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.
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.
Those people who know me well would tell you that I am not a big fan of aeroplanes. In fact, the opposite is true. I have never been in an aeroplane myself and I have no plans to ever change that. Not only that, I don’t even like driving near airports in case a plane should suddenly fly low over the road and frighten the life out of me.
How is it then, that I recently decided to book a ticket to see my very first airshow? Well, one reason is that this particular air display promised to feature some of the oldest planes still flying in the world. The main reason, however, was because this event was to take place on a summer’s evening in July, and it was the prospect of photographing beautiful historic planes combined with the (hopefully) warm evening light that got my attention.
So it was that I set out on the relatively short journey from my house to the Shuttleworth Collection at Old Warden, near Biggleswade. This was another first for me as I had not been there before, although I did once go to the neighbouring Birds of Prey Centre with my good friend Barry.
Although it was my first air display, I have photographed propeller driven aircraft in the past at various historic re-enactments, usually associated with WWII. Consequently, I was aware of the decision that all photographers taking this sort of subject have to take, namely how fast to set the shutter speed.
On the one hand, a fast-moving plane demands a fast shutter speed in order to obtain a sharp image, especially when using a longer lens. On the other hand, a fast shutter will “freeze” the propeller and make the plane resemble a model aircraft, hanging by a thread from the bedroom ceiling. A slower speed is therefore needed in order to show the rotation of the propeller and give the picture a feeling of movement.
On the night, I tried a number of different shutter speeds including 1/200 second which gave good rotation of the prop but reduced my “keeper” rate somewhat due to camera shake (I was using an 80-200mm lens, mostly at the long end). I also tried 1/320 second which showed less propeller movement but gave me many more keepers in terms of sharpness. I also tried 1/250 second which was probably the best compromise, at least with this lens. I dare say that a lens with built-in image stabilizer (IS) would have given me more sharp images at the slower speeds but I don’t have one of those as yet.
So how did it go? Well, despite being a long way out of my comfort zone regarding my fear of planes, it was a brilliant event that I thoroughly enjoyed. The perfect weather conditions certainly helped, it was a clear blue sky for most of the day and very warm indeed, even for July. Add to that the beautiful planes, the great location and a well organised programme run by people who clearly have a love of all things flying and know how to run an event.
I must mention the arrival of the Hawker Sea Fury and Hawker Sea Hurricane. They arrived side-by-side from the right-hand side of the airfield and flew across the viewing area literally wing tip to wing tip. Luckily for me, my face was buried in the back of my camera with my finger welded to the shutter button as they flew by. If I hadn’t been taking photos I’m sure I would have run for cover as they were frighteningly close, as you can see from the sequence of photos below. I guess credit must go to the pilots for the outstanding skill they have in being able to fly so closely without colliding.
The light got better as the evening progressed, with the best light being saved for the WWI and Edwardian planes at the end. If this Bristol Boxkite below looks familiar, you may have seen it staring in the hit movie “Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines”.
Until next time, whatever your chosen subject, enjoy your photography!
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.
One of my favourite events of the year is happening this weekend – 7th, 8th and 9th June 2013. The 1940s event at the Great Central Railway in 2007 was one of the very first re-enactment events that I ever went to and this event is still one of the highlights of my photography calendar.
I shall hopefully be posting photos from this year’s event in due course but before I do that I just wanted to show you the 2013 Great Central Railway Timetable and also the Wartime Weekend Flyer, both of which feature one of my photos on the front cover, the young soldier and the land army girl looking out of the railway carriage window.
I’m really pleased to see this photo taking pride of place on the front of these two brochures, I just hope I can take some photos of a similar quality over the coming weekend. This shot was the best of a series of similar shots that I took just as the train was arriving at Rothley Station.
Here’s the original in case you missed it before:
***Update***Photos from the 2013 1940s event have been posted here
My photos from the GCR 1940s event in 2012 can still be seen here, and from the 2011 event here.
Photos from the first event I covered, back in 2007, can still be found here
Before I talk about my visit to the Great Central Railway 1940s weekend, I want to share some good news about two photos that I took at this event in 2010. I recently entered these two image in the Great Central Railway Print section of the annual exhibition run by Leicester and Leicestershire Photographic Society.
This picture of an engine driver looking out of his cab was commended:
This picture featuring a young soldier and a beautiful land army girl, which was a grab shot taken as a steam train was drawing into Rothley Station, was awarded second place in the same competition:
This year (2012) was the fifth time that my good friend Barry and I have photographed this event in the last 6 years. Not only is it a great event for photographers, but it is a great day out with plenty to see and enjoy, good food and interesting people to meet and share experiences.
The weather turned out so much better than expected with the forecast for Sunday being wet and windy. As it turned out, it was a beautiful day for re-enactors and visitors alike.
I don’t think there were quite as many period costume “characters” as there were last year but there was still plenty going on, certainly on the Sunday when we were there. The Das Heer re-enactment group were on patrol at Rothley Station as in previous years.
At Quorn and Loughborough Stations we encountered the Pitsford Home Guard Living History Group who carried out various exercises, parades and drills throughout the weekend. There was also a rarade featuring members of the Royal British Legion and guest dignitaries including Montgomery among others.
This was my first re-enactment of the year following a long lay-off due to my back problem earlier in the year. It was great to be out taking photos again and I hope to be able to cover more events through the remainder of the year now that my back is improving.
All the photos here were taken with my Canon EOS 5D (Classic) and EF 80-200mm F2.8L lens. All photos were shot in RAW format and processed using Lightroom Version 3.6. I’m still using Windows XP and so I am unable to upgrade to the latest version of Lightroom but to be honest it doesn’t concern me that much.
As always, credit must go to the event organisers, especially everyone connected with the Great Central Railway, including all the volunteers.
Also thanks to all the living history groups and re-enactors, both military and civilian, who make these events such a great photo opportunity for the many enthusiast photographers like myself.
One of my all-time favourite places to visit at any time of the year is the National Tramway Museum at Crich, up in the Peak District near Matlock in Derbyshire. Twice every year the museum, which depicts a traditional english village complete with working tramway and rolling stock, is transported back in time to the 1940s.
Not only are there lots of period vehicles on display, but there are also dozens of individuals and groups dressed in authentic 1940s costume. It is these re-enactors, some in military uniforms of the period, and some in civilian outfits, that make these events such a wonderful opportunity for us enthusiast photographers. The attention to detail of these re-enactors, together with the location, brings a unique chance to capture the look and feel of the 1940s in our photographs.
Unfortunately, I missed the Easter 1940s weekend in April of this year so I made a point of not missing the August event. I was accompanied by my very good friend Barry who not only drove us all the way up from Northamptonshire but also paid for both of our entrance fees. How could I not enjoy such a day? My contribution? Paying for lunch and tea – a fair deal I think.
The forecast was for a fine if cloudy day after an early morning shower. Perfect conditions for outdoor portraiture, cloudy bright, was exactly what we enjoyed for most of the day save for the odd sunny spell in the afternoon which added some welcome warmth to the day which started a little bit chilly for short sleeves.
As we had been to this event several times before, we talked on the way up about strategies for the day i.e. how to get something a little bit different to the usual photos taken at such events. I had already decided I was going to look for candid shots first and foremost, using my longest lens to diffuse the backgrounds which are inevitably busy at all these events.
Using my long lens and a wide aperture enabled me to take pictures from across the street without being in the faces of the re-enactors and that was really useful in getting some natural looking candids. Unfortunately, when certain activities were taking place, especially the 1940s wedding, I was limited to head and shoulders only for some shots due to the closeness of the watching crowd and other photographers. That’s how it is with these events, you win some and you lose some.
Overall, I am very pleased with the set of candid pictures I took on the day, and I hope that if the people in the photos eventually find themselves on my website, they will be pleased too. I think they are a refreshing change from the posed smiley photos that appear on many photographer’s sites. I realise also that some people won’t agree and that’s fair enough.
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.
The 1940s weekend at the Great Central Railway in Leicestershire is one of my favourite WWII re-enactment events on the calendar. My good friend Barry and I have photographed it for four of the last five years, and it was great to see some familiar faces from previous years. Not only that, I even plucked up the courage to speak to some of them!
From a photographers point of view, I thought this was one of the best I can remember, with an assortment of colourful characters and some small but interesting set-pieces to photograph. We caught the train from Loughborough and travelled south stopping at Quorn, Rothley and finally Leicester North Stations. Unlike previous years there was no “battle” as such, but the demonstrations on each station made up for that to a certain extent.
One set of photos that I am particularly pleased with is of a group called DasHeer Living History Society who portray German conscript soldiers from the late 1930s and early 1940s. They have asked me to send them some of my photos to put on their website, which is great, so I will be taking a disc of selected images to Kelmarsh Hall in July where they will be taking part in the Festival of History.
Mixed in with the uniformed re-enactors were many people in civilian outfits from the same period. Some of these were also doing small set-piece presentations throughout the weekend. My favourite had to be Mrs. Day with her 1940s washing demonstration, a wonderful character to photograph and she played the part beautifully.
If you love taking outdoor portraits and environmental portraits as I do, these reenactment weekends provide great subjects to photograph and, with the odd exception, the volunteer re-enactors are willing models for the many photographers who tend to congregate at these events.
You can see more of my photos from the Great Central Railway 1940s Weekend 2011 on my website here.
Update June 2012: Photos from the Great Central Railway 1940s Weekend 2012 can be found on my website here.