CTMT 2010: Rehearsals Part 3

After spending most of the weekend at the Castle, observing the rehearsals of the various acts for the Cape Town Military Tattoo 2010 (see here and here), Monday was another long and full day.

As the rehearsals didn’t start until after lunch, I joined my fellow photies Brent and Lorraine on an explorative ramble around the Castle grounds. Given the midday temperatures of over 30°C, keeping out of the sun as much as possible and drinking enough water soon became priorities.

Here are some of the pictures of Monday.

In and Around the Castle

Evening Rehearsals

A complete run-through of the entire programme was scheduled for the evening to iron out any last-minute difficulties, to make sure that everyone knew exactly where to enter and exit the arena, and to double-check that the sound and lighting were all in good order.

As the participants were dressed in their finery, it also gave Andrew, our videographer, a chance to capture some close-up footage of each act for the DVD that he had been tasked with creating. And we were hoping to use the opportunity to snap some close-up pictures too, while being very careful to keep out of the range of Andrew’s film camera.

As it’s my first year behind the scenes, I am still trying to find my feet in this environment; apart from that, I don’t have much experience with event photography and so this is an awesome learning curve for me, as I try to figure out which camera settings work best for the lighting conditions. Brent, Lorraine and I are working as a team to cover the various angles and perspectives, as each of us has different cameras and lenses, and of course different styles of photography.


This year, there was a short Prelude to the Cape Town Military Tattoo 2010, during which the SA Navy Sea Cadets performed their silent drill on the arena, as the spectators found their seats and settled in for the evening’s entertainment. They were joined by the Cape Town Rifles (Dukes) Band in their distinctive old-fashioned scarlet tunics with pith helmets, playing some soothing mellow music.

Starting with a Bang

As the clock crept closer to 8pm, the Sea Cadets returned to the arena to form the guard of honour for the arrival of the functionary. A couple of men from the Cannon Association of South Africa fired their 2-pounder cannon on the stroke of 8pm. I had found a position to the side of the Kat archway, underneath a tree, with the intention of capturing the bang. Unfortunately, I hadn’t set up a tripod – and the blast from the little cannon was so deafening, with the report echoing around the enclosed arena, that I couldn’t keep the camera still. Lesson learned!

First Muster

The Massed Military Bands this year include the SA Army Band of Cape Town, SA Army Band of Kroonstad and SA Army Band of KwaZulu Natal, as well as the SAPS Band and our visitors from central Africa, the Rwanda Defence Force Army Band. As Lorraine and Brent are busy capturing some photos from ground level, I head up to the roof near the Captain’s Tower to see what it looks like from above. Although I’ve been up here during the daytime, it’s the first time I’ve ventured up there at night, and it is a strange feeling to be on the roof in the dark; I’m glad there’s a guard nearby. I make sure to keep a safe distance from the edge of the roof.  The view from up here is pretty awesome. You can see clearly the different bands lined up – closest to the camera is the Rwanda Band in a kind of dark grey uniform, then the SAPS Band in dark navy, the Army Band Cape Town in scarlet, the Army Band Kroonstad and the Army Band KZN in the far distance.

Historical Stretcher Drill and Mock Attack

Tonight, we had a first glimpse of the full historical stretcher drill by 3 Medical Battalion Group and the mock attack by the troops of Cape Town Rifles (Dukes).

The stretcher drill tonight thus included an old horse-drawn carriage – an original ambulance wagon dating back to the First World War. It has been well looked after. It was being drawn by two massive white Percherons from the Cape Town Carriage Company; the two horses are called Smokey and Light. If you want to stand next to them to pat them on the shoulder, mind your toes – those are huge hooves!

The mock attack blew me away. The rehearsals had been a comparatively quiet affair, and I hadn’t anticipated that it would be quite so … loud. Tonight was the first time the troops were carrying their automatic rifles and firing blanks; the din of the gunfire combined with the background soundtrack coming over the speakers was almost deafening. Ever so often, an unexpected blast from a thunderflash thrown into the midst of a pile of sandbags, made me jump out of my skin. I tried to get a photo of them throwing the thing and the explosion that followed a moment later, but didn’t quite get it.

KwaZulu Natal Army Band

This is the only year that the KZN Army Band performed at the Castle for the Tattoo, so I am glad that I captured some nice photos of their interesting musical act.

1812 Overture

When I attended the previous three years’ Tattoos (2007, 2008 and 2009), I was seated among the spectators, and took a couple of photos from the stands. This year, I was delighted to have permission to move around the perimeter of the arena during the performance to take photos from various angles. And one of the most spectacular angles during the performance of the 1812 Overture is outside the Castle, from the raised embankments behind the 25-pounder guns.

As it wasn’t the full show yet, there was only one gun on display tonight, but we didn’t mind. I’d been looking forward to the opportunity of trying out which camera settings I needed to use, and was grateful that Lorraine was nearby to give me an impromptu tutorial. Thanks to her, I nailed my first firing of one of the ceremonial 25-pounder guns of the Cape Field Artillery Saluting Troop during the 1812 Overture!

Lorraine has been taking photos of the guns firing for years, and she knows exactly when during the lengthy piece the guns fire… sometimes it’s just one gun, sometimes, they fire in sequence, and right at the end, I think there is one big KER-BOOOM when all of them fire at the same instant. The thing is that, when you are sitting outside the Castle, you can’t hear the music inside the Castle very clearly, so she taught me that the person to watch was the fire control officer, Staff Sergeant Andrew Imrie, who is also the Pipe Major of the Cape Field Artillery Pipes and Drums. As it’s quite dark outside, you need to keep a close eye on where he is standing and reading the score – and when he raises his hand, because the moment he lowers it and shouts “One Fire! Two Fire! Three Fire!” etc… you need to hit the shutter release. With earplugs in, though, it can be difficult to hear the commands. So, it’s not so easy!

The Finale

Right after the final salvo, we grabbed our gear and rushed back inside the Castle to take some photos during the Final Muster of all the participants – including the massed military bands, the massed pipes and drums, the regimental flag bearers, the Castle Ceremonial Guard…


ctmt2010-5998After the massed pipes and drums had been led off the arena, the production team gathered for a post-rehearsal debriefing, and the troops of Cape Field Artillery brought the 25-pounder gun inside the Castle for safe-keeping. It was 23h00, and I had been at the Castle since 11h00 that morning. It had been a long, exhausting – and amazing – day… and I was looking forward to the Dress Rehearsal on Tuesday evening.

I said goodbye to my friends and fellow-photographers, and caught one last photo of Andrew doing a Mr Bean impression in a pool of light, with his video camera and tripod balanced on his shoulder.


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