Flares are coming back into fashion. Not the flares I used to wear back in the late 60’s, natty though those were. I had to get rid of mine long ago, as although the legs were still wide enough, it has been some time since I had a 32″ waist.  But flares at protests.

As a photographer I have mixed feelings about them, or indeed flames of any sort. They certainly add a little colour and excitement, but they do create problems with exposure that are sometimes insoluble, and often very easy to get completely wrong. Good though Nikon’s matrix metering is, it usually fails in these situations.

The smoke too restricts visibility, and once you are inside the cloud it can get very difficult to see and photograph. I also worry about the effect of the smoke on my lungs, and it certainly can be very unpleasant.

Lightroom does often need to come to the rescue, and the De-Haze slider introduced not long back can often help. Even better is the more recently addition of De-Haze to the local adjustments brush.

Protests outside SOAS are often visually interesting, and the flares certainly added something. I was also pleased to be able to support Unison Branch Secretary Sandy Nicholl who I’ve photographed at many different protests over the years, and who had been suspended by management for his trade union activities, in particular related to the then current student occupation of part of the university gallery building. You can see and read more at SOAS Shut Down after Sandy suspended. A few days later he was re-instated. Probably the protest helped management see sense.

Dancing has also often been a part of protests here, and on this occasion it was the ‘Strikey-Strikey‘, a version of the hokey-cokey with a mad rush into the centre of the circle at the end of each verse. As someone who photographically likes to be in the middle of things, I was rather in danger of being overrun, particularly as most of the time I was viewing the scene through a 16mm lens (and sometimes, even worse, the 16mm fisheye), which makes anything more than a few feet away seem quite distant.

I almost missed the flares – and I think the few other photographers who had been at the protest mainly did, leaving before the end when they were set off. It’s always hard to know when it is safe to leave an event, and its often a case of what is next in your diary for the day. Fortunately I had a little time spare before an early evening meeting and was in no hurry to leave.

We are also in an age where getting images on-line fast is more important in terms of earning than getting good images. Agencies want them if possible before things happen, and at many events photographers are sitting down and tapping away on their notebooks less than ten minutes after they have started. Apart from missing the development of stories, they are also having to work with jpegs, sending them off with little or no adjustment. While that’s fine for some images – particularly those in relatively flat lighting – it would have been pretty hopeless with the images I took of those flares.


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

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