1940s Relived: Brooklands period costume day for photo opportunities
When I talk about a certain camera and lens being good for events, I’m not thinking race meetings or political demonstrations. At the back of my mind are gatherings of people, particularly people doing unusual things, where there are good photo opportunities. My favourites are period events where I can try out a camera’s capabilities and, with luck, get some good shots.
I’m a great fan of period events at the Brooklands Museum in Weybridge, Surrey, but I always forget to publish advance notice of forthcoming opportunities. Not so this time. On May 13 it’s the annual 1940s Relived gathering and this is one of my firm favourites. It ranks alongside the November Military Day as one of the greatest photo opportunities of the year.
The thing is that people who dress up — in this case in 1940s military and civilian gear — love having their photographs taken. There is none of the worry that comes in general street photography. Everyone is delighted to pose and they will usually go to great lengths to ensure you get the right shots. It’s a bit like having dozens of willing models to pose for you.
I always carry a pocketful of cards and hand them out to all my subjects, offering a free copy of the photograph. It’s surprising how many people contact me.
What camera to take? I am always torn between the precision and simplicity of a Leica M, with a 35mm prime, or a mirrorless camera with a medium-range pro zoom. I’ve had great results in the past from the Leica SL and 24-90mm Vario-Elmarit — an ideal range for events such as these — and the Panasonic GX80 with the Olympus 12-40mm Pro zoom. With a mix of vehicle subjects, demanding a wider angle, and portraiture benefiting from around 85mm, a zoom is a good compromise.
Both rigs offer similar scope and produce great results, although the difference in sensor size brings both advantages and disadvantages. The SL offers the best ultimate quality but the m4/3 camera is snappier, particularly on autofocus, and far lighter to carry.
This year I am planning to take the Leica T with the 18-55mm zoom and, possibly, the wide-angle 11-23mm zoom. I might, too, squeeze in the M10 and 35mm Summilux-M. The T is a nice compromise between m4/3 and full frame, and is dramatically smaller and lighter than the full-on SL outfit while offering similar medium-range autofocus zoom capabilities.
If you are not familiar with Brooklands, it is situated just outside Weybridge, about 25 miles south-west of London, and is based on the old 1907 banked racetrack — the world’s first purpose-built motor racing circuit. Its heyday was in the 1930s, for both car and motorcycle racing events. This was cut short on the day war broke out. The entire track was requisitioned for wartime aircraft production and, sadly, never returned to the civilian arena after 1945. The site managed to get through the war without severe bombing and it was there that Sir Barnes Wallis developed the bouncing bomb which was responsible for the breaking of the Ruhr-valley reservoirs and immortalised in the film, The Dambusters.
The unusual banked track still exists in several areas of what is now a large industrial estate, with the museum focused on the old clubhouse, pits, finishing straight and a small section of the banked circuit. The museum is now home to a large bus museum and also features motorcycles, bicycles, cars and aircraft —including one of the few remaining Concordes. There are specialist events on most weekends throughout the summer, mainly concerned with cars and motorcycles, and a visit at any time is a pleasure. It is certainly a regular haunt of mine.
If you are around on May 13 I’d be glad to see you and we could grab some photographs together. You can buy tickets in advance from the web site for £13 (students and seniors, £10). Pay on the day and the rates are £13 and £11 respectively.
Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are thinking of coming and I will arrange a meeting point and suggest a time.