Had a nice morning out with the Cambridgeshire Hunt and Enfield Chace - a very welcoming lot of supporters and followers.
Saturday, 27 December 2014
Monday, 3 November 2014
Wednesday, 29 October 2014
It has been a fun half term with the children, getting up early twice this week to follow the local hunt after an introduction from a friend. They are a nice lot, and I have managed to shoot some decent photographs. I have set up an account for commercial retail of photographs. No idea if it will come to much. Not without marketing I suppose. Some more hunting shots here.
Thursday, 23 October 2014
Monday, 22 September 2014
I was riding in Dubai last year out at a Desert Resort off the Dubai to Al Ain road. We got up early to be there for a sunrise get go before the heat of the day. I snapped a few photographs afterwards, of the horses and camels. Most have just sat in a file since, and I came across this the other day. The groom has a face with character. There are more snaps of horses at home and far away here.
Friday, 1 August 2014
Aviation in Helmand
Saturday, 19 July 2014
Wednesday, 16 July 2014
Sunday, 29 June 2014
Gallery: Dubai Marina + Oman and Dubai Revisited
Thursday, 19 June 2014
Monday, 16 June 2014
Friday, 16 May 2014
Thursday, 8 May 2014
I was looking back yesterday through some photographs taken in Feb at my pal Nel's wedding, sorting out some to send over to her. I found some that I really enjoyed, not sure why, which had not caught my eye the first time around. Some of the others, which made the first cut, are here: Wedding
Wednesday, 30 April 2014
Monday, 28 April 2014
I bought a little Samsung NX300 to go to the Lebanon with in January, having left my Canon and kit at home. I am really enjoying using it. It has all sorts of clever features which I am only just starting to understand. So far it has produced some great results. I bought it because it has a full manual mode and a fairly fast lense. I'm enjoying the other gizmo's. One touch on the back of the screen gives auto focus, exposure control and shutter release. A couple of more touches and photo's can be uploaded to the internet, so long as there is a wireless connection. Good lenses too. Just bought a converter (about £12) online which will enable me to use my old FD lenses too. May buy a converter for my EOS Lenses - let's see how we get on with the FD series for a start.
I like these family snaps - my boy and youngest walking the final mile home after a good leg stretch with the dog. And below - getting ready for a portrait shot with the children and Pippa. We never did get a good portrait! The Samsung can shoot multiple shots in very quick succession - faster than my 5DII for sure. It can be fun just shooting a blurr of photographs and seeing later what has been captured. I like this:
Thursday, 17 April 2014
I arrived home last week from my most recent stint in Dubai. I wanted to capture the feel of the skies here, so different from the almost constant blues over the UAE. I took Pippa out for an early morning walk and was really looking to photograph the fields. I had my Canon, a new wider angle zoom and my tripod. This photo' was almost a chance shot, in that I had finished looking east over the fields towards sunrise, and was just sorting my gear out. I brought the dog in and made her sit in front of the camera and this was the result.
The tripod enabled a slower shutter speed and so a deeper depth of focus. I ran this through Lightroom for some post processing and upped the colour and clarity a little, lightening the foreground and darkening the skies with separate graduated filters. I also lightened and sharpened the dog a little. This photo drew some really positive comments on FB so I thought I would drop it up here. Arguably it is over processed, with a close to HDR feel, although it is one shot and not a combination of exposures so not an HDR photo.
This and a few other photographs I have taken are close to accurate representations of what I was seeing, although clearly 'sparked up' a bit with post processing. What it gives is not so much a 100% accurate representation of what I saw, but a 100% accurate representation of how what I saw made me feel.
I went to a friends wedding on a flying visit to the UK in February. I served with Nel in the summer of 2009. She is exceptionally bright and fun and we were very privileged to be invited. I took a bunch of photographs at the reception and particularly like these two for their busyness and the range of expressions. It would be fun to be the second camera man at a wedding, but I would not want to be the main man. You only get once chance at the right formal shots, and I'm just not that consistent.
I'm printing a few photographs and, for the first time, using mount boards to package and display them. Really pleased with the results. I took a few to a local crafts shop and the lady there has agreed to carry some. Everyone seems to like this particular photo of the Blue Mosque in Mazar-e-Sharif. There is more on the Blue Mosque here: The Blue Mosque: The Shrine of Hazrat Ali - More at Wikipedia
Thursday, 20 February 2014
Monday, 10 February 2014
08 March 2013: I visited Herat as a part of our bid for airport security in Afghanistan. The City is very different to those in the South and East of Afghanistan.
Herat is some 100km from the Iranian border and has a strong Persian influence. Ok, it is still Afghanistan, and so a fundamentalist Islamic town, but hey, they have a Ferris Wheel and a sense of fun.
The Minarets shown here are unstable and have been the subject of much engineering work to ensure they do not topple. More information on the history of this district of Herat, and these minarets, is available from the Lonely Planet website here.
Our security on this trip was provided by the regional head of border police, a guy we had looked after and vice versa when he ran security at the Kabul International Airport. (We gave him $1,000 for cricket kit so that his Afghan National Policemen (ANP) could play in a local league. We never did see a game - maybe I was naive?) A little good will goes a long way and he came to pick us up from the airport in Herat.
The airport road is frequently bombed, and our soft skinned unarmoured ANP Toyota's would have provided little protection. On the other hand, the two guys in the back with the Dushka Heavy Machine Gun, who were wearing motorcycle helmets to protect against the dust and the cold, gave us a certain 'Mad Max' look and were certainly a strong deterrent to any ground attack.
Sunday, 9 February 2014
This is from the top of the memorial to the fallen taken in Nad-e-Ali, in 2012, during a visit to G4S staff working there in support of the Helmand Provincial Reconstruction Team. It was shot hand held, at night. I did think of cleaning the memorial before taking the photograph, but it seemed more poignant not to. When we are done there I wonder if this will remain, or be brought back to the UK, much as some of the memorials in Iraq have been.
The military have been working hand in glove with the civilian administrators in Helmand since 2007. The mission has civil primacy, and the Head of Mission, always a senior career British diplomat, was usually the equivalent of a 2 star general, and so outranked the British brigadier (a 1 star post) running the military aspect of the civil / military mission as Commander Task Force Helmand.
There are a lot of men on this plate. Some from my own Regiment and others that I have known. We paid a brutal price for clearing the Taliban from this area. The Welsh Guards had a particularly vicious tour here in 2009, losing their Commanding Officer, a Company Commander, a Platoon Commander, and dozens of other men. I knew these first two. In fact I lived opposite the Company Commander, and we shared lunch shortly before he was killed. I came away from lunch thinking that he had seen his future and it was bleak. I also knew Dan Shepherd, from the JF EOD Group, who had spent some time with us in Musa Qala helping to clear improvised explosive devices from the town and neighboring countryside. He was a good man. They were the best of times, they were the worst of times.
In late 2012 I visited Kathmandu to see the homeland from which almost half our staff in Afghanistan are recruited, and to meet the small team there who recruit and select former Nepalese and Indian Army soldiers for service with us in Afghanistan.
Having visited Kathmandu I can understand why our Nepalese and Indian staff feel relatively at home in Kabul. Both are busy cities, with worn infrastructure, although of course the security situation is very different in each.
The Nepalese army does have some operational experience, having spent ten years fighting a Maoist insurgency / civil war which began in 1996 and concluded in November 2006. It is estimated that 15,000 people died in the conflict, with 100,000 to 150,000 becoming internally displaced persons.
All those that I met in Nepal were most welcoming. They seem to be the most cheerful nation, and as is often the case those with the least seem to be the most content. If I wanted to elect a religion based solely on the happiness of it's devotees I think Buddhism would be hard to beat. This photograph was taken during a sight seeing trip to the Swayambutha Stupa - the Monkey Temple - in Kathmandu. This photograph is cropped out of a much larger setting. It was taken hand held at waist height as a candid shot. More information on the temple is available at Lonly Planet here.
I visited the Sheik Zayed Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi late in 2013 with friends from Sweden. The Mosque was built by the late Sheik Zayed and the first service to be held there was his funeral. He is now interred in a small mausoleum in the grounds. The best time to visit is late afternoon, just before sunset, when the light is striking and just right for photographs.
I was not set up for architectural photographs - no tripod or timer, and in any event I was sight seeing with friends. I did manage to snap a couple of worth while images along the way though, including this Indian family trying to make a baby smile for a group photograph.
Ladies are allowed in the mosque, but must wear an Abaya to cover hair and the form of the body. My two friends are modeling the Abaya below.... These can be borrowed at the mosque. More information on the Mosque may be found here: SZGMAD
It is very pretty and very blue. We traveled to Mazar-i-Sharif to recce the airport for a security contract. The Afghan Ministry of Transport were tendering a security contract for the regional hub airports of Kabul, Kandahar, Herat and Mazar. I joined the trips to Herat and Mazar-i-Sharif simply to see something more of Afghanistan than Kabul and Helmand.
Both were good trips. Mazar was the first (and at the time of writing last) place that I have seen a Leper, sitting outside the mosque in the street, missing fingers, nose, lips. Quite grotesque. Leprosy is alive in the mountains and towns of Northern Afghanistan, a medieval disease in a country that is still medieval in parts.
Afghans come to feed the doves in the grounds of the Blue Mosque. Catching wild birds is something of a national pass time and it is interesting to see how tenderly they treat them.
We ran a series of short training courses for the bodyguards of influential Afghans - or at least those who were important to us.
These included the team who looked after the Afghan Minister of Finance and, more locally, the Police District 10 Police Chief.
Both were important to us in different ways, and both were equally delighted that we ran some training, which included minor tactics, weapon handling and skill at arms, shooting, first aid, and fitness training. Bodyguards in Afghanistan tend to be drawn from the tribe, clan, village of family of the principal. They are chosen for their loyalty, and not necessarily their professional skills.
We aimed to provide, so far as is possible in a short course, a small amount of training which may just possibly help to keep the principle alive in future. We provided this training gratis, in a spirit of friendship and brotherhood, rather than for any immediate financial gain or political capital building.
These, friendship, brotherhood, are traits that the Afghans admire and respect. Respect and admiration go a long way in a country where the rule of law is tenuous at best, and where personal relationships matter more than any centrally driven decree or direction.
The Bodyguards enjoyed the training, and we enjoyed delivering it.
Range work played a large part in our training in Afghanistan, with each team attending ranges on a regular basis. Our Afghan Close Protection Team also had the opportunity to shoot, alongside their British and Commonwealth partners.
Shooting is definitely a skill which can be honed through practice. The more you shoot, quite simply the better you become. Well, with good coaching too. You could liken the role of a Close Protection Operator to an Olympic Sprinter. 4 years in the preparation, then the event, when it comes, lasts only 10 seconds... but you have to put in the 4 years of work up to make it count. You could stretch that analogy too far. At least the Olympic Sprinter knows when his event is. Our team lived their live on the starting blocks, and there are no Silver Medals in a gunfight.
Fortunately, throughout my time here, none of our CPO's were put to this test. We did have incidents, and very nasty ones too, and the response of our Afghan and Gurkha Guard Force was a testament to the selection and training of our staff; British Council Attack
Our female staff were the longest serving employee group on the books. I remain uncertain if this is a reflection of their loyalty, or of the difficulty for a woman of obtaining employment in Kabul. I am guessing the latter.
We quietly opened a creche for the children of our staff, as mandated under Afghan Employment Law. This was an act one of our female Close Protection Operators describes as 'absurd'. She was right, but I am a lover of absurdity, and doing the right thing, and this was a great combination of the two. Unfortunately the uptake was poor, and after 3 months we had to close the creche down. At least we had tried.
This man was our fixer in one of the outstations. Good humored, he could come and go as he pleased in the local town, and so performed a valuable service obtaining the small necessities of life that could not be passed down through the civil or military supply chain.
He was the enabler of weekly BBQ's, at which our staff hosted the military in this particular base, giving them the opportunity to break away from military operations for a few hours, and our guys the opportunity to develop the relationships necessary to enable their work.
The relationship between our staff and the military at this base became so strong that our guys were invited to the USMC welcome home ball in the U.S. an opportunity they took up, attending with their wives.
We had ordinary people doing remarkable things, and they were a pleasure to work with.
Saturday, 8 February 2014
This chap used to come to our base in Kabul with other traders every Friday, where they set up stalls outside our dining room to sell jewellery, art work, carpets and clothing.
I bought a silver and Lapis Lazuli necklace and ring. 'How much' I asked. '$60' he said. So I gave him $60 and he gave me the look.
He then went around his stall filling my bag with various trinkets to make up the value to $60. Clearly I had not played his game, and he wanted to make it right.