Battling the elements to bring you the best photos

| 22 Feb 2012

When people discover what I do for a living, two questions invariably follow:

1. "Do you own a classic car?" Answer: no.

2. "What do you do when it rains?" Answer: we get wet. Or at least, I do; classic car journalists always seem to need to take copious notes about dashboard layouts and seat fabric as soon as the first few spots of rain hit the windscreen.

Somewhat surprisingly, given the British weather’s reputation, C&SC photo shoots are very rarely completely wrecked by bad weather.

A recent item on BBC Breakfast came up with the amazing stat that London has less rainfall in a year than Paris, Santander, New York or Brisbane, though, sadly for tennis fans, it seems that most of what does fall on the capital comes down during Wimbledon fortnight.

But sometimes our luck runs out, and when a shoot that has taken weeks or months to arrange coincides with the arrival of a major deluge there’s no option but to put on the waterproofs and try to make the most of the situation.

As you might imagine, finding a group of cars for a photo shoot and then arranging that they all arrive in one place at the same time on a particular day is no mean feat. Especially with classics.

Owners have to take time off work and juggle other commitments, and there is never one day that suits everyone involved. It’s difficult enough when the cars are commonplace ones, even before last-minute mechanical faults or any of the other vagaries of classic-car ownership intervene.

When the cars involved were all different models of Borgward, though, the problems were multiplied and no doubt Martin Buckley was feeling particularly pleased that he’d managed to pull together a group of three for a shoot I once did. 

With any group of more than a couple of cars, I try and do everything I can to make things as efficient as possible – one car taking a wrong turn between location A and location B can play havoc with the day’s schedule. I’d toured the area around the agreed Dorset rendezvous a few days ahead, and lined up suitable locations for all our static and action shots.

The day before the shoot, though, I saw the forecast: heavy and persistent rain, pretty much all day. A hasty exchange of text messages confirmed my worst fears – rearranging wasn’t an option.

The BBC’s ever-chirpy weather presenter Carol Kirkwood gave me fresh hope on the day itself, though. There was to be a mid-morning ‘window’ in the weather: with luck I’d at least get the group shots done in the predicted interlude between downpours. All the owners (and their cars) were present and correct well ahead of the agreed time, but even as we drove in convoy to our first location I had to switch the wipers to double speed.

Sorry, Carol, but you were wrong that day: it tipped it down, all day, and your weather window never arrived. Fortunately our group of Borgward owners proved as indefatigable as any I’ve encountered, and they put up with standing around in the rain while I battled to keep rain off the lens and out of the camera’s electronics.

Leading, inevitably, to question 3: "Why can’t the owners sit in the cars for the group shots?" They put up with prolonged attempts at getting driving shots on wet roads and with windscreens that misted up as quickly as they could clear them. They put up with me firing flashes through open car doors to light the interior shots while the rain soaked the seats, and even after all that we didn’t buy them lunch.

Well, we did offer, but as you might imagine the chance to get back round the M25 before dark had rather more appeal, when your car has a 6v lighting system.

So, as long as Britain's weather stays as it is – and the BBC continues to get it wrong – you can be sure that the more detailed the descriptions of dashboard layouts and seat fabrics from C&SC's writers, the wetter and more miserable the photographer.