The Army was called in to deal with Londoners trying to get past the road block on the A13

After the court injunction preventing publication of pictures from the riot-causing car-free Sunday in Essex has finally been lifted, I hurry to bring you pictures of the the busiest road in the country, void of traffic. And of the armed forces ensuring that only emergency vehicles were allowed on the roads.

Essex County Council surprised the nation by declaring Sunday the 26th June a car free Sunday throghout the county. Local high streets throughout the county’s towns and villages were taken over by pedestrians, enjoying the first day of a brief heatwave, with temperatures creeping up to and above 30° C (86° F).

Roadblock with artillery to scare motorists into submission, and a first aid station to treat those who forgot to submit

There were reports of rioting at the checkpoints set up to block the Essex stretch of the M25, the busiest road in the country, and the Essex Regiment (which last saw active duty in 1958) was called in to safeguard the traffic wardens patrolling the roadblocks. The worst problems broke out around the A13, the “Highway to the sea” where tens of thousands of Londoners were trying to travel to Southend-on-sea to enjoy the pebble beach and the obligatory visit to the pier, the overpriced funfair, and the run-down amusement arcades. All parts of a traditional English Sunday by the sea.

Reports from the resort’s fish-and-chips merchants show 120% less profit being made than last year, where the last weekend in June was drenched in torrential downpour.

The busy Essex stretch of the M25, eerily void of traffic

Seriously, though, they did not do such a thing. Car traffic on the hottest day of the year was as busy as always, and there was a steady stream of cars and lorries on the motorway under Nags Head Lane where I put my tripod down to capture the picture above.

I have finally started to think about my photography course again, and needed a shot of the M25 for an assignment about contrasts. Wanting to make the picture a little unusual, I stopped the aperture down as far as possible to ƒ/22, set the ISO as low as it would go, and screwed my set of neutral density filters (6 stops in total) on the lens.

Junction 28, seemingly "out of action"

This allowed me to shoot with a 2 second shutter time at noon in the blazing sun. The result, as can be seen, is that the road appears empty because the cars moved so fast that their contribution to the final picture is neglible. The exception is the cars in the distance which covered a shorter angle of view than the ones near me; it’s the same principle as when you look up and see a plane travelling 500 mph, yet appearing to be slowly crawling across the sky. Thus, at the curve of the road, there are clear ghostings of the cars still. Maybe I ought to get an extra filter. Or risk some car drivers having their lights on (which would make lovely but clearly visible light streaks), and instead go out later in the day when the light levels are lower.

Past J28, the empty M25 stretched as far as the eye could see

To get the shot, I went to four different overpasses. One had a high protective metal fence, maybe to stop photographers throwing themselves off the bridge, so that was a no-starter. One had huge signage taking up most of the view, and one was in the middle of a very straight stretch of road. So at the end, it was easy to chose the shot above with the curve in the road to lead the eye and give a sense of perspective. I also tried different positions on the bridge, and even found a set of stairs leading down the bank at the side, where I could get shots closer to the road, but that didn’t give me the wide view that I was after.

It was quite difficult to see anything through the viewfinder, due to the 6 stops darkening of the filters. I was very surprised to see that the autofocus system still worked, but I tested it several times, and each time it did. The unexpected surprise (which really shouldn’t have been a surprise to me) was a wide, black vignette on the shots taken at 24 mm focal length. So the final picture has been cropped.

The two army pictures are from last year’s Armed Forces Day in Brentwood.