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Photographing a Cheese Rolling Event

A few years back I attended the cheese rolling event at Coopers Hill,   nr Brockworth, Gloucestershire, probably the world's most spectacular event of this type.  There are also other cheese rolling events, see our list of these. 

The cheese takes about 11 seconds to bounce and fly to the bottom, and is really moving at times. So fast that many people don't spot them as they pass, plus of course they are watching those who are tumbling after it. Catching both the cheese and tumbling in a photograph is a real challenge, and one that I took on a few years back.

The hill at the top is particularly steep and where most of the larger groups of tumbles will take place, as people set out to run down, discover the ground is uneven and loose their footing. Further down the participants will have spread out. At the top of the hill the slope is 1 in 2.

I chose a position on the right of the hill looking up, mainly because on this side there is little more room between the tumblers/participants and the fence that allowed a better angle of view, and selected a point just below half way up. There is a safety fence and I managed to get to a point next to one of the wooden stakes that held this up, which was particularly useful later when with the pressure of people the hillside starts to slide down, and having something to hold onto made it possible to stand up.  As the uneven hillside slides or gives way, people tend to trip over and so if in the open, its nearly impossible to stay where you are, and most are either being grabbed by others or grabbing onto other people themselves. Many sit down. Even holding onto a post it was difficult as the ground was moving and others were bumping into me. Another problem is that this hill is so steep that at midday the sun is only just over the top of the hill.

The normal rule as you may know, in relation to camera speed selection is that you can freeze items that could not exist in nature, so this is one place where you can use a high speed to freeze the action. You could also choose a speed that was high enough to nearly stop it leaving just a slight movement. You also need quite decent depth of field to cope with the range and in particular if you attempt to catch the flying cheese as it passes and the tumblers at the same time, so select something towards F22 if you can. To make this possible you will find you need to have a high ISO. You then have the choice of selecting when to press the button precisely or using the motor drive to shoot a sequence giving you a better chance of success, plus perhaps some action sequences.

There are 5 races, one around every 20 minutes down hill, between this there are the rescue teams recovering the injured and up hill races to photograph as well.

So how did I get on:

Just caught it flying through the air on the top left of the picture.

On this one I caught it as it bounced near to me during the ladies race.

So as you can see this was not an impossible challenge.

I also had a number of goes at taking sequences of photographs that could be animated into a GIF, you can see one below and a close up of a single person rolling down is on the newsletter of the 23rd May 2008.

NOTE: The Coopers Hill Cheese Rolling is normally an annual event taking place on the Spring Bank Holiday in May. However over recent years it has been cancelled at the last minute, sometimes for Health and Safety Issues and occasionally because it has become so popular. So my advice would be that before travelling to this event make sure you check out their website in the days running up to it for the latest update on whether it is taking place or not.

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By: Keith Park Section: Key:
Page Ref: cheese_capture Topic: Activities and Educational  Last Updated: 04/2013

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