ST photojournalists share experiences of using drones, shooting in sensitive situations

(Seated, from left) ST photojournalists Mark Cheong, Benjamin Seetoh, Ong Wee Jin, and Lim Yaohui at a talk titled “On Drones and Juxtaposition Techniques”. ST PHOTO: WANG HUI FEN

SINGAPORE - The assignment was to capture extraordinary scenes from an unprecedented period in Singapore’s history – the Covid-19 circuit breaker in 2020.

Straits Times photojournalists settled on the idea of using drones but preparations took about a month for a three-minute flight above Orchard Road. 

ST executive photojournalist Mark Cheong said: “The end product should justify the hassle of applying for permits and paying for them.”

“In this case, using a drone allowed us to get a different angle and show the scale of the deserted spaces, which made it worth all the trouble.”

Mr Cheong was speaking during a talk titled On Drones And Juxtaposition Techniques at the National Museum of Singapore on Saturday.

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The event is part of ST’s Through The Lens exhibition – featuring works by its photojournalists and winners from the 2022 edition of the World Press Photo contest – which runs at the museum until Oct 29.

ST executive photojournalist Benjamin Seetoh told a 60-strong audience how despite the intensive preparations before the drone shoots, everything was not picture-perfect for the team of two photojournalists.

Once, they received a call from the authorities when they were at Pulau Ubin to record the habitats of migratory birds.

They had strayed into a prohibited area when they changed the drone’s take-off point from that indicated in the flight plan, as there was an obstacle.

The hour-long talk at the National Museum of Singapore also featured a session by executive photojournalist Ong Wee Jin.

He said he was assigned to contribute to a series featuring images of several locations that would be shown next to photographs from decades ago to compare the changes over the years. He decided to challenge himself by taking the “after” photo on the same date that the “before” image was taken.

He spent hours at Merlion Park on New Year’s Eve and along a walkway in Pulau Ubin’s Chek Jawa Wetlands, waiting for the perfect moment to frame his shots. 

“For the Merlion, I had to find a spot that I could wait for a long time and would not be blocked by the crowd when they came. I had to go to Chek Jawa a second time as (it rained during) the first time and the tour of the (intertidal) area was cancelled,” he added. 

The talk was capped off with stories by executive photojournalist Lim Yaohui, who was granted access to a Covid-19 isolation ward at the Singapore General Hospital (SGH) in 2021 and the children’s emergency facility at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH) earlier this year.

“We were required to wear N95 masks at all times in the SGH isolation ward so I had to get fitted for a mask,” he said. 

“I carried only my camera equipment into the wards so that there would be fewer things to wipe down when I disinfected myself after shooting.” 

Taking photos at KKH meant that Mr Lim had to sometimes put himself in the patient’s or caregiver’s shoes. 

Sharing one such instance when he photographed a seven-month-old being resuscitated after suffering from dehydration, he said: “His mother was in the same room so I stood a distance away as I didn’t want to make her feel more stressed out even though I already had permission but also to avoid getting in the way of the medical staff. 

“In these scenarios, you have to be sensitive to how people are feeling and stop as soon as you’ve got your photograph.”

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