Defence Security exhibit photography
Written by Ian Davidson
What is DESi?
The Defence Equipment Security exhibit is the largest and most important arms fair in the world. It is held in London every two years with over 32,000 visitors, 1,500 stands and nearly a hundred official delegations from 59 countries. I have long had an interest in photographing military, defence and police equipment; this was an event not to be missed.
The long road to DESi
Due to its nature and the controversy surrounding the event, security is paramount. Getting registered as a photographer involves a number of stages, assisted by DSEi’s friendly media team. First you have to demonstrate your credentials as an industry recognised photographer and then complete rigorous security and suitability checks.
Having completed these stages I waited to hear if I had been selected and a couple of weeks before the event I was informed that I was one of only 300 or so accredited journalists at the event.
Planning is paramount
DSEi is a massive event, with dozens of seminars and several high profile keynote speakers planning is key. The venue itself is split into several zones including land, sea, security and Special Forces.
I set myself a timetable of events which I wanted to cover as a framework for hours of walking my heavy rucksack of photographic kit around.
Kit to travel
The decision of what kit to take with me was a hard fought one. I decided on my trusty Nikon D750, although I took a risk and only took one body, accompanied by two lens. A wide-angle and a 70-200mm lens to catch the speakers.
The rest of my pack was filled with spare batteries, my speed light and six SD cards (my preference being to shoot in RAW and JPEG simultaneously).
Access some areas
Getting in to the Excel centre to get my credentials was a task on its own. Frequent identity and name checks followed by airport style bag checks and body searches. At last I was in to meet up with the efficient staff at media registration. Pass attached firmly to my neck I was in.
The sheer size of the event is breathtaking. Two large halls with miles of aisles, not to mention outside areas with helicopters, the dock with warships from the UK, Germany, the Netherlands and India, surrounded by a flotilla of smaller craft from ribs to fast patrol boats, while all the time ubiquitous military drones hovered above.
From tanks, riot control vehicles to miniature high technology surveillance equipment and thermal socks – the stands covered almost every imaginable equipment type.
Photographic opportunity knocks
My photographic targets included visually appealing stands, such as those displaying firearms and interesting electronic gadgets. The aim was to develop a photographic narrative of the complexity and size of the unique event. I also had instructions to get photos of the Defence Secretary and military chiefs of staff. Finally, if time permitted, some pictures of the naval demonstrations.
There were some limitations, I had to seek permission from the manager of each stand and from individuals to take photos. In the event I was only refused three times. Once on a stand that contained classified equipment, once by the Indian navy guard and once requested not to photograph a group of soldiers. In the end I took nearly 500 photos on which 75 were used by a news agency and another group by this site. Other sales are in the pipeline.
Time well spent
DSEi a unique well run event with countless photographic opportunities. If I attend next time I will add a warship visit to my packed schedule. Unfortunately I had to cut my visit short as the final day coincided with the first day of London Fashion Week, but that is another story….