Manila-based photographer Aaron Favila was about to drive his family to the new Star Wars movie on Sunday afternoon when he saw an alarming tweet: The Taal volcano in Tagaytay, just 35 miles (60 kilometers) from the Philippine capital, was spewing ash and threatening an eruption.
The movie would have to wait.
Favila alerted video journalist Bogie Calupitan and chief correspondent Jim Gomez, and immediately started making plans to head to the site, a 2 to 3-hour drive from Manila. He told his family to take his wife’s car to the movie and he set out on the road, with Calupitan not far behind.
As Favila got close, a downpour of ash started to fall, and his wipers couldn’t keep up. Favila shot a few snaps before dark, filed them, and pressed on. Joining the standout photo coverage was recently retired chief photographer Bullit Marquez who contributed key images.
Meanwhile, Calupitan was making his own way to the site, and Gomez was filing urgently from the office. Even from the road, Calupitan secured user-generated content (UGC) from Facebook and from his wife’s office mate who lives near the volcano. Then he spotted a narrow vantage point along the road and set up his live shot. It showed a dramatic scene, with a high cloud of ash rising from the volcano amid intermittent flashes of lightening. Because of their fast work, AP was the only agency with live shots before darkness fell. A major competitor did not arrive at the site until the next morning.
The entire team employed AP’s news gathering strategy of Now, Better, Best: being the first up with live shots and UGC, and then dominating the story for two days even after the competition arrived.
Their fast and professional work was reflected in the play. Ten of the top 100 photos downloaded from AP images were volcano photos, even though the story was competing with NFL playoff games and the Iran plane crash. The top three videos were also of the volcano, with a whopping 2,876 hits combined. The text story was used widely as well. But perhaps the most impressive image was one that didn’t make the wire, this shot of Favila’s car after it was blanketed by ash:
The AP is paying for a thorough cleaning. Oh, and Favila still hasn’t had a chance to see that Star Wars movie, though the force was most definitely with him and his colleagues. For outstanding work, Favila, Calupitan and Gomez win AP’s Best of the Week award.