PHOTOGRAPHERS talk about “the moment”, that elusive fraction of a second when all the elements of a great picture – the subject’s expression or action, the light and the composition – all come together and the perfect image is captured for posterity.
For The Star’s photographer Raja Faisal Hishan, the moment was 4.07pm, April 28, 2005.
At the right place and the right time, with the right equipment and skills honed over 24 years, he squeezed the shutter button on his camera and caught a magnificent display of nature’s awesome power.
His image of a dramatic bolt of lightning striking the dome of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) in Putrajaya won him the Silver Award in the Spot News category of the Asia Media Awards 2006 organised by Ifra, the world’s leading association for newspaper and media publishing.
The awards were open to media organisations throughout Asia. Faisal is the first and only winner from Malaysia.
(Ifra’s name originates from Inca-FIEJ Research Association. Inca stands for International Newspaper Colour Association and “FIEJ” stands for Fédération Internationale des Editeurs de Journaux”. Today, the name Ifra stands by itself.)
Faisal, who is originally from Ipoh, had been on a routine assignment to snap some photos for a StarMetro story at the Selera Putrajaya food court. As he headed to his car after the photo shoot, a fierce storm broke, with torrential rain, thunder and lightning.
“I had an umbrella but didn’t dare to open it...I was afraid that the metal frame might draw lightning,” he recalled.
Although the storm frightened Faisal, his photographer’s instincts were alert to the opportunities the storm’s fury offered.
“The frequent lightning strikes were very close and terrifying but I knew they could also make for a dramatic photo, if only I could capture it,” said Faisal, who turns 34 this Friday.
He made it to his car and, soaking wet, drove a short distance to a car park near the PMO, just in time to witness a bolt of lightning strike the building and dazzling flashes of electricity travel along the wet wall “like special effects in the movies”.
He quickly snapped a few shots but the dramatic scene did not register in the digital camera.
“I decided to wait for more...the lightning strikes were less than a minute apart, so I figured that there was a good chance of getting a decent shot.”
Then it happened. He squeezed the shutter button, reeled off a dozen shots at eight frames per second.
Four of them caught the lightning bolt but Frame Number Five was the “money shot” in which everything was just right. Faisal had his moment.
“I used a wide angle lens because I didn’t know where the lightning would come from... with the benefit of hindsight, I should have known it would hit the dome since that was the highest point of the building.”
He shot through the open window of his car with his Canon EOS1D and 17-35mm lens with the shutter speed set at 1/125 second.
“I had to shoot with the camera handheld...I didn’t dare to use my tripod because I was scared it might attract lightning. I thought of staying a while to try and shoot some more but the storm was becoming really scary so, finally, I decided against it and left,” he recounted.
As it turned out, his effort had been enough.
Photography has been Faisal’s passion since he was 10, when an uncle gave him a compact camera.
He obtained a diploma in photography from the then ITM (now UiTM) School of Art & Design in 1990, joined The Sun in 1994, and has been with The Star since 1996.