As the trip flairs illuminated the area and sounds of gunfire rung out in the frigid still cold of the air, it was now time for me to go to work. Hitting the shutter button, quickly adjusting for the now piercing light that enveloped the simulated crashed helicopter, and checking my histogram. Capturing the training exercise to test battlefield casualty drills was underway.
Checking my car thermometer when arriving at Bramley it read -1.5c, this was going to be a cold night indeed… Light flurries of snow had begun to fall from the sky, nothing landing but enough to give a real visual sense of just how cold it was. Weather warnings had been issued on the radio for ice and cold so I’d made sure to bring along the thick coat. After going over the safety brief with the DS and being made aware of the various possible hazards to stay clear of, I had my area that I could work and move in.
In front of me was an old skeletal remains of a Lynx helicopter… No propellers, landing gear or any form of avionics inside, just the raw hull that could be used for a mass of scenarios that could be imagined in a crashed helicopter situation. Amongst me were four Craftsmen who were acting as casualties, being briefed by REME’s, 8 Training Battalions MTI Sgt as to their legends and their injuries and more importantly, how to react to the approaching cadre of PNCO Craftsmen.
PNCO, the acronym for Potential Non Commissioned Officer is their chance to demonstrate if they have what it takes to step up the first rung of the ladder of rank within the British Army and pick up their first strip, Lance Corporal.
From walking wounded shock victims, to catastrophic abdominal wounds, the prosthetics and fake blood were in place for our arriving section. Ever watching are the DS or Directing Staff. These experienced corporals are there to mentor, encourage and all importantly assess each craftsmen actions and reactions, from the types of scenarios they are about to encounter, to the simple tasks of personal admin in the field.
One of the biggest challenges faced during a low light shoot like this is the constant changing of light… In near total darkness and moving to the area with night vision, we set up our safe spot for the tripod and camera.
With just the slight ember of the lit fires to the front of the Lynx’s nose for light we set up the camera. We were using a lightweight carbon Manfrotto tripod with ball head to mount a Canon 1DX Mk2 with a 16-35mm 2.8L Mk2 lens.
Shutter Speed – 1/25
Aperture – f2.8
Thats the technical challenges overcome, now the next bit! Judging when and when not to press the shutter button and when to move positions. Its all very well, sitting back from the action with a nice long telephoto and try and zoom into the action. But you loose….. something. An image like that you feel like you’re an outside looking in from a distance, the art of a good photo is to feel consumed by the image, to feel like you are a part of what you are viewing. To transport the viewer to the place.
Watching the soldiers carefully and judging what they are about to do and where they are going to move to, pre positioning myself to catch the movement….. Its like a flowing chess game, choreographed to blank ammunition and trip flares.
Finally as suddenly as the action begun, the trip flairs and fires die down, plunging the area into darkness, and thus drawing a close to my work for the evening.