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CREDIT: Peter Stott LRPS

Savernake Forest by Peter Stott

RPS Landscape Group Newsletter, January 2023

Group Photo

RPS Landscape Group trip to Savernake Forest 12 November 2022

We met at 7 am on the Grand Avenue, Savernake Forest at a point marked on the ‘what3words’ app as ‘biker.deserved.though’.  At 7 am it was so dark that even at ISO 12580 we were still only recording tail-lights - six RPS landscape photographers led by professional photographer Robert Harvey. As dawn broke we set off down a damp path, knowing it would be six hours and six miles of trekking before we returned to the cars. Three of us had got up shortly after 3 am to make the journey to Savernake. Surely only extreme dedication to the art could motivate such obsession. My wife was not the only one to have commented “You must be mad.”

© Andrew Hayward-Wills

© Paul Burwood

© Judy Cochand

For those who know him, it will come as no surprise to know that Robert was extremely organised, leading us expertly between photographic opportunities and introducing us to Savernake’s veteran oaks and beech clearings. As dawn broke and we set our tripods, we recognised the benefits of the soft directional light, illuminating the autumn colours in the beeches. With the warmth of the sun came more colour – yellows, oranges and greens. It was a dry day amongst many wet days;  so we were very fortunate.

© Richard Inwood

© Richard Inwood

© Peter Stott

 

At first we concentrated on the textures within the ancient trees, the pollarded shapes; the boles and patterns of bark; the holes left by woodpeckers and boring insects. As the light increased, the layered branches of the beeches, fallen leaves and autumnal colours were more in evidence. Later in the morning, the sculptured shapes and skeletons of the ancient trees provided a further challenge.

The early morning was lightly overcast – ideal for this type of work. The sun came out around 10.30 am, which made technique more difficult because of the pronounced difference between highlights and shade. Some of us resorted to bracketing exposures to compensate for this, constantly switching between wide-angle lenses to capture overall landscape and medium telephoto lenses to isolate woodland features.

© Clive Dunkey

© Clive Dunkey

Savernake is an ancient Forest, unchanged from the time of William the Conqueror. Since then it has been in the ownership of the same family - currently the Earl of Cardigan and his son, the Viscount Savernake. It is managed by trustees in conjunction with the Forestry Commission and there is limited public car access along the Grand Avenue. Nowadays, Savernake is used for forestry, for rearing deer and pheasants; and for corporate shooting parties – one of which was active on the day we were there. At one point, the guns went quiet and we were suddenly surrounded by beaters and flying birds. The beaters told us told to stay still and not to move until they had passed us by. 

© Paul Burwood

© Judy Cochand

At 1pm we were back at the cars for lunch. Then after a short trip to the end of the Grand Avenue for time on our own, we travelled in convoy to our next photographic opportunity. A further stiff 1km walk uphill revealed a perfect tree tunnel. Robert had calculated the sun would be illuminating the tunnel at the ideal angle at 4.13 precisely – and it was. We all got a chance from the perfect spot, choreographed by our leader; and the opportunity to use our fish-eye lenses.

© Andrew Hayward-Wills

What did we learn? We learned that soft, non-directional light is ideal for forest photography, even when it seems quite dim; that regular visits to a venue and knowledge of when the light will be right pays dividends. We learned bright sunlight and sky can be the enemy of forest photography; and that isolating a point of interest from obscuring branches is key. We learned the importance of planning so both weather and lighting will be optimised. We also learnt that photographic opportunities are made by good planning, not by chance.

The day finished as it got dark at 16.30pm; but I did not come home alone.  Two days later in the shower, I found a small tick embedded on the left side of my chest – a memento of a day well-spent.

 

Future RPS Landscape group events can be found here

 

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