Mobile Photojournalism for Non-Professionals
22 Apr 2012
I'm a Royal Navy Falklands war veteran and at the age of 23 was sunk onboard the frigate HMS Ardent on the 21 May 1982 witnessing 22 of my shipmates lose their lives in the service of their country. In November 2011, nearly 30 years later, I traveled a total of 20,000 air, sea and land miles in 12 days so I could report on a veterans pilgrimage to the Falkland Islands. My main objective was to provide a near real-time blog for other Falklands veterans so they could witness remembrance day services and feel part of the pilgrimage as it took place 8000 miles away from the UK. The platform for this reporting was a Wordpress powered website www.hmsardent.org/falklands2011 which delivered video and photo and text based news reports from myself and another pilgrimage member who used an iPhone to report on events I was not able to cover.
My roundtrip journey to the Falklands required flights via 6 different international airports onboard 10 different flights, starting in the UK and passing through Spain, Chile and Argentina eventually arriving at Mount Pleasant airport in the Falklands after 3 days of travel. To avoid the traditional problems with lost luggage and flight change delays it was important that I had the best agility on the trip and therefore I decided to travel light by using only hand luggage. But this also meant I needed to carry my camera and editing equipment on myself by wearing a Scotty Vest thus bypassing the carry-on weight restrictions of just 8Kg! Having a very flexible lightweight and layered wardrobe and some washing powder was also a must to make sure I remained presentable throughout the trip and of more importance, when attending the formal events in the Falklands.
My camera and video equipment carried in my Travel Scottevest (pictured) consisted of:
- Olympus Pen E-PM1 with a M.Zuiko 45mm F/1.8 lens and 17 mm - F/2.8 lens with Flash, external Microphone and VF-2 Electronic Viewfinder
- Flip Mino HD 8Gb
- Apple iPhone 4 with X-shot tripod case
- Apple 64 Gb iPad 2 with 3G and Wifi
- Apple Camera Connection Kit
- Many spare SD cards and spare batteries
- Passport, 3 different currencies and credit cards in a secure holder
As part of my planning for the trip I had discovered that Flip Mino HD video camera files can be imported into an iPad and then be prepared for sharing with iMovie allowing still photographs and voice overs to be added to my news reports. The Olympus Pen E-PM1was chosen for its lightweight size but also because these PEN cameras take stunning images paired with lens like the superb M.Zuiko 45mm F/1.8 which I ended up using for nearly all of my photography in the Falklands. The addition of the PEN external microphone also meant I had a back up to the Flip camera if needed although the iPhone 4 is also pretty capable for video photojournalism. In my hand luggage I carried my chargers and a very lightweight (312 g) Tamrac ZipShot TR406 tripod for time-lapse video capture as shown in one of my accompanying pictures.
Another reason for using the small imaging equipment was to help make sure its presence was as low key as possible. In photojournalism there is a need, wherever possible, to be an observer, to record an event, or bear witness to something that happens in front of you that you are not normally part of. There's a big difference between being part of the action, and just being a witness to the action where you should be able to make stronger images of what you witness. But what if you are also a veteran who is also paying their respects and homage to fallen shipmates? However, this situation gave me unique access to the people on the pilgrimage but also meant that I had to find a careful balance between participating in the very solum events as they happened whilst also being able to report what I observed to a bigger audience in the UK through the blog. I'm happy to report that this balance was achieved and I was able to capture and record a series of events that remembered the 22 lost shipmates from the 199 crew of HMS Ardent. These events included the laying of a wreath at the 1982 War Memorial on Ross Road and the participation in the Falklands Remembrance day parade in Stanley. Later on a hillside overlooking Stanley harbour the pilgrimage group changed the worn name badges of their fallen shipmates in the 1982 Memorial Wood for new ones and I captured the wonderful image of the young children who helped with the task. The next day we headed to sea and held a ceremony over the wreck of HMS Ardent in Falkland Sound. This was the big reporting event and some of my video footage was also used by the local Falklands TV service as part of their coverage of the event.
My video reports were edited in iMovie and then send to the video sharing site Vimeo by an incredibly slow and expensive pay as you go satellite powered WiFi service in my hotel room. Once successfully uploaded the embed URL was added to the blog report along with direct loaded photographs using the Wordpress native iPad App. Other photographs taken were shared direct to Flickr and picked up by the blog using the Wordpress plug-in Flickr Gallery by Dan Coulter. Photo editing on the iPad, and uploading to Flickr, was carried out with the excellent Photogene App. In total 25 news reports were made over the time of the visit with 4 video news reports and a lot of photographs were taken some of which will form part of a special slideshow at the 30th annual HMS Ardent reunion in Plymouth in May 2012.
What I learned from this trip was that with planning, knowing your equipment, and focussing on the story and not the technology lightweight mobile photojournalism is achievable for amateurs on a par with what professionals use. The Flip Mino HD camera is an excellent news gathering tool when combined with the iPad and iMovie software. But the most impressive performance for me was that of the Olympus Pen E-PM1 and M.Zuiko 45mm F/1.8 lens combination. It proved to be a dream to use and gave me the tool needed to capture memorable images for my reports. The photograph of the veterans sharing a toast of rum during the service at sea was used by the local Falklands newspaper to accompany their news report of the pilgrimage. However, it is feedback from a visitor to the blog that made the whole trip worthwhile for me and makes for the final words in this item: "Thank you for the updates, l almost feel as we are there with you. Next time maybe?"
The blog, photographs and videos mentioned in this item can be viewed at http://www.hmsardent.org/falklands2011