The Lord Mayors Show 2019


No photo shoot is the same, and all bring their own unique challenges, but this commission was going to prove to be my most challenging shoot yet...

For those who do not know, the Lord Mayor's show is one of London's oldest and best-known events which see's the annual appointment of the City of London Mayor, (not to be confused with the elected Mayor of London) in a huge celebration of all things London, the wider British Isles, and their overseas partners. Dating back to the 16th Century, the pageantry includes many of the City Livery companies and many other businesses, military outfits, organizations, and charities, who march, dance and skip their way around some of London's greatest landmarks to an enthusiastic crowd.

My involvement in this great and ancient event comes courtesy of the London Freemasons, of which I am a proud member. Thanks to the immense and seemingly tireless efforts of one John Parry, the Metropolitan Grand Lodge and Chapter of London have been represented in the show for the past 11 years, which is just as long as I have been a member  I did feature in the parade myself many moons ago when I was a shiny new master, but since then my involvement in the show has been non-existent to allow room for other masons to take part in the festivities.

John was a member of my lodge and I consider him a personal friend, but with his Masonic work now making heavy demands on his time, we do not have many opportunities to enjoy each other's company as we once did. In a chance encounter a couple of weeks before the show, we were both attending the Provincial Grand Lodge of Buckinghamshire, myself representing the province and John representing Metropolitan Grand Lodge; it was then that we had a long-overdue catch-up over a beer once the official bsiness had been completed. It was during this catch up that John asked if I would be interested in applying my photography skills to this year's show. After some brief, but careful consideration, I accepted and came away with nervous excitement.

Each year, the masonic float is principally selected to highlight the primary charitable objective of the Metropolitan Grand Master and Grand Lodge that has been selected especially to support those within the greater community London. The appeal typically reflects the needs of the community, targetting a piece of life-saving equipment that is needed by one of our emergency services. This year, the focus would be on the London Fire Brigade to support their efforts in tackling high rise building fires. 

At the launch of this appeal, this is what Sir Michael Snyder MGM added to his statement:

“On behalf of every London Freemason, I am delighted to announce the launch of our latest charity appeal in support of the London Community. These extended height aerial vehicles will be the highest in Europe and will help better equip the busiest fire and rescue service in the country. The appeal is the latest step in the London Masons objective to support the London community and help make London a safer place to live and work, it follows successive appeals to purchase a state of the art Cyberknife for Bart’s Hospital, five rapid responder cars for the London ambulance service, and the recent two million pounds donation to help fund London’s badly needed second Air Ambulance”.

This year the focus of MGL was the donation of £2.5m to purchase on behalf of the London Fire Brigade 2 new turntable ladder appliances which will feature the longest range in all of Europe! I'm sure I do not need to remind anyone of the tragedy that was Grenfell Tower, where a high rise block was engulfed in a blaze that was near impossible to tackle by our brave firefighters. The addition of these new units will ensure our firemen and women stand a greater chance of gaining the upper hand when faced by a similar incident.

The main float is flanked by masons representing the charities their respective lodges have chosen to support. This support is proudly displayed through the carrying of banners that show the names of the charities so that the general public can clearly see the good work that is done by the brethren. 

It was a busy couple of weeks leading up to the big day, so it came round fairly swiftly. My evenings immediately leading up to the show was spent with all my kit spread out so I could meticulously clean my lens elements and format my memory cards. I figured the day would be pretty fast-moving, so I opted to take both my Sony A7ii and A7iii bodies, but I wasn't sure how I would carry these around the show effectively. I prefer to use a wrist strap, and the one I currently have is super comfortable, but a complete nuisance when it comes to removing and reattaching. This seemed like a great opportunity for a little upgrade, and so stumped up for the Peak Design Cuff Strap, which sports a quick release camera anchors, but more about that later.

So, the day was upon me. Rising early for a Saturday morning, I was delighted to see some blue in the sky with just a few fluffy white clouds, which was reassuring as the forecast had been somewhat less than favorable. I wasn't going to be duped by the weather, so I made sure I layered up, then grabbed my bag and dashed for the train.

Despite my careful consideration surrounding my camera equipment and logistics, I hadn't given too much consideration to the train times, and typically the Saturday service was somewhat slower than I had anticipated. This meant I was already on the back foot on my way to our initial meeting point and had no time to grab any breakfast along the way as I had planned. Arriving at our gathering at St Bartholomew's Hospital bang on time, I was already overheating and uncomfortable,  so shed some layers and grabbed a coffee.

As I looked around the room at the gathering bodies, the weight of the task at handed started to weigh on me slightly. I was the official photographer for the day , not just supporting as I had originally thought, and was responsible for capturing photos of all these guys and show the best parts of the day. Before my anxiety had a chance to get the better of me, we gathered downstairs for a safety briefing, and then I was on. Showtime!

First up was a couple of group shots, first on the stairs of, then in the great hall. The lighting was awful, so I played it safe exposing for the highlights and hoping the shadows would look after themselves in post. I hadn't brought my tripod with me as I was already carrying a lot of weight, so I had to carefully juggle the ISO and shutter speed for handheld shooting. I went straight in with my 14mm in the great hall, using it for the first time for a super-wide group shot, and can now say I have found the limitations of this lens. Although it has managed to squeeze everyone in, the edges are super soft which is pretty frustrating, but the 16mm G Master just wasn't wide enough to capture the full group. In hindsight, I should have tightened up the group and opted for the sharper lens, but I didn't think to scan the image edge to edge and felt massively under pressure to move the group along to join the parade.

With the first couple of awkward shots out of the way, it was time to regroup outside and head to the parade muster point. Outside in the natural light, it seemed a good opportunity to grab some more candid shots and regain my comfort zone. In between my candid shooting, I grabbed some arranged shots with our mascot for the day. A brother had bravely volunteered to walk the show dressed as a bear representing the TLC Appeal, a charity that donates teddies to hospitalized children; a small gesture that makes a big difference to the difficult lives of very poorly young people.

And then we were off, marching out of the grounds of the hospital to our muster point at the far end London Wall. Unbelievably the sun was beaming, and it was actually pretty warm which added to the joyous spirit of the day. Arriving at the fire engine, the group was happily conversing amongst themselves whilst I nipped around capturing candid and group shots of the team.

Thankfully there was plenty of time before we were mobilized, so I could try different angles and get round the various clusters of volunteers. This made for a great warm-up before the main event and I started to feel myself gently slip into my groove.

I know this area of London very well as I often work in and around it, so I knew there would be a great opportunity to dash up to an elevated position over the road and shoot the group from above surrounding the appliance. Not knowing exactly how long we had, I ran up the stairs and darted across the raised walkway to the spot above the masonic congregation. My failed attempts to get fit this year to aid my photography were definitely starting to show, as I arrived panting and wheezing and not as sharp as I would otherwise prefer to be.

Returning from my lofty venture, I seized the chance to grab a 'cover' shot, capturing some key figures in front of the signage that adorned the engine. This should have been a piece of cake, but we were tightly packed in with other floats, the low sun was casting their shadows across my composition. A the time I didn't notice this too much, but in post-editing, it really jumped out at me and was a little disappointing.

Then, without further ado, we were on the move, and I was back on my toes rushing back up to the raised walkway to capture the group moving beneath me on their way to the start of the parade route at the Museum of London. Shot taken, it was straight back down again to get the float taking its place proudly in the show.

Everything felt like it was going well. The sun was still coming though, and I was free to nip in and out of the float trying different angles and positions. I couldn't help but notice early on was the speed at which we were moving, the pace was pretty quick and not a gentle a stroll as I had originally expected. At first, this didn't seem to be too much of an issue, but it very quickly became a problem for me. 

Staying ahead of the float proved to be a massive challenge. Finding time to fix a pleasing composition meant moving very quickly through the crowds of people who were busy doing their own thing. As we passed the group of dignitaries that were arranged on the way to Bank Station, I thought I had landed in the perfect spot, but by the time I checked my composition, I realized that I wasn't able to capture enough of the brightly colored costumes, but it was too late to move positions as the last of the brethren passed me by. 

The section of the route between London Wall down to the main grandstand and TV coverage at Bank Station is not very long, and I completely misjudged how quickly we would reach it. Jumping between the crowd of spectators and the float was relatively easy, that is until it wasn't, and disaster struck. At a critical moment, I found myself on the crowd side cut off from the float, just at the crucial moment when John was being interviewed by the BBC. I hadn't expected it to happen quite as soon as it did, and I certainly didn't expect to be stranded in the dense crowd totally cut off from the action. What a total idiot.

Thinking fast on my feet, I jumped down into Bank station and attempted to regain access from the other side of the street. This was completely blocked, and totally out of the question. The next option was to run to the far side of the station in the direction of Cannon Street and try to gain entry from the south side, so I was off on my toes again in another burst of unsolicited athleticism.

Back on the surface, and looking back at the parade now in the distance, I could see straight away that my entry into the parade wasn't going to happen anywhere near here. So I was off, running down to mansion house then right along Queen Victoria Street towards St Pauls, as I could not miss this spot.

Arriving at yet another dense crowd, and by this time glowing like three-bar fire, I located a steward and began to explain my predicament, hoping he would be sympathetic to my situation. Fortunately, and gratefully he was, and I found myself back on the right side, with only 3 floats in front of my subject.

I had thought this angle of St Paul's, with the cathedral towering behind the float passing in front of me would be the perfect composition. I do wonder now how it would have appeared from the other side, with perhaps a tighter view of the cathedral in the shot. I had been separated from the group for quite a few minuted by this stage, and they had no idea I was lying in wait for them, and getting their attention over the hum and buzz of the crowd proved difficult.

It was here that my new wrist strap really came into play. Needing to quickly swap between bodies,  I was able to unclip the strap and swap between bodies in no time at all. This foresight was invaluable and proved to be a great investment! 

The Procession now made its way down Ludgate Hill, onto Fleet Street and subsequently the Strand where we came to a rest. And boy did I need one! What had started out as a brisk day, was now feeling somewhat tropical under all my layers. At least it would be nice to stand still for a while and stretch my legs out a bit.

Our cheerful marshal, a volunteer with the Navy Reserves, made sure to point me in the direction of a packed lunch which had been laid on by the show. This was gratefully welcomed as the only sustenance I had enjoyed that day, and I inhaled it with satisfaction. My earlier exertions had really taken their toll and my legs were tightening up virtually to the point of immobility, which was only exasperated by an injury I had picked up just the day before.

Then, we waited. And waited. And as we waited some more, we watched a light rain descend. Seems the brightness and pleasantry of the morning's weather had been exhausted, fortunately, we were now on the home straight.

After quickly throwing on the clear ponchos that had been handed out at the mornings briefing, we were back on the move again, the team outwardly displaying undiminished vigor despite the unfortunate shift in the weather.

The return journey, though damp, was relatively painless. Now it seemed that there were far more opportunities to get clearer shots of individuals than I had had before. Capturing shots with the guys in ponchos was not essential for the brief, but I carried on shooting regardless to complete the story and provide documentation for the entire event.

And with that, we were back at Barts. Damp, weary and very thirsty! Thankfully the bar was open!

The day was rounded off with a delightful luncheon which was a great opportunity to meet some great new people. I certainly felt like I had earned some scran, as I could barely walk by this stage! My efforts did not go unnoticed, however, and I was cheerfully thanked by many of the team I caught up with.

This was an amazing and valuable learning experience. I can see with absolute clarity the areas in which I could have performed better, and with any luck, I'll be able to improve on my debut performance.

My biggest takeaway would be preparation. I know London very well, but I hadn't fully digested the route beforehand and felt I was constantly on the back foot, rather than have a mental note in advance of key locations (such as the spot with the dignitaries before Bank).

The second big takeaway was the lack of control of my subject; I can't alter the show itself, but I can I fluence those within the float I am shooting. The next time I will prepare a selection of guys and gals and direct them for more visually satisfying compositions along the route which will make for a far more agreeable suite of images.

That's about it. If you were there, I'd love to hear your stories from the day, either as a spectator or a participant. What were your highlights from the Lord Mayor's Show?

If you'd like to learn more about the Met GL London Fire Brigade appeal, click here.

Thanks for stopping by, until next time.


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