Xia's Journey

National Day Parade thru’ the eyes of an NDP photographer ~ Loving the journey thru our lens

on September 9, 2012

The “Orchidstar” reflects an image of an orchid. The colours of the logo reflect the vitality and diversity of Singaporeans, while the red heart embedded within the logo symbolises love for the nation. The design, reminiscent of a star, also represents our hopes and dreams and encourages Singaporeans to reach out together for a brighter future.

Every 9 Aug, Singaporeans from all walks of life come together to celebrate the nation’s birthday. This year, Singapore celebrates its 47 years of independence after its separation from thy neighbour.

For the fifth consecutive year, the celebration is being held at The Float @ Marina Bay. Since its move to the Marina Bay, it could now house 30,000 spectators. With the celebrations played out across Marina Bay precinct, an additional 100,000 Singaporeans and non-Singaporeans could be packed into the area to soak in the celebrations on such a joyous occasion.

The theme for this year’s National Day Parade (NDP) 2012 was “Loving Singapore, Our Home”. It seeks to encourage Singaporeans to reflect on what it means to love our country, what it means to be a Singaporean; not just for the good times, but for the difficult moments we go through, what we appreciate about Singapore, and how each individual can express their love for the nation.

It is a time for us to rally together and pledge ourselves to work as one to overcome these difficulties. This year’s celebration and theme aims to rekindle that warmth and affection for our own home.

Every year, the National Day Parade is a mega-scale national event headed by about 30 main committees, utilizing about 7,000 parade participants and 5,000 Singaporeans from over 13 government and civilian agencies to manage security, safety as well as crowd and carpark access to the event.

This year, I was very honoured to be once again involved in this mega-scale national event. I was enlisted as an Official Photographer for the NDP Publications Committee.

At the Publications Committee that I served, the committee plays an important role in coming up with the publication materials such as pamphlets and flyers that spectators find in the NDP funpack (goody bags) as well as commemorative books for the 7,000 participants. For us as photographers, our main JD (job description) was to shoot as many relevant and useful pictures as we could, to assist in the production of these materials.

Below’s a little re-cap of the NDP and the segments that got our shutters clicking non-stop :

PARADE AND CEREMONY ~ marching contingents

The Parade and Ceremony contingents are an iconic part of the National Day Parade celebrations. This year, there are about 27 parade and ceremony contingents; namely; Colour Party, Guard-of-Honour, Military / Paramilitary Forces such as Singapore Army, Navy, Air Force, Police Force, Civil Defence Force.

There were also Uniformed Youth Organisations such as National Cadet Corps – Land, National Cadet Crops – Sea, National Police Cadet Corps, National Civil Defence Cadet Corps, Red Cross, St. John, Boy’s Brigade, Girls’ Brigade and Scouts.

The supporting contingents were made up by Socio/Economic Organisations such as People’s Action Party, National Trades Union Congress, National Environment Agency, Mercy Relief, SembCorp, POSB, Hyflux, Singtel, Keppel and companies such as Network Courier and Applied Forwarding.

Towards the end of the P & C segment, spectators get up close to some of the marching contingents with the Onward March. The Onward March was first introduced in NDP 2011. This year, 500 young men and women from 10 uniformed groups like the National Cadet Corps, Red Cross and St John will march up the audience stands in tandem to the popular NDP song ‘Count on me, Singapore’. It is a significant moment as the spectators watch these 14 and 15 year-olds, who will be our future, march up the gallery steps.

PARADE AND CEREMONY ~ performances

Before the parade officially commences, spectators were swept off their seats by the Integrated Precision Drill and Motorcycle Performance.

The Red Lions Freefall Display had the spectators ‘spraining’ their necks, waving their flags frantically in the air, and pointing their cameras towards the sky as they try to spot the six members freefall team. Red smoke trails trailed their descent from 10,000 feet, with each of them landing on the runway smoothly and beautifully to the applause and delight of the spectators. This has always been one of the more challenging performances because every year the landing area is different, and every session, the wind conditions are unpredictable. On top of that, there has been a lot of rains this year which causes more turbulence at landing.

The Majulah moment, which takes place concurrently with the State Flag fly-past witness a group of NS men handing over the flag to Full-time National Servicemen (NSFs) and students from uniformed groups, symbolising the passing on of the commitment to ensuring Singapore’s security from one generation to the next.

The spectators and the crowds around Marina Bay area waited in anticipation but yet at the same time, shielding their kids from the loud blasts of the  celebratory rifle salute Feu De Joie (Fire of Joy)  and the 21-Gun Salute by members of the Singapore Artillery.

This year, in commemoration of NS45, an Advance-in-Review Order drill was performed on the parade for the first time with more than 2,000 members of the parade marching forward in unison.

Spectators were thrilled when the eight fighter jets from the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) executed the jaw-dropping enhanced aerial display and a Sea Salute by the Navy’s Rigid Hull Inflatable Boats which created heart-shaped waves as they maneuvered around the waters.


Clad in colourful costumes in a green top, shiny blue bottom and a blue cap, these group of youngsters were like live wires with immense energy and spirit. The motivators were divided into two groups; the seating gallery and the floating platform (stage).

Motivators on the seating gallery ‘warm up’ and engage audiences with their enthusiasm and spirit by singing, dancing and ‘roaring’ along with the crowd and emcees. At the start of the pre-parade, the other group of motivators perform a special “run-in” dance towards the stage with one of the hottest rap songs “Let’s Get It Started” by The Black Eyed Peas.

The motivators are generally students from institutions such as Singapore Polytechnic, Ngee Ann Polytechnic, Republic Polytechnic, Nanyang Polytechnic, Institute of Technical Education (ITE) and Hougang Secondary School. Many of the co-ordinators for the Motivators were volunteers from the TOUCH Community Services


I remembered one of the quotes that I read a long time ago, “Its not the song that makes us cry, it’s the memories behind them that does.” And how true that was, when the combined bands and school choir brought back nostalgic moments with “Xi Shui Chang Liu” and a medley of national day songs like ‘Stand Up for Singapore” and “Count On Me Singapore”.

There were also ‘Things so Singaporean” songs such as “Enjit Semut” and “Singai Nadu”. Many were seen humming and singing along to this year’s theme song, ““Love at First Light” by Olivia Ong and Natanya Tan. These songs still ring vividly in my head as I pen down this post.


The emcees can help make or break the energy at the parade ground. A good selection of the hosts for this year’s NDP are; Gurmit Singh, Sharon Au, Jean Danker, Suhaimi Yusof and Joakim Gomez.


With 4 core values embodying, Identity, Spirit, Love and Home, the show category was broken down into a prologue and these 4 segments.

The show opens with a young girl’s attempt to draw what she envisions Singapore to be.

Act 1 : Reflection of Our Identity

In Act 1, we see PA performers in various ethnic groups such as a Tabla player (a pair of small hand drums attached together used in Indian music), a Gumbus player (a lute used in Malay folk music, a pianist and a Chinese opera singer in his elaborate costume with headdress, forming a musical dialogue.

The Wu Shu performers, Tap Dancers and Red White Drummers drummed up an upbeat performance that got the spectators all hyped up.


Act 2 : Reflection of Our Spirit

Over the many rehersals, we see participants running out with this huge, heavy, Giant Cloth. We could not comprehend what the giant cloth was for. With the lightings, music and narration, the giant cloth mimicked the turbulences of a sea and the challenges that we faced; tried and tested through these 47 enduring years.

As the giant cloth disappears into the trap door, the silence of the night was broken by the vitality of the drum beats and the simultaneous rowing of 22 dragon boats and 15 SAF boats, decorated as ancient Chinese vessels which represented unity and strength of us as a nation.

Singapore Chinese Girls School students and five hundred SOKA participants armed with a battery-operated pyrotechnic torch, gushes out and forms the shape of a heart, the Singapore island and a shape of a Lion Head. When the pyrotechnic torch was lighted, the fiery lion head symbolizes the triumph of the Singapore spirit in light of the many challenges and adversities that we once had.

 Act 3 : Reflection of Our Love

The stage was transformed into a garden, with participants donning on larger-than-life Flowers, Butterfly and Dragonfly props. These performers walking on stilts and skates with their weighing close to 11kg large butterfly wings, adorned the stage as like a blossoming city in a garden. I believed it hasn’t been an easy task for these performers as their heavy-weight wings could catch the wind easily, dragging them backwards and causing them to fall over.

 Finale : Loving Singapore, Our Home

The final segment of the parade sees all participants coming together, reflects on the little things that we love about our nation and pledges to contribute to the on-going progress of the nation.


I always love shooting people ~ capturing their expressions and emotions. The NDP was the perfect ground for such covers. During the NE (National Education) shows, the spectators were mainly primary 5 students. Seeing the very excited little kids come dressed in white and reds, there was simply no time for my camera to take a break. They waited eagerly to get onto the seating gallery. Their enthusiasm and joy of being on the NDP ground brings a light to their faces and a glitter in their eyes.

At the previews and actual day, the energy and spirit of the pubic was just overwhelming. It was an intoxicating feeling of being in unison with fellow citizens regardless of race, language or religion. The strong sense of pride permeates in everyone of us, as we stood together as one.

Whilst combing the seating gallery, I bumped into several friends who came by to watch the parade; Linda, Titus, Eric, An Lun, Fui Ying and Mei Ling. What a bonus it was !



I had the good fortune of shooting fireworks from various sites such as; an exclusive spot atop the Marina Bay Sands, the rooftop of the floating platform as well as shooting from the platform itself. With a new fish-eye lens and my very limited technical skills, it was a shame that I did not manage to get many good shots.

Ever wondered who packs the goody bags the spectators grab proudly in their arms, who engineers the sound and lighting at the parade, who cue the performance timings, who ensures the logistical and safety aspects at the parade etc etc etc…. Many of these man work tirelessly around the clock, behind-the-scenes to bring on a safe, well-executed, wonderful show for the spectators as well as parade participants.

There are many of such teams. One of which; the Command and Control Group 2 (CCG2) main role was to understand and comb all activities happening in and around the floating platform. In view of the security, safety and crowd controls, the team had to think up various possible scenarios, works hard to detail out the plans and come up with more than 30 contingency plans. Their typical workday at each NDP combined rehearsal starts at 7am and ends only after the last person has left the floating platform.

Another team; The cue crew work vigilantly in the background to prompt each performing team, when it is their turn to take centre-stage.

The NDP medical team, comprising of 450 personnel, include doctors, nurses, medics, volunteer first aiders and paracounsellors, are ever ready to provide medical assistance to both spectators or participants.

Week after week, as much as I tried to cover every single part of the parade, I did not manage to. There was just too much to cover


Rain or Shine, we are with you Singapore !




To me, shooting at the NDP is akin to having a baby and delivering it after a three months pregnancy…  : )

When we first started CCR1 at the camp grounds, the participants were in a faze and unsure of where to stand, where to run, how to run etc. Rehersals after rehersals and barkings after barkings, they got more familiar with the grounds, their standing placement, gears, props, costumes etc.

For us as photographers, we witnessed their ‘growth process’ ~ seeing them ‘grow’ from zero to hero. By the actual day, having their parents or loved ones see them perform was their proudest and most jubilant moment. I for one, was happy and proud of them too. It was a big sense of achievement and heartwarming to see them get better with every single session.

Over the many rehersals, faces become names and strangers became friends. Though many were from different segments, there was a strong sense of comradeship binding them as they braved the rain and sun and all the lashings and barkings together.

THE PUBLICATIONS COMMITTEE ~ the photography team

This year, we had about 30 photographers, garnering a massive 235,183 shots over 12 sessions from CCR1 to the actual day. Of this 235,183 shots; 3 publications, 42 illustrations and 14,000 DVDs were produced.

Personally, I clocked a total of 5,593 shots with an average of 550 clicks each session. Our top clicker; Harry had a whopping record of 16,013 shots ~ three times of what I did !

Although we had long relinquished our duties on 9 August at 10pm, with the recent receiving of this NDP 2012 Commemorative Book + DVD, it “officially” marks the end of our NDP 2012 Photography journey. The “raw ingredients” (the photos that we shot) had now become the “finished products” (the pamphlets, flyers and lastly the Commemorative books). Going through the pictures in the DVD, it was as like re-living the NDP session once again. And golly, I managed to catch a few of my shots in there too… ; )

Our photography team too shares the same comradeship amongst ourselves as we journey on this mission as one. We ate together, shot together, lug our heavy camera gears and ran under the scorching hot sun. We miss the lunch and dinner SMS notifications, the flashing of passes. We love shooting and we love being shot.

I am grateful to Robin who gave me yet another go at the NDP, despite my very mediocre skills and pictures.

I am immensely thankful to many veteran photographers such as Kay Hian, Tony, Calvin, Peng Siong, Steven, Harry, Yoon Wei etc who have done the NDP year after year and provided me with invaluable advice and guidance on how, where and what to shoot.

I am indebted to Raymond for lending me his external flash unconditionally for the entire NDP period.

I really appreciate Carren for loaning me her wide-angle lens and for having such a big heart in always picking and driving me around.

I am grateful to Wei Bin for lending me a hand and helping me when I lost my mobile phone.

I am gratified by John’s unwavering spirit in capturing so many beautiful shots of me.

I am touched by Kenneth’s shared enthusiasm with and joining me in the Lego project.

I applaud Han for his kindness and generosity in bringing our team up to the exclusive spot at MBS for the fireworks shoot week after week.


Our team would not have been half as complete without the ever-so-supportive Chairman, Chua Chay Sir.

I feel greatly for Guo Jie and the committee who had to burn their weekends being on the ground with us.

No amount of thank you’s could thank Danny Chan for being so organized, systematic, engaging, very much on-top of things and to spend tons of weekday nights going through an average of 17,716 pictures each week to shortlist the pictures so as to provide us with very clear definite directions of what other photography angles were needed and what were not. It was of no mean feat going through these 235,183 shots. I can imagine how much midnight oil that had to be burnt, how much family time had to be sacrificed and how much Red Bull had to be consumed to get these pictures done up.

It’s kudos to the committee and I could only say a BIG BIG THANK YOU to every single one of you that had been part of this amazing NDP 2012 journey.

With this, I shall leave my NDP 2012’s journey with a lovely parting gift, very wonderfully done up by Mike Sir. Enjoy    : p


9 responses to “National Day Parade thru’ the eyes of an NDP photographer ~ Loving the journey thru our lens

  1. John Wong says:

    Love it. You have the passion to write and edit.

  2. Danny Chan says:

    Well done to our “开心果”. This is definitely a wonderful Journey. Thank you

  3. Shu Hui says:

    i came across your blog. Am very happy to see this article of yours. Will be participating to shoot this year NDP15. Your article gave me a better understanding of what to expect 🙂
    Cant wait!

    • xia says:

      Dear Shu Hui ;

      Thank you for the popping in. I hope you found the post useful. Wishing you lots of luck and fun in shooting this year’s NDP. I’m sure it gonna be a big bang with the SG50 celebrations. Hope to catch you on the ground one of these days 🙂

  4. Ignacia Sandra says:

    Hello Xia,

    I accidentally came into your blog while searching for news and photos on NDP.
    I had always been fascinating by the pictures you guys captured over the years during NDP.
    I would love to find out how your team operate and would really wish to be part of the team if there is an opportunity.

    Hope you read my note soon, and hope to hear your advise


  5. Abel says:


    Chanced upon your blog whilst searching for an opportunity to be part of this year’s NDP as a photographer! Any directions on how I could possibly be part of the team? Hope I’m not too late! 😀

    Looking forward to hearing from you soon! 😀

    Abel 🙂

    • xia says:

      Hi Abel ;

      Thanks for reading. It is a little too late to sign up as an NDP photographer for this year as we have already started shooting at their rehersals and all passes and clearances had been processed. If you are keen, you can contact me again about Feb or March next year and I can put you in contact with the person-in-charge for his review.

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