National Trust

Getting lost on the Edge by Neil Alexander

Frankie by Neil Alexander

Last week, I hooked up with Frankie for another on-location portrait shoot. I decided on Alderley Edge as a location, specifically Stormy Point, which has a great view as a backdrop. As I knew this was National Trust property, and after the debacle at Lyme Park I decided very early on to clear this with the relevant authorities to save any mither. I contacted the people at the property directly in the first instance, and was referred to the media department at their head office. Having already spoken to them the other week, I had a good idea of the process. I explained in a concise email that this was not to be a commercial shoot, no money would be exchaning hands, but I would be using what they might deem to be "professional equipment". It was explained to me that this would be fine, and they would waive any charges (how kind of them), but I would need their standard cover of £5 million of public liability insurance. Any attempt to reason with this ridiculous demand was met with silence. Had I been shooting inside one of their mansions, or even in a busy park, then maybe I could have understood that a level of PLI was required, but were to shoot in a completely out of the way area in the middle of the day during the week. The chances of us even coming across another person were slim, never mind the possibility of me accidentally koshing them over the head with a light stand.

As it transpires, I do have PLI but to nothing like that level. Eventually they agreed that on this occassion this level of cover would suffice, and would I please sign their 12 page contract.

Frankie by Neil Alexander

Now normally, I would have paid the location a visit or two beforehand just to work out logistics of transporting and setting up gear, and to give myself a chance to envision how I would like the final images to look. But for one reason and another, this time I didn't. Which was a mistake. The last time I'd been here must have been around 20 years ago, and my memory has clearly gone a little hazy over the years. I was totally unable to find the spot I was looking for, and after about 45 minutes lugging around camera bag, lighting bag, a portable changing room that I've knocked up and light stands, in the blazing sun, I gave up! We turned around and headed back to an embankment that I'd spotted as a plan B on the way down, and decided to set up shop there. We still had a decent backdrop, but being in the middle of a field recently inhabited by cattle meant that we had to pick our spots rather carefully, if you know what I mean. Having said all that, I still managed to get images that I'm pleased with.

Frankie by Neil Alexander

Now, I have made a point of trying to record camera and flash settings, but the more I'm shooting this kind of thing outside, the more I find that recording settings isn't really practical - the light is generally constantly changing and so therefore are my settings. Though in general these were shot with SB900s and shoot through umbrellas positioned either side of Frankie. This was certainly the case for the top two, though I think for the middle one, I may also have used a ring for a little fill. For the bottom image, I struggled to light the full length of the model appropriately against the fairly bright background. I ended up using both brollies, the ring flash and a bare flash directed straight at her to try and bring out those funky tights she was wearing.

Run in with the National Trust... by Neil Alexander

Bex by Neil Alexander

On Friday, I had arranged for another portrait shoot with a local model looking to expand her portfolio in the grounds of Lyme Park. I tipped up with all the usual clobber minus the kitchen sink and scouted around for a few possible locations whilst I waited for Bex to arrive. Always one for then easy option, and laden down with camera bag, lighting bag & stands I wasn't keen on straying a million miles from the car. I found a spot on the other side of the small lake by the main car park with nice reflections of an old building in a millpond like water surface as a backdrop. It was up on the banks by what appeared to be a seldom used path, and pretty much out of the way. Eventually we got set up, and started shooting. For one reason or another it seemed to take me forever to get my lights & exposure dialled in. There was early morning mist over the water which was clearing pretty quickly as the sun began to burn it's way through and I eventually tracked down my lighting issues to a malfunctioning hotshoe. Just as things were beginning to roll & I was getting into my stride, a warden from the National Trust tipped up. He asked what it was that we were doing. I explained that we were simply making some photographs for our own portfolios and that there was to be no commercial use of the images. He point blank refused to believe me stating that my set up was "over the top" and that we were being too obvious. He radioed his control to verify this, and they immediately replied affirmatively. A little narked now and determined not to loose a morning's shooting, we looked around for an alternate location. As this was a TFP shoot, I didn't really want to waste the model's time by driving around to find another location out of the park, so we agreed we'd try and find somewhere a little off the beaten track, which we eventually managed to do with a minimal amount of gear carting. On returning home, my first port of call was the National Trust website, where it clearly states in no uncertain terms that if you want to shoot photographs anywhere on their grounds solely for personal use, then it's absolutely fine by them. Keen then to find out exactly why we'd been told No, I contacted the head office of the National Trust. Aware of the recent furore over images shot on NT land for commercial purposes appearing on stock libraries, I explained the situation and that it was solely for private use. I was informed that as it may have appeared that I was using a "professional" set up, this was why the warden had not believed me. Also, had I contacted the property beforehand to attain their approval, I wouldn't have had this problem. Which is fair enough really, though it hadn't even occurred to me that it could potentially be a problem. The very helpful employee then spoke to a colleague and then explained that in all likelihood, even if I had spoken to the property, they would have made it a requirement that I have £5 million worth of public liability cover. So I enquired where is the line that you draw that states that I need cover? Would one light have been ok? What if I'd not used any lights, but accidentally clobbered a sheep with my 70-200 F2.8? Actually I didn't make the last remark, as I was seething at the total lack of common sense these large organisations these days. And now a little wiser. Note to self: better planning required....

Bex by Neil Alexander

The above shots were taken at the second location. By now, the light was pretty drab and it was threatening to rain. We got up on top of a hill with the Cage at Lyme Park in the distant background as I thought it could make an interesting accent. For the strobists, I used a full CTO gell on a shoot through umbrella on about 1/4 power as my key and popped the Orbis on camera for a little fill. I always forget to make a note of settings, sorry.

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