Emotional Override

Yesterday I was presented “out of the blue” with the option to cover the No 9 Squadron Veteran reunion ceremony between the Royal Australian Airforce (RAAF) and our very own Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF).

Several pilots from our RNZAF were seconded to No 9 Squadron, in the RAAF to assist in flying Iroquois helicopters both as gunship pilots, rescue and in troop deployment roles. These veterans served in Vietnam between 1965 and 1972.
I hadn’t planned on any serious photography as my objective was to watch and photograph the last 3 remaining flyable Iroquois pass over the Cenotaph outside the Auckland War Memorial Museum.
Digital Composition
On my arrival an old acquaintance of mine who happened to be involved in this large special event spotted me in the crowd and pulled me aside to ask for a favour. Their photographer had not turned up and they needed someone to cover the event, I obliged and without all my usual gear and only a single memory card I began photographing the best I could do.

To find one suddenly thrust in this situation actually worked to my favour and I found myself resorting to old school tactics, and not relying on shooting digitally willy nilly. With limited storage space (single 8gig card) I worked much smarter and harder to obtain the shots required and found myself a lot more mobile than perhaps what I would normally be.

I found that I was working through my settings smarter, I was metering better on the fly, I was ensuring correct aspect ratios so as not to crop to much…it was a great feeling and I suddenly realised how digital can be a little too easy and wasteful sometimes.  Because of this I became a lot more aware of the surroundings and the subjects including a brief moment for which I found myself in completely new territory…

After the last post was played, the wreaths where laid around the base of the Cenotaph, a RNZAF Huey flew in from the East and landed on the museum grounds. The veterans stood and cheered as this lovely beast landed.
f10, 1/100 ISO200 200mm
At this point I was on the opposite side capturing the huey as it landed. I then left the crowd to gather around the helicopter and headed back up to the Cenotaph. As I came over the grass bank I noticed 2 old Australian Veterans sitting on their own.  I moved in to compose a photograph but as I raised my camera and looked through the viewfinder the scene in front of me told me to stop.

The look on the Australian Veterans face was of pain and suffering, his eyes were flooded with tears with his wife was hugging him closely. As I looked through the viewfinder he raised his head and looked straight at me and for that fleeting moment something told me that I should not take this photo. I felt guilty, I felt as if I was invading someone’s privacy and because of this I lowered my lens and looked upon the scene in front of me.
I’m sure the Veteran knew I had not taken a photo at this point as he raised his hand to acknowledge me and nodded his head as if to say thank you for not recoding this moment.

I returned the nod apologetically, only to see his wife turn and smile whilst mouthing the words “thank you”. I then turned and slowly walked towards the cenotaph.
f7.1, 1/160 ISO 200 160mm (adjusted clarity, Saturation)
Many hours later I found myself in turmoil, I should have taken the shot it would have been fantastic and I would have captured a moment which was very unique, but then on the other hand it would have been selfish and perhaps exploitive because that moment was full of pain and suffering.

I’m sure someone around the area would have snapped the shot, but for me I felt emotional and thus could not go through with it.

Did I do the right thing?, should I have taken the shot?
It makes you wonder what these world class journalists must think when they capture those unique images, perhaps they do not succumb to the emotional component, I suppose if it’s your job and you are paid to obtain these raw emotional shots, then you perhaps have no time to worry about ethics.

It was certainly an experience I had never come across before and to think the only image I have of that very special moment is not in digital form but my own personal memory banks to treasure forever.

Original Photo by RYerson  1966 RAAF Huey in Vietnam (CC)


  1. From the situation you describe, my view is you were right with not taking the photo. That moment was certainly far to personal to them and I'm not sure it would have conveyed well to people viewing a photo of it. I guess it still comes back to the story/message you are trying to create with the image. Had it been one of his old comrades comforting him, then maybe I would have taken that one - it conveys a strong message in line with the event? Dunno, an interesting point to mull over.

  2. Thanks Will, I have gone through my other and I have actually found another photo of the gent in question but in a rather more sombre mood. I can clearly see his name tag and have just found his biography on the net, which is amazing. No wonder he was emotional. Before i post up and additional information I have made contact with an Australian contact to see if they are happy for me to post additional info and show case this amazing guy.


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