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).

More tc

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…

Uncontrolled action

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.

“Eyes to me!”…Click

“Smile”…Click

“That’s it, just rotate your left shoulder a little towards me”…Click.

Considered, safe, controllable. Even outdoors in the intense Afghan sunlight I have begun to feel protected in the ‘comfort blanket’ that is portrait photography. When I first arrived out here, I was avoiding the piercing sun at all costs; angling for shade wherever I could. Now, because of a little gadget I was prompted to buy by a friend and expert lighter, Paul Brownbridge I am able to remain creative when lighting subjects even in the brightest of conditions. I will cover how in a future blog.

So back to comfort blankets. Warm, safe environments where a youngster can cuddle up and feel safe in. For some people, portrait photography is that comfort blanket. But is that the type of photography I always want to be doing? Did I transfer from the Army Air Corps to spend my days in photographic ‘Safesville, Tennessee’, where the most exciting thing that could happen is my subject gets grit in their eye from a passing helicopter? No, I did not!

 As it happens, I am quite lucky because the Army didn’t think so either.

‘Uncontrolled action’ is the name that is given at the Defence School of Photography to photography where the shooter doesn’t get a chance to set anything up. Sure, I have been getting out and about on the ground and grabbing images that are well and truly uncontrolled, as the action unfolds. A squint here, a gurn there; it doesn’t really matter to the young lads who are risking their lives. Those type of images tell a story of the ‘here and now’. A good facial expression can make an action-shot. I believe it gives a picture sincerity and allows a viewer to empathise and immerse themselves in the tale.

‘One shot – one kill’

On the other end of the uncontrolled action scale though, and somewhere where squinting and gurning is not what I am looking for from my subjects, is VIP visits. All around the world there are important people; whether it be royalty, religious, ministerial or celebrity who make visits and trips to meet and engage with other people, and there is generally somebody there to record that event be it on film or stills camera. In the Army it’s no different. Recently in Afghanistan, the person recording the event was me.

Over the last three weeks, Helmand has hosted a number of VIP visits and I had the opportunity to capture each one of them. Now I would like to think that somebody at the top knew I was fresh out of photography school and decided to ‘ease me in gently’ because as it panned out, they sent out the VIPs in order of ranking; Chief of the General Staff, Secretary of State for Defence and then finally the Prime Minister. I am sure this was purely coincidental though.

Each of the visits presented a new challenge, some of which I overcame and some of which I can assure you I will do better next time. Of all the pictures I take during a visit I ultimately select ones that portray the subject in the best ‘light’. VIP photography is no different to studio photography in this respect. However, due to the fact that the subject is engaged with other people and not striking a pose for my camera, the ‘one shot-one kill’ theory rarely rings true. If any of you reading out there find it does, then go buy a lottery ticket. For this reason, and obviously many others, Nikon invented ‘Continuous High’ on its cameras at up at speeds of up to11 frames a second on the D4.

Oooh, a comfort blanket then, I hear you say. Well not really, as you would be surprised what facial expressions can be manufactured during a burst of 11 frames.

Blinker

Some other photographers may be too proud to admit this, but I learnt quickly that if you are desperate for useable images then don’t be shy when it comes to converting light into ones and zeros on your memory cards. It costs nothing, and no photographer that ever got published was forced to supply their ‘hit ratio’ detailing the number of useable images vs squidgy, blinky  ‘gurn-a-thons’ along side their credit. This is a great and engaging image, but how many shutter clicks to get it?

CGS talks to the troops – Cpl Si Longworth

CGS talks to the troops – Cpl Si Longworth

Admittedly though, some subjects are harder to photograph than others and this is just a fact of life. I recently did a posed portrait of someone and shot 36 frames. Out of those 36, 4 of them were useable because they were a blinker.

So as the VIP arrives and makes their way through the Province, they meet various military commanders and soldiers and move in and out of vehicles, buildings and camps. They remain very aware of your presence and occasionally you catch their eyes looking at you in a way that possibly would suggest you are becoming an irritant. As long as this isn’t happening too often you can be content that you are not becoming too intrusive.

The Secretary of State is aware of my presence

The Secretary of State is aware of my presence.

I began by carrying two cameras with the trusty 24-70mm on one, and the 70-200mm on the other. I haven’t changed this tactic yet as it seems to work for me. I pop a flash on the body with the smaller lens on just in case I need it. There is so much movement involved in these visits that it really is best to be able to move light and fast, in order to get in front of the VIP with ease.

Royalty and celebrity

One of the other things I have to be aware of when capturing VIPs, who attract a lot of media attention, is the other camera and film crews. In each of the recent visits there have been at least two other sets of reporters and these can range from Capt Mau Gris and the ‘Baz duo’ from the Combat Camera Team to the BBC or Sky news. Wrestling for shooting space is all part of the fun. I haven’t managed to get into an altercation yet whilst angling for the best position, although I have heard of such tales. I always try to introduce myself when I can and ask questions about what they are after so that we can ‘divvy up’ the real estate. Sometimes, it’s just not possible.

Secretary of State with other film crews

Secretary of State with other film crews

I learned the hard way during the recent visit of the Prime Minister that BBC Cameramen do not take it too kindly when you stray into their shot. I wasn’t concentrating on my position and it is an easy mistake to make, but not one I will make again any time soon.

The cameraman spots me, seconds before I am told in no uncertain terms to move

The cameraman spots me, seconds before I am told in no uncertain terms to move.

No matter what my political persuasion, I am happy that I have been given the opportunity to photograph these people, although I am sure in my career as an Army Photographer, the opportunity may well present itself again. Hopefully in sunlight that isn’t so harsh.

So having had a fairly busy three weeks, I just have two more boxes to tick now; royalty and celebrity. We will just have to see which comes first.

It’s time for a little snooze. Where did I put that comfort blanket?

More tc…

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

What’s in the bag?

Corporal Si Longworth in Afghanistan

Corporal Si Longworth in Afghanistan

Corporal Si Longworth is one of 38 trained British Army photographers.  He left a career in aviation to pursue his passion for photography; capturing everything that military life has to offer. He is currently in Afghanistan as the Task Force Helmand Photographer on Op HERRICK 18.

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

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

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

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

My Issued kit

My Issued kit

Key

Key

 

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

Personal ‘goodies’

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

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

My personal goodies

My personal goodies

Key

Key

 

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

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

“Sand approaches Bastion. Hide your kit quick”

“Sand approaches Bastion. Hide your kit quick”

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

Self amalgamating

“Ben Birchall’s battered D3 cameras”

“Ben Birchall’s battered D3 cameras”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More tc…

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

Strap kit down, buckle-up, enjoy… the never ending ride (Pt3)

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.

Force protection

So, to re-cap this story; I left Lashkar Gah for a ‘three-day’ outing with the Warthog Group 13 days ago and have spent that time camped up in various locations in the desert with the Fusiliers, the Tankies and most recently the RLC. I have had one shower; pooed in bags, peed in bottles and am wearing clothes that would challenge even the most honking of skunks to a sniff-off. Communications to the outside world are down due to the extreme heat and lack of a working satellite dish, and I now want to buy a dog the minute I step off the aeroplane in Blighty.

My new task is with the Royal Engineers. These guys go out into harm’s way and look for Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). They provide route assurance to all other troops on the ground, and I am heading out with them. Luckily they are a short drive away from my current location, so I am with their boss in no time at all.

Although I love meeting all the new teams of people doing different things, there is always that awkward moment, which admittedly soon dies away, when troop leaders or squadron commanders size you up. Sometimes, they have been told from ‘higher’ to embed you into their plans. This can have a negative effect, but normally doesn’t. They look at you and in those first few introductory sentences and try work out if you are going to bring anything to the party, or just be a hindrance. I try to keep my chat short and sweet, throw in a few jokes about plastering their faces over soldier magazine (even though I have absolutely nothing to do with it), talk about all the crates of beer they will have to buy when they are seen in publications, and ease their thinking.

I was going to be placed in the Troop commander’s vehicle with a medic and two searchers. The teams split into three groups, two of which were dedicated to searching and one final group providing force protection. In this case, it was guys from the First Fusiliers again. I was given the choice to spend time with either of the search teams. One of which spent most of the day ‘isolating’ the area to the flanks, and the other team searching the route itself. Each had its challenges and photo opportunities, but weighing it up in my head (mentally flipping a coin) I chose the isolation teams.

Out we rolled. I really wasn’t prepared for the journey ahead of me…because it was about 10 minutes long. Seriously, I was the happiest man alive. It was such a change to be not sat in a truck for hour upon hour. When the lads jumped out I waited in the Mastiff for a few minutes for them to set up; just long enough to find out from the medic that she had a brother who was also serving in Afghanistan. Gold dust, I thought, and convinced her allow us to write a story; getting her and her brother together. I took her details and passed them on to my bosses.

Out I jumped and walked the length of the convoy to find the isolation teams. I know I keep saying it, but everywhere I visit, I find more feats of grit and endurance from our soldiers. In the blistering heat, wearing more protection than the average soldier due the risky nature of the job, the searchers painstakingly scour the environment looking for devices planted to do harm to anyone unfortunate enough to meet one under the wrong circumstances. It is a slow and demanding process, both mentally and physically.

Water, chocolate and pen

Part of the process is moving through compounds owned by the locals. Fortunately, each patrol has interpreters and guys from the Afghan Uniformed Police there to assist in this. It was actually great to see how welcoming the locals were to ISAF troops. In several instances, they would invite us in and make Chai (tea) for us, or offer us homemade bread. I am nosey so I revelled in having a glimpse inside their homes; so far away from the comforts that we are used to.

Soldiers climb over compound walls to clear the route

Soldiers climb over compound walls to clear the route

As we moved down the route, children began taking an interest in what we were doing. A few of them came out and hung around the guys. They seemed to have learned a few words in English, such as ‘water’, ‘chocolate’ and most interestingly, ‘pen’. At times, it felt like they were begging, but it clearly paid off as some of the searchers had stashed the boiled sweets we get in the rations, and they seemed to love these. I am glad that somebody does… I tried to grab a few images of the interactions with the children, but they played shy, even though they taunted me to take their picture. They would then do this peek-a-boo style thing, which I found amusing.

Soldier and Child play peek-a-boo

Soldier and Child play peek-a-boo

pretending not to look at his own picture

pretending not to look at his own picture

The clearance was slow and methodical. The isolation teams and the road party worked in unison to clear the way. Sometimes one of the groups would have to wait for the other to catch up. This meant grabbing shade. Any respite from the sun was worth it. Even if it was only five minutes worth.

The lads squeeze under a tree’s shadow for shade

The lads squeeze under a tree’s shadow for shade

Every bit of ground that was used for parking your bum had to be searched thoroughly before hand. As a photographer, I really have to concentrate on where I am standing. There are safe areas that have been searched and it is all too easy for me to get carried away with the image I am trying to build up in my mind and stray outside that area. Luckily most of the teams I have been out with are veterans of Afghanistan and can spot if I am going to make a mistake and usually rein me in pretty sharpish.

After a small rest, we were off again; this time moving into more rural areas. We headed into a cornfield. I was instantly taken back to my childhood. I grew up in a small farming village on the banks of the River Humber and my childhood was spent running through fields such as this, and hiding from friends in the long corn. I don’t remember the beasties that were living in this cornfield though. Swarms of weird flies flew around us. I didn’t take too kindly to that, but plodded on.

Making our way through the corn

Making our way through the corn

A Royal Engineer searcher gives orders in the cornfield

A Royal Engineer searcher gives orders in the cornfield

Half way through the field, we were halted to allow the other teams to catch up with us. This rest wasn’t so much fun, with all the buzzing around. I was separated from the guys in front and behind me by about five metres, but when I sat in the corn, I couldn’t see anyone of them. It was ok staring at a million corn stems for a few minutes, but then I got a little bored. I could hear other guys chatting away, so I crawled over to one of them;  ‘Geordie’, the patrol second in command. He was an extremely keen guy, with a great sense of humour. The sweat was pouring off my brow and he just laughed and said: “It’s fricking hot isn’t it, man?” I was inclined to agree. As I looked up at him to answer, I was met with an offer:

A kind offer in a field of dry corn

A kind offer in a field of dry corn

Politely, I declined. I did however spend half a minute explaining my cameras controls and why I use ‘back-button’ focus. I needed to do this so that Geordie could get a quick snap of me. Most people expect the focus button to be the half-press action of the shutter release button. About a year ago, a friend called Paul Shaw, who had been shooting Nikon for many years, explained the benefits. I trialled it, and liked it. The only problem comes when you hand over your camera to someone, and try explaining it… more often than not I come out blurry. Luckily, Geordie was, as they say in the Army, ‘all over it’.

The author reminiscing in a field of corn. “Geordie” –Engineer Search teams, 22 RE

The author reminiscing in a field of corn. “Geordie” – Engineer Search teams, 22 RE

If you want to know more about ‘back-button focus’ go here

Fifteen days

Once out of the fields, we were back to compounds again, but not for long. At the end of the search, we were invited into the gardens of a Mosque and offered more food and chai. The guys and I were exhausted. It had been a long day in the sun. As we rested, the children gathered again and watched us. I grabbed a few more shots.

Children watch us rest

Children watch us rest

More Afghan children are curious of the camera

More Afghan children are curious of the camera

Before long, we were mounted up back in the vehicles and heading back to our evening retreat. That day I had seen another job role in Afghanistan, and understood a little more, what the searchers go through, and it wasn’t easy. I had it all to look forward to the next day, too, but these guys did it day in, day out.

Once I had finished my time with the search teams, it was time to get home. My boss had been working hard to secure me on a flight out from the nearest base, so long as I could find myself transport to it. As resourceful as ever, I exchanged a staged group shot at dusk with the force protection lads for a lift, threw in an Armed Forces Day flag for good measure and the ‘taxi’ was mine for the taking.

At the camp, I was told my flight was late. No problem for me. But like a protester, I sat in the dark on the HLS with an American contractor and patiently waited for the V-22 Osprey to arrive, and it finally did.

It was 15 days since I had left Lashkar Gah for what was supposed to be a three-day job. I was shattered, and I longed for my three-metre square ‘pod’ back at Lash, but I had to fly via Bastion and spend a night there. As it was around midnight when I got there, I just flopped on the cot bed that awaited me in the transit tent. I couldn’t even be bothered to undress as I knew I was on an early flight out in the morning, and to be perfectly honest, I actually couldn’t be bothered getting out of stinking kit, to just put it back on again a few hours later.

A little after sunrise the next morning I was stepping off a helicopter in Lashkar Gah, a weary but happy man. I burst into my office and dropped my gear. The Air-Con had been switched on for me, so I just sat in my swivel chair and took a few minutes to reflect on the people I had met and the things I had seen in those 16 days. Admittedly, it isn’t a lifetime, but longer than I was expecting and prepared for. I may have ‘bumped my gums’ along the way a little. All soldiers reserve the right to do that. I was glad this journey was over, but to be honest, I probably wouldn’t have had it any other way…

More tc.

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

Follow Si on Twitter: @Si_Army_Phot

Strap kit down, buckle-up, enjoy… the never ending ride (Pt2)

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.

Alarm clocks…

…Interesting things that we all rely on a day to day basis to meet our daily schedule. I hadn’t needed one so far. At Lashkar Gah, between all the guys in the morning who rustle around the tented accommodation at ‘sparrow’s fart’, the morning tent-shaking delivery of stores from whatever helicopter passes overhead, or the fact that there are plastic windows that are never closed in our pod, ever, it’s pretty much guaranteed that I will be awake with plenty of time on my hands to get to the gym, have breakfast and walk to work at an unbelievably slow pace.

Annoying as that all is each morning, what it does mean is I don’t have to worry about not waking up or setting an alarm. Ok, the helicopter may change its schedule, but the sun will definitely still rise, and I would risk my house on the fact that somebody will catch some part of their body armour’s male Velcro, on the female Velcro surrounding the tent doorway, and have to prise themselves off it. It’s not that noise that wakes me; it’s the angry vocal expletive that accompanies it that does… but also makes me chuckle.

So there I was at MOB Price having expected to be on a flight home, but instead being told that I was up and out first thing in the morning on another operation. It was around 2000 hrs when I finally got into the transit accommodation, and I was due to be up and out at 0300 hrs. I have no clean clothes, and not really any time to wash them. I had to dig into my kit, re-pack, dust everything off and charge all my camera batteries, which were flat. The unit’s press officer was looking me after. He was gracious enough to loan me a pair of clean socks for the off. I will get them back to him at some point..

I decided to take a chance and swill one set of underwear out in the sinks. I left it hanging outside the tent and hoped for the best.

I turned my camera kit around and re-packed and finally laid down at around 2200 hrs. As I laid there eyelids flickering, it occurred to me that I had absolutely no way of ensuring I was up ready to be out at three. Jumped out of bed, and ran over to the NAAFI. They had sold out of alarm clocks so I ran over to where the press officer worked. He had called it a night and I didn’t know where he lived. There was hardly anyone around camp to even ask, so decided to head back to my room. When I got back, another traveller had slipped in, and was just unpacking his gear. It was a cruel call, but I sweet-talked him into setting an alarm on his iPad to wake me up. Nice one.. Shut eye, at last.

Obsessive neatness

You never really get a good night’s sleep when you know you are up early. This was no different. I engaged autopilot from the second I heard the beep beep. Shower, shave. The usual drill, with eyes wide shut. I grabbed my undies. Yep, they were still damp, but that would be refreshing so on they went.

My transit accommodation was a good 10-minute walk down to the ‘dust bowl’. This was an area where visiting vehicles could leaguer up. It was a fairly enthusiastic walk as I had finally woken up and I knew whom I was going to meet up with. It was 32 Sqn, 3 CLSR and the men and women from the Combat Logistic Patrol I had been out with previously. (If you haven’t read that, I would ready that first, here)

I got down there and ‘tipped my hat’ to the OC, Major Rob Futter, and the Squadron Sergeant Major, WO2 Grant Turley. It was good to see them all again, as we had shared some laughs on the previous trip. This time, I was going to take a seat with the OC in his command vehicle, which was a Mastiff. The crew consisted of Taff, a Welsh Reservist, Britt, a man with obsessive neatness around the vehicle, Tex, the OC’s signaller and a crap-hand at poker (which reminds me of the 20 you owe me..) and the boss. They made me feel as welcome as ever. I was even given a computer to play around with in the back, and shown the text communication systems.

The OC filled me in on all the finer details of the plan. Simple as always. Convoy move to a location, rest up and be prepared to provide logistical support where necessary. As always, I squeezed out the information that was relevant to me. The whole task was going to last between three and nine days. I am sure I made the confirmatory sniff to the armpits of my shirt as subtle as possible when the OC gave me the time-frame. Actually, why was I worried? Even though the convoy was going to top my first bout of 26 hours by nearly another 10, I was in good spirits, because we could wash our gear at our end location; couldn’t we? Well actually, no. There was no room at the inn for the amount of axles we rolled with, so we were going to once again leaguer up in the desert. I even managed to crack a smile.

Once on the road I got down to the usual task of getting what images I could from the top hatch. We were trucking through the desert this time, and the scenery was different from the green zone, but unfortunately a bit bland.

Convoy

Convoy

I got convoy images, but wanted to catch the OC in his top cover duties as that made for a more interesting shot, and wouldn’t be posed. This proved more difficult than you can imagine. As a photographer, I wanted everything to be as ‘perfect’ as it can be, for the picture. Sure there are always outtakes and images that never see the light of day, but as this is a blog about photography, as much as it is about being an Army Photographer I want you to see the differences. During a convoy that is heading in one direction for hours and hours, it’s hard to get the shot you want (if you are only using available light) when the sun is in the wrong place. This is also made worse when you can’t be stood there for hours and hours. I was popping up and down as the patrol moved on and kept on checking on my friend, the sun.

Here is an image that doesn’t make the cut. The light is not that great.

The first go: bad light spoilt play

The first go: bad light spoilt play

However, when the ‘stars align’, in this case, the sun, the whole image can be turned around. I hope you agree, it was worth trying again and again.

Second time lucky: Same angle, different light

Second time lucky: Same angle, different light

Happy with that image, I sat down again in my seat and pondered the mysteries of life for another five or six hours until our first rest stop. I am aware that after my last blog a lot of people are interested in the bodily functions that us guys and girls have to do when we are locked in the back of a moving vehicle for so long, and need to keep hydrated. Let’s just say that as the hours roll on by, the collection of full bottles builds up at the back of the wagon. Fortunately, different manufacturers make bottles with varying opening sizes. Hang on, hang on; before you all run your minds off to the gutter please let me explain. The smaller water bottles are great for the tarmac roads, whilst the energy drink ‘Gatorade’ sized bottles are more your rough-terrain pee-bottle. If you use all your supply of larger bottles up too early in the journey, whilst still on the tarmac, then purging one’s self could become quite interesting when it comes to the uneven ground. Trust me; when the truck is bouncing in every direction, the last thing you want is to do is worry about a ‘rogue stream’.

 Bodo and Onyx

On and on we rolled. Mile after mile. I did laugh at the fact that I had only done a journey like this several weeks earlier and had decided that as good an experience it was; there wasn’t much photographic benefit to it. But, the juice was definitely worth the squeeze on this occasion, because I would be spending time with another group of very different people and getting to know how the CLSR does business in a Leaguer. Tex was good company too. He briefed me up on all the different nets the OC was chatting on, who to send texts to and when. It actually made the time pass by a little quicker being given something to do and not just be a passenger. I thank him for that. (But you still owe me 20)

Luckily for us, the journey was broken up with a five-hour stop over at a military base. In we rolled, parked up close and stretched our legs. I still laugh today as I recall watching a steady stream of people emerging from within the tightly woven vehicles in the general direction of the toilets, each person clutching a collection of bottles. Only the military would find this funny.

Break time for the convoy

Break time for the convoy

The guys got down to administrating their vehicles in all sorts of ways. Dust filters needed cleaning, water stocks had to be updated, and minor repairs had to be made when bit’s had been damaged on the terrain. It was still daylight, but the sun was fading fast. Camp cots were being positioned all around, and once food had been consumed, it was time for shut-eye.

I busied myself grabbing pictures, and managed to snap Taff in front of a setting sun.

LCpl ‘Taff’ Davies

LCpl ‘Taff’ Davies

During our short stay, I met another two dogs. One was a protection dog, Bodo a Malin-cross, pictured below, who was handled by Private Chris Jones Royal Army Veterinary Corps and the other was a black Lab called Onyx, a search dog handled by Trooper Jordan Davies. (A ‘Tankie) Bodo took an instant like to me. Or was it the other way around? I have always loved dogs and always wanted one, but couldn’t justify it whilst in the Army. I am away too much to stress about keeping it exercised. One day maybe.

A ball for Bodo, a military protection dog

A toy for Bodo the military protection dog

After a few hours shut-eye, we rolled out. Thankfully it was only another three-hour sprint to our final destination. In the words of the fantastic Tina Turner; “Big wheels keep on rollin’”.

As we pulled into our intended leaguer area, the Danes where pitched up beside us, and behind them as if by magic were the Warthog Group; they had pipped us to the post. I smiled, as I know I would have had a much comfier ride than the guys on tracks. There is always somebody worse-off. I went and said hello to the guys. It had been little under 48 hours since I saw them last, but it was like a year break, and the catch-up banter was cruel, in a way I believe only soldiers understand.

Back over at the CLP leaguer area, everyone was starting to pitch camp, and find his or her little spots for the coming days. I was met by a frustrated looking Britt, who had shoe horned himself out of the driver’s position only to find the rear of his truck had been messed up by yours truly. He quickly got on with re-administering it. I joked he would make a good house-husband and his frown deepened. As I came to realise over the time I spent living with this truck full of guys is that having someone who takes great pride in making sure that every detail is ‘squared-away’ is a real god-send. To Britt, this mastiff was his baby, and he looked after it, and thus, looked after us. So thank you, man.

My bed, bottom right. The wind and sand was unforgiving.

My bed, bottom right. The wind and sand was unforgiving.

One of the first things I noticed was how fine the desert sand was. It actually was more like dust, and there seemed to be a constant wind whipping up everywhere. Dust and sand got everywhere. There was no stopping it, and quite frankly, it was brutal. Nowhere was safe, less in a sealed wagon. It was a massive effort to keep all my kit and equipment clean and dust free. My two cameras took an intense beating whilst living here, but they still pulled through.

I set up my little living area. It wasn’t much. I hoisted up the satellite dish on to the roof and made a little working area. I thought this was going to be my office, but I hadn’t really thought it all through. I was hit with so many problems that I couldn’t have imagined. Up until now, I hadn’t really needed to communicate with the outside world, but I wanted to start sending updates back to HQ. For starters there was nowhere to charge my laptop and satellite. Thankfully, the ‘big-wheelers’ (Tank transporters) had a little gadget that converted 24v DC to a useable output. Next there was the sheer heat. At 42-45 in the shade, the computer does not do well. In fact, it doesn’t really ‘do’ at all. The trackpad does not sense your finger and the CPU overheats; probably from ingesting so much sand. Finally the battery power is greatly reduced. I am talking about a 30 minute window, if I could get the battery fully charged at all. The only charging window was when the trucks started up, and that was only twice daily, so I never really hit full charge. In reality, I managed to connect to the Internet for about 10-15 minutes daily. This was just enough to send an essential update to the real world. That was, until this happened…

Oops!

Oops!

Someone had accidentally broken the main cable that gave me precious contact. So everyone can blame the sun, the sand and whoever snapped my cable, as these are the reasons why the latest blog has taken so long to get to you.

The Littlest Hobo

Over the next few days I spent time capturing different parts of the day; morning routine, exercise and the dogs. I kept wandering over to see Bodo, who always greeted me with a smile. (You haven’t seen the last of him)

Me and Bodo

Me and Bodo

Cpl Gethin Hiscocks, 3 CLSR

The sand engrains itself into your skin throughout the day. Cpl Gethin Hiscocks, 3CLSR.

The Brits make use of the wind and a poncho, to pass the time. The Danish vehicles leaguered up in the background.

The Brits make use of the wind and a poncho, to pass the time. The Danish vehicles leaguered up in the background.

The Brits make use of the wind and a poncho, to pass the time. The Danish vehicles leaguered up in the background.

The Oscar Charlie prepares for the future.

I found a way to contact my boss using the text system in the vehicle. I had left a message and it had finally been received. I had been there a total of four days and had eaten far too much sand. My kit stunk. I had tried rinsing clothes through but only to have it dry stiff with infused sand. I was all pictured out. It was time to leave.

I managed to formulate an extraction plan, as I knew there was a resupply going to happen by helicopter. I was keen to get on a radio to my boss. Through the magic of radio satellite communications, Tex made it happen. I explained what I had done, and what my plan was to get out. My boss however, had different ideas. What he had found out was that there was another Op going on relatively close to where we were. Images were required, and unfortunately I was just too close to miss this opportunity. It was time to pack my bags. The ‘Littlest Hobo’ was on the move again. Just enough time to say my goodbyes and smash one last picture of Bodo and Private Chris Jones.

Bodo and Private Chris Jones

Bodo and Private Chris Jones

One last thing… Tex; you owe me 20!

To be continued…

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

Follow Si on Twitter: @Si_Army_Phot