Gilly Needham stood in her garden high over Christchurch and watched dust being shaken free from the city.
It rose up from buildings and hung over them like a cloud. A workman nearby told her to grab a camera.
Needham looked over and saw it at the edge of her kitchen bench. She was uncertain about the stability of her Cashmere home but still she reached in, snatched it and took a single frame of a city destroyed.
"All hell broke loose," she said.
"Our hanging lights were parallel and our pool was going from side to side."
It was February 22, 2011.
Two days later she posted a version of the photo on Facebook. It was soon picked up by newspapers and websites across the world, including The Press.
The photograph took on a life of its own - almost beyond her control.
People were also claiming it as their own.
The earthquake ushered in a wave of media contributions as members of the public armed with digital cameras and smartphones recorded the chaos unfolding across the city.
Asher Trafford, then a student at Lincoln university, was one of those.
He long had an interest in photography but was more used to shooting cars, BMX competitions and concerts. What stood in front of him post-quake was almost incomprehensible.
"It was a mess. I thought it would be a good idea to document it. I knew how rare it was," he said.
Trafford posted the photos on Facebook - Victoria St crumpled in on itself, the Pyne Gould Corporation building collapsed and entire roads sunken several feet down.
Soon they were being shared around across the social network. He started sending them to media organisations. "I was surprised at first but it made sense. Most people didn't have cameras with them and were trying to get out of the city not into it."
The trend continued. When breaking news occurs across the region - storms, fires and accidents - The Press photo desk can be assured there will be several contributions from the public.
Senior lecturer in journalism at University of Canterbury Tara Ross said people had always wanted to help be a part of the story.
There was real power in firsthand eye-witness reporting that says "I was there", she said.
"It gets to the heart of human storytelling."
Earlier this month, Oliver Richardson was woken in his Halswell home by the sound of water pumps and fire appliances.
He looked across the street to see a crane dampening down a blaze that had consumed Ted's Bar and Grill. It was dawn.
Richardson reached for his camera and took a photo of a firefighter silhouetted against the sky. He then sent it in to a reporter working on the story.
The real-time ability to publish quickly and without filter to the internet had changed the game, he said.
Richardson even had a taste of the sorts of ethical dilemmas that professionals face. "It makes you think about the position of the journalist and what you document and what you don't," he said.
The flipside was that he hoped such an environment would not promote a culture of people standing at the side of an accident and recording it rather than stopping to help.
There was now a potential army of citizen reporters who could capture moments in history in a way never dreamed of before.
"In the early days, someone would have 36 exposures in film camera that was reserved for friends, family and special occasions," Richardson said.
"Now there are millions of pictures that sit in people's smartphones. What could be sitting in those phones of significance that hasn't been seen?"
- © Fairfax NZ News
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