General Election count - Lessons learnt / by Neil Alexander

[caption id="attachment_1052" align="aligncenter" width="650" caption="George Osborne, the Conservative Shadow Chancellor and Richard Jackson, Labour, at the Tatton count for General Election 2010 the by Neil Alexander"]

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I was asked to shoot the return of the elections in the constituency of Tatton where George Osborne, the shadow Chancellor, was standing for re-election. This was going to be a first for me and I learnt quite a lot from the experience, so I thought I'd share the lessons I learnt. I was given a “Counting Agent” pass which gave me open access to the whole area. The TV crews were squeezed onto a tiny platform raised a foot off the ground, and not allowed to leave, whereas the press photographers were restricted to shooting from way up in the gallery. Me, I was on the floor right in amongst the action.

I had been told right from the get-go in no uncertain terms that I could not shoot any pictures of the counters or the ballot papers even from a very wide angled perspective, so this left me without a great deal to focus on. After about 15 minutes, I noticed that the BBC News website, which was being displayed on a large flat screen displaying the other results from around the country, were accompanied by numerous photographs of various election counts varying from wide-angled overviews, to close up focuses on ballot papers and people counting them. I was led to believe that this is actually against the law - so either I was feed inaccurate information or the Beeb were blatantly flouting the law, either way I didn’t want to risk getting ejected so early on!

[caption id="attachment_1054" align="aligncenter" width="549" caption="George Osborne, the Conservative Shadow Chancellor and Richard Jackson, Labour, at the Tatton count for General Election 2010 the by Neil Alexander"]

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The first thing I did when I got there, was assess the ambient light. The count was to take place inside Macclesfield Leisure Centre, so I figured the sports hall would be fairly well lit. It wasn't! I calculated that in order to be able to hand hold the 70-200mm racked all the way out on the D300, I needed to use the glass wide open at F2.8 and the camera's ISO at 3200 (the highest it will go). (1/focal distance * 1.5 for cropped sensor=1/300 sec.) So 1/300 sec was the minimum shutter speed that I ought to be shooting at if I wasn't going to be using a flash, which I didn't want to do early on whilst the count itself was in progress.  I knew that later on, when the results were announced, using a flash wasn't going to be an issue.

This didn’t really give me a great scope for movement. There were several scenes where I needed a deeper depth of field than 2.8, however stopping down meant I had to compensate with shutter speed. Having assessed this early on, I was disappointed that I didn’t think of bringing my monopod, and so a great many of the images I shot at long focal lengths were riddled with camera shake. Something else that I ought to have done, was to take an accurate white balance reading. I left the camera in Auto White Balance, and spent ages in post trying to fix this as the colour cast was horrendous.

Another important lesson I learnt, was that when using flash always make sure that you have spare batteries handy, not in your camera bag 30 yards away! As the results were about to be announced, I managed to jostle my way to the front of the crowd. I fired off around half a dozen frames and my flash died! I had two choices: stay and shoot without flash, or try to squeeze my way back to my camera bag to get replacements and then try to get back to the front of the crowd again probably missing most of the decent opportunities to shoot! In the end, the TV crews fired up their lights which lit up the scene like a Christmas tree.

[caption id="attachment_1056" align="aligncenter" width="650" caption="George Osborne, the Conservative Shadow Chancellor and Richard Jackson, Labour, at the Tatton count for General Election 2010 the by Neil Alexander"]

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