9 Sep 2008

The Independent Newspaper


I thought I’d share this picture with you – it’s really a very old one, perhaps 20 year old!. I took it while working on an assignment for The Independent newspaper. As far as I can remember, they sent me to cover a press photocall to unveil a very special new type of one-man mini hot-air balloon. The idea was to cross the Atlantic in it, or perhaps fly over the Alps – but I don’t think that ever happened. I seem to remember that Richard Branson was involved somewhere along the line.

There was a gale of wind and rain blowing outside, so the balloon was inflated inside a huge hangar on a remote airfield in Shropshire. All the other national daily newspapers where there to photograph the event. I saw these occasions as a challenge – they brought out the seriously competitive spirit in me. I simply ALWAYS had to try to beat the pack and get the best picture.

It was very nearly dark inside that hangar and powerful floodlights had been set up. There was a general groan of despair from all the other photographers at what appeared to be the lack of opportunities for exiting pictures.

The great advantage of working for a newspaper like the Independent – at least in the days soon after it was launched – was that we photographers were totally free to photograph an assignment in any way we chose. We were never restricted by having to take the most literal pictures. In fact we were encouraged to look beyond the obvious.

The obvious photograph on this assignment, for instance, was a shot of the pilot suspended in his harness beneath the inflated balloon. But that looked totally boring when it was done inside a darkened hangar.

I have said it before – and I will stress it again – that with an understanding of light, a photographer can create interesting images out of very little.

It was obvious to me as soon as the flood lights were lit and the balloon was beginning to inflate that there would have to be an interesting picture if I could shoot against one of these lights from almost inside the balloon as it inflated. Remember that mantra – BACKLIGHT FOR OUTLINE SHAPES!!

However, that picture would need a sense of scale and a human element if it was to be interesting enough to get published.

I quietly asked one of the technicians to stand outside the balloon between me and the floodlight and open his arms to smooth out any wrinkles in the balloon as it inflated. I worked very quickly in order not to give the other photographers any chance to copy what I was doing. The timing was spot on. No sooner had I taken this picture than the balloon lifted off the floor of the hangar as it inflated – making any similar pictures impossible.
I think the picture was used across half a page - a worthwhile job.

The picture was taken with a Nikon F3, Nikkor F2.8 24mm lens. Fuji Neopan 400 film.

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