A Day in the Life

Universities and college courses can never prepare you for a day in the life of a location photographer, let alone a war photographer. All the degrees and well-presented portfolios in the world mean nothing once you get out into the big wide world. I will leave the war side of photography for another day and just concentrate on the less dangerous life of simple location photographer

TGV – France

These shots were taken for a multi-national engineering and construction conglomerate during a period of heightened security and terrorism alerts. The company had done a substantial amount of work on the French TGV signalling system, but despite that couldn’t get the necessary security clearance needed to get anywhere near the kind of locations required

The brief was for dramatic, high-impact, double page A3 pictures for use in their annual report

This section of the TGV system in Southern France was still very new so all the security fencing was in good order as the local kids hadn’t found their way though it yet. I was six days into a ten-day shoot across Europe and had crossed the bridge earlier in the week, so had a good idea of where I need to be

Around midday the taxi drops me a couple of miles from the location and I do the last couple of miles along rough tracks on foot. The bridge crosses the Rhône at this point at a height of about 300 feet above the water. The fencing isn’t just there to stop local kids playing on the tracks as the track runs off the edge of a 300-foot cliff straight out across the valley. The only way of getting the shot I wanted was over the 10-foot security fencing surrounded the entire area and up onto the top of a six-foot high wall running along the very edge of the cliff. The wall was only 9 inches wide. Standing on such a wall isn’t normally a problem, except in this case the wall is 6 feet tall on one side and 305 feet high on the other, and it’s a sheer drop

Keeping my eyes firmly fixed on the bridge which spans out across the river in front of me, it’s possible to trick the brain into ignoring the sheer drop beneath my feet. With the camera up to my eye and concentrating fully it’s easy to lean forward slightly, this isn’t recommended. The trains appear at approx. 20-minute intervals, half of them almost without warning over my left shoulder doing around 200mph. and are gone in the blink of an eye. Meaning I am stuck in this position for 90 minutes or more just to get a couple of decent shots

I am aware of the track walker, he’s half way out across the bridge checking the track, but I know he’s seen me and will have relayed the information back so some kind of response can be excepted. Timing is now critical, I need to get back over the security fencing and out of the immediate vicinity without getting arrested and having the camera confiscated. I stay as long as I dare then very gingerly climb down off the wall, my legs shaking from tension

Forcing the camera bag under the bottom of the fence where earlier I dug a hole and using the tripod to pull myself over the top, I grab everything and run for a thicket covered vantage point 60 yards from the perimeter fence as two military jeeps come racing around the dunes. Half a dozen soldiers jump out and start searching along the fence, I take off on all fours dragging my equipment, crawling through the thicket, thorns tearing at my hands, face and clothes. After a couple of hundred yards covered in sweat and dirt, I have to stop. Listening to raised voices and revving engines, they are very close but don’t seem to have picked up my tracks, I stay very still and hope they don’t have dogs

Slowly it starts to get dark and eventually they get bored, pack up and leave. I find my way back to the road in the dark avoiding the tracks, my phone has no signal so walk the five miles back to the nearest town to find a hotel that will take a very dirty and suspicious looking customer. Eating what is left of the bread and cheese bought earlier I have a bath, and crash out

Tomorrow I will move to the next location and do it all again because this is a normal day



This post was originally published as part of a wider educational program at davidt photography



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