Kirkwall Airport: 8.00p.m. Be there.

Well, it wasn’t as curt as that, and there were quite a few provisors as well, like.. if you get there and the weathers not right it won’t be happening.. we’ve got a time frame of a week.. it’s been raining and we’ve lost 4 days out of the last 5.. and… when can we get the photographs? BTW.. It’s a bit dark there.

Pretty standard stuff really, except Kirkwall is in the Orkneys, which would mean that at least a flight into the island was required, (yet when?) or a ferry might be more appropriate. From the sounds of things and the potential equipment requirements, flying in the equipment would not be financially viable. So ferry it was.

‘We sart at 8.00p.m. Get there for 6.30 for a site safety induction and we’ll start with shooting a site meeting at the beginning of shift.’  Hmm, sounds good I thought – Lafarge were laying an airport runway, which will be interesting enough as it is, but there’ll be that incandescent glow of the airport lighting with planes lurking in the background like there has been before, which should lend towards some great photographs, I was looking forward to it.

I arrived at 5.30. The point of the project was to shoot ‘a day night in the life of  laying an airport runway’ So I arrived early to have a look around and see if I could get some establishing action shots of airport activity. Some were obtained, but if you know the Orkneys, you’ll know that the amount of ‘action’ is disproportional to the amount of sheep, although, good start – I managed to shoot the last plane leaving for the day. The start of the ‘action’.

‘Are these your offices?’ I enquired looking at a Portakabin which was secured down by concrete ballast to stop it from blowing away in the high winds. ‘Hmm, maybe I’ll look for an alternative location for the site meeting…’

I found one.

Site Meeting on Kirkwall Airport

Site Meeting on Kirkwall Airport

Bearing in mind, part of the brief and an obvious requirement in these situations is to brand the images as much as possible. Picking the newest, cleanest most distinguished plant is obviously paramount. Working with Asphalt, tar and diesel oil does have it’s drawbacks.

Time is of the essence.

During a shift, the teams have to get onto the runway, carry out their specific jobs and leave the runway serviceable for the next days flights in the morning. Nothing can hold up their progress. Not even a photographer.

Is there an opportunity to set up the plant equipment, just where you want it? Err.. No.

Can you arrange to stop the plant in a suitable location? Err.. No.

Is it well lit – and do I have that incandescent glow of the airport behind..? Err.. No. When the runway was handed over the aeroplanes were put in hangars, the cleaners went home and the last one out turned out the lights. Thanks!

Fortunately I arrived by Ferry and was prepared for anything.

The need for speed is imperative. At the same time you need to work safe, communicate what you are doing to those who will be involved and predict/watch what is happening and what is going to happen. Before then, (it’s dark) your lights need to be placed and set ready for action for when all the predicted components come together.

Kirkwall Airport resurfacing. Measuring and planing.

Kirkwall Airport resurfacing. Measuring and planing.

Previously, I’d watched the planer complete one run across the runway. I decided I needed some branding, I needed a man, the lights needed to be set to light the plant, the man, the van, the branding and kick it alive. It was set, it was shot. All the lighting was fired by radio triggers, 5 lights in all, supplemental car headlights and a tweek of disapearing daylight in the sky.

The tweak of disapearing daylight made only a brief appearance. From here on in until dawn it was black and all photography was conducted using the available light provided by the site lights and supplemental flash which was continually being moved out of the way of the never stopping advancing plant.

Resurfacing Kirkwall Airport

Resurfacing Kirkwall Airport

Numerous plant activity photographs were taken before moving onto the resurfacing of a ‘bund’ area. From what was already photographed, this area was going to provide pretty much the same results, so rather than duplicate the same I set up a fixed camera, set my lights and photographed the sequence of events which followed.


By the end of the shift after a significant part of the runway had been replaced repainted, grooved and all the plant was removed, the area was inspected and checked for loose debris and the airport was again open for business.

First 'plane of the day. Kirkwall Airport, Orkneys

First 'plane of the day. Kirkwall Airport, Orkneys

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