…where will it all end?
I was assigned at the last minute to go down to the North Korean embassy to doorstop the North Korean envoy once his talks with Christopher Hill ended – an assignment that due to language difficulties turned out to be problematic for text, but provided an out-of-the-blue scoop for pix.
The North Korean embassy was about 10 mins from my home and it was raining dogs and cats, so I thought it would be a better idea to borrow my dad’s car and drive over to stake out the embassy rather than take a cab. When I got home, I decided to bring my Canon S5 along, just in case I got a chance to use it. When I got there, there were no other media there because of the rain, so I just parked by the side of the embassy and waited.
About an hour later, when the rain eased, the Japanese/Korean media started coming back. I got out of the car to join the crowd around the embassy house entrance, armed with my camera and tape recorder. After 30 or 40 minutes a black Mercedes finally appeared and moved towards the entrance of the ambassador’s home, and I got my camera ready. Trying to shoot the envoy thru the windows of the car was really difficult because of the reflection from the windows and the rest of the media jostling with each other to get a clear view.
Most of the other media and cameramen by then were leaning on the sides of the car calling out to the envoy (in Korean) and snapping/filming him inside. After the Mercedes pulled into the compound of the house and drove through the driveway, the media fell back and hung around the gates, still calling out to the envoy. Finally, an aide came out, saying in Korean (which I was told later) that the envoy would come out to make a few comments. One of the Korean reporters collected all our tape recorders, while I squeezed myself between some cameramen and squatted down in front of the gates to await the envoy’s approach.
When he started walking out together with his aide carrying an umbrella (by then it had started to drizzle again), I began clicking away. In hindsight, I should have paused to let the autofocus kick in before pressing the shutter, but I was in a state of panic, trying to get in some good shots as he walked towards us, and I was not thinking very clearly. One amusing element for the picture was the presence of a ginger tabby cat walking out along the driveway of the house in the same direction as the envoy, towards the media melee. I thought it would really be a nice, funny touch to get the cat into the picture, and was able to frame the tabby in a couple of shots with the envoy, but most of them ended up blurred.
When the envoy reached us, he started speaking in Korean, and I continued to snap away, squeezed between the cameramen, hoping that the reporter holding all our taping devices would be able to do a good job. the recording was crucial, since I couldn’t understand a word he said.
Finally, he completed his remarks, and began walking back towards the house. I continued to take shots of his back as he walked away. After retrieving the recorder, I called the buro and told them I needed an interpreter as all his remarks had been in Korean. I was told to try calling a Korean colleague but she was busy at the Christopher Hill briefing. My supervisor suggested to bring the recording down to the hotel where the briefing was taking place in hopes of finding someone who could interpret the contents of the recording – but by the time I arrived at the hotel, Yonhap agency had already sent out their snaps and the desk had picked up their story.
Later, when I got a chance, I downloaded the pix from my camera into my laptop to see how they turned out – some of them were really grainy, and that was when I realised that I had set the ISO speed too high – 1600 rather than 400 or 800. The light was fading and I was afraid that the low lighting conditions would make the pix very blur, so I set a higher ISO as a precaution.
I didn’t realise we had an exclusive until later when we found out that no other international wire had been there to take pix. It was really enjoyable to reverse roles for one evening – to chase after a picture, rather than a quote; to wield a camera, rather than a tape recorder, and thinking in terms of the technical aspects, such as lighting, framing, being able to capture a good shot at a split second’s notice. carrying my camera along on a whim paid off after all, but I still have much to learn about taking decent pix, especially when the action starts. definitely an area to work on in future.