Photographing the Severn Bore is always an exciting spectacle for me. Something I have been doing for a few years now. Today's shoot was something special mind and which I had planned on doing for a while....capturing the event from the skies or specifically whilst flying in an open air microlight.
The first problem in the planning process was to loacte a microlight club or owner close enough to the event and then a tie down a specific time of a specific day. Tidal Bores do not happen every day. They work around the Spring tidal flow or when the tidal range is greatest. On certain days, mainly in the Spring and Autumn, the tidal height is at a maximum. The leading edge of the approaching high tide on these days produces a big wave. Tidal heights vary not just on the natural gravitational ocean movements but also depending on local weather conditions and the volume of standing water within the river. April 20th was planned to be a good event so a month or two prior I trawled the net looking for clubs and contacts. Eventually, after a few weeks I managed to obtain a local pilot by the name of Rob Keene who resides in Over Farm, west of Gloucester, and right on the river.
After many a logistical chat the day was set and I was making a very early start en route to Gloucester. Arriving at Over Farm just before daylight I met Rob and he showed me around the place. A busy guy with a working farm, shop and microlight hangar or two to the rear of his land.
We had to be in the air reasonably early in order to fly into position as the bore enters the severn estuary. A safety brief and all equipment clinging around my neck I boarded the craft. The microlight reminded me of 'Little Nelly' from the Jamed Bond film 'You Only Live Twice'. It too was yellow although no heat seeking rockets on this one! It was the first time I had ever been in a microlight and whilst excited I was conscious of the fact that I was there not for a joyride but a purpose. To take photographs of the bore as it made its way up river.
We accellerated over a bumpy field and then all of a sudden we swept upwards, turning at the same time. All too quickly houses turned into tiny boxes and roads turned into lines on a map. Wow I thought, this was fun. The view was amazing. The Severn river became the dominant feature from the sky, snaking around the numerous towns before disappearing into the horizon towards the Severn Bridge. Visibility was excellent. I quickly tested the comms by speaking to Rob via the mic attached to my helmet and swung my equipment camera in effort to see how it felt. It was not going to be easy. The Olympus E1 had the stunning 90-250mm lens and a 1.4 TC attached. That made it the length of my arm. Now add to that a 70mph crosswind and my own helmet visor and I knew this was going to be a tall order. At one point I almost resigned myself to the fact that this was not going to work (photography) as it was just too difficult. Not just the weight of all the equipment but the wind was absolutely freezing. It may have been a pleasant 14C on the ground but up here 500ft in the air it was near freezing!
A few minutes later following the river Rob comes through on the comms that he has a sighting of the bore. I was struggling at first but eventually caught sight of it. It barely appeared as a ripple at this height but I immediately sprung the camera into action. I switched to continuous focus and shot away, attempting to work on the best composition for each shot. I instructed Rob where to go and over the course of the next hour and a half we got some spectacular footage. I was amazed at how much the bore changes in appearance through the differing sections of the river. At times we were struggling to see the leading edge, no more than a ripple. Then out of nowhere a huge breaking wave would appear and rip all in its path. Surfers were constant on the bore and something I had got used to over the years. They made a great subject on the bore to demonstrate perspective. I was having big problems keeping my helmet on too. I could only get my eye near the viewfinder by lifting the helmet visor. With a 70mph wind attacking you there were occasions when my helmet nearly blew off.
My hands were frozen solid after about 15 mins into the flight. Thereafter I don't really know how I keep it all together with the shutter release and setting play. There was also a couple of storage card changes. I recall Rob telling me not to drop anything at all costs, as it would end up going through the prop blades and taking us down. They were the most deliberate and cautious card changes I had ever carried out! There were also a few 'white knukle' moments as Rob twisted, turned and dived in one manoevre. I was close to chucking on more than one occasion. It was all good fun though and I had a suitcase of images. What the results would be was a different matter, in such testing shoot conditions.
We eventually landed shortly after following the bore to its dissipation at Maisemore weir. I was visibly shaking upon landing and it must have taken a good hour for this to stop, such was the adrenalin (or was it terror?) running through ny veins. It was an unbelievable shoot, the toughest I have ever undertaken in very testing conditions for a camera. Bearing in mind I am more akin to running after tornadoes and explosive storms that is saying something!
My Olympus gear performed flawlessly. After downloading and viewing the photographs I was floored not only with the quality but the quantity of great shots. I was pleased, very pleased. In conditions like these one puts a lot of faith in equipment and boy did it perform (again). I keep pushing this Olympus gear to beyond its limits and it just keeps fighting back. Pretty amazing!
I have witnessed and captured the essence of the bore from start to finish in all her glory and ups and downs. I feel privileged.
Many photos from the shoot can be seen by following this link