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. 

Capturing the essence of life in Afghanistan

Capturing the essence of life in Afghanistan

Me in the middle of a sandstorm. Image by Cpl Ross Fernie

Me in the middle of a sandstorm. Image by Cpl Ross Fernie

I’m Sergeant Paul Shaw. I’m 28 and having served 11 years in the British Army I have now been one of its professional photographers for over a year and have enjoyed every minute of it. The very day I passed my Defence Photographers course I volunteered for a tour in Afghanistan as part of the Combat Camera Team in the Electronic News Gatherer ENG role (The Video Guy). It is my job to collect moving footage for the media and have also filmed for other productions such as The One Show, Gary Barlow: Journey to Afghanistan and Top Gear.

During my time here I have seen some amazing sights and had the opportunity to visit a variety of areas including Kajaki dam and Kabul, the country’s capital city. It has been a fantastic journey so far and although my job is moving pictures, my true passion lies with photography and I have been trying to capture ‘my world’ for the last six months as often as possible.

Geography and the weather

Sunset over Camp Bastion

Sunset over Camp Bastion

Most of my time has been spent in and around Helmand, one of the country’s largest provinces. For those who don’t know, it is an arid region in the south of Afghanistan covering 22,619 square miles, half the size of England and it is believed that civilization may have begun in the area as early as 3,000 BC. Being such a dry region it is often subject to sandstorms and even rainstorms, during the winter months. I am however still waiting for my thunderstorm.

Sandstorm over Camp Bastion

Sandstorm over Camp Bastion

A cyclist during a sandstorm at Camp Bastion.

A cyclist during a sandstorm at Camp Bastion.

Always on the move, one of my first major trips out of Helmand was a job in Kabul. 3,500 years old Kabul is situated in the North East of the country. It is one of the fastest growing cities in the world and is home to over 3 million people. It is also home to the Afghan National Army Officer Academy ANAOA, the Afghan equivalent of our own Sandhurst. The academy is surrounded by Western Kabul and sports some amazing view points on its southern side, which is lined by high peaks and mountains.

Kabul at dawn from the ANAOA site.

Kabul at dawn from the ANAOA site.

Modern-day life

In the present day, compared to that of our own, the people of Afghanistan lead a relatively simple life. They are generous and honourable and although not possessing all the technology that more developed countries may have, they have ingenuity and a way of making things work. They do things their way and in their own time and for them, it works.

Afghan workers

Afghan workers

It is quite easy for the western world to judge the Middle East and especially Afghanistan as it has played such a big part in our British Military life over the past decade. It is easy to think of a war torn sand pit whose people care little for their neighbour or their country and simply allow themselves to be overrun by extremists. I think you would be amazed if you ever have the opportunity to pass through its streets. Granted, it does seem like there are two worlds colliding but that is the Afghan culture, their way, not ours.

High rise flats dot the skyline, electricity pylons, cars… as many cars as any busy city centre, even billboards advertising broadband internet. Ironic when our own country still sports areas out of reach of ultra-fast fibre optics.

Kabul City and a broadband internet billboard

Kabul City and a broadband internet billboard

The Burka and the modern headscarf meet in Kabul

The Burka and the modern headscarf meet in Kabul

School children in uniform on their way to school.

School children in uniform on their way to school.

Packing up and moving out

Back in Helmand the British Army are well under way with their redeployment of kit to the UK. We are no longer actively conducting offensive operations within the province. To the north at the Afghan National Army Academy we mentor officers who will lead the fight against the insurgent and are proud to be doing so.

An American Osprey gunner on a flight to Kajaki, which sports some beautiful scenery

An American Osprey gunner on a flight to Kajaki, which sports some beautiful scenery

A sketch I did of British Forward Operating Base Price

A sketch I did of British Forward Operating Base Price

I am now nearing my six-month mark and it will soon be time to leave a remarkable country, one that has seen so much turmoil. Until we come to leave we will support the Afghan forces as much as we can. Before I go, I leave you with a video I have filmed and produced of the Apache Longbow Attack Helicopter entitled ‘The Shout’.

Thanks for reading. 

Images © MOD/Crown Copyright

Photography: Sergeant Paul Shaw RLC (Phot)

Video: Sergeant Paul Shaw RLC (Phot)

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…

The Halfway Point

Lt Claire Jackson, OC CCT Herrick 19

Lt Claire Jackson, OC CCT Herrick 19

Lieutenant Claire Jackson is team leader for the British Army’s combat camera team for Herrick 19. She works alongside Sgt Dan Bardsley (photographer) and Sgt Paul Shaw (video cameraman). They are based in Afghanistan and will be covering the work of the Armed forces, in particular 7th Armoured Brigade – the Desert Rats, throughout the winter.  They capture moving and still imagery from events out on the ground that national broadcasters don’t have access to.

Like a scene out of Top Gun

12 weeks in and we’ve reached the halfway point of our H19 tour. It only seems like yesterday when we arrived a bit dazed and tired in the middle of the night into Camp Bastion. I still have to keep reminding myself at times of how lucky we are to be doing this job, with such a diverse range of taskings. And for me being a Reservist, and this my first tour, it’s a real privilege.

As I’m writing this I’m sat in front of a Tornado GR4 watching pilots and crewmen doing their various pre-flight checks, the huge ‘Three Mile Mountain’ in the background towering over Kandahar airfield. A bit different to the view outside the office window in the UK that I’m used, and more like a scene from Top Gun. We’re here to capture some footage with 617 Sqn, part of 904 Expeditionary Air Wing (EAW), known as the ‘Dambusters’.

Three Mile Mountain towers over Kandahar Airfield as we carry out the filming

Three Mile Mountain towers over Kandahar Airfield as we carry out the filming

“Take my breath away…” Just like a scene out of Top Gun!

“Take my breath away…” Just like a scene out of Top Gun!

This is our second trip to Kandahar. We were here only a few weeks ago to capture HRH, the Duke of York at a Remembrance Service. I got very excited as I was told that there might be an opportunity for us to interview him. So with questions already prepped and signed off, we waited patiently at the flight line for him to arrive only to be told that he wasn’t doing any more interviews as he’d already done a fair few in Bastion earlier that day. Oh well, next time I might be more lucky to get a VIP interview.

HRH, the Duke of York visits Kandahar for a Remembrance Service

HRH, the Duke of York visits Kandahar for a Remembrance Service

Could it be magic?

The Duke of York isn’t the first VIP visit that we have covered on this tour. We were very lucky to be involved in an ITV production, which was hosted by Take That’s Gary Barlow. For two weeks we had a large TV crew living with us. A great bunch of people from the world of tv production and one that I’m very familiar with, so great for a bit of networking. I’m going to need to start looking for a job once this tour is over! And, another VIP visit last month when Katherine Jenkins came out to sing to the troops.

A photogenic Katherine Jenkins puts a smile on troops faces

A photogenic Katherine Jenkins puts a smile on troops faces

An unforgettable trip to Kajaki

One memory that I will definitely be taking back with me from this tour is a recent trip to Kajaki, a tasking for the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT). Not only is the place breathtaking, but we arrived in a V-22 Osprey. For those of you who haven’t heard of this aircraft, it’s a tilt-rotor aircraft that takes off and lands like a helicopter but once airborne its engines rotate to convert the aircraft into a turboprop plane capable of high-speed, high altitude flight. It looks just like an aircraft from the set of Avatar!

This wouldn’t look out of place in the Avatar movie

This wouldn’t look out of place in the Avatar movie

We took off in the pitch black early hours of the morning with the rear ramp open just like in a Chinook. A very strange feeling once the aircraft has taken off vertically like a helicopter only to then switch into plane mode and shoot up into the sky at an angle, with the rear ramp still open, and the gunner sitting very comfortably on the back. All I’ll say is just hold on to your bags!

Just another average view for this gunner on the back ramp of an Osprey

Just another average view for this gunner on the back ramp of an Osprey

The picturesque sights of Kajaki

The picturesque sights of Kajaki

The PRT has been responsible for a number of development projects in Helmand Province. Afghan contractors have carried out construction work on Route 611 which has been routinely monitored by a team of Royal Engineers from the PRT. We were out filming with the Engineers on the ground, which prompted interest from the local Helmandi population. We were greeted by loads of happy and curious children and adults eager to see what we were doing.

Three Mile Mountain towers over Kandahar Airfield as we carry out the filming

The CCT at work

The curious locals eager to see what we were doing

The curious locals eager to see what we were doing

Locals continue on with their daily chores as the engineers carry out their work

Locals continue on with their daily chores as the engineers carry out their work

An amazing few days in Kajaki. Just seeing how the work on this route has improved the lives of the locals is such a great feeling. The smiles on the kids’ faces say it all. This is one trip that will stay with me for a very long time.

Images were taken by Sgt Dan Bardsley and Sgt Paul Shaw

View Claire’s page

Getting into the swing of things pt2

Lt Claire Jackson, OC CCT Herrick 19

Lt Claire Jackson, OC CCT Herrick 19

Lieutenant Claire Jackson is team leader for the British Army’s combat camera team for Herrick 19. She works alongside Sgt Dan Bardsley (photographer) and Sgt Paul Shaw (video cameraman). They are based in Afghanistan and will be covering the work of the Armed forces, in particular 7th Armoured Brigade – the Desert Rats, throughout the winter.  They capture moving and still imagery from events out on the ground that national broadcasters don’t have access to.

From one dust storm to another

Back in Bastion, media edited and released for public consumption, it was time to set to work on clearing up a backlog of articles and stories, and set up the next jobs, one of them being a footage request from the BBC for a future TV programme. They required a shot of a Chinook carrying an under-slung load (a large net used to transport cargo). So having tracked down the relevant contact and found a day suitable for all parties, we headed down to the JAG (which is another MOD abbreviation and nothing to do with the car – Joint Aviation Group) to capture the required footage.

We were given an initial briefing, told where to stand and how close we could get to the helicopter as the load was being lifted.  Then it was time to head out to the HLS (helicopter landing site) to await it’s arrival, kitted out in full PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) which consists of body armour, helmet, gloves, ear protection (ballistic knickers and a nappy type contraption if you are going out on the ground).  The body armour alone weighs approx 35lb so for a petite lady like myself it has been a bit gruelling at times carrying all the kit and I’ve had to learn to man up!

The power and energy from this aircraft is immense!

The power and energy from this aircraft is immense!

Within minutes the beast was flying above our heads. The sheer noise and power from its rotor blades is immense. The main issue though is the amount of dust it kicks up and the sheer force it generates, it can literally blow you right over.  Paul and Dan got into action pretty quickly and captured the required footage and images from various angles. Job done!

A few days later we experienced our own natural dust storm which swept through Bastion at some speed creating devastation in camps where doors and windows had been left opened. Normally we are given prior warnings but on this occasion there was none and within minutes the sky had turned a dusty orange colour.  It was just like something out of the movies, with a dirty orange cloud of dust all around us.  The safety glasses came in very useful for once.  And I’m sure the layer of dust worked well as a substitute exfoliator in the absence of the usual beauty products!

A dust storm sweeps through Bastion

A dust storm sweeps through Bastion

The photographers are in their element amidst the storm

The photographers are in their element amidst the storm

Paul and Dan took this as a perfect opportunity to put their photographic skills to the test.

The taskings continue to flow in. They may not be as ‘war-focussed’ as the team would like but as the Afghan National Army (ANA) takes the lead in Helmand, British and ISAF troops are stepping back into a more of mentoring and training role which opens up opportunities of a different nature, and a variety of internal stories from the remaining patrol bases and within Bastion as troops draw back.

FOB Price at night

FOB Price at night

A soldier takes cover during RSOI training

A soldier takes cover during RSOI training

Animal withdrawal symptoms

Being out here away from all the usual creature comforts, as well as missing family and friends, I’ve been missing my pets and any sort of interaction with fluffy animals being very much a cat and dog lover.  The wildlife in Bastion consists of the odd fox or rodent, a breed of enormous ants that can be found swarming around the camp, and in the smaller patrol bases you get the occasional stray cat or dog.  My parents will be glad to know that I haven’t adopted any of the fluffy variety yet using my tour bonus to fly them back to the UK!

So when the lads stumbled across an injured bird (or deformed, not quite sure if it was born this way), my maternal instincts kicked in.  Unfortunately there wasn’t much to be done for this creature and rescuing the local wildlife doesn’t fit into our job spec.  The bird seemed happy enough though and has found a temporary home outside the Media compound. So my quest to rescue a stray animal continues….!

Not sure if he is injured or born this way?

Not sure if he is injured or born this way?

Have you ever seen ants this size before?

Have you ever seen ants this size before?

Images were taken by Sgt Dan Bardsley and Sgt Paul Shaw

View Claire’s page

Getting into the swing of things pt1

Lt Claire Jackson, OC CCT Herrick 19

Lt Claire Jackson, OC CCT Herrick 19

Lieutenant Claire Jackson is team leader for the British Army’s combat camera team for H19. She works alongside Sgt Dan Bardsley (photographer) and Sgt Paul Shaw (video cameraman). They are based in Afghanistan and will be covering the work of the Armed forces, in particular 7th Armoured Brigade – the Desert Rats, throughout the winter.  They capture moving and still imagery from events out on the ground that national broadcasters don’t have access to.

Just go with the flow

I’m currently sitting in Forward Operating Base (FOB) Lashkar Gah waiting for a flight back to Bastion. We came out here for a tasking near Kajaki but unfortunately it’s been put on hold for the day and we are required back at base for another job.  We’ve been out here two months now and have had a reasonably busy tour so far with lots of taskings and last-minute changes which send all plans into disarray.

Those of you who know me, know that I am ‘Little Miss Organised’ to the degree of putting Excel spreadsheets together for past holidays (something my boyfriend and family will agree proved very useful in terms of being able to fit in as much as possible into our trips!!) Therefore it’s been quite hard for me at times to adapt and just go with the flow when plans do get changed.  It’s doing me good though.

CCT at work filming 4 SCOTS during RSOI

CCT at work filming 4 SCOTS during RSOI

Paul makes the most of his artistic skills during some downtime

Paul makes the most of his artistic skills during some downtime

Living and learning Army jargon

Before I go any further I must apologise for the use of military acronyms or jargon throughout this blog.  When I first enlisted I was completely shell shocked by the amount of TLAs (they even have a name for them – Three Letter Abbreviations!!) the MOD uses in its everyday language and thought I would never understand what people were talking about.

I can just about get by on most days now without having to use Google or the Army Arrse (Army Rumour Service) website to find out what certain abbreviations mean.  My parents have insisted though that on my return to the UK, I’m only allowed to visit on the condition that I revert back to using the full English language and stop using military jargon!  But for the rest of this tour, I’m sorry but I can’t avoid the use of it.

A salute marks the start of the ceremony

A salute marks the start of the ceremony

Lots of firsts

Our first tasking was a low key government video project that was cancelled at the last minute. Feeling very sorry for ourselves and with all our kit packed and ready to go for the first trip out, we jumped for joy when we heard that we were being re-routed to Patrol Base (PB) Ouellette to cover the base handover to the Afghan National Civil Order Police (ANCOP). So having been in Theatre for only six days, suddenly we find ourselves outside the wire and at the flight line about to catch a Chinook out to Ouellette.

I don’t have the best of ‘sea/air’ legs so was slightly apprehensive as we boarded the aircraft and didn’t really know what to expect.  I just prayed I didn’t feel too sick as I didn’t want to look like a feeble woman out here on her first tasking with the team.  But I had nothing to fear, the flight was awesome with some amazing views looking out of the back ramp, and I felt great! The ramp stays slightly open for the gunner to provide protection if necessary. We have been using the Chinooks regularly to fly in and out of bases, so much so that to me it’s almost like hailing a cab now.  I feel right at home.

View of the back ramp of the Chinook and beyond

View of the back ramp of the Chinook and beyond

Our stay at Ouellette continued to be a string of new experiences for me – the first one being told what a ‘desert rose’ is…..and it’s not a flower.  Let’s just say this sort of rose was designed with male soldiers in mind. But with the invention of a female ‘She Wee’ (for those of you that don’t know what that is, it’s basically a funnel and a tube and I’ll leave the rest to your imagination) and me having been issued a nato green one prior to deploying (I had a test run in the shower before using it for real!), I could now also use the desert rose if I so wished.  But with the lack of a corrugated metal sheet which normally provides a small amount of privacy, I declined during daylight hours and opted for a wooden cubicle and a ‘john bag’ and then waited until darkness fell to put the plastic pipe to the test!

Making use of a ‘desert rose’

Making use of a ‘desert rose’

PB Ouellette was a fascinating experience seeing how the soldiers outside the wire live, and inside this particular patrol base, how they provide security over Route 611 – a route I became fairly familiar with that first night when asked if we would help out on stag duty by keeping watch on a sentry post (sangar) for any activity beyond the base.  The last time I did something similar was at Sandhurst during my Officer training when the only real threat was being attacked by the instructors.  And now it was for real!

Waiting for dinner to cook

Waiting for dinner to cook

Sangar duty at PB Ouellette

Sangar duty at PB Ouellette

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New tour, new team

Lt Claire Jackson, OC CCT Herrick 19

Lt Claire Jackson, OC CCT Herrick 19

Lieutenant Claire Jackson is team leader for the British Army’s combat camera team for H19. She works alongside Sgt Dan Bardsley (photographer) and Sgt Paul Shaw (video cameraman). They are based in Afghanistan and will be covering the work of the Armed forces, in particular 7th Armoured Brigade – the Desert Rats, throughout the winter.  They capture moving and still imagery from events out on the ground that national broadcasters don’t have access to.

From a different viewpoint

Well, four weeks in and I finally feel like I’m getting the hang of things out here in the desert. I’ve taken over from Capt Mau Gris who was the team leader for the H18 combat camera team (CCT).  Mau had gathered a large fan base through his blog, and I’m hoping to continue the story, but this time telling the story through the eyes of a female, a relative newcomer to the Army, a first tour, and a Reservist.

The beginning

My journey started in May 2013 when I worked my last day in the office of my civilian job and the following day rocked up to the Reinforcements Training Mobilisation Centre (RTMC), Chilwell, to sign on the dotted line. What was I doing?  Second thoughts rushing through my mind.  Was I mad?  Did I realise what I was giving up – the warmth and cleanliness of an office in Warwickshire in exchange for a portacabin and tent in the middle of the desert?

Our workplace – the Media Operations portacabin

Our workplace – the Media Operations portacabin

Home sweet home – my tented bedroom

Home sweet home – my tented bedroom

I have worked as a TV Production Manager for a small independent company in Barford, Warwickshire, called X2 Productions Ltd for the last four years, having finished a short-term contract at the BBC in Birmingham.  It’s down to X2 that I joined the Territorial Army (TA / the Army Reserves as they are now called) because of the first TV series that I worked on where we sent a crew to Afghanistan and embedded them for six weeks with the Army.  There wasn’t a budget to send me along so I manned the phones from the UK and organised the trip for them, wishing I was out there with them.

My first real experience of Army life – passing out as a Private soldier

My first real experience of Army life – passing out as a Private soldier

From Private to Combat Camera Team Leader

I joined the TA in 2009, went through basic training as a private soldier, then went down the Officer path and commissioned in October 2011 into the RLC.  After a stint of troop commanding with 243 HQ Squadron, 159 Supply Regiment, Canley, I made the decision to transfer into the Media Operations Group (MOG), mainly because of work commitments and not being able to dedicate enough time to my supply troop.

A year and a half on and a commissioned officer – Sandhurst Commissioning Parade

A year and a half on and a commissioned officer – Sandhurst Commissioning Parade

The MOG is a national unit for personnel with specialist media skills and has a lower level of commitment which suited me.  Having passed the selection day with the group, I soon discovered the role of the CCT having listened to a presentation from a team who had just returned from a six-month tour.  It had me hooked and I immediately decided that was going to be my goal. And here I am now a year-and-a-half later, sitting in Helmand Province leading a combat camera team.

The team

Sgt Shaw and Sgt Bardsley hard at work

Sgt Shaw and Sgt Bardsley hard at work

The team consists of Sgt Paul Shaw and Sgt Dan Bardsley. Both originally trained as photographers with Paul branching off into the role of Electronic News Gatherer (ENG) / video operator for this tour, whilst Dan is responsible for taking the photos.  My job is to pull the team together, organise and set up the jobs, direct and produce, and write up the stories.  I ensure that all jobs are completed and pushed out to various media outlets where possible.

All three of us play very different roles within the team.  Myself and Paul work closely together as I have to act as his force protection when out on the ground when he’s got his head behind the camera (it’s a good job I had that bit of extra training before I deployed).  Whereas Dan works a bit more independently and can be tasked on jobs by himself if needs be.

I met Paul and Dan for the first time in July when we did a two week CCT course. We’re going to be spending the next six months together working and living in a very close-knit environment, and one that is very different from my life back in the UK.  No make-up, no jewellery, no civilian clothes, a military green wardrobe and a whole new world in the desert.

There’s no going back now……

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