we had to work extremely long hours, nobody complained.

"That several of our photographs made it to Time magazine and were chosen as among the year's best is a feather in our cap, but it's back to work to prepare for Singapore's bicentennial next year!"

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 24, 2018, with the headline 'Defining moments in an action-packed year'. Print Edition | Subscribe