Onwards and Upwards

Corporal Si Longworth

Sergeant Si Longworth

Sergeant 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 has recently returned from Afghanistan where he was the Task Force Helmand Photographer.

It does feel a little strange writing this blog. Not because I am at 44,000 feet. Not because it’s being written on a shiny new Apple MacBook Air which I have borrowed from my boss. Not even because said laptop is just working seamlessly which is the other side of the coin from what I am used to trying to work on. All these excuses could account for why this is a strange blog to write, but of course they would all be incorrect.

Your precious time will tell

The reason is simply because I haven’t put the proverbial pen to paper in such a long time that it feels somewhat alien to me. Not immensely alien you understand. Only as alien as say, using a Canon DSLR for the first time. As you all know, that opportunity knocked on my door last year and within an extremely short period of ‘self-beasting’ I had tamed it and was ready to use that great bit of kit on live jobs for work – (‘Beasting’ is military slang for pushing someone or one’s self to extreme limits).

So, with the same mind-set as I had when I unwrapped the Canon 1DX, I am here to write you another blog. I am hoping that throughout my thousand words or so I have still got the knack of keeping you entertained. Only your precious time will tell.

[Quick read of my last blog to find out where we are in the life of Si_Army_Phot]

Right, lets continue…

… 2014 ended on a high for me for a multitude of differing reasons, some work and some personal, but it all started to ramp up from July onwards.

Ramping up

Work was keeping me busy in Tidworth. The Brigade Headquarters went through a seamless role, and name-change. 1 Mechanized Brigade became 1 Armoured Infantry Brigade under the Future Army Structure. Apart from having to remember to change my file naming structure, I wasn’t really affected by the change.

Jobs continued to roll in. Two in particular caught my eye. The first of which being the Tarleton Trophy with 4 RIFLES. This was an annual inter-company competition, which was first set up by the late Colonel Tarleton.

It is a grueling long distance march across Dartmoor competing in different mini-exercises along the way. I followed several sections as they made their way around the ground and captured the various stages. One of the last events for them was a platoon attack over unforgiving ground. What made this one more interesting from my point of view was the ‘casualty’, which the guys had to deal with whilst coming under attack.

You may or may not know of several companies which are employed by the Armed Forces to act as casualties, creating highly realistic scenarios for the troops. One of these companies, Amputees in Action was being used on this exercise.

The casualty was a woman who had suffered from Meningitis in her adult life and had lost her legs. She had worked for the company part-time for years and [today] she was playing the role of a IED (Improvised Explosive Device) victim who has lost both her legs, and sustained a bullet wound to the chest. I had plenty of time to chat to her, and she said she enjoyed providing realistic training for the troops. Watching scenario after scenario unfold, I found it amazing how soldiers dealt with such realistic trauma.

My hat goes off to all those people who make the choice to help out in realistic training scenarios, even though they must have had to deal with difficult personal circumstances themselves.

An ‘Amputee in Action’ providing realistic and valuable training scenarios to soldiers.

An ‘Amputee in Action’ providing realistic and valuable training scenarios to soldiers.

The second job that provided great imagery spanned a whole week. I deployed to Warminster with Cpl (Now Sgt) Baz Lloyd to assist the Army Engagement Group in gathering up to date imagery of a wide spectrum of training on the Salisbury Plain Training Area.

Working with Baz

Baz and I moved from section attacks, to village clearances, to tank battles across open plains to underslung load training with the Army Air Corps. It was like being a kid in a sweet shop with virtually unlimited golden opportunities to capture the best of what the Army has to offer. Here are just a few of the examples:

A section commander keeps watch over his men during a battle through an urban area.

A section commander keeps watch over his men during a battle through an urban area.

 

A tank crew pause on the plain to assess the battle plan.

A tank crew pause on the plain to assess the battle plan.

 

A Warrior Armoured Fighting Vehicle on patrol on Salisbury Plain.

A Warrior Armoured Fighting Vehicle on patrol on Salisbury Plain.

 

The Army Air Corps conducting underslung load training with the help of an RAF Chinook.

The Army Air Corps conducting underslung load training with the help of an RAF Chinook.

So the year was going well, but not well enough it seemed, as it was going to get better. The Army decided to promote me. I had managed to get back to Sergeant again and as you can imagine, was very happy about it. I wasn’t able to wear it until I had moved to my next posting location.

Oh the hardship

The Army would hand me the news of where that was likely to be later in the year, but first they were going to send me abroad again. Where this time? I am sure those of you who follow me on twitter already know as I couldn’t really keep it in. That’s right, I was New Zealand-bound with 4 Rifles. Oh the hardship.

There isn’t much I can say about New Zealand (believe it or not) other than what a friendly place it is. I have never experienced such hospitality since I came home to my parents for the first time after I’d completed basic army training. I was there to cover a multinational planning exercise consisting of the following ‘players’ – Singapore, UK, Malaysia, Austrailia and New Zealand (SUMAN).

I managed to make friends with another military photographer whilst over there, an Australian Naval Photographer called Jayson Tuffrey. He was my ‘Ozzy-opposite’ and together we documented most of what went on inside the wire and at times, and with help from a Royal New Zealand Air Force Photographer, a little of went on outside it. For those of you who manage a trip to Wellington, I thoroughly recommend trying to find the secret entrance to ‘Alice’s’ and drinking a copious amount of cocktails from white china teapots. It’s a great way to make friends and get ridiculous bargains on Fujifilm lenses …

Soldiers from the Five-Power Defence Arrangement war game.

Soldiers from the Five-Power Defence Arrangement war game.

 

Jayson, Alex and I discuss Fuji prices.

Jayson, Alex and I discuss Fuji prices.

I got back to find out that in the December I was going to be posted to the Press Office in York. Inevitably, this was going to be a change in pace from what I was used to at Tidworth. Being on the doorstep of a lot of front line troops and having Salisbury Plain as my back garden meant I was never short of an image. I wondered if York would provide me with the same excitement. One thing was for sure, I was thrilled to be posted in the North for the first time in my 19-year career.

Another rooftop

I rounded the photographic year off with the opportunity to capture the Remembrance Parade in London from another rooftop. I simply love the opportunities that being an Army Photographer affords me.

A slightly different view of the parade but a poignant reminder, none the less.

A slightly different view of the parade but a poignant reminder, none the less.

So, that was 2014 more or less wrapped up. As I said, I thought it ended very well… However, I would be lying if I said it ended there. I can assure you that it shifted up yet another gear before the clock struck midnight on December 31.

Baby_Si_Army_Phot

After a long and successful year I was handed a note by ‘Mrs Si_Army_Phot’ and informed that 2015 would be even better.

In 2015, the world was going to welcome Baby_Si_Army_Phot. The year doesn’t get a much better end than that.

So now here I am, early March. Twenty odd-jobs-in having already (to name only a few) travelled UK-wide capturing environmental portraits, been flown around Yorkshire with the RAF capturing aerial images, covered two Royal visits, covered the testing of equipment at the Jaguar test track for the Bloodhound Supersonic Car, and now, on a jet heading to a Russian-Estonian border town for a few days to grab some topical news.

With such a strong start, I ask you… where is 2015 going to go from here?

Stick with me and no doubt you will soon find out…

 

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

A brief pause for thought

Corporal Si Longworth

Corporal Si Longworth

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 has recently returned from Afghanistan where he was the Task Force Helmand Photographer.

‘More time off than Clint Eastwood’s safety catch’

That was how a co-worker chose to describe my work/holiday routine. To be fair, I had just returned from a two-week holiday to the US and Caribbean prior to skiing in Austria for a week. So, it was harsh but true. In my defence, when I got back from Afghanistan I had a huge chunk of leave to use before the end of the financial year and I was determined to give it my best effort! I think I succeeded.

In order to restore the balance of things on my return, I needed to get some work done and quickly. Quick diary check: Cyprus? Suits me, so here I am writing you another blog from a seat in an Airbus A330 (somewhere over Eastern Europe), having just completed another week-long photo assignment. Hey come on, it’s still work.

When I got the assignment to go to Cyprus, I thought it would be a Civil Servant Army Press officer from the Exeter office and me, so I was surprised to see the Senior video camera guys from the Army News Team at HQ Army plus three civilian members of the press at RAF Brize Norton when I arrived for check in. I knew I was going to be busier than expected. I wasn’t wrong.

My pictures were going to be sent in several directions; the British Army social media channels (including Facebook, Twitter, tumblr), regional press newspapers and also some news websites. Plus I was supposed to be putting together a multimedia presentation.

It’s always been a great incentive to get better pictures when you are pretty much guaranteed to have some kind of output with them besides throwing them up on Twitter or Facebook. Don’t get me wrong; some of my pictures have had great success on social media. This one for instance had all the ingredients to be a success: It has a dog and it has an interaction of some kind between it and a human. Very simple ingredients, but a very powerful recipe. It’s not the record for Army social media but, as I write this, it has close to 10,000 ‘likes’ on Facebook. I am happy with that.

Pictured: Lance Corporal Ryan Millican  shows affection to his search dog, Otis during an Exercise in Cyprus.

Pictured: Lance Corporal Ryan Millican shows affection to his search dog, Otis during an Exercise in Cyprus.

So, knowing I had a lot of outlets to cater for meant I was hyped about getting on that plane. With introductions complete we set off. Well, I say that. What I meant was that we finally got off once we factored in the seemingly obligatory delay that comes with airline travel. Even the RAF is not immune.

Run for the hills

We landed in Cyprus late in the evening but were quickly assigned our accommodation. I was with some senior ranks from 6th Battalion The Rifles in the transit rooms, but I was lucky to have one all to myself.

As soon as I arrived at Episkopi camp I was barraged by the smell of reminiscence. The flora of camp took me back to the late nineties when I was based in the same place. I will never forget that smell. Back in 1998 I lived in a transit block similar to the one I had been given. It hadn’t aged a bit in my mind or reality. The décor was similar to how I remembered it. Quite how I remembered those days is a little beyond me. I was nineteen years old and the streets of Limasol were alive with loud music and Cypriot vodka. In my days off I would party hard, but back then a hangover didn’t mean three subsequent days of recovery!

Back to today; and a Miami time zone meant it was a struggle to get out of bed the next morning, but we were straight up and out. The ‘cookhouse’ was up a hill about half a mile from where I was staying, so breakfast was bought in the café 200 metres away instead. We all headed for briefings by the officers of 6 Rifles, who were hosting us for the exercise. They are a reservist unit based predominantly in Cornwall, hence the reason we had ITV Southwest, Pirate FM and the West Briton newspaper reporters with us.

Once all the military jargon of the briefings had been decrypted and translated for the press, we made a run for the hills where a platoon of riflemen was storming a position. Being in uniform meant I could work my way through the patrols, capturing what I could.

A soldier battles with the hills and heat during an attack

A soldier battles with the hills and heat during an attack

A soldier pauses for shade

A soldier pauses for shade

Throughout the trip the press and I were allowed great access to see just how integrated the reservists were with their parent battalion, 1 Rifles. At times it was difficult to tell them apart. I never exercised like this in Cyprus and had forgotten what ‘mean bush’ the scrubland was. Literally everything that grows out of the ground has spikes. Trees, shrubs; even some of the grass was deadly. There are thistle-looking plants that would eat Scottish thistles alive. I have about four of them still embedded in my thigh. Needless to say that elbow and knee-pads were an absolute necessity.

The day after, my Cyprus dreams were all answered in the form of a pooch. Not the Royal Marine pooch you may be thinking of, which stores essential kit. I am talking about the Golden retriever kind in the form of Otis, the search dog, and his handler from the Royal Army Veterinary Corps, LCpl Millican. Those of you who have been following this blog will know that not only do I absolutely love dogs (even though I have never had one) but also they are my ‘gold dust’ when it comes to imagery. It’s fair to say that the social media-using public love to see them, and I am here to cater for that demand.

I learned very quickly that Otis loved his picture being taken, and it was as if he had attended doggy modelling school; the shots just kept on coming.

LCpl Millican and Otis

LCpl Millican and Otis

 

LCpl Millican and Otis

LCpl Millican and Otis

The team resting after a long day

The team resting after a long day

Nineteen year old me

The next couple of days I just bounced from attacks, to patrols, to night routine, to harbour areas and tried to get as much out of the trip as I could. During an afternoon of editing though, my mind began to wander again to my teenage years in Cyprus. The only camera I had with me then was a disposable. I didn’t really take all that many pictures in Cyprus. Not sure why; I cannot remember now, but I know I bought a couple of normal and underwater disposables. As I write this I am trying to think where all those pictures went. They must be somewhere buried under a mountain of old things in my house. I know I have them as, whilst thinking back, I remembered that when I first got onto facebook I scanned a whole load of images that I came across. One of them was a picture of me standing alongside a Military Police 4×4, outside the Cyprus Joint Police Unit in Episkopi. I must have been trying to be creative as I had it developed in sepia. (Lord knows why!). Anyway, a quick check of one of the first albums I posted to facebook and there it was. A 19-year-old me standing in the police station courtyard with the Isuzu Trooper. I downloaded it to my computer and had a thought. It was only 200 yards down the road from where I was now accommodated, so maybe I could go recreate it. So that’s exactly what I did.

The Military Police were only too happy to move a vehicle for me once I had explained what I wanted and had shown them the original picture. I positioned the ‘photographer’ where I wanted him and adopted the pose. I got it nearly right and here is the result of that shot, set alongside the original, now converted to black and white:

Younger and slimmer v older and fatter

Younger and slimmer v older and fatter

There are 16 years between these pictures. Now I have never been one to reflect on past times as I have always been happy about what I have done and achieved in life but staring at this set of two images got to me. It is while I write this that I recently lost two military ‘brothers’ and it has profoundly affected me and the way I view certain things. I never expected to grieve quite the way that I am. Their lives have unexpectedly been cut short, and their families will never be the same; something I have given much thought to.

I thought too about growing old myself. I thought about whether I had missed opportunities along the way. I thought about loss. I thought about making sure now that I do everything I have always wanted to.

This pair of pictures should represent achievement and progress along life’s conveyor belt, but instead they make me sad because I can’t slow it down to savour what I love. My body has changed, the people in my life have changed; some come and some go and I suppose that’s just ‘life’, but at times such as these … it’s hard to reconcile.

Hey, if you could see me now, it isn’t a pretty sight.

Being in the thick of it

I am not sure my inner thoughts on life have a place in this photographic blog. I have deliberated with my conscience at great length about their inclusion and in the end, here they are. Why? Well, because that’s the essence of what I believe photography should be about. Stirring up emotion; which these two images set beside each other did with me. I have always been passionate about looking at other people’s photographs, as I have mentioned in previous blogs. If a photograph moves you for whatever reason then it has impact and power and has achieved its aim.

“Back to the pretty pictures” I hear you say. Ok then.

Before the exercise was declared over, the soldiers of 1 and 6 rifles had their final testing phase. I was there to cover it all. Some of the terrain meant our minibus couldn’t make it, therefore I had to lug my kit into position. It was hot. Not as hot as Afghan, but I hadn’t had any time to get used to it, so water intake was a must. Running around in the heat, however, reminded me of Afghan and how much I enjoyed being in the thick of it.

Soldiers discussing their next plan

Soldiers discussing their next plan

It wouldn’t be my blog without a silhouette

It wouldn’t be my blog without a silhouette

In less than a week I was back on a flight home. As always; spending time editing and writing this blog [which incidentally I have only just got around to finishing]

I was happy with my imagery from Cyprus. I didn’t have long to revel in it though. Two days after landing I was heading to Devon for a few days to watch hundreds of kids yomp over the moors. I’ll save that for another blog.

More TC

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

UK Yo-Yo!

UK Yo-Yo!

Corporal Si Longworth

Corporal Si Longworth

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 has recently returned from Afghanistan where he was the Task Force Helmand Photographer.

Hello again everyone. I welcome you all from somewhere over the South Atlantic Ocean. Normally I would know where I am, but this time I can only tell where I have come from and where I will end up. I say that with some certainty as I have faith in the flight crew with whom we are cruising at forty-four thousand feet, South-West towards the Falkland Islands. I have time on my hands. About six hours I reckon, so why not write a blog? Well that’s exactly what I am doing.

‘Falkland Islands?’ I hear you ask. Well I have purposely whet your whistle for a future blog, I hope. I haven’t been there yet so I can’t very well write about it at this stage. Give me a week and you may get lucky. There are 12 hours to fill on the journey home between the Ascension Islands (our refuel point) and the UK.

This blog however, is about a little game I played a few weeks ago. I liked to call it UK Yo-Yo and here’s why.

My first week back from Christmas happened to be the third week of January. As most of 1st Mechanized Brigade had been away on operations in 2013, the brigade was granted four weeks leave at Christmas. A welcomed break for most, I can tell you. My first job was helping out on an Army Photographic Selection Course, which was being held at the Defence School of Photography. I was going to be part of the Directing Staff along with Staff Sergeant ‘H’ Harlen. As it went; the selection didn’t run the entire week’s duration and I was back in the office in Tidworth by Wednesday. I was glad I had an extra two days to sift through my work emails… Honestly.

The following week is where the fun really started. I was fully booked for photography jobs; each one in another part of the country. Let me just drag it out for you.

Monday:

The 1st Regiment Royal Horse Artillery were having their homecoming parades scattered around their recruiting grounds. I was tasked with covering them. They happened to be Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Monday was Nottingham. I set off at ‘Sparrow’s fart’ (early enough to catch those noisy Sparrows waking from their sleep and cracking a little trump out, as we humans all do) from Aldershot and headed up the notoriously busy M1. I was early enough to miss most of the morning traffic, but what it meant was that I hit Nottingham around two and a half hours early. That didn’t bother me because I was being joined by Sergeant Paul ‘Moz’ Morrison, the York (and regional) Army Photographer.

As I arrived early I had a chance to meet the owner of a pub that overlooks the City Hall Square. I negotiated access to their fourth floor abandoned premises that sat above the pub. Although the rooms were riddled with the stench of Pigeon excrement the view was fantastic. I knew this is where I wanted to be positioned, but I couldn’t manage it because I needed to be on the square capturing the formalities and couldn’t be in two places at once. As reluctant as I was, and knowing that the other press would not have access to such a fantastic elevated position, I handed the keys over to Moz when he arrived. He looked out the window, grinned at me and I threw him a string of expletives in my mind. He knew what I knew. Those shots where going to go places!

The parade came and went, and I did my bit. I got what I could. I even managed to get a smirking Moz up in the window. He was just relaxing, as he had got what he needed. I can even hear him laughing now.

Look at how relaxed Moz is, as he knew he had gotten the goods!

Look at how relaxed Moz is (in the window), as he knew he had gotten the goods!

Meanwhile, back at ground level.

1 RHA in front of Nottingham City Hall

1 RHA in front of Nottingham City Hall

Parade over, it was time to head to a coffee shop and edit what we had. Edit done, sent out to press, and back to the M1 is was; Southbound. I was tempted to be a good sport and post some of Moz’s pictures up here, but then I thought that it would just be easier for you to do a ‘google’ search for them online. You will no doubt come across a picture of the parade snaking it’s way through the streets from an elevated position. All healthy banter aside, that’s the beauty of finding a great shooting position. If it offers something unique over what other press photographers are getting, then you have a great chance of getting it published in print, which Moz did. Well done!

Tuesday:

Tidworth this time but I had two jobs. Firstly, I was being interviewed live on BFBS Salisbury Plain about being an Army Photographer. This was hopefully going to raise the profile of our trade, and entice potential recruits to get in touch. Secondly, I was engaging my off-road driving skills and heading onto Salisbury Plain to shoot the First Fusiliers training in one of the purpose built villages.

I think the interview went well, but I was much more content with a couple of naturally lit shots of the guys.

A soldier covers his arcs during training

A soldier covers his arcs during training

A soldier gives orders over the radio

A soldier gives orders over the radio

 

Wednesday:

Another early start and this time back up the M1 to Sheffield. It was 1RHA again marching through their recruiting ground. I was shooting it on my own this time. I scoured the surrounding buildings for a vantage point, but I was hit with ‘health and safety’ a lot. You would think a ‘roughty-toughty’ soldier would be allowed to stand on a balcony without fear of purposely climbing over railings to make a jump for it, but sadly I was saved from ever having to suffer a fall. I appreciate it, Sheffield. I did however manage to find a window in a pub that was closed (for health and safety reasons) which was clean enough to shoot through to get this.

Sheffield City Hall, through glass

Sheffield City Hall, through glass

Parade over, images downloaded, edited, uploaded again, packed up, M1 Southbound.

Thursday:

An important part of any parade (or event for that matter) for a photographer is knowing where it will happen, which way it will go, how it will unfold and any other details which may be useful. Fortunately, the Army have a saying for such necessities:

“Time spent on recces is seldom wasted” A military cliché, but very true.

As 2 Regiment Royal Tank Regiment were planning to march through Bristol in a week’s time, I headed off to Bristol on a recce with one of the Regional Press Officers, Tammy Dixon. The Press Officers take control of the media surrounding such events and are key to understanding what’s going on. It was an early start to avoid traffic. Such is life.

We were ‘Bristol’d-and-back’ by early afternoon, which was handy. 1 RHA (who’d have guessed it) were due to parade through another UK town on Friday. Was it Bedford? Bath? Farnbourough? Nope! I wasn’t that lucky. It was Doncaster; even further North. I had a choice to make. As it was around 1500 hrs, I could go home and prepare myself for an even earlier start or make way up my favourite motorway. What to do?

Friday:

Waking up to a beautiful crisp Doncaster morning was the only choice I could make. A lazy coffee and walk into town for my breakfast meant I could do a little ‘elevated position’ recce again. Unfortunately, Doncaster had been hit with the same curse. I was to be ground level-bound again. The parade went off without a hitch and the photographs where much the same.

1 RHA at Doncaster Civic Hal

1 RHA at Doncaster Civic Hall

It was a late finish for me on Friday night. I had to head back to Tidworth to drop off the contract car, pick up my own and head back to Aldershot. In total I racked up 1380 miles in the week. Some going, I thought, but I had enjoyed seeing some towns I hadn’t visited for a few years. I was glad it was all over though…until next week. It wasn’t going to be that bad; a General planting a tree in Winchester and 2 RTR’s actual Parade in Bristol to cover.

CLF Lt Gen Carter plants a memorial tree at the Rifles RHQ

CLF Lt Gen Carter plants a memorial tree at the Rifles RHQ

2 RTR march through Bristol

2 RTR march through Bristol

So there you have it. UK Yo-Yo. Sounds fun doesn’t it?

Back to now.

Typing on an aeroplane isn’t the easiest of things to do. We still seem to be at 44000 feet. Probably a lot further South West though. Luckily I have a fellow photographer with me for company; Sergeant Russ Nolan. The other good thing about having another photographer with you is you actually get pictures of yourself, like this one he took of me working, using my new Fuji X-Pro 1. Yes, that’s right, you read that correctly. A Fuji. Well folks, as a ‘compact’ camera and a backup, this thing ‘rocks’. I will talk about it another time because now that’s two more blogs I have promised you.

me writing this blog on the way to the Falklands

Me writing this blog on the way to the Falklands

See you all on the return journey.

More TC

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

Time to switch bodies, perhaps

Time to switch bodies, perhaps

Corporal Si Longworth

Corporal Si Longworth

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 has recently returned from Afghanistan where he was the Task Force Helmand Photographer.

What did I tell you? I said you wouldn’t have to wait long. I have come bouncing back after my blog-abstinence, and quite right too. I can’t have those of you who have faithfully followed me through Afghanistan fall by the wayside now, can I?

After a month off over Christmas, I have been rocket-propelled into 2014 with fury. Something happened to me over that break you know. Something that has likely changed me forever. Did I find religion? Did I see the Eighth Wonder of The World, or was I visited by a ghost? I am afraid the answer is so much simpler than that. I used a Canon…

“Arghhh”, I will hear some of you shouting at me, whilst you throw things at your laptop in disgust. Others will sit back laughing and smiling contently. Whichever you are, hear me out.

A technical epiphany

Those of you who know me, will know that I have NEVER subscribed to the Canon-Nikon argument. Each has their pros and cons, and people (except the professionals) tend to navigate towards one or the other by chance or a recommendation. For me, it was the only one I saw in a secondhand shop in Scunthorpe over twenty years ago; Tom Dennis Cameras (I think it’s still open for business).

There it was on the shelf looking at me, as I looked back with my well-earned lawn-mowing business money in hand. A simple exchange later and I was the proud teenage owner of a second-hand Nikon F90X. I learned it, I loved it and I owned it for many years to come. When the time came to change, I sold it (I wish I hadn’t now) and used what little money I got for it to part-finance a Nikon D200. It only seemed right because I had a couple of lenses and they all fitted. I was also used to the ‘buttonology’. Skipping many years and several Nikons later, I am now in possession (bought or loaned by the Army) of five professional Nikon bodies.

I would be lying if I told you that I didn’t love them. I have Nikon in my blood stream, I suppose, and that was just circumstance. I didn’t choose the brand because it was ‘the best’. As a child I never knew about cameras, and, now that the Army chooses to shoot Nikon, I have no choice but it works for me as that’s what I know.

Now over the years, I have bumped into friends and photographers who have gone the Canon route. Whenever I could, I would always ask to ‘have a go’. I can tell you that, on every single occasion, I have become frustrated within minutes because it was so different to handle and operate than my native Nikon. The buttons were so different and everything was buried in menus. I liked Nikons because there was a button for everything. Inevitably, I ended up handing back the camera and thinking to myself that it was too complicated and it didn’t interest me to learn.

Moving on several years later to the stages when I was taking my photography more seriously, and my mind had started to wander towards doing it as a career. I started regularly buying photographic magazines (as you do). Wasting those three to five pounds every month on ‘mags’ that just go around in circles with the advice they give. All good stuff but, if you buy a year’s worth, you will have covered most of the basic techniques and in that second year they will be there again like a faithful dog.

Focus on Canon

What I did start to notice, from reading the magazines, were two distinct things: Firstly, and most depressingly, my photography wasn’t as good as I thought it was. The second thing was that all the pictures that I considered to have ‘amazing colour depth’, or be ‘dreamy’, were shot with a Canon. Call me what you like, but soon enough I could look at a picture and tell if it was a Canon or a Nikon image. (I am not talking about the heavily post-processed images you see.) I sat and bored friends with this notion for weeks and weeks. Some agreed with me and some said I was talking utter nonsense but, nevertheless, I was always right.

If this had have been a fluke then I would have dismissed it, but the fact that I could always do it seemed strange to me. It worried me a little. Probably because my post-processing ability wasn’t up to scratch either, and I probably thought that I would never be able to produce imagery of that quality.

As time ticked on through 2013 I just kept second-guessing imagery and occasionally ‘tweeting’ other photographers to see what camera brand they used. I suspect you know the outcome of my queries. I decided that I was on to something, but I was never going to be able to prove it because I didn’t have access to a Canon. That soon changed.

Dreamy picture

A chance social engagement gave me opportunity to catch up with a friend ‘over a few beers’ in London. He was an avid Canon-guy and the topic of my ‘findings’ came up during the drunken ramblings of the evening. Without trying to quote the conversation, he essentially offered to lend me some gear so I could have a go and see for myself. I think I sobered up instantly at the offer, as I knew I would have to remember it in the morning.

Sure enough, my friend came good to his word and a couple of months later I was in possession of a Canon 1Dx, 85mm 1.2, 24-70mm 2.8 and the 70-200mm 2.8. A formidable line-up, I am sure you would agree. I had the cameras over Christmas, which was no doubt a quiet period for him. It mattered not. I quickly got to work comparing the Nikon D4 and the Canon 1Dx. I am not talking about scientific laboratory tests here, either. I am talking about walking around my local area with the same lenses on and taking the same pictures, with a bit of comparison later on the computer.

What I should say is that, two weeks prior to receiving the camera, I downloaded the manual and studied it. I didn’t want to have this camera and spend a week getting used to it. Admittedly, it took some time and I was even a bit ‘fingers and thumbs’ with it after two weeks.

Unlike other blogs or web pages, I am not going to put up comparison images. It doesn’t matter because maybe it’s only me who can see what I am talking about. I don’t think ‘dreamy pictures’ are something you can quantify anyhow. What I will tell you is that I was very, very impressed with what that camera could do in terms of frames per second, colour and ISO range. My images didn’t seem as flat, straight off the bat, as they had done before. I was content with everything that came off the memory card.

A love affair with Nikon

You may not appreciate this, but it’s hard for me as a self-professed ‘Nikon guy’ to write such things. I should be faithful, should I not? I am guessing as the years go by, each camera manufacturer gets the edge on something. Canon friends tell me that the colour on previous models was awful, and Nikon had the edge. Well, it certainly seems like it has swung the other way for me. The trouble for me is the way it has left me feeling each time I go to shoot a job with my current gear.

When I look at images that I take, even as much as a week ago, I start to feel deflated that they just aren’t up to scratch. I know there is a better machine out there, and I just don’t have the time to always be processing hundreds of images to make them look as zesty and full of life as those images I produced over Christmas.

Go on, shout at me again. I know some of you will want to, but hey, I am only telling you the truth about how I feel, and I think you have the right to know. I will always promote Nikon for what it is , because it is an amazing bit of kit. I love my Nikon kit deep down, and I will always have a love affair with the history we have shared, but the fact still remains; If tomorrow I were not an Army Photographer, and I didn’t own a single bit of Nikon gear … I would go out and buy Canon.

1/125 @ f1.2 ISO 2000

1/125 @ f1.2 ISO 2000

 

Roger Roberts – Solo Artist.

Roger Roberts – Solo Artist.

Roger shot at f1.2 with no post-production. As I say; ‘dreamy’ (not the guy).

Roger shot at f1.2 with no post-production. As I say; ‘dreamy’ (not the guy).

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

Si’s opinions are his own and not an endorsement of the British Army. 

A day without direction

Corporal Si Longworth

Corporal Si Longworth

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 has recently returned from Afghanistan where he was the Task Force Helmand Photographer.

So, did you miss me?

I bet you all thought that was the last you would hear from me didn’t you? The truth is I really did go off the radar for three and a half months, but for good reason. That reason is; unwinding after a six-month tour, getting back into a routine in your personal life and home life, and taking a bunch of well deserved leave. For me, that was a lot of time off, mixed in with a few weeks in work, here and there. You know, so they didn’t forget who I was and give away my office. Uh-oh, too late. It happened. But you will all be happy to know that I now have it back.

Let me fill in a few gaps for you

Returning home after an extended period away is a strange concept for me, and many soldiers I guess. Life on Operations is simple, easy and routine. Between going to work and going to the gym, the only thing left to do is sleep.

This particular tour was so so different from the previous ones I had done. On a flying tour there is plenty of time off. You generally work a shift pattern, which means there are some days when all there is to do is watch movies or TV or Skype your wife, annoy her with emails and mooch around Facebook.

On this last tour I watched no films and no TV. I had no days off. I am certainly not complaining about it, in fact I really enjoyed it. I love my job, but it kept me working late most nights and I was usually one of the first in in the morning. I did, however, have 24/7 access to the internet. Perks of a media operations job, I guess.

But while I zoned out for 180-odd days and plunged myself into work, what, or who really suffered was my wife. Whereas before I would chat three or four times a week, (probably a lot on tour anyway) on this tour it was barely once. I was so consumed by my day-to-day routine that I forgot there was a routine happening back home that I was no longer part of.

When it was time for me to return home, I was fearful that my self-isolation would have left a void in my marriage. I count myself lucky that I have a wife who is one of the hardest working people I know. She totally understood. And, like the women of yester-year – back in the days where there were no communications from front-line troops – just managed to get on with it. For that I will be eternally grateful.

One word of advice to those who have to endure long periods of separation. Save loads, because taking your wife away to Hong Kong and Vietnam for two weeks afterwards really helps when it comes to making up for being distant whilst on tour.

The holiday with my wife wasn’t really about photography, but here is one I snuck in when she wasn’t looking.

Vietnam

When I got home, there were so many post-tour activities that I had to split my leave up into two-week chunks, and splice them into working weeks. This ensured that I was available for the larger events the Brigade was involved with.

The first of which was the Parliamentary Parade in Westminster. A selection of soldiers from within the units that make up the brigade were selected to march from Wellington Barracks, through Parliament Square and receive a ‘welcome home’ from the Prime Minister, before having reception drinks on the terrace of the Houses of Parliament. Grabbing the parade marching down the streets was easy enough, but at the point the troops wheeled into Westminster Palace there were press freelance photographers at the ready. It was unusual to see them so frantic to get the best shot; each of them barging past the other. I left them to it and headed into the courtyard, and then later into the palace itself.

Inside, it got a little more stressful for me, as I was required to capture a group shot of all the attending soldiers and a good selection of MPs, including the Prime Minister. I literally had less than ten seconds to grab the shot, and it was not easy as there were hoards of public lining up with their camera phones making it near impossible for me to get in the centre of the group. I did my best. Grabbed a couple of shots on the terrace and then it was back to Horse guards to edit.

1st Mechanized Brigade parade through London.

1st Mechanized Brigade parades through London.

Prime Minister David Cameron with members of 1 Mech Brigade.

Prime Minister David Cameron with members of 1 Mech Brigade.

Capturing the shot from three locations at the same time

The next of the 1 Brigade post-tour events was the Memorial Service, which was held at Salisbury Cathedral. This was a hugely important event for those families that had suffered loss while we were deployed on Op HERRICK 18. I was there with a fellow Army Photographer, Gaz Kendal. He was there to shoot video for the press on this occasion. We were given privileged access way up high in the roof. The problem was that I couldn’t be in two places at once. Gaz was busy filming and I needed to be on the ground capturing the essence of the service. What I didn’t need to be doing was running up and down 93 steps while the service was mid-flow.

I decided to use a technique I hadn’t tried before. Remote Camera Setup. Using a PocketWizard Plus 2 and a little lead, I positioned my camera, set it to Manual, focused and calculated the exposure. Using another PocketWizard Plu 2, fitted to the hotshoe on my camera, I was able to remotely fire the static camera each time I clicked my in-hand camera. All in all, it worked well… apart from the rookie mistake I made. It was a drab overcast day when I went into the cathedral, but as it happens; weather changes, and this time was no exception. Half way through the service the sun shone brightly through the windows effectively overexposing all  my shots from there on in. Not an error I will make again. Fortunately I was able to grab this shot:

Salisbury Cathedral

Salisbury Cathedral

If you look close enough, you will see me in this picture.

Whilst on the ground I was able to capture many shots using the wonderful glass-like font in the centre of the cathedral.

Reflecting in the font

Reflecting in the font

Another job I managed to squeeze in was a day out photographing the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers who were working on the Bloodhound Supersonic Car project in Bristol. I was hosted my Major Oli Morgan and his team, and introduced to the rest of the civilian workers. It was an amazing day out and I turned up with every bit of photography kit I own, and pretty much used it all in one way or another.

Cpl Lisa Brooking

Cpl Lisah Brooking

An engineer cuts out part of the car’s dashboard

An engineer cuts out part of the car’s dashboard

Today’s children of a bygone era

No rest for the wicked during my weeks in work. I was straight back down to Salisbury to cover the homecoming and medals parade of 4 Rifles. They were given the freedom of the city a number of years back, so back they go, having just returned from Afghanistan to march the streets once more.

The CO 4 Rifles in front of his Battalion

The CO 4 Rifles in front of his Battalion

This next picture makes me chuckle. It is so classically British and reminds me of scenes from the world war films. Even though the children are waving their mobile phones in order to grab images of the marching soldiers, it doesn’t make it any less timeless in my eyes.

The children cheer as they watch the marching troops

The children cheer as they watch the marching troops

I am even getting lost now thinking of all the little jobs and thing that have happened since we last met.

Oh, how could I forget? The Army Photographic Competition. Here were my portfolio entries and their categories:

Portrait

Portrait

Operations

Operations

Sport

Sport

Public Relations

Public Relations

Black and White

Black and White

Equipment

Equipment

Unfortunately, I wasn’t successful in the photographic side of the competition, but for my piece on PB Sparta that I did whilst in Afghanistan I placed second, or runner-up in the multimedia category.

I made the piece to show how our soldiers relax and spend time when they are not doing one of the many tasks they have to perform whilst on operations. I was fortunate enough to bump into a Fijian soldier playing acoustic guitar and I recorded him, and put my images to his track. You can see him playing in the final image.

You can see the clip here.

That pretty much rounded off 2013 for me. I had lots of leave to take, and I took it. I squeezed in some photography jobs, holidays and Christmas and rounded it all off with a quiet New Year’s Eve with friends, in the Peak District.

2014 has started busy, too. But don’t worry. I won’t make you wait as long for my next instalment.

More TC

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

Never the twain shall meet: writer’s block comes into focus

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.

Hello, it’s been a while

Why? Well to be perfectly honest, I lost my way, but not in the geographical sense. Had you been serving in Camp Bastion for the past couple of months, you wouldn’t have seen me aimlessly wandering around the camp. I am quite content with my ability to read cartography. It was for a different reason, and although I have spent this last month and a half trying to work out why, maybe I can write it all down and see if it makes sense to you.

I finished my time with Capt Mau Gris and the Baz duo and headed  back to the UK for Rest and Recuperation (R&R). My time at home with my wife is probably worthy of a separate blog altogether. It was always my intention to write about R&R and what I did etc. But, having been stuck with what I can only describe as ‘bloggers block’ and watched two great bloggers write about theirs, I now feel it would be time wasted.

What I do want to say that if you ever book a holiday to the South of France, and decide to locate yourself around the Ardeche River valley; picturing tranquil paddles down a lazy river, with nothing but peace and quiet, may I recommend un-booking and instead, head for the summer mountains of Switzerland. In particular, Nedez.  I will save you the disappointment of sharing the river with hundreds and hundreds of other tourists. Even better; whilst I have slipped into R&R mode. If you do find yourself in Nedez during the summer season, I HIGHLY recommend visiting what my mind has decided to call ‘Chalet Paradise’ but what is actually called, Chalet Grand Loupe, run by Steve and Karen Allen, two British Ex Pats who have set up and will host you beyond expectation.  They couldn’t do enough for my wife and me; turning twisty river hell into one of the most enjoyable holidays in a while, and for that I will thank them eternally. Steve, Karen, we will return, I promise you!

France and Swizerland

France and Swizerland

l seem to have gone off-piste

So, I return to Afghanistan, supposedly recharged and ready to push out the final stretch, but in all honesty having to leave home again was quite difficult. I knew I only had a month to do, but I was already feeling the burden. Two things made matters worse. Firstly the brigade headquarters had moved to Bastion while I was away. My own quiet office space had been replaced with an open plan situation that I was just not ready for. 180 people buzzing about, 130 phones ringing. It was going to take some getting used to. The second thing that didn’t help, and the thing I will never forgive myself for, is that while I was away, I had suffered irretrievable data loss from my master hard drive. The real stinger to the story is that because I was so busy before going home, I hadn’t managed to back it all up. I lost 40 per cent of what I had taken, including all the work for the CCT. I worked hard to try and retrieve pictures from clients of the jobs I had done, and using recovery software for my memory cards but in the end I was down images, and down in the dumps. I have learnt the hard way what it means to lose hard work, and suffice to say that my electronic work flow now includes two hard drives and online storage. I don’t want to ever be caught out again.

Long working days, long editing nights

With the loss of some of my favourite work coupled with post R&R blues, I wasn’t firing on all cylinders, and I think my boss, Capt DJ, sensed this. He knew what to do. Get me back out on the road and make me take pictures. He knew that I needed to start building up my library again, and soon. So it was. I was booked on a ’round-robbin’ of Helmand, two days after landing from my leave. Bouncing from one base to the next and capturing what I could in short spaces of time kept me the right kind of busy and images started to build again quickly. I would be lying if I said it wasn’t the medicine I needed. I soon got back into the swing of it. I snapped, I interviewed and I wrote the interviews up. I tried to keep engaged with my followers on twitter, and their support of my images kept my spirits up. The only problem was now, I just couldn’t settle down to write my blog.

The weeks passed, and as my six-month tour drew closer and closer to the end, the jobs started ramping up. Whether it be requests for photos I had taken or end of tour photographs for squadrons and regiments, it all added to long working days and long editing nights. There was no way I was going to have peace for long enough to write this blog. Even Captain Sophie Whitaker, who’s job required her to walk past my desk over 50 times a day, and who’s constant prompting about my blog couldn’t get me inspired.

So where did this leave me?

Well, 45 minutes ago I boarded a C17 aircraft at midnight on my final day in Afghanistan. Whilst probably 95 per cent of other passengers sleep around me, I am writing this blog… Peace at last. I regret having kept you waiting this long.

What has been the theme of this blog? Well I think it is a reminder that we are all human. We have ups and downs, but we get there in the end. I don’t know what it was that prevented the small creative part of my brain from putting pen to paper for so long. Different things in different ways affect us all, I guess.

So, after all that, was my last six weeks worth it? Well, you decide.

Here is a short summary, in pictures.

An Apache Pilot stands in front of his machine

An Apache Pilot stands in front of his machine

A Landing Point Commander shields himself from the downwash of a Chinook

A Landing Point Commander shields himself from the downwash of a Chinook

An RAF Crewman keeps watch from the tail of a Chinook

An RAF Crewman keeps watch from the tail of a Chinook

A Royal Military Policewoman receives an award from the ANSF and celebrates in the usual Afghan manner

A Royal Military Policewoman receives an award from the ANSF and celebrates in the usual Afghan manner

A Proud Afghan National Policeman smiles for the camera

A Proud Afghan National Policeman smiles for the camera

Soldiers in FOB Ouellette play cards by torchlight under the night sky

Soldiers in FOB Ouellette play cards by torchlight under the night sky

Snipers keep watch over a patrol

Snipers keep watch over a patrol

A Chinook departs Camp Bastion under a setting sun

A Chinook departs Camp Bastion under a setting sun

Is this the end of my blog? Don’t be silly: the journey has just begun. I promised you in my first blog that it was a journey we would take together. I will remain an Army Photographer for the next five years. For the next year, I will remain in Wiltshire, but then who knows. What I do know though, is that if you remain faithful to me, I won’t let you down. Lets get through the next five years of photographic ups and downs together. Times may be tough, but that’s life, is it not?

Thank you for all your support over the last six months, but here’s to the future…

The author on his last day in Afghanistan

Me on my last day in Afghanistan – by Capt Dalzel-Job

More tc

More tc.

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

The ‘gold standard’

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.

Wow, two weeks has gone so fast. Here I am again writing another update to my ever-changing life out here in Afghan. Don’t worry, there won’t be any technical stuff in this one; not an f-stop in sight.

Those of you who have been following me on Twitter will no doubt already know that for the past two weeks I have been working rogue. Well, sort of. I was let off my leash from task Force Helmand and shipped off to Camp Bastion, the largest of the British camps in the province, in order to plug a gap. This wasn’t the sort of gap you can fill with your over-chewed lump of chewing gum either. We are talking a Superman 2, Hoover Dam type affair.  Here is how it all ‘went down’:

This owner of more sexy kit

The Combat Camera Team works as part of the Afghanistan Media Operation Centre in Bastion. Its role is to cover newsworthy events, gather information electronically, via camera and video for archive purposes and produce media packages that can be used by any one of the services’ social media outlets. It’s a force to be reckoned with in respect of output. There are three guys who make up the team. Captain Mau Gris at the helm as the producer/director, who is as cool and slick as his name suggests, Sgt Barry Lloyd on video who is a steady hand and has produced some of the amazing footage shown on the Army’s You Tube channel, and more recently for Channel 4’s Ramadan piece. Then finally, there is the photographer. Do I really need to introduce this legend, this oracle, this owner of more sexy kit and equipment than I will ever ever own? I am talking of course about Sergeant Barry Pope (‘his holiness’ as Captain Gris likes to call him). What he doesn’t have in his series of Peli cases I don’t want. I am sure the famous magician, Dynamo, trains him because every time he opens one of them up, I see another ‘thing’ just shining at me that I swear wasn’t there last time. Unfortunately, his Peli cases are half Venus flytraps, and reaching down into them, usually results in sore arms…

Between the three of them, they move around Afghanistan and hoover up any news in their path; turn it around and ‘boom’, it’s out there! Words, videos and stills – the complete package, or as they like to tease me, the ‘Gold Standard’ in output.

Everyone deserves a break, and being so amazing, as they are, even the two Bazes have to take time off in a six-month tour, so when they took their well-earned and well-deserved rest and recuperation in the UK, the phone call was made, and I was on a flight. No more head and group shots for me, I was heading for the big time, the ‘Las Vegas’ of news and photojournalism within the Army. For the next two weeks Captain Gris and I would be… ‘The Combat Camera Team’.

I was totally looking forward to a change in pace. Each time I had visited the AMOC (Afghanistan Media Ops Cell) and lodged in their offices for a few days at a time I had listened enviously about the jobs that were coming their way. Camp Bastion is huge and, as such, is near enough untapped as far as great pictures and news go.

Venus flytrap one and two

When I arrived just in time to say good-bye to the Baz-duo, Popey told me two things; one of which made my little eyes light up. Firstly, that I could ‘hot bed’ in his bed space and the sheets were clean, and secondly, and more importantly, I could ‘use what I wanted’. There it was… I was like a child in a sweetie store. Venus flytrap one and two had been briefed and the locks were off. The goodbye was short and sweet, as I had cases to open. I can tell you now that to imagine the scene, you have to have watched Pulp Fiction. In the film there is a case, which everyone opens, and the gold light just shines out. This was that… exactly! Only instead of having the frustration of not knowing what was inside, I pulled stuff out and worked out ways in which I could use it. I was in ‘equipment heaven!’

Day one I moved all my ‘stuff’ into the office. Cleared a space to work on (thanks guys) and set up shop. Now, Captain Gris hadn’t factored in the fact that there would need to be a period of adjustment for me, as I was used to working in my own office, and coming from somewhere where I have three large desks to lay my kit and equipment out, to a small corner and half a desk was going to be a tough move. If I am honest, that period of adjustment never really ended, and he even wrote a blog about it. The organised chaos of a creative mind, I call it, he just calls it ‘mess’. I would love to be shown how you keep a small desk tidy which has to house two laptops, nine hard drives, card readers, a USB extension switch, iPod, Bose Soundlink, headphones, two cameras, memory cards, blank CDs, wallets and all the power leads and cables for the above, and still have room for my water bottle, and Apple external keyboard and mouse. Seriously, what I can do with space is an art…

Captain G went through the diary of possible jobs that were coming up. It sounded promising. The next day we were out with the Brigade Operations Company. A group of guys I had been out with before. What was different this time was having somebody there to ‘direct’ what imagery they want. I am used to ‘freelancing’ it. I was curious to see how working with another team member would work out.

Captain G

Capt Gris Patrolling and filming in 3D.

Capt Gris patrolling and filming in 3D.

It turns out that it was quite pleasant having the company of someone you know on the patrol. Being a producer does seem to have benefits, although having a photographer ‘papping’ your every move, or in this case, lack of it, isn’t one of them.

Capt Gris gives solid ‘direction’.

Capt Gris gives solid ‘direction’.

All joking aside, having effectively a second set of eyes is a real benefit. Plus, he has a great talent for drawing information out of soldiers when they are nervous in front of the microphone. It is great to watch.

A family in an Afghan compound.

A family in an Afghan compound.

An Afghan elder poses for a picture.

An Afghan elder poses for a picture.

I was surprised at just how happy the Afghans were to have their pictures taken. Their faces light up when they see the small image on the back of the screen.

Back in Bastion only a day and we were tasked to go capture imagery and stories from a Patrol Base. Bags packed, we were off again. Down at the flight line there were some technical difficulties which meant that our flight out was cancelled. As luck would have it we were about to pack up our kit and head back to the office when one of my old friends from the Lynx force walked past. Someone I had flown with only a year ago. He was heading past where we needed to be. After an exchange of banter, he offered to take us. It was essential that we made it to our location, so I am glad I was able to call on a favour from a friend.

I clicked away

At Patrol Base Sparta, I quickly set about capturing everything the inside of the four walls had to offer. Captain Gris whipped out his trusty dictaphone and we separated. During my walk around I clicked away at the guys going about their stuff.

Soldiers relax in their down-time.

Soldiers relax in their down-time.

I found another military working dog to capture, Boomer.

Boomer.

Boomer.

I was also very lucky to walk past three guys sat relaxing while one of them played acoustic guitar in the foreground of the falling sun. I knew instantly that I wanted it recorded and I needed a picture of them sat there. I ran back to where our bags were and luckily Captain G was finished what he was doing. I grabbed flash equipment and asked him if he’d help. We recorded about ten minutes of music and I set up flashes and brollies held by my trusty new VAL (Voice Activated Lightstand). I made the picture and once back in the office put together a piece dedicated to soldiers relaxing during periods of downtime.

It will probably be one of my favourite projects of this tour. You can watch it here.

As the sun started to fade, I moved in and out of the cubby holes where guys had set up their camp cots. Lots of the rooms had little windows. Capt Gris was still with me so I asked him to stand at the window and hold up the umbrella. The guy was using the window for light. With my arms crossed over, left arm holding a remote flash trigger out of the door (SU-800 on a curly extension lead), and right arm trying to steady a weighty 70-200mm lens, I made a few exposures. The light from the flash wrapped perfectly around the guys face and body and told a story that I am happy with.

Cpl Taylor, 4 Rifles peers though his window.

Cpl Taylor, 4 Rifles peers though his window.

The rest of the time covering for the team was spent in Bastion. I actually did a fair share of group shots, ‘grip ‘n’ grins’ and portraits. You can imagine my excitement. An unusual request came from the Joint Aviation Group. They wanted a picture as a leaving gift for the Commander of the group and asked me to provide pictures. I had already tried achieving this once but due to the placement of the aircraft it wasn’t possible. This time the ‘stars had all aligned’ and I had three of the Aviation Group’s aircraft lined up waiting for the light to be right. The Chinook, the Apache and of course, the queen of the skies, the one and only, Lynx Mark 9A. (I am not biased at all you see).

There I waited at the flight line, a place all too familiar to me, having flown in and out of it hundreds of times over the past three years. It was quiet and as I stood alone I had a moment of reflection about how my life had changed. Three years ago, I was stood posing for images for Steve Blake, another Army Photographer, and now I was directing my own imagery.

My brother

The silence was broken by my brother, who I had coaxed into the Air Corps four years ago, making an approach to land in his Apache Attack Helicopter. I wasn’t really close enough to the landing point to grab a decent shot but nevertheless I raced towards him and managed to crack off a few frames as he zipped on by. I will save you the shot of him recreating the famous Top Gun ‘keeping up international relations’ scene out of his side window as he flew past. Brotherly love eh?

My brother in the back seat.

My brother in the back seat.

I returned to my waiting position at the flight line, but sure enough over he walked and he was ripe for papping. I am sure he won’t mind.

My brother trying to not miss a photo opportunity.

My brother trying to not miss a photo opportunity.

Obviously, in the end I had to take the picture I was there to take. As luck would have it, a C17 transport aircraft decided to make its final approach just when the light was right for my shot. Thanks Mr ‘Multi-Engine’ crew.

 JAG aircraft, placed in order of impressiveness front to rear.

JAG aircraft, placed in order of impressiveness front to rear.

Next on the list wasn’t exactly a ‘hold the front page’ story. Capt G sits next to me in the office. He rarely encroaches into my chaos, but one day he was cleaning his rifle and relaxing the springs in his magazines, which involves emptying them. Into a container is generally considered the norm but it was funny watching hundreds of circular ‘rounds’ of 5.56mm ammunition roll off the desk onto the floor. Anyway, I digress. So there he was in mid-clean, when he grabbed my attention from editing to take a picture of his hands. Sound weird? It did to me, but once he had had me strategically place the ammo around his cupped hands I ‘saw’ the image in his head and took it for him. To this day he hasn’t quite got around to telling me what the image it going to be used for… I remain patient.

FLASH UPDATE: He has literally just seen me writing this and informed me at me that it was: ‘Art for art’s sake.’

Deep, man.

Capt Gris and his Ammo Hands.

Capt Gris and his Ammo Hands.

More work rolled in. We were asked cover a story at the Theatre UAS Battery. I had a picture in mind that I wanted to try out and this gave me the opportunity to do it. Capt Gris did his thing, and then left me to work. I had an hour in a hangar with a Hermes 450, one of the Army’s Remotely Piloted Air Systems. I had fun coming up with this variation on lighting using four off camera flashes, two honeycomb gridspots and a red gel filter.

Hermes 450 in a hangar.

Hermes 450 in a hangar.

You have to remember that amongst these jobs there is always editing and filing to be done, trivial jobs that always crop up last minute and jobs that are done which will only be used for internal use. There really is never a dull day.

What would be the gold standard?

The last job I did as part of the Combat Camera Team was with the Joint Force Support Armourers. These guys have the responsibility of inspecting and fixing all variety of weapon systems in theatre.

Captain Gris smashed his interviews and I concentrated on capturing a mechanic doing his thing. The room we were shooting in was vast and not the usual greasy workshop I was used to seeing. I had had an idea of how I wanted to shoot this job but when I was confronted with such a great open, bright space, it kind of put me off my stride. I paused for a few moments and asked myself, ‘What would be the gold standard?’ After I realised it was going to be a tough old challenge, I thought about how to make the workshop appear smaller and more intimate. Out came my flashes, the first of which I suspended from the ceiling. I was getting pretty weird looks from those in the workshop as I beavered away. I wasn’t too happy with what I had done when I eventually left the room but once I had the images up on screen I sighed a little sigh of relief. They were not a complete disaster. Here are a few teasers before the main piece comes out in the future.

An armourer working on a rifle.

An armourer working on a rifle.

Attention to fine detail is critical.

Attention to fine detail is critical.

And then the two weeks were over. I enjoyed the change of scenery, the ability to catch up with my brother and having the banter of the AMOC office.  I didn’t enjoy having up to seven people using a limited internet connection to do their work and having to drive everywhere to get things done. There is a different pace and regime in the office of the AMOC, compared to that of a busy HQ Task Force Helmand ‘floor plate’. Jobs come in thick and fast in Bastion and it has kept me busier than I thought I would be.

I’d like to think that Captain Gris has enjoyed different company even though he has had to look at my cluttered desk for two weeks. I suspect Lloydy (whose desk I have been squatting at) will be met with open arms at the air terminal on his return though.

I am not sure I held up to the ‘gold standard’ gauntlet laid down by the Baz duo but I have certainly enjoyed wearing the Velcro patch on my arm for two weeks. “No bluff too tough”, as they say in the Army!

More tc.

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