The “backup shot”

This post is the sequel to my last one The Hunt (the day-long search for “The Shot”). If you haven’t read it, I really recommend you do – you’ll get a lot more out of this post knowing what had led up to this point…

OK, so I’ll assume you’ve read The Hunt now…

So I’d just finished taking my main shot intended for the Media Kit cover, but in this situation, you really don’t wanna limit the editors to just one option (sure I had a few different shots to submit, but they were all variations of the same kinda thing). I don’t know what kind of text they want to use, whether the photo will take up the whole cover or just a part of it, etc. I just know I have to provide an image that is in landscape format and instantly recognisable as Ho Chi Minh City. So once I’d finished with the cityscape, I scrambled to the elevator to try to capture a completely different scene that would also be usable. This keeps the creative director happy and keeps me in a job in this competitive industry.

My idea was to keep the traffic element in the shot, but with a different Saigon landmark: Notre Dame Cathedral. I knew there was a decent vantage point of the rear of the church, along with an intersection and a roundabout directly in behind the cathedral. So off to Diamond Plaza I rode.

I arrived and took the escalator to the fourth floor, stopping off at a supermarket halfway up to grab a bottle of water to rehydrate after the hours of wandering and rooftop waiting. As I tried to step out onto the balcony, I was stopped by two guards. After explaining I was working for Oi magazine (which neither of them had heard of, it being a relatively young English language publication), they said I would have to get permission from management (mental note: don’t forget to take a copy of the mag with you at all times). They directed me to the sixth floor, but I was feeling doubtful as it was already around 7pm, and most decision makers would have already left at 5.

So I made my way into the large room filled with a cluster of office cubicles and tried to look lost enough that somebody would come and ask me how they could help. A young lady came and directed me to another staff member who told me I would have to write a letter to his boss for permission to shoot.

This was all a very last-minute assignment, so I couldn’t go off sending letters, so I assured him it was just a simple shot from the balcony that did not include any details of Diamond Plaza itself. I was just after a vantage point and I would be in and out.

He thought for a moment, looked back at me, thought some more…

Then he asked another employee to accompany me to the balcony so I could take the picture.

Relieved, I went with the young man who had been dispatched with me, walked past the guards to the spot I had in mind and set to getting my tripod and camera gear set up for the shot. My babysitter was quite chatty and probably valued the opportunity to practice his English. He had worked for the company for two years, and it was his third job after graduating with a degree in management. The previous two jobs hadn’t been “suitable”, but he was reasonably happy working for the department store in Diamond Plaza. He’d also travelled to Thailand and spent six months as an exchange student in America. All this I learnt in the seven minutes I took to get five nice shots of the cathedral and traffic below. The rest of the time was spent satisfying his curiosity about my experience in Vietnam. After spending a couple of hours alone with my thoughts on a rooftop getting the first shots, it was a welcome relief to have some company as I produced the alternative photos. One thing I really love about this job is the opportunity to both be alone to reflect on life, and to meet new people I wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to know.

Anyway, I knew I had the shot when I took the last photo, so I quickly packed up and headed home to get to work in Photoshop.

The rest is history.

Notre Dame Cathedral, Saigon

By the way, the creative director loved the cathedral shot the most, but chose the cityscape instead. Sometimes the most interesting picture just doesn’t work for a particular purpose, so always give them more to choose from!