Downton on the Docks

23rd October 2014

It’s an early start to get to Tilbury Docks in Essex for 10am. It meant leaving home at 6am. I am prepared; equipment already checked the night before, having gone through my mental list and making sure nothing is missing. My work is invariably ‘on location’ and for that reason unpredictable – so it pays to have a few extra bits of kit handy in my van.

My contact for the day is John. He manages a fleet of lorries and drivers in the South East for client Downton. He meets me at his office in the middle of a very busy dockyard. John introduces me to the prop for todays shoot. It’s a 20-tonne (give or take!) Mercedes-Benz Actros and John has the task of driving it around for me.

After a brief discussion about the three locations we have to visit, we spend a few minutes checking out the site for the first shot. This is a huge warehouse where giant rolls of paper (used for news papers) are stored. I want to show the scale of this building, the rolls and Downton‘s artic. It takes a few minutes for John to get permissions during which time I choose my angles and set up my equipment. The shot I go for is the side view of the truck surrounded by stacks of paper, using just a little bit of extra light to pick out the trailer.

Next… my brief shows that we need a shot showing Tilbury Docks. Not so easy! There are many restrictions and security issues and we don’t want to upset the authorities. John knows a few spots that might work so my lights and cameras go in the empty trailer (plenty of room!) and I climb in the passenger seat. We find some cranes and a stack of containers. Perfect. The light is a little challenging from behind but by carefully positioning my camera (and John acting as a sunshade), I manage to get the shot.

It is brilliant when other people come up with suggestions for shots. This can often be very funny – and unpractical – but sometimes the ideas work. Our next shot was a 30 minute drive away in Chatham, Kent and John came up with the idea of taking some pictures of the truck moving along the motorway. My first reaction was “impossible!” – I Can’t drive and shoot at the same time! But a challenge had been set so I rigged up my camera and remote control cable on the passenger side of my van. Modern tech is great for automating tasks which, luckily, meant that I could keep my eyes on the road and not my camera. My favourite shot was one taken in a tunnel and makes for a classic ‘banner’ pic.

Location No. 2 had some friendly Downton staff ready and eager to be photographed. Smiles were generous, not requiring much prompting and making the part of the brief to show a dynamic working environment a little easier.

With the weather turning and clouds moving in, we quickly turned our attention back to the Actros. I’d already spotted a site with a large ship and crane. Driver John crawled his wagon across the little bridge and I snapped away. I like the clouds. They certainly add some drama and suited the industrial setting.

Our final site for the day was at Aylesford Newsprint where Downton has a contract to deliver paper. A straight-forward shot was required of the truck in front of a sign and as we were setting up, another lorry passed us and the woman driver gave us a huge smile. Within minutes I’d persuaded her to pose with our Merc. Out of 300,000 truck drivers in the UK, only 0.5% are women so she is quite a rarity, making for a happy and satisfying end to a very long day.

The images below are now with client Downton and form part of their extensive library which I’ve built up over the last few years and manage on their behalf. They are widely used for their website and printed material as well as for press releases, adverts, a calendar and even a mouse-mat!

Downton are a successful family owned logistics company based in Gloucester and run a fleet of 600 lorries from depots across the UK.

If you’re interested in the work I do for Downton and have a similar project in mind, why not get in touch with me via email: or my mobile: 07836 571145 and we’ll have a chat.