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Photographer of the Year 2005 - Michael Soo's Diary

  How it started - February 2005

As the yellowish sunlight shone rays of light through the tiny window of my bathroom, I continued reading the magazine where I left off yesterday morning. This is my rhythm. My morning beat as I study the incantation of advertising and articles in this favourite magazine. Popular Photography. Everytime I read something that interest me, I'll doggy-ear the page so that I can search that article later or perhaps, just to read it again, to absorb its essence, or just view how a good photograph was composed by a master in another part of the world.

That morning was good. I get to re-read what I folded yesterday. It was a contest, not any other contest but a contest with real money as prize, a good US$5000. Not extremely much, I know, but backed up by the world largest photography magazine, Popular Photography.

The Article.

"Well...." I thought. They are looking for someone well-rounded... I looked at my tummy. "I think I qualify!"

Born as a Libra, I find all my life as a balancing act. It shows in my photography. I shoot everything! From birds to sports, to cars, to women, to men, to macro, to products, to landscape, Everything! And I think I do pretty well in just about all forms of photography too. Well, except street photography where I get a tad shy approaching people, especially after 9/11 where the state of the world begun to change... I made up my mind. I'm going to put together 4 images and enter.


I have some pretty good shots in all the categories required but being brought up in Malaysia, I felt a pull of humility. I ... can't explain it. I felt inclined to not include shots that were too strong, such as the one on the right.

I really wanted to enter Shankar's Double Violin image into the contest but shucks, I don't have a model release. *sigh* I had to settle for the ones that are clean by show some fore-thoughts, composition, techniques and grace. Hence, the four finalists below. Landscape, Portrait, Action/Sports and Products


The Wait - March - May 2005

Did I expect myself to win? Surprisingly, YES! I had confidence in my images and I believed that my images are consistently strong. Of course I knew there are a lot of good photographers out there but I'm different in the sense that I'm strong in most forms of photography. Not just portrait or just sports. That strength made me trot a step ahead of others. At least, that's what I hoped.

So, the TOP TEN was selected and voting began on May 1st that lasted through May 31st, 2005. Online voting was not very accurate and it was a stenuous wait as well. Top ten dwindle down to top three as the VOTING RESULTS were finally released. Was I thrilled!


"Ommm", the preparation - June 2005

John Owens, Editor-in-Chief of Popular Photography called me on my cell phone one afternoon in early June. "Congratulations, you won top three!" he exclaimed. "Can you commit to fly to New York for a week?" is the next question. Well duh! Would I miss this chance of a lifetime!!??

The next part is actually the toughest. Unlike the other two contestants in New Jersey, I will have to be frugal with what I pack into two suitcases of 50lbs each. You _MAY_ think 50lbs is a lot. Believe it or not, just a camera with a few lenses will amount to that weight easily. I had a hard time determining what to pack and what to leave home. For example, should I leave my WACOM home? Will PopPhoto supply one?

Luckily, I was conservative and I packed a bit more than I thought I should and stored all the heavy stuff as hand-carry. What that means is that I dragged 80-100lbs of hand-carry with me!!! How dreadful.

Then, I have to start anticipating what sorts of assignments they will throw at me and come up with ideas that are beyond normal. I started doing a frenzy of purchases, such as buying a laptop, Palm Treo cellphone, and even butterflies all the way from Malaysia! All two weeks before flying to New York! Mental preparation is always good. I was given a fantastic advise by a fellow photographer, Don't even worry about what your competitors will do. Just focus on what you do best! This is possibly, one of the best advise I received of all times.


Meeting the Editor-in-Chief - July 10th, 2005

I actually arrived in New York a day early to just get my mind cleared up, my hotel room setup and ready. I had to pay for that extra first night. The rest of the stay is paid for by Popular Photography. Of course, they paid for the air fare as well. On Sunday July 10th, I got a nice tote bag from the receptionist full of goodies, 3 wonderful Photographer of the Year Shoot-Out T-shirts (shown at left), 3 August issue of Pop Photo magazines, transit pass, New York for Non-Tourist booklet (wonderful idea, this one), maps, camera bag, etc. It's a great goodies bag indeed. Thank you, Pop Photo staff as well as whoever stuffed that bag.


Serafina, a nice italian restaurant at 6:30pm was the place we met up with Kyle Garson, Philip Ryan and Editor-in-Chief, the big shot, John Owens. Also present are Andrei Jackamets and Mike Peters. the other two contestants. First thing on the agenda was distribution of hard cash by John, $625 in total for our allowance in NYC. After which, we chatted and boy, we tried hard to prod and poke into the brains of the editors on what we should expect in the next few days and they didn't even twitch! What a bummer!


July 11 - 14th, 2005

These days are covered by Kyle Garson in the nice LIVE coverage article as well as in the October 2005 issue of Popular Photography. So, I'll not spoil the fun. However, here are the full set of images that I submitted for all four of the assignments. Enjoy.

Assignment #1: Eating in Wall Street - July 11th, 2005

Assignment #2: The Watermelon - July 12th, 2005

Assignment #3: The Portrait - July 12th, 2005

Assignment #4: Diary of A Race Track - July 13th, 2005

Yeah! I supposed I'll also be shooting the cover page for the December issue of Popular Photography. That'll be cool. Be on a lookout for that one. ;)

Copyright 2005 Michael Soo, Soo Photography.