May Day Rally

Not all of those who go on the May Day March stay for the rally, and numbers drop off fairly rapidly after the start. I’ve not always bothered with it myself, and marching a couple of miles does tend to develop a thirst for something other than standing around listening to speeches. Not that there were not some rousing speeches, but there was little novelty and it was preaching to the converted.

At the start there was the usual rush by protesters to take their flags and banners onto the plinth below Nelson, and this year there seemed to be an extra horde of photographers as well. The stewards started late to control access by the steps, but the plinth is too low for this to be effective, at least for the young and active, and even I can struggle my way up if I really have to, putting my cameras and bag up first and then scrambling after.  It’s something I try to avoid, particularly since I managed to injure a knee carefully (I thought) dropping down to the ground eight years ago. At the time I hardly noticed the jolt, but by the time I arrived home an hour or so later I could hardly walk – and it was a couple of weeks before I could work again, and several months before I could walk without any pain.

For a while there were so many people and so many banners that it was almost impossible to work, but eventually the stewards got them sorted out to leave space in front for the speeches and just about for us photographers. The ideal position for photographing the speakers there would be levitating in mid-air above the square – but failing that there are two choices – either to work from the platform to one side or to stand at ground level and look up at them. Usually I take the second alternative, but today I kept at platform level. If only the put the microphone a couple of feet back it would be much better, though as you can see I was able to get slightly in front of the speakers without falling off the plinth – though I was just a little worried I might get pushed off the edge by accident – or get so engrossed in taking pictures that I forgot where I was and just moved a little to my right…  Photographers have died falling off cliffs trying to get the composition right!

Probably the best pictures of the speakers are of them waiting to speak. Len McCluskey was in front of a Trade Union banner with the message ‘Trade Union Rights Are Human Rights’ and looking just a little sinister in dark glasses, which reflected the scene in  the square in front.

But  even with the 75-300 I couldn’t see the reflection well enough – it was better with NUT General Secretary Christine Blower who turned slightly towards me so that I could see the National Gallery in her glasses.  McCluskey took his glasses off to speak, but the sun coming from behind him made pictures a little tricky.

After his speech I decided it was time to get down, and I photographed MP Jeremy Corbyn as a groundling, when the 75-300 really made a difference compared to my normal 18-105mm. The image below was taken at 210mm (315mm equiv) with the sunlight just coming over his left shoulder, and most of his face in shadow. As usual he gave a fine speech, but is often a tricky subject to photograph, not least because he tends to close his eyes when speaking.

The march banner, with its deep red I thought made a good background. Despite being a cheap lens, the Nikon 70-300 is remarkably good, especially when used on the DX format, although above the focal length I used here it does get a little soft.  It’s also small and light for what it offers – and the f4-5.6 aperture is fast enough given the high ISO performance of the D800E.  I could easily have taken this image at ISO200, but there seems little reason for most purposes ever to use the camera below the ISO640 I had set for this day.  The aperture in use was probably unnecessarily small at f13, though I wanted to be sure all of Jeremy was sharp, and their isn’t a great depth of field at 315mm equiv, and it still gave me a shutter speed roughly twice as fast as the 1/focal length rule suggests necessary, at 1/640.

The 1/f rule is still one I find useful, even though most of my lenses – but not the 75-300 – now have image stabilisation. And the focal length I use is not the actual focal length but the 35mm equivalent. It still seems to be a useful guide, though I often use slower speeds, either by design or by accident.

I didn’t stay until the end – and nor had most of the marchers, with Trafalgar Square beginning to look rather empty by the half way mark. I couldn’t help thinking we were supposed to be celebrating and it didn’t look or feel much like it. Perhaps we should have had some socialist maypole dancing. In clogs?

More pictures at TUC May Day Rally.

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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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