What’s in the bag?

Corporal Si Longworth in Afghanistan

Corporal Si Longworth in Afghanistan

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.

As you all know, this blog isn’t Afghan specific. It’s a blog about life as an Army Photographer. It just so happens that I opened it up in sunny and sandy Helmand Province. So, I am going to take a little break from the routine this time as I have received a number of questions, via email or my new-found friend; twitter, about kit and equipment.

Being employed by Her Majesty has certain benefits and one of which is being ‘issued’ with enough equipment to be able to do your job with. The Army Phots, unlike our Navy or RAF sisters are fortunate enough to be issued with what is known as a ‘Kit for Life’. What happened is this. When I finished my training to become a professional Army Photographer, I headed down to Army Media and Communications in Army Headquarters in Andover and made a very easy trade; my signature for a huge Pelican Case (Peli-Case) full of photographic kit and equipment. More ‘stuff’ than I could carry out to my car in one go. It seemed a pretty fair deal to me.

My kit for life (or the five years I have left to serve) was a one-time issue that is to last me until I leave the Army or photographic trade. As it is one-off, we must care for it as if it was our own. There are limited spares in the system, and so it really is in my best interest to look after it all. As I said before, the Navy and the RAF aren’t so lucky, as they generally have to share cameras and kit. There could be up to five photographers posted into the same unit, so I guess it all make sense.

So for those who are wondering exactly what I am able to use at my disposal, here is an image of most of the items I received on that day. Some of the items were not essential for Afghan so has stayed in my locker back in Tidworth, but this is the bulk of it.

My Issued kit

My Issued kit

Key

Key

 

1. Light stand 13. Manfrotto tripod and head
2. Lastolite dual reflector (gold/white) 14. Nikon 70-200 f2.8
3. Toshiba laptop 15. Nikon 14-24 f2.8
4. Card readers (XQD/SD/CF) 16. Hoya 77mm filters
5. LaCie 1Tb hard drives 17. Lastolite extending handle (small)
6. Memory cards (XQD / CF) 18. Nikon SB900
7. Nikon D3 19. Pocket Wizard II
8. Nikon D4 20. Nikon ML-2
9. Nikon D800 21. Nikon SU-800
10. Fuji S5 Pro (Infra red) 22. Nikon battery chargers and batteries
11. Canon G12 23. CR 123 battery and case
12. Lastolite Ezybox hotshoe (60cm)

Personal ‘goodies’

As I am sure you will agree, this is a formidable bounty. I use my D3 cameras for the majority of work out in Afghanistan, as they are coming to an end of their contract life. I brought my D4 / D800 combo out, but as they have to last me five years, they have spend most of their time sleeping in the locker in my office. The dust and grit out here is brutal so I protect them for their own good.

Having been a keen photographer for years I have also built up a selection of items that I have found useful and some of those bits found their way onto the flight out to Afghan. Here they are:

My personal goodies

My personal goodies

Key

Key

 

1. 7DayShop battery chargers 15. Flash battery packs
2. Manfrotto ‘Justin’ clamp 16. Nikon SC-29
3. Spare clamp 17. Rogue Flashbender large
4. Cokin Z-Pro filters 18. White umbrella
5. Lastolite ‘Joe McNally’ tri-flash bracket 19. Tri-fold light stand
6. Home-made snoots 20. Hard drive carry cases
7. Home-made grids 21. Petzl head torch
8. Cold Shoe brackets 22. LCW Vari-ND filter
9. Dictaphone 23. Tiffen Var-ND Filter
10. 7DayShop 2900mAh Ni-Mh AA batts 24. Tri-fold white brolly
11. Expo disc 25. Sand bags
12. Black tape/self amalg’ tape 26. AstroScope
13. Nikon MC-36 27. Nikon 50mm f1.8
14. BlackRapid connectors 28. Benro ball head

You probably hear me banging on about dirt a lot out here. Sometimes it can be horrendous, and you can be stuck out in it. If you get caught out with your kit in the open in one of these, you had better pray.

“Sand approaches Bastion. Hide your kit quick”

“Sand approaches Bastion. Hide your kit quick”

Cleaning and maintaining my cameras and lenses is an everyday necessity. The Nikon cameras are tough. Very tough, and can take a beating. I have seen press photographers come out to visit with near silver bodies, not because they are after the latest fashionable look, but because all the black plastic has been warn down through hours of hard-core use in harsh environments, and are still going strong. One of these photographers; Ben Birchall was touting a pair of pretty battered D3s.

Self amalgamating

“Ben Birchall’s battered D3 cameras”

“Ben Birchall’s battered D3 cameras”

His cameras may have been worn, but his lenses were covered in what appeared to be tape, and I asked him why. He told me that he had been shooting in sandy environments for many years, and over those years his ‘glass’ (lenses) had taken a beating. In order to prevent this, he had carefully wrapped self-amalgamating tape around each lens, and then topped it off with black insulation tape.

For those who are not in the building or electrical trade, Self-amalgamating tape is: “A very useful derivative of insulating tape which can be used for waterproofing connections. To use, the top protective layer is peeled off and the rubbery self- amalgamating tape underneath is wrapped tightly around the connection to be waterproofed. Eventually, the layers of this tape will merge together and create a waterproof seal. This tape is highly recommended for automotive work and also aerial installations.”

I couldn’t have put it better myself. I set about acquiring some and have since protected my three main lenses out here. (I don’t use the manual focus ring or the Vibration Reduction (VR) facility in Afghanistan, either)

“My 70-200mm lens wrapped up for protection”

“My 70-200mm lens wrapped up for protection”

The other issue I have out here is lens filters. 77-millimetre specials. It doesn’t take long for the abrasive elements in the air to attack them. Helicopters are the worst. When everyone is looking away to protect themselves from the flying debris, there are usually only a few people looking towards the landing area; those with cameras and those who haven’t yet been smacked in the face with a stone from the Chinook downwash. Both types of individual are stupid, but one of them is being paid to look, and knows he has a spare 77mm UV filter in his pocket. Fortunately, I have been lucky so far, but as you can see, my predecessor wasn’t so.

Photo, taken by: Cpl Mike O’Neill RLC,  “Stone damage is a hazard of the job”

“Stone damage is a hazard of the job”, taken by Cpl Mike O’Neill RLC

The team at Army HQ also have a secret locker, which I was once allowed to look inside for approximately a third of a second. It contained 300mm, 600mm and a 105mm lens, Elinchrom Ranger lights and all sorts of desirable items. I am told that should I ever need to borrow something from the locker it’s door can be set to remain open long enough for me to take something off the shelf. I remain hopeful.

So, all in all I am pretty well equipped to take on most situations I come across and with respect to photography, the Army has looked after me well.

If you would like to know more about the kit I use or how I use it, please feel free to leave a message on this blog or tweet me @Si_Army_Phot

More tc…

Read Si’s other blogs here: Life Through a Lens…

16 thoughts on “What’s in the bag?

  1. Back at it again I see blogging, well done! You couldn’t have explained your kit more clearly. I am also an avid photographer and for a short while I was technically licensed – the government’s way of collecting more tax. I sold my wild horse and coastal photography through a Thomas Kincaide Art Gallery here in the US for a few years until i moved to another location.

    I have a trustworthy Canon Rebel XT 12 megapixel – I am surprised I never wore out the buttons – it has taken phenomenal photography and I am very impressed in how it handled years in a coastal environment. My kit isn’t as extensive as yours, I just have a typical studio photography kit, a solar lense (something that protects the main lense) and a small battery charge.

    I can appreciate your photos especially from a somewhat safe world away. Hats off to all for their bravery and a safe return to the homeland.

    Stay safe – from a friend a world away…..

    -Rachael

    Like

    • Thanks Rachael,

      Do you have a flickr account or another way that I could see your work, as it sounds really interesting.

      Expensive kit doesn’t take the photographs. Right time, right place, a bit of an eye and a smudge of luck is all that’s required. I am lucky to be issued with such robust equipment though, so I would never complain. I have seen people take amazing images with a Nikon D40 that I would proudly hang on my wall.

      Thanks for taking the time to read, and actually comment. I really appreciate it.

      Si

      Like

  2. Excellent Blog, as a Global Adventurer and double world record holder I was most interested to read how you capture your daily life, army projects and professional experiences whilst tour. Awsome collection of goodies. I wonder how long before you add the GO Pro 3 and Apple Ipad to your manifest. Good Luck Si and continued success. Do you have a photographic portfolio available for the public ?

    I believe on a small budget you could make some really sensational PR campaigns utilising the GO Pro and your own shots.

    My daughter came back from Afghan yesterday (WO CSAT) and I managed to see just 3 photos in four months showcasing her Afghan tour. I would love to see more of life of the British Army as captured by a professional such as you self. Another Great Army Blog as always. Thank you for sharing.

    Simon Newbound
    http://www.linkedin.com/pub/simon-newbound/23/ba6/9aa

    Like

    • Simon,

      firstly thank you for taking the time to read my blog. You have an impressive resume yourself. I already own the iPad and am toying with the GoPro 3.

      A lot of my work get’s published on the Army’s facebook page and on the Twitter page I run. You can also see a much broader range of images on my Flickr page, here:

      http://www.flickr.com/photos/simonlongworthphotography/

      All the very best

      Si

      Like

  3. Just wanted to say that is some impressive kit!! I am very much into photography and it is great to read a blog with so much passion in photography. I also have a Nikon, and they do take a good beating!! Keep up the good work, and I hope the sand stays out of internal parts and lenses!! U must get some amazing photos.
    Happy snapping! 🙂

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  4. Great read brother! My determination has just increased ten fold! Really interesting stuff! And a very exciting prospect for an aspiring Padawan of the trade.

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  5. That’s an excellent run-down of the kit you use, and some of the practical problems of using it in an extreme environment. It answers many of the questions that have been building up in my mind! As an amateur photographer, it’s given me some ideas for the future – although I won’t be running too hard towards the expensive end of the range…

    Like

    • Hi Nigel,

      If you need any other questions answering, then please get in touch. I am glad I have been of help to you, and I am also pleased you enjoyed the blog.

      Si

      Like

  6. Hello again Si,
    Another very good read, I thought my Nikon D1/2’s were battered but nothing like Ben Birchall’s cameras. I don’t envy your task in the conditions you have in Helmand. Although you’re a combat cameraman in my terms you’re a cross between a hard news and features photographer. As for kit I do like the army’s idea of issuing kit for life, in the RAF we shared equipment ( Rollieflex and MPP 5×4 cut film), which wasn’t always treated as it should have been. At the end of your tour do the army give your cameras a deep clean and service or is that down to you? The biggest bugbear in my job was keeping water out of cameras and lenses shooting sport during the winter, answer, put lens and camera inside plastic shopping bag and gaffa tape to the lens hood. Changing the film was sometimes interesting but it generally worked. Stay safe.

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  7. Hi! This is my first visit to your blog! We are a team of volunteers and starting a new project in a
    community in the same niche. Your blog provided us useful information to work on.

    You have done a marvellous job!

    Like

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