Charity or Bust !

​Last Summer, I was approached to be the photographer for Charity Car Rally Event organised by a bunch of crazy Dad’s from the local school. The plan was to drive across the country, deciphering a series of cryptic clues to identify various destinations, and completing a variety of challenges. To top it off, all the contestants were required to perform the whole event in fancy dress.

Based loosely on the concept of 'Monte Carlo Or Bust’ (The classic 1969 Movie), which itself was based on the 100+yrs old Monte Carlo Rally. In the original, the cars travelled from all corners of Europe, but this charity event was to be a little more modest, with drivers crossing over 250miles from Bagshot in Surrey to the Watergate Bay Hotel in Cornwall.

All the contestants were parents at Hall Grove School in Bagshot - and had raised over £20k during the year for Cherry Trees, which provides 'home from home' short break/respite care for children and young people aged 0-19 with a range of disabilities including learning, physical and sensory impairments. A fantastic bunch of people that do a lot of great work.

I was initially very nervous about taking on the responsibility for such a significant event, as photographically, there were a number of challenges/scenarios to consider - Multiple locations, with no opportunity to scope them out in advance, a bunch of subjects most of whom I’d never met before, outdoor locations - so no idea what the weather might do, plus the need to shoot reportage style at a indoor formal black-tie dinner late in the evening.

That was before I’d started thinking abut gear. My main camera is a Canon 6D - not great for action, but should be fine for this event. I planned to couple this with my Canon 70-200m f2.8L IS to cover any distant shots. Big concern was that I didn’t have a good quality wide-angle lens - Thankfully, a friend from my Camera Club generously offered me the use of his Canon 16-35mm f4. Camera clubs are a great resource, not only for inspiration, competitions etc, but they are a great place to consult with other photographers with a huge spread of experience between them.

Total Kit list therefore contained

  • Canon 6D Full Frame DSLR

  • Canon 70-200mm f2.8L IS Telephoto

  • Canon 16-35mm f4

  • Canon 430EX Speedlight

  • Consumables (Batteries, Chargers etc)

  • Rogue Flashbender Light Modifier

  • Backu Speedlight : Yongnuo YN685

  • Backup Camera : Canon 550D APS-C DSLR

Following a planning meeting with Brian (Chief Organiser, aka Dick Dastardly) and figuring out the itinerary, I was all set, and feeling pretty comfortable.

Early morning arrival at start venue. Hot breakfast’s available for all, as the drivers arrive in their amazing costumes. Everyone was there, from Obi Wan Kenobi. El Muerto to the Mario Brothers.

Initial Photo shoot in the car park at Longacres Garden Centre, a key sponsor of the event. The Wide angle lens immediately allowing me to capture all the drivers and their vehicles in the wide shots. Fairly overcast weather, so needing to boost exposure and add some fill-in flash.


The next site was Stonehenge, provided an interesting scene where the Charity Mascot, Dick-the-Chick was involved in some semi-heated discussions with the staff who were unsure about allowing us 'crazees' onsite without pre-agreement with their ‘Social Media Manager’. On resolving the impasse, the gang managed to provide the various foreign tourists with some additional colour. No idea what they left Britain thinking !!!

The plan was to move onto a Clay Pigeon Shooting range. However, after driving around in circles for an over an hour, and multiple calls back to the ‘Control Centre’ I came close to earning the Wooden Spoon Award for completely failing to find the venue... Even the local's to whom I'd asked directions didn't seem to know where the venue was. Definitely a lesson to be learned here. I was really disappointed as I was hoping to get some great close up shots of the guys with their faces contorted in concentration.


So... disappointed, I moved directly onto the next site…The Moreton Hampstead Motor Museum. An unexpected little gem of family run exhibition… clearly a labour of love by the owner Frank, with some outstanding exhibits. From a photography point of view, this is an indoor venue so flash was critical, though with high ceilings there were few surfaces to bounce light. So some inevitable harsh lights and boosted ISO up to 1600. Looking back I could have gone even higher with ISO to ensure fast enough shutter speed, as some images were just not sharp enough.

"This is not the 3-wheeled car You're looking For ! "

The contestants had several additional venues to check off their list, but for me it was now onward to the final venue to get ready for the formal dinner photo shoots and slideshows. I had only 1 hour to import all the pictures from both Cameras, run through them to make my selections, perform any cropping, and basic Exposure/Highlight/Shadow adjustments before the guys arrived. Tough ask, but managed to get it done.

The Watergate Bay Hotel, is beautifully located overlooking a surfing beach on the North coast of Cornwall. I was able to take some great group shots on the hotel balcony, with the sun setting in the background over Watergate Bay. The 16mm capability on the wide angle lens came into it’s own here as space on the balcony afforded very limited room to move backward. One disadvantage however was the warpage towards the edges of the image which was inevitable. Following shot taken with On board Flash with Rogue Flashblender modifier to add to provide a soft fill light. For the indoor shots, just bouncing the speedlight off the ceiling was adequate for the smaller group shots and reportage style, and as a fill in for the sunset shots.

It would have been great to have a pre-arranged lighting setup in place for the awards - it would have allowed me to bring out more detail in the suits etc. However, with event photography there's a balance between rigid set-piece planning or a free flow reportage style approach.

The plan had been to project a slideshow of the day's images throughout the evening and cajole the guys to place print orders and thus raise additional donations for Cherry Trees. We had ideally wanted to in position to actually make the prints there and then but that was going to make it a 2 man-job and would need some portable printing gear which I didn't have, so I decided to stick with the projection slide-show and print order forms. It worked well enough, once I figured out how get Lightroom to show the image file data alongside the images.


The following day also included a session of Zorbing.. rolling down a steep hillside while having your arms and legs strapped to the inside of a giant inflatable ball. Not the best prescription for those suffering from a hangover.

Motley Crew..

Lessons learned

  • When offered a new challenge - just go for it ! Consider every challenge a chance to learn, gain confidence and network.

  • For each venue, make sure you know how to get there, and try to visit beforehand - determine ideal photo angles/locations/conditions.

  • Be prepared to push ISO higher.. better Grainy picture than blurred picture

  • Arrange for a proper lighting setup at the hotel venue, to provide more consistent and flexible lighting

  • Consider use of a Selphy type printer to enable on the night prints.

  • To handle an event most efficiently, being able to provide prints on the night, being able to Take and Make images while the event's ongoing really requires 2 people.

  • this one is more of a 'lesson confirmed' than 'lesson learned' ...make sure you're fully aligned with your clients on expectations and on what can be realistically achieved, well in advance of the shoot.

  • finally.....Don't go Zorbing with a hangover or after a big breakfast...... see below

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