The Pink Ladies Tractor Road Run
and photography!


Tractor Road Runs are a time honoured rural pass-time where farmers can block the country roads with their slow old vintage tractors. The David Brown FaceBook page has more than 7 thousand members and it's the same for other brands of tractors. Road runs can include hundreds of tractors, but it's an almost exclusively male preserve. Vintage tractors are collected (like Leica lenses) and now fetch mouthwatering sums at auction!
Annie Chapman Off Road
Leica SL2 with the Leica 24-90 Vario Elmarit.

The Pink Ladies Run has been going for 20 years (this year it will be 21). It has been magnificently run by Annie Chapman (who received a CBE in the 2014 honours list) and her husband John. It was a brilliant idea to take such a traditional rural male occupation, turn it into a women's' one and raise money for Breast Cancer Research.

Last Year (July 2023) the Ladies reached a total of over  £1,000,000 raised over the years. A magnificent achievement but there is still work to be done until Cancer is finally beaten!
Annie Chapman being presenting Cancer Research UK with the cheque for the 2023 run
Leica SL2 with the Leica 24-90 Vario Elmarit.

The Story of the Ladies Tractor Road Run
in Annie Chapman's words

The idea for the run came one November evening when John and I sat by the woodburner mardling over what I might do following my imminent retirement. The discussion revolved round various charity ambitions which, frankly, were out of the question considering my age! Riding across deserts or mountains, even with an organised charity trip were really a little too far fetched. The idea for a ladies' road run came from John following our ramblings over the achievable efforts for charity we had already undertaken.

Belonging, as we did then, to two tractor clubs, The Old Ram and the David Brown (Suffolk and Norfolk branch) we had already shared happy days with fellow members exploring unseen environs of these two counties from the double seat of KBJ.

Leica M11 with the 50mm f1.2 Noctilux

"Why don't you organise a tractor road run just for ladies?" suggested John. Why don't I! The spark of the idea soon grew and I found myself thinking how can I do this, who would come, where would we go, start, lunch, etc. etc. and WHY?
Obviously it had to be a charity with ladies in mind. Recently a friend of ours had been diagnosed with breast cancer and this had taken everyone quite by surprise and the awareness of this disease and it's prevalence in this country were quite an eye opener. It seemed the obvious choice.
Annie Chapman arriving at Gawdy Hall
Leica SL2 with the Leica 24-90 Vario Elmarit.

Some of the ladies own their tractors, others borrow them from aficionados who often don't seem to approve of draping them in pink. At the end of the run there is always a scurry of men retrieving their darling tractors from the women who have driven them and removing their pink clothing!

The Ladies have been collecting for Breast Cancer Research and after last year's run they reached a grand total of 1.1 Million pounds; it's worth mentioning that every penny of the money collected does go to Breast Cancer Research: everybody who helps or works for the run volunteers their time or services.

The tractor run consists of a 25 mile course around the Suffolk lanes with some off-road driving thrown in for good measure, the number of tractors varies from year to year, but since I've been photographing it has been between about 100 up to 197 (last year).
Kate Royall at the Brockdish water splash
‍Leica SL2 with the Leica 24-90 Vario Elmarit.

The Photography

I've had the job of shooting the Pink Ladies since 2012 when my wife Emma decided to have a go on her little Fergie. The first time I shot largely with a Leica M9 with a 50mm Summilux - I was a brave man! These days with much better high ISO and the faster shot to shot times it has made life much easier.

It's an interesting photographic assignment; a mixture of boredom, terror and driving like a maniac!

‍Leica SL2 with the Leica 24-90 Vario Elmarit.

I try to get 4 images of each tractor at 4 different spots on the route; Superficially that doesn't sound so tough, but sometimes the gap between the tractors is as little as 2 or 3 seconds. Often one tractor obscures the one behind it. Last year, with 200 tractors taking part the driving between spots was too difficult so I chose 3 points to take pictures of everyone.

Using manual focus is hard as one has such little time, but any kind of zone auto focus can be worse, as the camera invariably tries to focus on the front of the tractor (or the exhaust pipe). Face detect is even more dangerous (the front of many tractors look like faces!). Spot AF seems to be the safest method.
At the Brockdish Water Splash
‍Leica SL2 with the Leica 24-90 Vario Elmarit.

Then there is the problem of the exhaust pipe, which is normally on the bonnet and very likely to bisect the face of the driver! Worse than that, lots of the newer tractors have cabs, so trying to get the ladies with the reflection is even more difficult; they usually have open sides, so that's favourite, but tricky if they're going fast!

Missing one of the ladies is unthinkable (not least because some of them are tough Suffolk farmers!). They need to use the images for their fundraising activities so it's important to get good pictures of everyone.
After the Finish
‍Leica SL2 with the Leica 24-90 Vario Elmarit.

It takes about 1/2 hour for 100 tractors to go through, some close together and some further apart, but certainly no time to change camera batteries!

When the last tractor has gone, it's time to leap in the car and get to the next spot before the first tractor arrives with Annie Chapman driving (the most important shot). Of course I can't go the same route as the tractors, so carefully planned alternative routes are used. Last year was a special challenge: with a record 197 tractors the time from first to last was longer, so there was much less time to get to the next spot.
‍Leica M

It's easier to do the photography on an overcast day, where you can set the exposure for a face and leave it at that. Sunshine isn't too bad either, although then you have to be very careful not to blow out highlights. The real challenge comes with scattered clouds as it was last year, when the exposure changes from minute to minute, sometimes from tractor to tractor. it's no good using any kind of auto exposure as you end up with wild fluctuations using spot, and either blown out or dark faces if you use multi spot.

At the end of the run there is a group shot, this is the fun bit, the ladies are all exhilarated at finishing the run, it's done on a farm trailer, last year it was two trailers to take 190 Ladies.

You can click on the picture below for a full sized version (it's worth it!).
The 2023 Group Shot
‍Leica M

The Ladies Tractor run even continued during the pandemic. In 2020 there were rules about the number of people who could meet together in a group and this was rigorously adhered to, together with the social distancing. This meant a different course for the run, and a much reduced field .

In 2021 the run was almost back to normal, but due to social distancing it was impossible to do the group shot at the end of the run.
The 2020 Group Shot
Leica SL2 with the Leica 24-90 Vario Elmarit.

Last year for the 'before the start' shots I used a Leica M11 with the classic remake 50 f1.2 Noctilux. I wanted to get a dreamy look so most of the shots are wide open.

For the shots of the tractors on the move I used the Leica SL2 with the 24-90 (one handed as the other arm is needed to attract attention!). For the group shot I used the M11 with the 28 summilux.

Initial Post processing has to be done the same evening - so that the best images can be sent to the press overnight for inclusion in articles on Monday morning. If the weather has been overcast it's not too bad, but with changing light there can be a lot of work getting the faces properly lit. Of course, with 190 ladies and 4 spots that's 760 photos to process . . . My wife says it's like shooting a wedding with 190 brides!
Emma Slack on the offroad section
Leica SL2 with the Leica 24-90 Vario Elmarit.

Every year the pictures are used for news articles in several newspapers and magazines  (local and national) and on various websites including BBC News.

There are so many amazing women taking part - lots of them are breast cancer survivors, and most have had close relatives who have succumbed to it. There are at least two families where 3 generations of women/girls drive tractors,
Annie with daughters and grand-daughters
Leica SL2 with the Leica 24-90 Vario Elmarit.

In the middle of the run the tractors go through the high street of Harleston (a small country town). It's incredibly emotional for the Ladies driving the tractors (and for the crowds of people who have come to watch).

This is followed by a picnic in the grounds of the Gawdy Hall Estate, people from miles around flock to this to get a good look at the tractors lined up in the field.
The tractors at Gawdy Hall (2018)
Leica M10-P with the Leica 50mm APO Summicron M

Since 2012, my wife Emma has driven on the Pink Ladies Tractor Road Run on her 1954 Ferguson TE20 4 cylinder diesel tractor.

Since that time, due to your kindness she has earned many thousands of pounds for Breast Cancer Research

If you would like to donate to this incredibly important cause, please click on the link to Emma Slack's Fund Raising Page here or click on the picture below. Thank you!

Click here to Donate to Emma's Page
in aid of Breast Cancer Research

The tractors at Gawdy Hall (2018)
Leica SL2 with the 24-90mm Vario Elmarit
You can also go to the Ladies Tractor Road Run website for more information - click on the picture below.
Some of the wonderful stewards without whom the run just couldn't happen
Leica SL2 with the 24-90mm Vario Elmarit

Annie and John Chapman