James Kerr the Photographer

October Battlefield Tour

On 14th - 17th October I took my first tour to the Western Front which was a great success

Here are a few photos of the trip.

Next Tour April 2017

Battlefield Tour 16-46-1 copy
Serre no 1 Cemetery

Battlefield Tour 16-29-1
Notre Dames Des Lorette - Ring of Remembrance

IMG_1763 copy


Battlefield Tour 16-58-1
Thiepval Memorial

Battlefield Tour 16-50-1
IMG_1822 copy



Shooting from the skies- do and dont's aerial photography

IMG_2277 copy copyIMG_2296IMG_2224

When I had the opportunity to go up in a micro-lite over the Somme it was Dads Army's Corporal Jones's response of 'don't panic' that came to mind. Luckily I have had long experience of photographing from helicopters and small planes as a commercial photographer so was able to take all in my stride.
As usual it is good preparation that ensures good results, you don't want to be wondering about f stops and shutter speeds when you are up 400 feet in the air. Set your camera to speed priority at a 1000th of second and put it the iso up to 400 and you are ready. It is pretty blowy in an open air machine so wrap up well and ensure everything is attached to you by a strap and don't fumble a lens change mid flight ! - I used two camera bodies to get the shots I wanted.

The results were spectacular - but you will need to buy the book to see all the shots I took, but this one is a favourite - Knightsbridge cemetery on the Somme.

Thanks to David and Julie at
No 56 B&B (an excellent place to stay) for arranging the flight out of La Boisselle and for taking some of these photos.

Battlefields 14-1485-1-2


Photographers Secret Weapon

It is always easy to tell if a landscape photographer is serious about his craft as regardless of camera make, collections of lenses or any other piece of equipment except one. This will be a professional quality tripod and head. These are expensive and unglamorous bits of lumpy equipment that seem to get in the way of the taking that important photograph.

A tripod does slow you down but that’s exactly the point. It will make you look and ponder, to think through your composition, it will ensure your verticals and horizontals are correct – I learnt this year’s ago when using large and medium format cameras for architectural work. Unless a photograph is deliberately out of plane for effect there is nothing more annoying in a landscape image to see converging buildings and a slightly wonky horizon.

There is another reason also to use a tripod which is equally important. The optimum time to take battlefield shots are dawn and dusk as mentioned in an previous blog . At these times there is rarely enough light to operate a fast shutter speed. Plonk your camera on a tripod – problem solved! It doesn’t not matter if you have a two or even ten second exposure, the image will be sharp.

Next time aerial combat – shooting from the skies …..

Vancouver Corner 013 copy

Canadian Memorial - Vancouver Corner Ypres, taken before dawn at 'Stand To' time

Seasons and Weather

In my last piece I indicated that the first and last hours of the day were often the best time for battlefield photography but what about season and the weather? Contrary to what many would expect I prefer to go in late autumn and winter. There are several reasons for this, in summer many of the battlefields, apart from the preserved areas, are covered in crops which cover the lie of the land, an eight foot high field full of maize is not the best way to show the ground. Photograph after the harvest when ploughing is underway will show the ‘bones' of the earth, something somewhat closer to what may have been there a century ago. Combine this with the possibility of mist, rain, snow or low watery sunlight light and you have the opportunity of making of a haunted evocative image.

Next time - The photographer's secret weapon ….

Battlefields 13-1138 copy

The Kruisstraat craters in snow - Ypres

Preparing to take a photograph of the battlefields

When I joined the army many years ago the old adage ‘time spent in reconnaissance is seldom wasted’ was hammered into us very early on, and I have found it a useful maxim for many things in life. This is particularly true when it comes to landscape photography. You make your own luck by good preparation and planning. Before I even leave home I will have drawn up a list of potential locations, looked on Google maps and other website photographs get a feel of what the location looks like. The first and last hour of the day are often referred to by photographers as the golden hour, this is because the sun is low providing low contrast and a lovely golden cast which always looks good in photographs. For that reason I make a point of knowing where the sun will be. On arrival at a location I will scout about looking for the best angles with my camera in tow making a mental note of potential viewpoints. A compass can confirm where the sun will rise as more often than not it will mean returning at dawn or dusk. My camera will transfer a low res image immediately to my ipad for confirmation of exposure, focus, sharpness and composition – so much easier than looking into the back of the camera. A high res raw file will have been saved as well, this will be worked on to produce the final image when I get home.

Next time - Seasons and weather.

Silent Landscape 047
Vimy Ridge , at dusk showing shell holes

Battlefield Photography - what equipment do you use?

Admit that you are photographer and very often the next question will be what equipment do you use? If the answer is some expensive camera along with a series of equally pricey lenses to match, the enquirer will be often be highly impressed assuming that you must be incredibly good, and that this is without looking at single frame of your work. I am always bemused by this approach as it may indicate more about the state of your bank account rather than your skill as a picture taker.

Contrary wise the photographer who takes his craft seriously needs the tools to do the job and will invest in professional equipment to give him the high quality results he needs to undertake his work. He will develop the skill in using that equipment learning extracting every ounce of quality that the camera is capable of producing.

Others will judge your photographs almost exclusively on technical merit and according to preconceived ‘rules’. I decry this approach feeling that the camera is just a tool to express what I feel or what moves me. That said my approach to taking photographs has a method and a style developed of many years which I will talk about in future postings….

What is in my camera bag?
Canon 1ds mk3 & Canon 5ds camera bodies. Lenses: 16-35mm, 24-70 mm, 70-200 mm & 24mm tilt /shift. High quality carbon fibre tripod and lee grad filters.

Battlefields 13-1234 copy
Wicres German 1915 cemetery at dusk.

Returning to the Somme some years later.

It does not matter who you are, with so many involved in the Great War there will almost certainly be a family connection to somebody who served. Today with the Internet it is relatively easy to find out more information on just about anyone with the mere click of a mouse.
It was a request to take a family party out to pay respects to my wife’s great uncle who had been killed on the Somme that was going to lead me back to exactly the same spot that I had visited all those years before. Lt Colonel Beresford Gibbs was killed leading his battalion of the 3rd Bn Worcestershire Regiment in a desperate attack aimed at pinching out the Leipzig Salient on the 3rd September 1916. Having visited his grave in Blighty Valley cemetery, I took the family party up the road from Authuile and turned down the track that leads to the memorial at Thiepval. This is the spot were he was killed. We walked the same stretch of plough and I could not help noticing how much less of the ‘iron harvest’ than there had been fifteen years before.
Beresford Gibbs medals are still on display 100 years later in a family home alongside another brother, The Reverend Edward Gibbs who was killed in November 1917 when chaplain to the 1st Bn Grenadier Guards. Stories of other members of both my own family and my wife’s were going to reveal more fascinating and poignant stories….more to come.

Next time, Talking about battlefield photography

Beresford Gibbs 001
Photo of Beresford Gibbs
Beresford Gibbs 002
Beresford Gibbs Grave in Blighty Valley Cemetery
map worcesters attack
Map showing the Worcester's attack

My first visit to the Somme

My first visit to the Somme was sometime in the late 1980’s. Although I had been a soldier my knowledge of the First World War was to say the least sketchy. I did not know if I had relatives who had fought there.( My grandfather spent his war fighting von Lettow-Vorbeck in what was then German East Africa, but that is another story). I was immediately struck by the beauty and scale of the open rolling landscape similar to that of Salisbury plain and it was while walking across the plough from the Leipzig Salient towards the memorial at Thiepval that the idea struck me of the possibility of a landscape book first came into my head. In those days the ground had not been picked clean by souvenir hunters, and it was possible to see empty cases, shells and other objects every yard or so that had been turned up in the plough. It was going to be another twenty years before I revisited the Somme ….

To be continued.

Photo: - Poplar trees behind Thiepval in the snow

Battlefields 13-1256-40

Silent Landscape

Between now and publishing it is intended that both Simon and James will talk about their respective views on how the book has evolved, some the technical aspects of the photography as well as to keep you up to date on progress of the book.
This week has seen a meeting with the publishers Helion to agree on a publishing plan and dates, location for book launch.

Bellow - aerial photograph of the Somme
Mesnil Ridge and Knightsbridge Cemeteries Mesnil-Martisart

.Battlefields 14-1485-1-2