Getting the shot

Straits Times photographers have had front-row seats at every National Day Parade since 1966. But bringing back the best shots year after year takes months of planning, gruelling hours under the sun - or in the rain - and plenty of skill, patience and quick thinking. Seven photographers share their most memorable moments on the job.



CAPTION: An aerial view of the 1980 parade at the old National Stadium.

Photographer Mak Kian Seng was told by his bosses - only half in jest - not to return to the office if he failed to get the shot. It would be the first ever aerial shot of the parade and he had just six hours till press time to get it. Armed with a 35mm camera and a 20mm wide-angle lens, he had time for only one exposure with the entire stadium in the frame. On Aug 9, Mr Mak boarded an SAF helicopter and made the shot in 1/250 of a second. An office car then sped him to a processing lab near Jalan Besar. The shot was perfect.

Mr Mak died on July 24 this year, aged 77. He was chief of The Straits Times photo desk in the early 1980s.


CAPTION: An over-exuberant participant throwing his flag into the air as President Wee Kim Wee reaches out to catch it during the National Day Parade at the Padang in 1993. 1 4

"It was the last parade attended by President Wee Kim Wee in his public capacity as he was retiring on Sep 1, 1993. I was assigned to the VIP stand and told to photograph all the action that might be happening around there - the President arriving, expressions of the VIPs, stuff like that. It was getting to be evening and there were many other photographers in the area. I was preparing for a general view of the contingents marching past when I spotted a man moving quickly onto the pavement in front of the VIP area and throwing his flag to President Wee. He was part of a marching contingent passing by. It happened in a split second and the security officers did not manage to react in time to stop him from throwing the flag. The President sportingly tried to catch it, but the flag fell short. No one had expected the show of over-exuberance and spontaneous moments like this are extremely rare."


CAPTION: Mr Edwin Oh, 61, enjoying the performance by the Red Lions in spite of the rain at the 2008 parade at Marina Bay.

"It started to pour during the parade and we were all drenched. I've been rained on at other assignments but this was the first NDP I was covering where it rained heavily. It was nice to see the spectators staying to watch the show despite the pouring rain. It was challenging to photograph but the rain provides opportunities for memorable NDP shots that I wouldn't get otherwise. My lenses kept fogging up and I had to keep using my shirt and a small towel to wipe them. All our pre-designed pages had to be changed because of the rain and we didn't make it to print until after 3am. After that experience, I made sure that I always have a change of clothes in the office. But getting drenched was worth it because my picture made it to page one of the paper."


CAPTION: National servicemen firing a ceremonial gun at the National Day Parade National Education 2 show on July 21, 2012.

"The presidential 21-gun salute was fired from the water at Marina Bay and I had to use a super wide-angle lens for the assignment. We were on the floating military raft and could end up in the water if we were not careful. At previous parades, we shot the gun salute from afar with a telephoto lens, but we wanted to try for a different angle and get up close to the 25-pounder ceremonial guns. This was as close as one could get. To capture the shot, I set up a remotely triggered camera that was mounted on a small tripod hours before the floating platform sailed into position. I had to make sure that the angle was framed right so that the flare from the gun could be seen. Even with ear plugs, it was still really loud because I was so near the guns. I could also feel the shockwave with every shot fired."


CAPTION: A blank cartridge ejecting from an SAR 21 rifle after a round of fire by the Singapore Armed Forces Army guard of honour, represented by the 1st Commando Battalion at the National Education show in 2012.

"I felt like a worm curled up on the ground tasked with getting an alternative silhouette shot of the celebratory rifle salute Feu De Joie. There are strict restrictions on where photographers can and cannot go during the parade. We are not allowed on stage or to be close to the action on the actual day, so we usually get our pictures during rehearsals and previews. Photographers are usually chaperoned and run the risk of having our media accreditation taken away if we do not toe the line. In this case, while we were given clearance, they probably did not expect me to go as close as I did. I got the shot I wanted, shell casing in the air and all, but I do not think I would be allowed to be that close a second time."


CAPTION: Wild cheers break out from the stands as the rainbow, the icon of the 1997 parade, forms an arch across the stadium in the finale of the show segment.

"I had the privilege of having my National Day Parade photographs published on the front pages in 1996 and 1997. Those days, we had to give a treat to our colleagues if our pictures of the parade were used on the front page. It felt good because I had joined the paper at the end of 1995 and was quite new. I called it beginner's luck. We shot sparingly with film back then and hoped for the best. We could not check the exposure nor if we had managed to capture the moment until the roll of film was processed. Watching and photographing the parade live is quite an experience because you can feel people's emotions on the ground, especially when everyone sings the National Day songs. Home always puts a lump in my throat."


CAPTION: A final explosion of fireworks lighting up the sky over the National Stadium at the 2006 parade.

"I'd watched the parade on television every year but I got to see it from a different angle when I was assigned to photograph it from one of the light towers. To get to the top, we had to take a lift up halfway and then climb the stairs, with all our gear and a harness, to the top, below the lights of the stadium. We were supposed to shoot from a small window in the enclosed space where we were for the entire parade. We had to attach our harnesses to a metal railing for safety, and this restricted our movements. I felt like a dog on a leash and trying to get a good shot from the window was impossible. So as the parade went on, the other photographer and I took our harnesses off and stood by the window to shoot. We did not try any daredevil stunts, which would have been foolish, so the chaperone did not stop us."


CAPTION: (From left)Lance Corporal Lee Hin Kit, 20, 1st Guards; 2nd Lieutenant Edward Teo, 22, 3rd Singapore Infantry Brigade; and a member of the Special Tactics and Rescue team, 20.

"In 1995, I was in charge of the NDP photo coverage at the Padang. To present the parade slightly differently, I decided to photograph nine portraits of the parade participants. The pictures were shot a few hours before the last full-dress rehearsal. I set up a mobile studio at the Victoria Concert Hall and used my personal Hasselblad 6x6 film camera. The only portrait not taken at the concert hall was of the member of the Special Tactics and Rescue team. Owning to its confidential nature, I had to take the mobile studio to the camp to shoot that one portrait. The set of nine portraits was published on Aug 10, 21 years ago."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 09, 2016, with the headline 'Getting the shot'. Subscribe