An afternoon with Ray Mears

The job of an Army photographer can give you opportunities to meet people you would ordinarily never meet.  This week I was asked to cover a training day with Ray Mears an internationally respected…………. I don’t really know how to describe him with justice!  Now I have had the good fortune to work with Ray once in the past and was really keen to, this time, take the opportunity to take images that I had clearance to use.  He is the kind of guy who will demonstrate how to light a raging fire with nothing more than a twig and some positive thinking, and he is what I could only describe as a survival expert, and a really great bloke to boot.I turned up with a whole host of ideas about shots I wanted to achieve, as is usually the case, the reality turned out quite differently.  I think it is always a good idea to have a few shots in mind, just in case and you never want to be put on the spot and have a blank moment when you have to get the photo.  That said I much prefer to keep an open mind and at least try to create something at the time based on what is going on.So arriving early to get chance to look around the area was basically just an open area surrounded by trees, not much opportunity for an interesting background.  The story was simply the fact that Ray was giving his time voluntarily to teach some of the intricacies of tracking.  The obvious shots were of him surrounded by soldiers as he talked to them.  As I started shooting, I could see that he was wary of me and my camera and as a result I didn’t feel I was getting the shots I needed.Whenever you work with a celebrity (even if they are not typical), it can be quite difficult to introduce yourself and break down the barriers.  You have to be confident and forceful and at times edge in and get their attention.  You also need to be polite and respectful.  His name is Ray Mears, but he doesn’t know me from Adam, so a quick presentation of my hand for a polit handshake and an “excuse me Mr Mears”, good eye contact and you know immediately if you will get on.  A quick reference to our last meeting, he gave the old “thought I recognised you” (which I am sure was just him being polite), we were talking and I could visibly see the atmosphere relax, phew.It was at this point I requested time at some point in the proceedings (if time allowed) to get a couple of portraits to be attached to the press release as well as some posed shots with people we had identified to generate “Home town stories” for in support of the overall article.  This gave us a little time in the program to arrange a conveyor belt shoot to get a few shots (posed) to support the story (Ray training soldiers), we literally had a stolen minute to get seven guys through, so the set up had to be simple and quick.  In the area Ray was giving his talk, I asked each person to kneel down next to Ray and got Ray to point at something whilst looking like he was explaining some detail.  Although the shot is not the most imaginative, we had to get something fast and for me this was the easiest shot we could get under the circumstances and I also had to get something where I could throw the dull background out of focus as much as I could. When capturing supporting imagery for the media, it will pretty much always be a compromise, with some posed images if time or circumstance allows.  You also need to make sure you get the banker shot first and then, only then can you try to be a little bit more creative.  It is very embarrassing if you go straight for a wow shot, find it hasn’t worked and time runs out, resulting in your only shot being a failure.  As it happens, I never really got the chance to go beyond the simple other than a slight warming gel on the flash to give a late afternoon feel.  I felt disappointed I couldn’t get something better, but it was still a usable shot.

In this instance a came away with a few shots that I liked, unfortunately nothing I loved.  That is sometimes how it goes and as always you keep those missed opportunities for another day.

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