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.