© 2013, Peter Marshall

Perhaps the most surprising thing about my visit to Uxbridge to photograph Hillingdon Marches Against Cuts on the last evening of February were my bus journeys.

Uxbridge isn’t far from where I live, both towns on the edges of Middlesex, around 8 miles in a straight line, and perhaps 11 on a bicycle. If you’ve a half day to spare, and don’t mind some rough tracks you can even do it on a fairly pleasant and virtually traffic free route using local footpaths and just the odd bit of road to get to the canal tow-path that takes you there.

I’ve cycled it many times in the past by a more direct route, which takes you along some of the most dangerous roads and junctions for cyclists in the country, heavy with traffic to and from Heathrow, full of drivers more worried about catching planes or suffering the effects of jet-lag, and engineered without the slightest thought of cycle safety. If I’d been going for a daytime event I’d probably have done it again for this event, though I’ve never found a very good way to carry a heavy camera bag on my bike.

Public transport around London concentrates on going in and out of London, routes like spokes of a wheel from centre to periphery. Even more local routes tend to follow a part of this pattern. Drivers at least have the M25 that takes you around – and with its aid can make this journey in around 20 minutes on a good day, though often it takes rather longer. It took me careful planning and three buses and around an hour and a half from my door to where the protest was gathering.

But at least there was a protest to report on once I’d arrived, perhaps a little over fifty people going to lobby outside the London Borough of Hillingdon council meeting. It’s not particularly unusual to turn up to cover events to find nobody there at all, or just one or two people, and nothing to write about or photograph.

Again it was just getting dark as the protest gathered, and I was able to photograph at ISO 3200 with the fading daylight and a little help from fairly bright street lighting and shop windows in the broad pedestrian area. Although I now have three working i-TTL flash units – two SB800s repaired recently by Nikon and a Nissan unit – there is a limit to how much I can carry or work with around my neck, and I’ve decided I can only work with one flash for the normal two cameras I work with. Usually I put that on the D800 with the 18-105mm DX lens as I can work with slower shutter speeds with the wide angle 16-35mm on the D700, and then occasionally swap it on to the D700.

I’ve never quite worked out how flash is meant to work on the Nikons, and occasionally it seems to have a mind of its own, with random highly over-exposed frames, or refusing to allow the camera to set a shutter speed above 1/60 second despite being able to sync at much higher speeds. There are times when almost every setting on the camera or flash appears to interact in some strange way to stop me doing what I want. At one point I simply had to stop taking pictures, turn off flash and camera and try and set everything back to my normal starting settings. I’m still not sure if it was me or the electronics that have become confused beyond use. But Nikon do seem to have built some assumptions into the flash system that are not designed to work the way I work. And it would be nice to be able to set whatever aperture and shutter speed I like when working with the camera in manual exposure mode and then have the flash do its best to provide the appropriate light output in TTL mode, at least so long as the speed was within the sync range.

© 2013, Peter Marshall

But though I curse about it and am often confused by it, flash does occasionally come up with the results, often when I least expect it. I didn’t have any time to think about this image, just saw it out of the corner of my eye and swivelled around and pressed the shutter. Of course the face and fluorescent jerkin were far to bright and needed considerable burning (and possibly I could do it a little more carefully than in the on-line version) but for me it is a powerful image of an independent spirit.

© 2013, Peter Marshall

At least using flash you have a sensible colour temperature to work with, even if the auto white balance hasn’t quite done the job and my tweaking isn’t perfect in some of the results. Outside the Civic Centre it was rather like working in a black hole, and what little light there was seemed to be from sources that were rather deficient in some colours, with the results looking unnatural whatever combination of  colour temperature and tone I selected.

© 2013, Peter Marshall

I’d spent a lot of time working out the bus journey to Uxbridge, as there were perhaps a dozen different possible bus routes to take into consideration, and had decided it wasn’t worth trying to plan ahead for the journey home as I didn’t know what time I would finish. Uxbridge is in Greater London that has decent bus services, but I live in the outer regions of Surrey where they seldom venture at nights. A bus came just as I was getting to the stop and I had to run a few steps to get on it. I leafed through the bus timetable booklet sitting on the bus, and came to the conclusion I would have a long wait for a connection on the route I’d thought I would take, and it was worth trying another of the many combinations, and I got off earlier than planned to change buses. I was lucky and next connection – still a Greater London service – came within a minute. And at the next stop – Heathrow Terminal 5 – my local bus home came in as soon as I’d walked the few yards along to the right stop. Despite it taking its usual magical mystery tour around the local area, I was back faster than possible according to the timetables – and faster than I would have cycled.

More photos – and more about the actual event – on My London Diary in Hillingdon Marches Against Cuts.


My London Diary : Buildings of London : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated are by Peter Marshall and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.

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