Whether it's dodging bullets or just navigating Third World transport systems, it takes both art and courage to capture the kinds of images photojournalist and Nikon-Walkley award winner and ambassador David Dare Parker does on a regular basis. He spoke to us about taking photos under pressure, and how you can too.
The machete being the weapon of choice, Independence supporters prepare for an expected pro-Junta militia attack near Hera, Dili, East Timor. September, 1999. Camera: Nikon D4.
Jakarta's Istiqlal Mosque was built by Sukarno in the 1960s. The largest Mosque in South-East Asia, it can accommodate about 75,00 worshippers. After 17 years of construction it was finally inaugurated in 1978. Camera: Nikon F100.
Independence supporters prepare for an expected pro-Jakarta Milita Attack near Hera. Dili East Timor. September, 1999. Camera: Nikon F100.
Roma - Romanian Gypsies - Roma kids with cigarette, Valcau, Transylvania, Romania. August, 1996. Camera: Nikon F100.
Fighters at the Muay Thai Boxing Club under the freeway at Khlong Toei, Bangkok Thailand March, 2003. Camera: Nikon F100.
What skills do you need when covering conflict in volatile regions?
You have to understand that your first responsibility is to the people whose stories you are trying to tell. In order to be able to tell the story you need to have developed some craft, and done your homework so you have the tools to tell the story fairly and competently. You also need to pack well – a first aid kit and insurance is essential. You should have a good general knowledge of your surrounds, and understand the political climate and what the dynamics on the ground are. You also must have trusted local contacts and a good exit strategy in order to do your job safely and not take any unnecessary risks.
Where's the hardest place you've been on assignment?
There are two places that stand out as confronting for different reasons. The most dangerous was in 1999 covering East Timor's historic vote for independence. The country had just voted to leave Indonesia and the place was literally being torn apart by rampaging pro-Jakarta militia and rogue elements of the Indonesian Military. I had a gun thrown through the back window of my car and a machete thrown through a glass door of a hotel I had just entered. The most distressing was the aftermath of 2004 Tsunami in Aceh, Indonesia. I had covered stories there before. I knew the place and some of its people well. When I returned after the tsunami, whole areas had disappeared. It is as if everything about them had been erased. Endless convoys of trucks delivered bodies to mass graves. It was one horror show after another.
What camera equipment do you carry with you at all times?
If I am on a professional assignment or self-funded shoot, all my imagery is captured with my Nikon D4 and D800E cameras. In my down time I carry either the new Nikon COOLPIX A or Nikon 1 series cameras. Both cameras are small and easy to use, yet are capable of producing the image quality similar to what I am used to in my DSLRs.
Can you give us some tips on taking clear, concise images under pressure?
The best camera is always going to be the one that is in your hand at the time. You must know your craft – have a good idea how to use your equipment, understand the best shutter speed needed in order to freeze motion and automatically recognise the best aperture to choose in order to produce the desired depth of field. Get in close, fill the frame. For photojournalists, great light is a luxury. Bad things don't always happen in the best light. You can use the light to your advantage when you have the time, but don't bemoan the fact that the light is bad and let go of a shot because of it. Shoot everything. You can't be too precious when you are building a narrative or telling a story.
Is one camera your stock-standard workhorse?
My workhorse is the Nikon D4. I love this camera. It is as fast as it gets, delivering the image I see as I see it, with absolutely no delay.
How would you describe the life of a photojournalist these days?
It can be exciting at times, but the day to day is often dealt with seeking out funding to get back in the field to work on stories, dealing with red tape and long, tedious flights, bus trips and the search for affordable accommodation and hire cars. The rest is what it is all about: travelling, seeking out important or newsworthy stories. Thankfully I have the kind of selective memory that only lets me remember the good times, leaving me with the desire to continue working.
For aspiring photojournalists - where's the best place to start these days?
Search out the work of other like-minded photographers to draw inspiration from. Attend festivals and talks by visiting photographers. Attend workshops to learn from the pros and read everything you can get your hands on about the world of photojournalism. Treat every image you take as one small step towards building your body of work. Learn how to edit and then share your work with those of your colleagues who you think might best be able to help you improve your craft and skill. Seek out stories that resonate with you. Do as much research as you can. Then, pack a good camera and lens or two and start shooting. For enthusiast DSLR photographers, I recommend trying out a D7100, or step up to a D600 if you prefer full frame photography.
Nikon are supporters of Smith Journal.