View from Above: Chris Gorman takes on the RHS gardens

DronePrep pilot in residence Chris Gorman (aka The Big Ladder Photographer) has been as busy as a bee in the gardens of the Royal Horticultural Society. Since 2018, he has been capturing stunning aerial images of their sites across the UK. Read on for some words from Chris about his experience flying at all five sites, in all four seasons.

RHS Garden Bridgewater, summer. All images strictly Copyright: Chris Gorman/RHS

My relationship with the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) began in 2018, when I was asked by the London Evening Standard to find a drone image showing the beautiful colours of the autumn leaves in London. My first thought was to call the RHS and ask if I could come and photograph the stunning colours at Wisley Garden at sunset. They immediately agreed and the resulting image appeared in the paper the next day.

I was invited back to Wisley by the press team to photograph the garden in more detail, an opportunity I relished. A drone allows you to view the garden from a perspective that previously only the garden designer understood.

After several visits to Wisley, I was then asked whether I would like to photograph all RHS Gardens, in all four seasons – this included gardens across the UK: Wisley in Surrey, Rosemoor in Devon, Harlow Carr in North Yorkshire, Hyde Hall in Essex and, more recently, the brand new RHS Bridgewater in Manchester.

RHS Garden Hyde Hall, winter All images strictly Copyright: Chris Gorman/RHS

The freedom of creativity that the RHS permits when carrying out this work is why the images work so well. I arrange all shoots based on the weather; sunlight is vital for a good shot. With some of the locations involving 400-mile round trips, I need to be confident that the weather is going to play ball when I get there. This summer has tested this to the extreme, with forecasts often changing drastically from one day to the next, and a few occasions when three different weather apps have been incorrect!

I use DronePrep’s Daylight tool when planning many of these shoots, it gives me specific information about where the sun is going to be at sunrise and sunset – it’s a feature I absolutely love.

Permission-wise, the shoots are quite easy as landowner permission is already in place with the RHS. The only garden that has airspace issues is Bridgewater in Manchester, due to its proximity to the airport. Manchester Airport has been very helpful so far with permission easily obtained.

RHS Garden Rosemoor, summer. All images strictly Copyright: Chris Gorman/RHS

Many of the images have appeared in the national press, From the Daily Telegraph and The Times, to the Daily Mail and Daily Express. As a media photographer with nearly 30 years of experience, I know exactly what a picture editor likes to see. Crucially, an image needs to be pitched to a newspaper at the right time. Even a great picture needs a news hook to hang it on… hot weather, national gardening week, and so on.

The RHS has allowed me to indulge my passion for shadow images, with some great shots of gardeners watering the flowers and raking leaves, or couples walking hand in hand through the roses.

I love how each garden looks completely different through the seasons, with something new to see from the air on each visit. After around 15 shoots at Wisley over the last three years, I still find something new to capture each time.

RHS Garden Wisley, winter. All images strictly Copyright: Chris Gorman/RHS

Chris’s images of RHS Hilltop can be seen in an exhibition at Wisley Garden in Surrey. The exhibition will run until mid-September.

Images copyright RHS and The Big Ladder Photographer – check out Chris’s work on Facebook and Instagram.

View from Above: Chris Gorman takes on Plymouth

DronePrep’s Pilot in Residence Chris Gorman, aka The Big Ladder Photographer, uses the DronePrep Map for planning aerial photoshoots. Chris just finished an assignment in Devon for the National Lottery Heritage Fund, resulting in this remarkable image of the sunset in Plymouth.

A new dawn for Plymouth. The brief from the Lottery Heritage Fund was simple:

“We’d like a beautiful sunrise or sunset image of Plymouth to send out to media to illustrate our announcement that the city is to be given a £10m grant to help create the UK’s first National Marine Park”.

A simple brief you may think. However, I had just one day to shoot, meaning weather forecasts and permissions needed to fall in line within 36 hours. Sunrises and sunsets aren’t a given, and considering how awful the summer weather has been so far this year, I knew I may struggle.

My first port of call (no pun intended) was the Port Authority and the local council for permission to fly in the Plymouth Sound area. This was the simple part if I’m honest, as the council were most helpful in granting permission straight away after providing all the relevant documentation.

The hard part was the weather.

I arrived in Plymouth to completely grey skies, despite all three of my weather apps forecasting sunshine. The final image you see here was the only time I saw the sun in 36 hours in the town. The shoot was supposed to take place the following day, but I had this sneaking feeling the sun might put in a brief appearance at sunset.

The time of sunset collided with the England-Denmark match, which partially helped as the Sound was near-deserted due to everyone watching the game. All through the very tense first half of the football, I dashed back and forth to the window to check out what the sun was doing. At halftime, I checked once more and, to my amazement, the sun was out in a blaze of glory for the first time that day. I gathered by gear and ran to my pre-arranged take off spot.

I know from experience that a good sunset can last just seconds, which is why DronePrep’s Daylight Tool is so useful when planning these shots. The last hurdle to jump came from the drone itself, which refused to calibrate the gimbal on first start up… This always involves a drone restart, which takes 40 seconds to complete each time. I could see the picture drifting away in front of me…
Suddenly, on the 3rd start up, the drone finally played ball. I launched and immediately took this shot (which is actually a 5-frame HDR blended in Photoshop). This image saved the entire assignment, as the sun didn’t show its face again. And I didn’t miss a single goal in the football!

The resulting image appeared on BBC News, The Daily Express, The Daily Star and various local media.

Check out more of Chris’s work at www.bigladder.co.uk