Watching replays of the London Olympics opening ceremony brought back memories of my days as a photographer and journalist with the Borneo Post. Fresh out of university, it was my first official job. All I could afford was a Nikon FM2, 35-70mm lens and a beat up Sunpak flash. It was the advent of digital photography where a 512MB CF card cost a month of my pay cheque.
Allow me to let you in a big secret. My first step into digital photography was with a Canon camera. Phew! I confessed this long kept sins finally. Lord forgive me. Sorry to disappoint all the Nikon fan boys.
The Borneo Post provided me with a Canon PowerShot Pro90 IS with a 35-370mm zoom and 2.6megapixel chip. The highest usable ISO was 200. Its shutter lag was so long you could make a cup of coffee. An iPhone 4S can take better picture and operate 10x faster than this camera. Remember this was 2003.
Soon after getting the camera, I was busting my ass covering the biennial Malaysia Games (SUKMA) held in Kota Kinabalu. Photographers with national press, thanks to their large budgets, always had superior equipment. They had D30, 1D and a host of long white lenses. I envied and hated them. Yet I had to be nice to them because that was the only way you could get your hands on real gear. I felt so inadequate shooting next to them. By the time I could snap the 2nd frame, they had rattled off 20! It was so miserable I felt I was condemned to hell, beating up myself and my equipment.
I remembered being assigned to shooting, the men’s trap event. A handful of national press photographers stood at a distance with the giant cameras and lenses on monopods. I told myself to stop feeling sorry for myself and start working. I wasn’t up against them, I was up against myself. It wasn’t about whose work was better, it was about doing the best with what I had.
I noticed the shooters would eject the bullet casings from their shotguns really quickly and then reloaded the gun. I saw the shot I wanted: the shooter, gun, and flying bullet casings all in one frame.
So I zoomed it to 370mm for maximum bokeh and separation from background. Then it was about guessing the timing. You prefocused it to a particular point in the frame, recompossed, kept the shutter release half pressed, and squeezed it just before the action happened. Using this crappy camera taught me so much about anticipation, pre-focusing and camera holding techniques. Skills I still use today even on with a Nikon D4. A curse turned out to be a blessing.
Back to the office with my shots. When all the shooters submitted their pictures, the editor-in-chief picked mine for the lead back page picture of the broadsheet. It was a picture of 15-year-old Sarawak boy, Chong Foo Kwan reloading.
I was in cloud nine. Never mind the heat, sweating and lousy equipment. It felt like my picture had just made the cover of Times magazine. I hovered around the desk of the layout artists to see it being placed onto the page. First thing the next morning, I rushed to the office to see the freshly printed copies. Like a young man smitten by love, I was floating for days. Amazing power of affirmation.
Looking back the older and slightly wiser Louis would have shot this from a lower angle to get the horn out of the way, capturing only the shooter, his gun and the flying bullets.
I knew nothing about archiving my work then. I could only make a scan from the state archive to share my “Olympics” moment with you. It is one that screams, “It’s not about the equipment, stupid!”