Please find below selection of sights and characters from a Saturday evening special event at the Black Country Museum in Dudley titled “Red By Night”. All photos were taken with my Fujifilm X-H1 with 16-55mm F/2.8 (mostly) and 16mm F/1.4 lenses.
It was a perfect late spring evening for the event as you can see from the photo above. Barely a breath of wind to disturb the reflections at the Castle Fields Boat Dock. The title of the event comes from the well known local expression “Black by Day, Red by Night” referring to the heavy industry that was a feature of the Black Country, and which is celebrated at the Museum.
One of the great highlights of the evening was to see the newly restored Steam-Powered Hammer in action. This has recently been brought back into full service following a £100,000 restoration. It was a wonderful experience to see the steam hammer in action. Here you can see a glowing lump of steel taken straight from the furnace being carefully put into place ready for the hammer.
It’s hard to believe that it was August 2011 when I last visited the National Tramway Museum at Crich in Derbyshire. I was genuinely surprised to discover that I had not been to this event for six years but that is how long it has been. So much has changed for me personally during that time, so it is reassuring to discover that the event itself has changed very little, with many familiar faces to be seen, and the familiar surroundings which provide an excellent supporting role for these 1940s events.
Last time I visited this event, I was still shooting with my trusty Canon 5D, now lovingly refered to on some internet forums as the “5D Classic”. The 5D was my first full-frame camera and it was remarkable in that it always outperformed what the specification sheet would suggest it could achieve. With “only” 12 megapixels and “only” 9 focusing points (and only 1 that could be relied on), the spec would appear quite basic compared to today’s cameras but somehow it always seemed to deliver, a testament to the quality of the sensor.
This was my first visit to The Victory Show, which takes place just outside Cosby in Leicestershire. Now in its eighth year, the show took place on an extensive 100 acre site and promised a wide variety of WWII tanks and armoured vehicles, a large number of re-enactment groups and an impressive flying display of planes from the period.
The mix of static displays, living history encampments (including authentic looking trenches and other scenarios), together with set-piece battle re-enactments and a historic airshow meant that there was plenty to see and enjoy and lots of photographic opportunities.
I actually missed the set-piece battle on the main field in the afternoon as I was at the opposite end of the site and somewhat distracted while talking to a lovely lady from one of the large re-enactment groups. However, I did manage to catch a little of the morning skirmish and most of the flying displays.
I enjoyed looking round the static displays very much and everyone I talked to was really friendly which for someone like me is a real bonus as I sometimes have trouble approaching people to engage with them.
The highlight of the flying display for me was the North American B-25 Mitchell bomber. The sight and, just as important, the sound of this rare vintage plane flying low over the airstrip and then performing various manoeuvres to show off its capabilities was a real treat for everyone who was there.
If the B-25 was the highlight, the supporting cast wasn’t far behind. We were treated to a magnificent display of WWII fighter planes including the Carolyn Grace Spitfire…
and the Yakovlev Yak 11…
The Red Arrows display team also made a brief but memorable appearance…
I have included a few of my favourites from the day in this post, I hope you enjoyed them.
Call me a coward but in real life I will do almost anything to avoid conflict and confrontation. So why is it that I am regularly drawn to photograph these historic battle re-enactments, you might ask? A good question, one that I occasionally ask myself!
The answer of course is very simple. These are wonderful events to photograph, the sight and sound of men and women marching into battle, the sound and smell of the gunfire, the beauty of the horses, the vibrant colours of the uniforms, the clanking of the armour, the sound of metal on metal as the army’s engage in hand to hand combat – wonderful!
So it was I found myself at Bosworth Battlefield in Leicestershire for the anniversary battle re-enactment, one of my favourite events of the year. The Battle of Bosworth on 22nd August 1485 is where Richard III lost not only the battle but also his life. His Yorkist army was defeated by the Lancastrians led by Henry Tudor (Henry VII) and this defeat effectively ended the wars of the roses. Henry was the first of the Tudors and he ruled until his death in 1509, after which he was succeeded by his second son, Henry VIII.
Of course there was much more to see at Bosworth than just the re-enactment battle itself, although that was the main set-piece event. A full timetable of events took place throughout the day including a re-enactment of the Battle of Tewkesbury in the morning.
There was also a display of mounted skills at arms with riders, both men and women, pitting their skills against a variety of targets while on horseback.
A first for Bosworth and for me too was a display entitled “Battle of the Nations”. This comprised a number of skirmishes, in a makeshift arena, in which two or more heavily armoured men armed with swords and shields fought each other in a carefully controlled but brutal battle to put their opponent on the floor.
The fighting was fast and furious in a gladiator style, the fighters laden down with all their heavy armour including heavily constructed helmets and visors.
I can only imagine how incredibly hot and physically draining it must have been to take part in this type of battle but it certainly made for some entertaining action for the many spectators around the Bosworth main arena.
Another popular attraction is the jousting tournament. This spectacular and occasionally dangerous pastime much loved by the knights of old is one of the highlights of the afternoon programme. The aim of the riders is to break your own lance on the shield of your opponent and points are scored for the accuracy of the hits and the amount of damage to your lance.
This year’s tournament ended in quite a spectacular but unexpected fashion when, on the very last pass of the day, the safety fence between the horses appeared to blow over as seen below. To the best of my knowledge, both horses and riders thankfully escaped without injury but I’m sure the event organisers will want to review what happened before next year’s event.
There were also some impressive birds of prey demonstrations throughout the day but I will save those photos for a separate post. The main event was the anniversary battle re-enactment itself with Richard III leading his Yorkist army into battle for the last time against the Lancastrians led by Henry Tudor.
A minute’s silence preceded the battle as always to remember all those who fought and died in the Wars of the Roses. Then the battle commenced and once more it didn’t disappoint.
As mentioned earlier, for photographers like myself, these events have everything you could wish for – colour, action, movement, drama, scale, atmosphere, sometimes a little humour but always a real feeling of witnessing something rather special right in front of you.
Attempting to capture all these elements in still pictures is the challenge of course and it is not without difficulties. These battles are often unpredictable and the number of spectators dictates that you have to pick the spot where you are going to stand well in advance and stay they for the duration of the battle, come what may.
The problem comes when you find yourself in the wrong place, because the battle moved to the other end of the arena, or it passed you by quickly and left you looking only at the backs of everyone involved. This is a familiar scenario for me as this very thing happened to me only recently at Kelmarsh earlier this year during the Wars of the Roses battle. if you find yourself in the wrong place there’s very little you can do except hope that they come back to you!
Once again I had a brilliant day at Bosworth, credit must go to all the organisers and all the re-enactment groups who took part in the event for making it a day to remember.
Hopefully my photos managed to capture some of the drama and colour of the day, I know I’m reasonably happy with them. I realise these photos may not be “real life” enough for some people’s eyes but maybe that’s one of the big attractions to me of photographing this type of event – a little bit of escape from “real life”.
The rest of my photos from the day (over 400 of them) can be found on my website here.
Remember, whatever your chosen subject, enjoy your photography!
So, a change of name for this showpiece event in the English Heritage calendar, no longer the “Festival of History”, now “History Live!”. On the face of it, that was just about the only change of note to this excellent event. It was, to this paying customer at least, the same Festival of History as in previous years, just with a different name. One other change I did notice, there was no First World War trench display this year although I am told this will return in 2014 as one of many events planned to mark the centenary of the start of the Great War.
What a difference a year makes. This time last year I remember blogging about how this event, along with many others, had been cancelled due to the wettest summer for a hundred years. Fast forward twelve months and the UK is enjoying (if that’s the right expression…) a heat wave such as we haven’t seen for many years. Here in Northamptonshire we have hardly seen a drop of rain for almost four weeks and with clear blue skies and temperatures in the mid to high 20s Celsius every day for the past three weeks the ground is starting to look quite parched and brown in many places.
In the event, the weekend weather turned out to be not the clear blue skies and souring temperatures of the previous few days but much cooler, cloudier and quite overcast at times. I can imagine this would a great relief to the re-enactors in their uniforms, many of which include both chain mail and/or heavy armour, not to mention helmets, weapons and various other pieces of kit which required to represent the chosen period with authenticity.
Regular readers of this blog will know that “cloudy bright” is my very favourite lighting for outdoor people photography, the clouds forming a massive diffuser to spread the light evenly over the subject without creating harsh shadows or highlights. In particular, photographing people wearing hats can be especially problematic in strong sunlight due to the harsh shadows created under the brim. In these conditions I usually resort to fill-flash (which is so easy with modern cameras) to avoid hard shadows obscurring the eyes.
On the Saturday, the light was actually rather poor for much of the day. I shoot Aperture Priority (Av on Canon DSLRs) almost all of the time so I have full control over depth of field. However, I had to constantly keep an eye on my shutter speed and subsequently adjust the ISO upwards if it started to fall below 1/320 second (I was using my trusty EF 80-200mm MDP lens for the event and 1/250 is absolutely the slowest shutter speed I want to go with this lens unless deliberately panning). I also took the Canon 40mm “pancake” lens for the wider shots. It’s a great little lens with surprising performance for something so tiny.
Below is a small selection of the photos I took on the day, including the Hawker Hurricane flypast. I have just started uploading some of my other photos from this event to my website here.
Here’s just a few of my favourite photos from the 1940s event last weekend at the Great Central Railway in Leicestershire. As usual, I went with my good friend Barry on the Saturday, to be honest I was feeling a little tired after a long day at my sister-in-law’s wedding the day before.
As soon as we arrived we were immediately aware that it was going to be a busy day with lots of people having turned out to see the event. I had decided the night before to take just my longer lens, a Canon 80-200mm F/2.8 L (a.k.a. The Magic Drainpipe), and leave my standard zoom (28-70mm) at home. The longer zoom is perfect for head & shoulders portraits and I also had in mind the possibility of a fly-past at some point in the day but this turned out to be only on the Sunday.
The problem with taking only the longer lens, is that it requires a certain distance between the photographer and subject in order to get good framing and a little bit of variation in composition.
Now this is fine as long as there are not too many people and other photographers about but can be a bit tricky when there are lots of people around and lots of photographers with shorter lenses trying to get the same shot as me but from a closer range. On the positive side, the longer lens can be used to “isolate” the subject from the surroundings and can also provide a more diffused background than with a standard zoom.
Yet another event is cancelled due to the terrible wet summer we are having here in the UK. The Festival of History at Kelmarsh Hall in Northamptonshire, the flagship event in the English Heritage calendar, has suffered the same fate as so many other outdoor events this year.
It all started in March with the announcement that there were to be hosepipe bans in many parts of the country due to water shortages and the reservoirs being at record lows. I know myself from visits to Rutland Water reservoir that water levels were indeed very low at that time. Little did anyone realise that almost from the moment the hosepipe ban was announced, it would rain almost daily for the next three months. June 2012 was the wettest June since records began in 1908 and July has carried on in much the same way.
It was ironic that last Sunday, the day I was planning to go to the Festival of History, turned out to be one of the best days so far in July with plenty of sunshine. Sadly the field where the festival was to take place was already under water by then and the event had reluctantly been cancelled after the downpours of Thursday and Friday nights added to the already wet conditions under foot.
It’s a real shame, not just for me, but especially for the organisers and the re-enactment groups and living history groups who have no doubt been planning this event for many weeks and months in advance. I know of at least two other events that were cancelled on the same weekend. Only the Burton Latimer Annual Duck Race survived, it would appear that the current weather is absolutely perfect for ducks, even the yellow plastic variety!
Oh well, I hope to have some new photos to share very soon, August is looking very busy with the Battle of Bosworth anniversary re-enactment and the Crich 1940s weekend already in my calendar. In the mean time, here is a link to my photos from some of the recent Festivals of History: