Corporal Si Longworth is one of 38 trained British Army photographers. He left a career in aviation to pursue his passion for photography; capturing everything that military life has to offer. He is currently in Afghanistan as the Task Force Helmand Photographer on Op HERRICK 18.
There is one thing I have learned throughout my picture-taking life, and that is, It’s pretty annoying when you get to a location and realise you have left something back at the office.
Time and time again over the years I have reached for the extra flash, or rummaged through my kit bag for the ‘curly-wurly’ lead, filters, spare batteries, and the list goes on and on only to find an empty space where a bit of kit should have been.
(Don’t forget that I have been messing around with a camera since my first paper round and lawn-mowing job paid for my first SLR camera, which happened to be an Olympus OM-10, seen here: (I will be writing more on my kit in a future blog)).
Having recently changed my career path, and taken up photography in a professional capacity, I can no longer afford to be left wanting at the roadside. My job is extremely dynamic and can turn on a dime (Yes, I know that’s a catchphrase from our American brothers, but I like it). I can be tasked to take an outdoor group shot of 60+ people, and then be thrust into a horrendous lighting situation in a dimly lit tent. I can be photographing blast damage, and then in the same breath diving for cover from incoming fire, trying to catch the intensity of the situation with my trusted Nikon (The Nikon D4/D800 are the current issued cameras to Army Photographers, but I’ll write a piece on my kit later).
It is for that reason, I have adopted the adage; “Everything, always…”
Better to have it and not use it
Clearly there are limits. I am only one man, and as strong as I am (laughing) I can only hump so much about. Sometimes I will be lucky and have a vehicle to help, but that will only get me so far. Not to where I really need to be. Not into the thick of the green zone in Helmand. That’s when I have to make sacrifices.
The possibility of isolation in the field with only what I can carry means tough decisions when it comes to kit. Is the second camera really required, or should I just take the lens? How many batteries, flashes, cords, triggers and subtle lighting equipment should I squeeze into my back-pack? Will there be opportunity to get creative with a flash or two, when behind mud walls? Is there a talented VAL (voice activated light stand) on hand to make the most of those extra flashes?
And then there is all the legislated military hardware I need to carry, especially when deployed on operations, sometimes in temperatures above 40 ºC. My weapons, ammunition, body armour, water, spare clothes, sleeping bag, rations and a trusty satellite phone for sending out images, and the list continues.
Just yesterday I was asked to take a portrait shot of a senior officer in Task Force Helmand. The brief:
“He only has five minutes, just a quick in and out job in front of the sign should do it.” I guess some people would walk over with a camera and possibly a flash. Not me. As I sweated myself into position in the midday sun, I must have looked bonkers to the onlookers as I set up two light stands, a shoot-through ‘brolly’ and a couple of radio triggers and angled for the only bit of shade I could find.
As I wiped the sweat from my brow after lugging all the kit to the location, and made the picture, I sighed in relief that I had upheld my own adage. Overkill, some would say. But I say better to have it and not use it, than to have to excuse yourself, run back to the office (on this occasion) to get it, and look a fool.
I was due to go out into the field today for 48 hours. I didn’t need the satellite. I weighed myself at the helicopter flight-line out of interest. Okay, 80 kilograms means I may have some unwanted poundage I need to shift, but once I put on my military kit, and loaded my photography kit onto my back, I weighed in at 130 kilograms. 50 kgs of kit and photography equipment is a pretty hefty burden, and not one I’m used to. You see, I wouldn’t just be able to run back to the office once I am out, so unfortunately for me and my old knees, for the most part, it’s ‘everything, always’.
If only I had the gift of hindsight about the variety and specifics of tasks that will come my way once out on the ground… (At least my shoulders wish that).
Follow Si on Twitter: @Si_Army_Phot