Photographers' Blog

An erupting volcano on the horizon

It was Saturday, May 21, and I was returning from a tour with nine friends. We had spent 15 hours climbing a 1420 metre (yard) high peak named Midfellstindur near Iceland’s Skaftafell national park. While driving back along route 1 from Skaftafell towards our hotel, the organizer of the trip Hans Kristjansson said “This is a strange cloud just above the glacier”.

As a hang glider and ultralight pilot I knew right away that this was no ordinary cloud and said to Hans: “My friend, this is not a ordinary cloud but the start of an eruption”. We stopped the car and I tried to use well the last seven frames that I had on my memory card in my Canon D300 DSLR camera. I took seven frames in about 20 minutes. I always take my photos in RAW format to be able to post-process them. It paid off this time. The pictures were taken at N 63° 56.712 W 17° 23.729.

When I got back to the hotel I was unable to view my pictures as my laptop was at home in Reykjavik along with my card reader. The lesson of the trip is that I will never ever travel again without my MacBookPro and my Lexar card reader. And I will make sure that I have ample space on different memory cards!

In the hunt for Malaysia’s endangered wild elephants

Trekking deep in Malaysia’s dense rainforest, a group of wildlife rangers went on a risky mission to locate and capture wild elephants in a bid to preserve the endangered species that are fast dwindling due to the loss of their natural habitat.

I recently joined in the mission of official “elephant hunters” — a 10-day ordeal that took us to the forested land in the southern part of Peninsular Malaysia — and ended up with a wild elephant after missing another.

Rapid clearing of forests to pave the way for oil palm estates have taken a toll on the elephant population in Malaysia’s southern state of Johor. Forest clearance ignored the need for elephant corridors to allow for transmigration and this has given rise to a considerable human-elephant conflict. Elephants have no choice but to destroy the farmers’ valuable crops.

A global view of Earth Hour

The world turned off its lights on March 26 for an hour from 8.30 p.m. local time as a show of support for tougher action to confront climate change.

A global celebration of Earth Hour 2011 from Nicky Loh on Vimeo.

I was given the assignment to not only photograph the event from Taipei, Taiwan, but to produce a multimedia video that showcased the world’s landmarks without lights as part of the fifth annual Earth Hour.

The Taipei 101 building is seen before Earth Hour in Taipei March 26, 2011.  REUTERS/Nicky Loh

The Taipei 101 building is seen during Earth Hour in Taipei March 26, 2011. REUTERS/Nicky Loh

The Reuters online team in Toronto and I had decided to produce a video to illustrate the event with pictures by our photographers around the world. The idea was to fade before pictures with the lights turned on into the exact same image without the lights on.

A toxic work environment

Bernadett Szabo spent eight days photographing the disaster that enveloped part of Western Hungary after a reservoir of red sludge, an alumina factory by-product, burst on October 4 and released one million cubic meters of highly toxic sludge that killed eight people, injured 120, and destroyed nearly 1,000 hectares (2,400 acres) of land. Here’s her account of working in the field under the adverse conditions she found.

Photographer Bernadett Szabo works in the village of Devecser, 150 km (93 miles) west of Budapest, October, 2010.   REUTERS

This work required a whole lot more caution than normal when covering a different type of disaster story, like a flood for example. There’s water there, and mud, and you can sink and all, but that’s only water. This red sludge is toxic.

We knew it was alkaline, with a potent bite. We knew it was a lot more dense than regular silt, making moving around in it very tiring – and its toxicity meant no touching, so we could not hold onto anything for support. Falling over was not an option, because the toxic stuff could damage you to the point of visible wounds or cause damage to your eyes, and render your gear inoperable.

An aerial view of Sumatra Island

I joined a Greenpeace tour flying over Sumatra Island to take pictures of their protest over forest destruction.

Five photographers and a TV cameraman set off early in the morning, while it was still dark, in a new, single-propeller aircraft. No one told me it would be nearly three hours to get to Jambi on a small plane with no toilet. Luckily for me I had an empty bottle as an emergency measure.

This was the first time I’ve taken aerial shots, so I took so many types of pictures. I took every single detail that caught my eye — forest, reflected light from the sun during sunrise, palm oil plantations, river, sea,  houses, everything.  When we started to take pictures, all five photographers jostled around one opened window. The wind blew very hard, pushing the glass against my face. After one hour, one of the other photographers gave up, and had to take a rest after throwing up all his breakfast. That made me happy – more room for me to take pictures.

Oil from all angles

From the moment the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico made headlines, Reuters has provided extensive coverage. Below are accounts from six of our photographers who have been sent at various times to document the story.

LEE CELANO

Reuters photographer Lee Celano photographs oil in a marsh near Pass a Loutre, Louisiana, May 20, 2010.  REUTERS/Matthew Bigg

Covering the Deepwater Horizon oil disaster as a still photographer for Reuters has brought unique challenges. Although the volume of oil leaking into the Gulf of Mexico is huge, relatively small patches of oil have landed along coastal Louisiana. It’s like a monster who hides most of the time and lashes out quickly, withholding its full strength. But it has been important to show that oil is in fact having an ecological impact here, and to find areas with visible proof.

On Thursday May 20, I accompanied a Reuters TV crew, correspondent Mathew Bigg and Maura Wood of the National Wildlife Federation on a boat, looking for heavy concentrations of oil in an area at the very southern tip of Louisiana. We headed for an area which had just begun being inundated with oil from the Deepwater Horizon leak. After hours of searching, a broken propeller, and an unexpected lunch aboard a work barge, we had found the spot. As Wood prepared to take a sample of the water to check its toxicity, I suited up in chest waders and slowly got into the murky water, one camera and lens stuffed into my waiters. Maneuvering in the soft lagoon floor was tricky; I sank down as I tried to walk and was concerned I might loose my balance and get myself and camera wet. So I held onto the drifting boat long enough to get into position, cautiously letting go so I could have both hands free to shoot. Wood leaned over to get samples and I was able to shoot it from from the perspective of the oily water.

Something for nothing?

Everybody likes something for nothing. Better still if that something is actually useful. Last week was all about a little extra content for just a little extra effort and how it pays dividends.

Babysitting
My guess is most Reuters photographers have a camera in their hand most of the time. You know, just in case. My journalist wife had to drive to the world’s largest coal port last weekend. I was babysitting. A new emission trading scheme was slated to be the following week’s main story in Australia so I grabbed toddler and cameras and off we all went. I ended up with a good carbon emissions file including an Asia picture of the week (below) in between splashing in puddles and chasing seagulls…with my son of course.

Drive-by
Two days later I headed in the opposite direction, to Canberra for the arrival of Spain’s King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sofia. On the way there the clouds lifted from some distant hills framing a new wind power farm. Pulling over on the freeway, a few quick frames out the other side of the car…and an image (below) included in the Best of the Week file.

A Volcanic diary

……finally confident about returning home after two difficult weeks of coverage around the volcano……

First attempt: Santiago-Puerto Montt-Castro-Chaitén-Puerto Montt.

May 2: Puerto Montt (1016 km south of Santiago). It’s 10 p.m. at the local airport and I must reach Chaitén, a village which is in a state of alert. The Chaitén volcano, of which there are no historic records, has awoken after a 9,000- year slumber.

I drive to Pargua, cross the Chacao channel by ferry to Chiloé island, drive 81 kilometers further to Castro. In Castro I await another ferry for a 12-hour trip to Chaitén.