One week on and a distinct change of pace and mood followed my recent visit to Silverstone. Members of Desborough and Rothwell Photographic Society were invited to spend a morning taking photographs inside Holy Trinity Church in Rothwell, Northamptonshire.
Our visit included a guided tour of the bell tower including, for the brave or the fearless, access to the top of the tower to enjoy panoramic views over the town and the surrounding countryside. Also included in our morning was access to the famous bone crypt.
The history of Holy Trinity Church stretches back almost a thousand years, with the oldest part of the church dating back to Norman times. The main part of the church was constructed in the 13th Century and there have been several alterations and additions since then. At 173 feet in length, the church is the longest in Northamptonshire and, like many churches and buildings in the area, was built from local sandstone giving it a distinctive golden colour, particularly when see in evening sunlight.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t brave enough on the day to face the climb up the ladder from the bell chamber, through the trap-door, to the roof above. I’m not very good with heights I’m afraid even though I wanted to get to the top for the views. As it was, I stayed next to the bells with another member of the society whilst three members climbed the ladder to the top of the tower.
CLANG! CLANG! CLANG! CLANG! Without warning, the tranquility of this Saturday morning was shattered and I jumped out of my skin as the bells, which I was standing next to at the time, suddenly chimed the quarter-hour. The sound was deafening and yet beautiful at the same time. Our guide had explained earlier that each bell produces not just a single tone but a range of tones determined by the size and shape of the design. See here for a detailed explanation.
I may have been chicken when it came to climbing to the top of the tower but I made amends when it came to photographing the bone crypt. This was my first visit to this site and I wasn’t sure beforehand just how I would react to the sight of dozens, maybe hundreds of human skulls and other bones in varying states of decay. I needn’t have worried as I had my quizzical photographers head on as I carefully descended the narrow stone staircase from the main church to the crypt.
I guessed that the light would not be very good in the crypt so I brought my own light with me in the form of a Canon 580 speedlite. I also brought an old friend, the ST-E2 speedlite transmitter which allows for off-camera flash using infra-red triggering, unlike the modern radio types. The speedlite transmitter has an extra trick up its sleeve, not only does it trigger remote flashes, it also has not one but two infra-red focus-assist beams which are a great aid to focussing in dim lighting. The shots below were taken at F/8 to give good depth of field.
We were made very welcome at the church with tea, coffee and cakes being provided for the society members. In exchange we have promised to supply photos from the day to be considered for selling as postcards in the church. The morning passed so quickly and before long it was time to leave.
If I ever get the chance again I would definitely spend more time photographing the spectacular stained glass windows and the beautiful stone work inside this lovely church. Hopefully one of our members got those shots that I missed on this occasion. I can imagine a lens with an image stabilizer would be perfect for that type of shot, or you could always do what some of our members did, use a tripod.
Below is a selection of my shots from the day. I have a gallery dedicated to some of my favourite Northamptonshire churches, including a few more photos from Rothwell on my website here.
When I think about sports photography, and motor sports in particular, I think of photographers in hi-visibility vests carrying huge lenses over their shoulder, or crouched down behind a hoarding at Wimbledon, or a Premier League match, or the Olympics.
The vest is very important of course. It assures everyone who sees it that the photographer wearing it is accredited to take photos at any given event. It also indicates that the photographer is most probably working for a well-known media company, whether it be a newspaper, magazine, website or photo agency.
OK, I’ll admit it, I am quite jealous of the guys (and girls) in the dayglow vests. Why am I jealous? Three reasons; first because they are working professional photographers with all that involves whereas I am not, secondly because they have the super-fast super-expensive long lenses (not to mention expensive cameras) that I can only dream of, and finally because they get to stand in the very best places, in front of the chicken wire fencing, when mere mortals such as myself have to try to find a spot where we can actually see over it!
Now I’ve got that off my chest, let me tell you about my recent visit to Silverstone for the annual Silverstone Classic event. The Silverstone Classic is a two-day event (three including qualifying) featuring some of the finest classic racing cars in the world competing in 12 different classes over 24 races. I was there for the Saturday , intrigued by the prospect of two races to be held in the evening towards dusk, the first a race for pre-66 GT cars and the second for the Group-C Le-mans type cars.
I love the warmth of evening light and I set out early on the Saturday morning knowing that I had 12 races to cover in 12 hours, starting at 9am for the first race – the Formula Juniors, and ending at 9pm with the Group C cars.
I’m not a sports photographer, as you have probably gathered. No super-fast long lenses for me, just my trusty Canon EF 80-200mm F/2.8 and a Kenko 1.4x DG300 extender, giving me 280mm @ F4 at full zoom. However, I did go armed with some advice from Trevor following my first attempt at Silverstone photography which resulted in me getting lots of photos of racing cars and wire fencing, not necessarily in that order. He directed me to an area of slightly elevated concrete terracing at Luffield corner with a promise that I should be able to see the track over the wire fencing at that point.
Yes! I could see both the track and the cars on it, this was definitely the spot for me! I was so pleased with this location, I stayed in the exact same spot all morning without moving. Whilst this seemed like a very good idea at the time, hindsight is a wonderful thing. Not only did I end up with 400 photos which looked almost exactly the same (different cars and drivers) but I also managed to get sun-burned on the backs of my legs after deciding to wear shorts for the day.
After my picnic lunch, at which time I discovered my pink calves, I decided to move to the covered grandstand at Woodcote corner, opposite the old start/finish line. I didn’t like this location nearly as much as I was looking down on the cars rather than across. On the plus side, I was no longer in full sun and I did get the chance to practice some panning, at which I am not very good. I also got some different shots although my keeper rate from this location was not as good.
Three races later, and with clear blue skies now replaced by darkening cloud, I moved back to Luffield for the pre-66 Formula 1 cars, a race I was looking forward to very much. Even as the race started, the dark clouds were becoming more ominous and a chill wind started blowing across the track. A few laps in, with light levels falling rapidly and my ISO up to 1600, the heavens suddenly opened and the track, the cars, drivers and spectators alike were well and truly soaked.
I heard the public address system notify everyone that the race had been abandoned as I ran towards the cover of the stand at Woodcote. Unfortunately, I was fairly well soaked by the time I got there but at least I was under cover. The rain did ease off eventually and about an hour later after much track-clearing by the marshalls, aided by a number of mechanical sweepers, the GT cars came out for their race. Unfortunately for them the rain started falling again just as they came out so the race was started behind the safety car.
With the light fading once again and the rain still falling, the GT cars battled their way through the surface water and put on quite a show for the hardy race fans and photographers who had stayed late to watch them. I did what I could in the conditions, I abandoned the 1.4x extender to get me an extra stop of light and continued to get as many shots as I could. On the plus side, the headlights of the cars, the fading light, and the water-logged track led to some quite dramatic lighting and I was very pleased that I had stayed on to see this race.
In the event, this was the last race of the day, the Group C race having been abandoned due to the wet weather, the darkness and the time which by that time was almost 9pm. I had a brilliant day, notwithstanding the sun-burn and the soaking, with thanks again to Trevor for the ticket. I know my photos are not the best sports action photos, far from it, but they were the best that I could achieve on the day and I am particularly pleased with some of my rain-soaked almost dark GT race shots.
I also finished the day with a good deal more respect for the orange vest brigade. Even given the advantages they may or may not have, there is still a job to do capturing the action, come rain or shine. I’m sure it is a lot less fun when your livelihood and your reputation depends on you coming home with the goods day after day. Perhaps I’m not so badly off after all… I would still love that 5D Mark III or 1DX and a long white lens though, maybe one day…. ;o)
As always, this is just a small selection of my photos from the day, the remainder can be found on my website here.
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 a tiny selection from the 1200 plus photos that I took at the London North Tough Mudder event at Boughton House near Kettering in the UK on 4th May 2013.
Unlike last year, this time my good friend Janet and I were attempting to follow two particular groups of runners, one from the 8:40am start group, and one from the 9:00am start. I must confess, I totally missed Joe and his team at our first obstacle, the aptly titled “Kiss of Mud” despite being in position on time. We both managed to catch Matt and most of his team twenty minutes later though.
Then, a mad dash to the “Island Hopping” before a short trip to the “Underwater Tunnels” at which point we lost contact with our teams as they ventured away from the spectator areas.
We then waited to “ambush” them at “Mud Mile” #2, where I finally caught site of Joe and the team, and then rushed back to catch them as they approached the final few obstacles, including the “Hero Walls”, “Everest” and finally “Electroshock Therapy”.
It was an excellent event to photograph, as it was last year. I could easily have stayed at Mud Mile all day it was so entertaining. The occasional heavy shower with hail stones thrown in just added to the fun.
***Update – December 2019*** for any runners still looking for photos from the London North 2013 event at Boughton House, I have now tagged all my photos from the day with your running numbers (wherever they were visible). Use the search box at the top of the Gallery Page below to check if I managed to tag your number (Saturday 4th May 2013 only):
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:
Finally, a new blog post – my first since January. I’m going to start with a confession: Up until the week before this event, I had never heard of Tough Mudder and didn’t know anything about this type of event.
It was my friend Janet who introduced me to the world that is Tough Mudder. A friend and colleague of hers, Marianne, was taking part in the event and Janet wanted to go along to offer support and hopefully take some photos at the same time. After doing some research on the event website, Janet thought that it would appeal to me as a photographic opportunity, and duly sent me the link.
As it happened, I also knew someone taking part in event, though I didn’t know it beforehand. A colleague from work, Joe, spotted me on the approach to the Hay Bale Pyramid, one of the early obstacles. I also managed to photograph him jumping a ditch a little later, but then all but missed him running through the Firewalker. With hindsight, I would love to have caught him at the mud mile as I would have got a lot more photos at that location. Maybe next time…
It turned out that this particular event, held at Boughton House, near Kettering in Northamptonshire was the very first Tough Mudder event to take place in the UK, following enormous success in the USA and other countries worldwide. So what is Tough Mudder all about? In essence, the event consists of a twelve-mile run across country with an obstacle to overcome roughly every half mile or so.
The obstacles varied in their difficulty and their level of sadism. Some, like the Berlin Walls and Hay Bale Pyramid, provided a physical barrier to scale and overcome. Others, like the Mud Mile and Log Bog Jog were designed to sap the energy out of the competitors and test their stamina…
Other obstacles such the Funkey Monkey and Walk the Plank tested the physical capabilities of the runners in respect of their strength, balance and agility. As for the Electro-Shock Therapy, well you can make your own mind up about that one…
Many of the obstacles are designed with teamwork in mind, none more so than the Everest Wall, the last but one obstacle consisting of a quarter-pipe roughly 12 feet high which proved to be almost impossible to scale single-handed but turned into an object lesson in using team-work and camaraderie to overcome the seemingly insurmountable.
It is this sense of teamwork that sets Tough Mudder apart from many similar types of event such as Tough Guy. Tough Mudder is not a race as such, it is a challenge above all else, both a personal challenge and a team challenge. Add to this mix lots of mud and the fact that most of the entrants were also raising large amounts of money for good causes at the same time and you have the reasons why this has become such a successful format.
As a photographic opportunity, this was a great event for me and just what I needed after a long lay-off suffering from back muscle spasms. With hindsight, I probably missed some of the very best obstacles in terms of facial expressions, the Arctic Enema and the Spiders Web for instance. However, this was the first time I had tried to photograph an event like this and I think I did ok for a first attempt.
In truth, I did not know what to expect in terms of spectator access to the obstacles, which was actually much better than I imagined. Because of this uncertainty, I decided to take my old but trusty Canon EF55-200mm F4-5.6 zoom. This is a great lens for the money but doesn’t quite give that 3D effect that my regular EF80-200mm F2.8 would have given. All shots were taken with my EOS 5D (or 5D Classic as it is referred to now). One equipment decision I was pleased with was footwear. Janet and I both chose to wear our wellies and we were both very glad that we did!
One thing I wasn’t prepared for was the sheer number of competitors taking part. 8,000 runners took part on the Saturday when we attended, and another 5,000 on the Sunday. Any attempt to photograph all those taking part was clearly futile. Even the official event photographers who had cameras located at various locations around the course struggled to get shots of everyone taking part.
Janet and I had a great day out photographing this event. Not just because it was a beautiful day weather wise but because it was such a great event both to witness and to photograph. There were times, especially at the “Everest” wall when I had to stop taking photos just to enjoy and appreciate the unbelievable effort that the competitors were making in order to complete the challenge.
We both left Boughton House full of respect and admiration for everyone who takes part in these events. The levels of commitment, dedication and teamwork were clear for all to see. Now that my eyes have been opened to this type of event, I very much hope to be able to cover more of them later in the year, hopefully in Scotland on the 14th and 15th July, and at Cholmondeley Castle in the North West on the 17th and 18th November.
***Update – December 2019*** for any runners still looking for photos from the South-East/Midlands event at Boughton House, I have now tagged all my photos from the day with your running numbers (wherever they were visible). Use the search box at the top of the Gallery Page below to check if I managed to tag your number (Saturday 12th May 2012 only):
It’s fair to say that the Festival of History held anually at Kelmarsh Hall in Northamptonshire is the jewel in the crown of the English Heritage events calendar. I had been looking forward to this event for a long time so it was with some trepidation that I watched the weather forecast for the weekend on the Friday night which warned of heavy rain showers on Saturday followed by more heavy rain showers on Sunday.
As it turned out, Saturday morning was a wash-out as it rained almost constantly right up until around 1pm but from there onwards it stayed more or less fine for the rest of the day. I had already decided to take my chance on the Sunday and that turned out to be a day of sunshine and mostly light showers so not as bad as forecast.
The Festival of History presents many opportunities to the enthusiast photographer, but also some challenges. On the positive side, there is so very much to see, so many people and events to photograph and so much going on all the time. The enormous number of re-enactors taking part, the different periods of history portrayed and the variety of set-pieces and encampments to explore is mind-blowing.
It’s the sheer size of the event that presents one of the major challenges. At any given time there are at least three different places you need to be. Another problem is trying to isolate your subject from the background which at times can get a bit messy with white tents, members of the public (refered to as MOPs by the re-enactors), other photographers (grrr!), videographers (is that a word?), trade stands, caravans etc.
The problems continue when trying to shoot the big battle re-enactments in the main arenas. Every photographers worst nightmare, the safety ropes – white this time, a welcome change from blue you may think – are there to ensure that almost every photo you take will contain at least some portion of the dreaded rope.
Despite all the above, I love this event. There are so many photo opportunities all around you but you do have to keep a close eye on procedings and you do need to be lucky sometimes in order to be in just the right place at the right time.
In the event I was very lucky with the weather, one sharp shower in the afternoon but only a few spots of rain for the rest of the day. A very enjoyable day and it was good to catch up with some of the people I had met at previous events.
Update January 2020: You can find many more images from the event over on my website here.