As if often the case in the era of multimedia news gathering I was recently despatched to Poland on a whirlwind visit to shoot stills and video. A British armoured Battlegroup have been taking part in war games with the Polish military entitled “Black Eagle” for several weeks and the press had been invited along to coincide with a visit by the Chief of the General Staff – General Nick Carter .
We had to be at the army base in Poland bright and early on Friday morning so our only choice was to fly late Thursday night to Berlin and then drive for the border – luckily only a two and a half hour drive. Our hotel for the night was literally a truck stop motel, with a bit of a Swiss chalet style thing going on, but being a 10 minute drive from our rendezvous point the following morning it was bearable .
Now, I have this thing as many of you probably do where I conjure up in my head a “ best case scenario” of what to expect on a job and then set myself up for disappointment . In this case I envisaged myself in a trench with a screaming corporal throwing smoke grenades as the tanks roared forward all shot on a 24mm …….
As if….. After being transported to the range with a host of other media from the likes of ITN, The Times (sans photographer) the BBC and a likeable but complete anorak from Combat and Survival mag we found ourselves on a Soviet era style viewing platform from where we were expected to shoot all our images. No chance of using a 24mm here !
The again they were going to be firing live rounds so probably was best to be have some distance between us. Luckily due to some advice from a former Telegraph colleague who now picture edits for the Army I had begrudgingly brought a 300 and an extender with me without which I would have been in deep trouble, but was still utterly under-lensed for the live fire part of the exercise .
I recently bought a Canon C100 video camera, which takes all my EF lenses, which has revolutionised video for me . I now no longer have to fanny about with a 5D taking bits on and off depending on whether I’m shooting stills or video with it’s built in ND filters and XLR inputs . I now have a dedicated video camera which can use all the lenses I have collected over the years . Mind you this doesn’t solve the issue of when to shoot stills and when to shoot video on an assignment where there are no second chances .
Once the demonstration started there was nothing I could do but go with the flow and let my instincts take over. My c100 was mounted on a tripod and as the Challenger II tanks burst out of the tree line I panned with them and when I felt I had enough moved to stills leaving the camera rolling . I continued in this fashion alternating between camera until the tanks were probably a 750m off in the distance shrouded by a cloud of smoke which only the muzzle flashes of their powerful guns could penetrate. At one point I even mounted the 300 2.8 on the c100 for a few long shots and the 1.5 crop factor really helped.
Afterwards we got to have a short walk about where I bumped into an old school friend I hadn’t seen in 30 yrs who is now a Brigadier and shot some short lens stuff of soldiers and officers that made a huge difference. Finally there was an interview with the general and piece to camera with the reporter Ben, whom I had worked with a lot over the years and has now gained the confidence needed to stand in front of a camera, a skill which is not to be underestimated.
After a quick edit, caption and send of the stills we jumped back into the hire car for the drive back to Berlin with only around five hours before our flight was due to depart forcing me to edit whilst Ben drove down the dual carriageway westwards. The stars we clearly in alignment that day as miraculously my 4g mifi worked flawlessly (never usually does when it really matters!) and was able to file the video before going through to departures and the luxury that awaited with our Easyjet flight back to Gatwick .