I was delighted to be able to finish off a long term project the other day, photographing the team at AA Coombes boatbuilders for their website, www.aacoombes.co.uk. It had been a long term commission covering all aspects of their services from storage and maintenance to launching and moorings, but it was the group shot that had so far eluded us.
Amongst the excitement of covering this season’s events we were fortunate enough to be asked to provide some advertising images for Ben Coombes Small Craft. Ben is a multi-talented chap and in addition to his skills building and repairing classic wooden dinghies, he also produces neoprene sailing bags and knives. ‘Tis true that there is no end to his marine related talents! His workmanship is quite exceptional although it really shouldn’t come as much of a surprise since he comes from a family with a long tradition of boat building. Even so, I still expect classic boat builders to be elderly and grey bearded with a curly pipe hanging from the side of the mouth. Out of touch? Moi? Surely not. Apparently, Ben took his products to the latest Old Gaffers regatta in Yarmouth where his classic sailing knives sold like hot cakes, so there is clearly a strong market for hand-made, quality tools.
On the day of the shoot the sun was high and scorchingly hot, making it an uncomfortable business as we photographed the interior of one of Ben’s latest projects, a brand new scow. God bless my Olympus EM1 because it was merely a matter of popping the camera inside the boat and touching the flip-out screen to direct the focus on the correct area. It was very much a case of classic meets cutting edge. Ben has multiple jobs on the go, all of which are utterly fascinating to anyone interested in classic boats. In one shed there’s a Henley rowing boat dating back approximately to the 1930s with such fine features and thin planks that it is far removed from a sea going boat. Talking of which in another shed there’s a locally built, miniature version of a Seaview One Design that Ben has restored to quite glorious condition with some minor improvements along the way. But the boat that really caught my eye is one of Ben’s own boats, a particularly rare craft called Black Gnat. She was built in Bembridge in 1899 and closely resembles a Herreshoff design, but beyond that little is known. One thing is for sure, her performance is sparkling by comparison with other dinghies of that era. Ben assures me that he’ll get her on the water some time in which case I would dearly love to run a magazine article on her.
Once the boat shots were complete we took some time taking detail shots of the knives, bags and Ben’s workshop. It struck me just how versatile he really is and how bespoke a service he provides. He even explored the possibility of producing a protective neoprene bag for micro Four Thirds camera lenses. Now that’s entrepreneurial!
With photo shoots such as these versatility is the key and we employed a range of techniques and tools to achieve the desired effects. Super wide lenses, a combination of natural light and flashguns and, just occasionally, some very slow shutter speeds were the order of the day. It was a fun afternoon surrounded by classic craft and a craftsman who really knows how to work on them. Just take a look at Ben’s website – http://www.bencoombessmallcraft.co.uk