Favourite Portraits from 2015

Here are my personal favourite 25 portraits from 2015. It's been an amazing year, culminating in the publication of my first book of portraits. Happy New Year to you all and best wishes for 2016.

UXO Team, Laos....saving lives every day.

In March I travelled to Laos to take photographs for a football charity. The charity uses football to engage with school kids and  teaches them of the dangers of unexploded ordnance (UXO). Laos was the most bombed country ever with the United States dropping US$2m worth of bombs daily from 1964 to 1973 in the so-called 'secret war'. That is an average of one B-52 bomb-load every eight minutes over a nine year period...more ordnance than was dropped by all sides in WWII. 

UXO are a daily hazard for the people of Laos with regular injuries and deaths. Children can often find bits of metal in the ground and not realise what they are. The results can be deadly. In fact half of the 13,000 people killed by UXO have been young boys; so the work that Spirit of Soccer do is essential in saving lives.

Spirit of Soccer hooked me up with another group who save lives on a daily basis. I spent a morning with the UXO Lao team who are responsible for finding and destroying unexploded ordnance. To date this national organisation has dealt with 400,000 UXO.

The team were working in a paddy field about the size of a football pitch where the farmer has found UXO every year. After two days of looking they had already found 10 UXO. 

UXO marked by red dots in the farmer's paddy field.

UXO Laos Provincial Coordinator Kingphet Phimmavong and a shell packed with 'bombies'. Of the 260m 'bombies that rained down, 80m failed to explode, leaving a deadly legacy. 

 Thousands of unexploded shells are dug up each year in Laos.

Thousands of unexploded shells are dug up each year in Laos.

The initial search is with a large detector. If this machine finds something metal then another member of the team locates it with a more sensitive metal detector. He then digs down to find the metal object; a job that requires nerves of steel and steady hands.

Once the object is identified as a UXO then it is marked with a large green bag filled with clay. When the team are ready to destroy a number of UXO together they place TNT in each hole and then run a cable back to the detonator several hundred metres away. 

Having warned the local area of of the impending explosion with a loud hailer, and with three of the team positioned on high ground, acting as lookouts, the TNT is detonated which destroys the UXO.

I witnessed two sets of UXO being destroyed. It was unlike anything I've seen before with the shock of the explosion going through me, even thought the explosions were quite a distance away.

The UXO team risk their lives every day to save others. The are incredibly cautious but even so there is always a high risk, especially when initially identifying the UXOs. It was huge privilege to meet these brave people and witness their courage.

Centenary of the death of Frank Drysdale

My mum has been researching family history for a few years and has found some incredible links to Singapore, where my sister and I now live with our families. It seems we had many relatives living here from the late 19th Century through to the mid-twentieth Century.

One of those relatives was Frank Drysdale. He was a volunteer soldier in 1915 at the time when some Indian soldiers in the British Army mutinied. He immediately went into action against the mutineers and was killed during the retaking of the main Tanglin Barracks, now a restaurant area called Dempsey Hill. He was killed 100 years ago yesterday and Mum and I spent the day visiting sites where he spent his life including the barracks where he was killed. 

We ended the day at his grave which is in the far corner of the impressive Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery, a small area of land still owned and maintained by the British Government. We were fortunate enough that the British High Commission sent a representative, Mick Saunders, to lay a wreath along with Mum. The Cemetery Manager Mr Kannaya Somu also attended. Mum told the story of Frank's death and a few of us read poems and prayers.

During the day Frank changed from being just a name into a real, incredibly brave, young man and it was very moving to end the day by his graveside. His body was identified by his father exactly 100 years ago but, due to his terrible injuries, he was only recognisable by his blonde curly hair and his inscribed cigarette case. He was 18 years old when he died.

Cape Kidnappers Gannets

In late December we were lucky enough to visit a huge colony of nesting gannets at Cape Kidnappers on New Zealand's North Island. To reach the colony we rode on a tractor trailer along a very narrow beach for 90 minutes and then walked up a very steep path for another 20 minutes. When we got there it was really worth it and we were blessed with some incredible blue sky which was a bonus. 

Most of these shots were taken with my 105mm or 16-35mm lenses. I didn't have longer lens with me but it was possible to get very close to these big birds, so the images came out ok.

Closetful of Books - Portraits

Denise and Kelvin are young entrepreneurs with a passion for books. Being in their mid 20s they are too young to secure a loan from the Singapore Government but they decided to start their own business anyway and now provide books to many schools across Singapore. The way they talk about literature with such knowledge and passion it's not surprising to see that their business www.closetfulofbooks.com is growing really quickly. Good luck Kelvin and Denise!

Bikes etc in China

A selection of photos of bikes and motorbikes from China.

Editing Fireworks Photos

I was lucky enough to spend New Year's Eve in Auckland, New Zealand. Auckland is the first major city to see in the New Year so it was great to be there and witness the firework display. The fireworks are launched from one of the city's best known landmarks, the Sky Tower. The tower is 328metres (1,076 feet) high making it the tallest building in the southern hemisphere.

I've not really photographed fireworks before so it was a little experimental. I decided to set the camera's shutter to 'bulb' release which meant I could control exactly how long the shutter was open for once I had opened it. After some experimentation before the display it looked like an 8 second exposure would expose the scene pretty well. When it came to the display itself I opened the shutter when a new burst of fireworks was launched and then closed it after about 8 seconds, though this varied according to each burst of fireworks. Inevitably this led to some overexposure where the fireworks were brightest but generally the rest of the scene looked pretty well exposed.

The image below on the left is the original unedited photo and the one on the right is the image I have edited in Adobe Lightroom. The dynamic range of the D800 means that the detail is still recorded in the overexposed areas which really helps.

Settings: Nikon D800, 16-35mm lens at 35mm. Manual exposure. f10. 10sec. Cable release. Tripod. Pre-focused on tower and then set to manual focus.

Lukas Menkhoff

Some recent portraits of Singapore swimmer Lukas Menkhoff. 

Shot with Nikon D800 and 70-200mm lens on a tripod.