RAF Brize Norton Night Photoshoot Report

Saturday 29th October 2016

Hosting its first night shoot that we can recall, RAF Brize Norton recently held an event in the name of the charity. In an ever-expanding market for the enthusiast, how did this Oxfordshire addition to the genre stack up against rivals, will holding the event on a weekend give it that edge to stand out above the rest?

Making the short drive from Birmingham, Andy Evans attended the event and provides this report. Photography by the author and fellow staffers Dominic Vickery and Keith Meachem.

The concept of the aviation night photo shoot is becoming ever-more popular with organisations and the military as they attempt to emulate the success enjoyed by the excellent RAF Northolt events. The previous twelve months have witnessed a number of Royal Air Force bases jump on to this bandwagon in the name of charity eager to gain their slice of the pie. Many of these bases have charged what are, arguably, sky high prices; it therefore came as no surprise that when RAF Brize Norton announced their event at a very similar (and reasonable) price to that of the events at Northolt; the interest of many was piqued.

Unlike the benchmark Northolt, ‘Brize’ held their inaugural event on a weekend taking full advantage of the always open nature of the base to make attendance easier for many. With emails to those interested and other adverts promoting an event where at least one of every type would be available to shoot together with the provision of food, drink (billed as ‘light refreshments’) and merchandise, the prospects for this event being considered a highlight of the year were good. Following a brief safety talk in the very tasteful 99 Squadron bar, people were then let loose on the assembled C-17, Voyager, Atlas, Hercules, Skyvan and Chipmunk; the C-17 sporting the 99 Squadron anniversary tail and the Hercules sporting the 47 Squadron tail. Disappointingly the 70 Squadron special was nowhere to be seen and of the special schemed Hercules, the same one was chosen as was sent to the recent Northolt event. However as the 50th anniversary scheme Hercules is supporting the Red Arrows Far East tour this could not be helped and any special on display is better than no special at all.

It soon became apparent though that the food was not going to materialise (albeit there was drink), neither was the merchandise which many had been looking forward to. The former was a source of dismay to some who had travelled a great distance (Glasgow as an example) and now faced finding food at a dingy motorway service station.

Despite barriers being present, they were configured in a manner as to allow low down photography with large gaps. Apprehension about the use of horrid sodium lighting was also allayed when a number of portable spot lamps were powered up to provide illumination on the aircraft as darkness fell. Unfortunately, these were focussed at the ground directly in front of the photographers meaning their intended illuminating effect was negligible at best; this needs be addressed at future events (should Brize run them). Due to the close proximity of the active ramp the aircraft were tightly packed limiting the angles available and, during ground runs, resulted in a scrum to be able to get a shot, especially as the crowd line had to be moved to allow the Skyvan, which was parked unnecessarily close to the crowd (obstructing shots of the Atlas and Hercules), to be ran and taxied away. This proximity wasn’t all negative however and the opportunity to shoot a large proportion of Brize’s vast transport fleet parked on the ramp in arguably better light than the aircraft taking part in the event was not to be sniffed at, including a vast Antonov An-124.

In turn, the propeller powered aircraft undertook the expected ground runs for the amassed photographers, as were the ‘slime’ lights turned on aboard the C-17 – only for the angle being ruined by the placing of the APU in front of the aircraft. The Atlas certainly cemented its reputation for being a beast with those present as it powered up the four Europrop Tp400 engines causing the ground to literally shake. Evidence of Brize’s lack of night-shoot experience was apparent during these runs when the Atlas and the Skyvan both turned on their main taxi/landing lights for half of their ground run, thus ruining the opportunity for many to get a decent photo of either aircraft.

Once the aircraft had ground run, the attitude of those watching over us seemed to change and rather than allowing photographers to slowly make their way to the coaches, taking some final shots as they went (including using the air stairs as they got quieter); the hosts began asking people to leave. It would have been nice for the evening to have ended as it had begun rather than in the words of some post the event being “thrown off the airfield”.

Whilst on the subject of a relaxed evening, the lack of rules commonly seen at night-shoots combined with (possibly) the more inexperienced photographer being attracted from social media or the weekend scheduling of the event resulted in a distinct lack of the etiquette and courtesy commonly seen at Northolt. Multiple flash guns were in use as was completely unsuitable equipment such as iPads with their garish LED flashes despite the aircraft being so far away they would have no effect on their images. In addition, no account was made by some to those using tripods and long exposures - constantly walking in people’s shots. Whilst Brize’s stance of no general rules is to be commended, perhaps a few basic rules (e.g. No flash) similar to those at Northolt may help make the event run smoother for everyone next time?

It would be too easy to criticise the organisers for the backdrop of buildings and the tight parking nature of the aircraft but one does have to remember that this is a very important and busy base for the RAF. Being able to provide the always-open capability is far more important than a bunch of photographers. When all has been said, over £5,500 was raised for the John Egging Trust and hopefully that convinces Brize to host another event next year. This night-shoot was a good first attempt and we can’t wait to see what they come up with in the future as the potential is there. Hopefully taking on board the constructive criticism we, and others, have raised. Well done Brize for giving it a go!