Covering a dust storm: Top 10 tips

September 29, 2009

Last Wednesday Sydney experienced a dust storm, the likes of which have not been seen since before World War II.

Weird weather doesn’t always give much of a warning so to get the pictures you want you have to be prepared. Follow these 10 easy tips and you can’t go wrong.

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1). Have a nose for a good story. Well before sunrise, a haze of martian-like dust wafted into my bedroom and the olfactory assault it delivered got me out of bed well before my year-old-son does. The best shooting light lasted only half an hour. In the pictures business, the early bird does get the worm.

2). Make like a boy scout.  Be prepared. Have your kit always ready to go next to the front door.  Mine has all sorts of goodies for all occasions.  The most precious item on this assignment was the lens cleaning cloth. It must have come out of the bag a dozen times on Wednesday morning. There’s also charged batteries, wallet with spare cash, press ID, eye drops (useful in dust storms), wet weather gear in the trunk and so on.

3). The journey to your destination.  You have this great picture in mind and you jump on the bike, in the car, on the train but keep shooting.  There’s a bunch of pictures you can make that others don’t even notice. My first picture for the day was shot through the windshield while crossing the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

4). People, perspective, proportion.  A renowned landmark emerging out of a vermeil sky is nice, but give it scale and context (both physical and social). Make some pictures that include humans, dogs, birds or whatever beast happens to be in front of your camera. If there’s none in front of your camera then wait… or move.

5). Stay connected.  There’s no use having a camera full of winners if that’s where they stay. Be mobile and connected. A netbook, card reader and 3G card are all part of my next-to-the-door kit.  After the first 20 minutes of shooting I filed half a dozen quick pictures to the wire, over an hour ahead of our nearest competition. (There’s always a deadline somewhere in the world).

6). Multi-task. After making an initial file of 6 pictures, my morning included shooting more in the continuing red gale. I shot more as commuters started pouring into the city by road and foot, capturing television footage for my RTN colleagues, filing more, ducking back across the harbour to take my sick wife to the doctor, texting colleagues so we were both on the same page, dressing my son, packing his lunch, taking him to a friend’s house, eating breakfast, filing video footage and getting more pictures on the wire as the dust began to thin.

7). Turn around. Don’t forget to look over your shoulder. You don’t want to miss the amazing picture behind you as everyone else gazes at the obvious in front of them.

8). Consider others. A few minutes spent capturing a little 5D Mark II video footage in the heart of the storm ended up as the opening sequence of Reuters TV’s package on the day. Kudos and free beer to follow.

9). Don’t stop. Think of other ways to add impact to your story telling. (or use your colleagues’ ideas like I do all the time). All this dust had cleared by midday but instead of a cup of tea with feet up, I headed back to earlier locations and shot pictures of what the town looked like now. A series of “during and after” combinations capped off a strong file.

10). Enjoy yourself.

4 comments

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Thanks for sharing, Tim. re #4: As I was running out of the apartment at 6AM, it struck me right away that I needed to show some contrasting, ‘normal’ colours besides giving reference to people and proportions – so I went to shoot a petrol station, for example. I found the impact of the reddish sky was heightened by including ‘normal’ colours.

Having ones gear ready is a must but what about personal safety for the photographer? Googles, facemask, water may be of some use also?

Posted by abdul r. sulayman | Report as abusive

I love it! Thank You for the advice!

Posted by Sheila Simmons | Report as abusive

interesting… now i’m ready to take some shot if it come to hanoi ^^

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