LONDON SKYLINE – The Bells
“Hi, it’s Laurie Noble … the photographer. I was wondering if I could take some pictures from the tower tonight?”
“Let me check … yes, that should be fine.”
“The bell ringers will be ringing a peel but it should be fine.”
“It might move a bit.”
“It might move a bit.”
“The tower …”
“The tower moves a little when the bells are ringing.”
Now, I don’t know about you but my preference is for all lofty constructions, on which I am situated, to remain static. And as much as I appreciate the soft chiming of the village church bells on a sunny Sunday morning, I have rarely thought, gosh, I wish I was significantly closer to that noise.
Evening arrives. I procure the tower keys, unlock the small door and peer into the darkness at a spiral stone staircase that very quickly disappears upwards into more darkness. Exciting as the mystery of this is, I decide to turn the lights on. I can now see that the staircase is only just wide enough for my camera bag and me, and the stairs are worn shiny from thousands of footfalls.
The ascent to the viewing balcony leaves me breathless and slightly scuffed, as the width of the staircase decreases. Unfortunately, I still have another set of spiral stairs to climb. These are wooden and dusty, and far less secure. At the summit, I am forced to remove my camera bag as the doorway will not allow us to pass through together. I step into the sunlight … and, oh, the sun is behind a huge cloud.
Despite a few pigeon legs and feathers, this is definitely one of the cleaner towers I have used as a location. The sun’s initial absence is ephemeral: it is a good day and, once set up, I shoot as the conditions change. I contemplate my recent purchase of a banana for nine pence from M&S as I shoot. Possibly I have been given the wrong change – but it seems unlikely because the cashier quite loudly announced, “nine pence,” and I expressed my surprise. Perhaps there was a sale on yellow fruit? I didn’t notice any advertising. OMG, are M&S closing down? …CLAAANNNG…
To my relief, the strike of the first bell is subdued enough to allay my fears regarding decibel levels. I bend down to peer through the viewfinder of my camera as the peel starts in earnest. I am feeling unusual, slightly queazy, reminiscent of sea sickness. I stand to inspect the view. At this point, I almost become the second Noble to post a land speed entry in the record books. But my attempt is thwarted as my hurried retreat onto the wooden stairs finds them to be substantially less stable than I recalled.
I can’t say I hadn’t been warned but with each bell ring, the tower sways from side to side, a distance of what feels like inches. I adopt the pretence of courage. I phone a friend to make a will.
The Shot: The trickiest part of the shot was the organisation. Finding the location, attaining permission to shoot and then extending that kindness to be able to do so on a day when the English weather would allow even limited success was problematic. A good tripod in limited access areas, especially when longer exposures are required, is essential. I use a Gitzo Tripod with a Manfrotto MN 405 Pro Geared Head. I tried to time my exposures when the tower was swaying least and to my surprise did not lose too many frames.
Technical: Canon 1DS III, Canon 24-70mm, ISO 100, F16, 15 Secs, Lowepro CompuTrekker