The snap election: Photographs from the 2010 campaign

The lives of press photographers are rarely more gruelling than during a general election – but their inside access allows them to capture history in the making. In a special portfolio, the leaders of the pack nominate their favourite shots from the 2010 campaign
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The Independent Online

Jeff Mitchell, Getty Images

On the morning of Brown's resignation, I'd photographed him in his car. He looked the most relaxed I had seen him all campaign. Either he was relaxed because he'd done a deal with Clegg to throw a hand grenade into the Tory camp, or because he knew he was leaving.

I arrived at No 10 too late to grab a spot opposite the door so I stood on some scaffolding just to the left. It all happened very quickly. Brown made his speech and we thought that was it. But then he went back inside and suddenly reappeared with the kids, whom I'd never even seen before, never mind photographed – we weren't allowed to. Suddenly all the guys started clattering off to the right to follow the family down the street, but I just stayed put. At one point, the older boy was talking to his brother and I think Gordon just leaned down to say something as Sarah looked on. And I got the shot. I was pretty happy with it because it shows his human side – the devoted dad rather than the iron statesman.

Tom Leighton, Freelance

My thing is food photography but I had some free time on Wednesday and thought, there are things going on, I'll go to College Green and see what's happening. It was pretty chaotic, with as many tourists as professionals, but you could tell straight away who the pros were with all the kit and the spare camera over their shoulder.

Ken Clarke was talking to the BBC's The World at One so I pushed my way to the front and crouched down to get a slightly different angle. But my camera started playing up at the crucial moment, so I pulled a funny face. Ken saw it and that's when he looked straight at me. Not that anything would faze Ken. He's a consummate professional and is actually much slimmer and better-looking in real life. It would have been nice to capture that but I was taking the picture from down below to get the angle. Maybe I was a bit mean.

Stefan Rousseau, PA

I took this last Tuesday night in the Cabinet Room in No 10, shortly after David Cameron became Prime Minister. After being clapped in by his staff in the corridor, he met more senior staff in the Cabinet Room. He said hello and shook hands, and then he suddenly just turned away, took a huge sigh, and put his head in his hands. There's a sly smile on his face, but through a huge, relieved intake of breath. It had just dawned on him, "My God, I'm Prime Minister."

It must have been quite a long, drawn-out and stressful phase for him that had come to an end. On his left, Gus O'Donnell looks very calm. Samantha doesn't really know what to do with herself, does she? Clearly David, in that room, is the dominating presence and she's mimicking his body language, touching her head too.

Ray Tang, Rex Features

I took this near a Tower Hamlets polling station on Tuesday last week. Immigration and burkas had become issues in the campaign, and I was looking to gauge the mood of east London's Asian voters. I stopped outside a school where I had been during the previous election. I don't know why the lady supporting the Conservatives was sandwiched between two Liberal Democrats. Nevertheless, they were happy and cheery, and very welcoming to voters. I didn't stage the photo or speak to them. They did acknowledge me, and the woman on the right started smiling when she realised what I was doing. I'm not sure if the "way in" sign next to the Conservative woman's head has any deep significance. Neither of their candidates would have won in Labour east London, but I wonder how they feel now their parties are in partnership.

Christopher Furlong, Getty Images

It's got to be this picture for me. It shows a really special moment – the dawn of a new, collaborative era in politics. Who would have dreamt less than a week ago that Cameron and Clegg would be standing together on the lawn of Downing Street? The atmosphere was very civilised – it was like being at a wedding reception waiting for the happy couple to come and greet us. There was a hush as they walked in. That was the calm after the storm, though, after a week that I've never known the like of. Everything was changing minute by minute, there was a different face of the moment at each new moment. It's never been this intense before. I've spent the week looking at doors and gates waiting for something to happen but it's been a real privilege. Whether everything in the garden will stay rosy, though, remains to be seen.

Susannah Ireland, The Independent

I was sent out to get something different, which is really difficult to do when you've got no room to move in the pack. I arrived outside No 10 at 6.30am last Friday and it was cold. I think Downing Street must be the coldest street in London. You don't get any sun on our side and it's like a wind tunnel. I think it was about 1pm when Brown came out to give a quick talk the day after the election. I don't think he said anything particularly interesting – just that things were up in the air and that there would be talks. But I wanted something to illustrate the moment – that his future in Downing Street was probably limited. As he turned to go back inside I took this shot. It's as if he's looking back at No 10 and his career. Was it about to come to an end?

David Wimsett, Photoshot

This was taken at the polling station in his Witney constituency where David Cameron voted on the morning of the election. He was surrounded by the circus that followed him at the time – there was a demonstration by a couple of "Hooray Henrys" on the polling station roof with a sign reading "VOTE ETON, VOTE CAMERON", this impromptu bookies' stand, and the Daily Mirror chicken, among others. Eventually Cameron turned up, cast his vote, and left. The Conservative Party was a bit controlling of what photos we could take of him, very stage-managed. The photo was a bit different from the normal election fare – the archetypal pictures of Downing Street. I covered the last election in 2005; this one was much more exciting, wasn't it?

Alastair Grant, Getty Images

I spent the last three days of the campaign with the Prime Minister, as he was then, on his campaign bus. If you look at some of the pictures of Sarah in those final hours and days, she looks quite worried, but Brown had this confidence about him – as if he thought he could pull it off. On the Wednesday, the day before the election, the itinerary was changing by the minute. Brown ended up giving a speech at Bradford University, where a crowd of about 300 students greeted him in an atrium. They were very enthusiastic about shaking his hand but I wanted something different from a man with a microphone and some people. I got up on to one of the balconies and took this shot, which shows him literally reaching out to the electorate as time runs out.

Andrew Winning, Reuters

I was away last week and came back on duty only on Monday but I soon caught up with the excitement. Here, Brown is playing his last card. Loads of people missed it because while something had to give, no one knew how it would go and suddenly he was out on the street. It was a very intense moment and when he started speaking I realised this wasn't going to be your average, everyday statement from the Prime Minister. There was electricity in the air and he seemed different from the man I've been photographing for two years – he had a sense of urgency. I didn't know when I started shooting that such a big piece of news was going to land in my lap.

Toby Melville, Reuters

I quite like what I photographed [yesterday morning]. It's probably going to be the last day that we doorstep Cameron at his real London house in west London, where he and Samantha are still living for the time being. I got quite a surreal picture with a wide-angle lens of Dave leaving home showing this guy leaving a relatively normal west London red-brick terrace. To all intents and purposes it shows a normal, middle-aged white guy opening the gate, but the thing that makes it look incongruous is that next door to the gate is an armed copper holding a machine gun. Photographers have taken so many tight pictures of Cameron going jogging or leaving the house when the agencies have asked us to photograph him leaving home. Now he's the Prime Minister, everyone sees him with Samantha and Clegg – all the symbolic stuff – but for the moment, maybe the last time in a long while, he's living in relatively ordinary circumstances.