Or... How You Should Never Say Never Work with Children and Animals.
It's been quite a year for National Trust engagement shoots, which for me, being a Londoner, is quite a treat to get out and about in the countryside. Catriona and Toby are both avid walkers and even more avid dog-lovers, and this was my first shoot incorporating dogs AND romance. Despite the "never work with children and animals" maxim, I thought, what fun, what could possibly go wrong. Of course things might have gone wrong, but in fact on the day, their two spaniels were so lovely and well-behaved I only wish I'd tried some more experimental shots. As it is, a sweet afternoon of walking and relaxing was had by all at Scotney Castle.
As a bit of a warm up - although to be honest an engagement shoot is in itself a warm-up - Mum took the dogs for a little walk while I took Catriona and Toby down to the Folly to get used to the camera. Not everyone likes to indulge in endless selfies and not everyone is comfortable with the idea of a photographer. But they know they'll need to be when their wedding day comes. So of course an engagement shoot is a great way to not only get to know each other and what works best, but also to learn to relax a bit in front of the lens.
And so, enter the pups, and what a cute pair they were.
I know spaniels are pretty easy going, but these two, they were just so cute and laid back.
Despite the glorious sunshine that marked the start of this lovely Kentish autumn day, by the time we had actually arrived at Scotney Castle, the clouds were massing overhead. Sometimes when this happens, it's hard to resist going a little gothic.
The house which was built to replace the Old Castle in the first half of the 19th Century is known as Scotney New Castle, and is a wonderful example of Tudor Revivalist style. So not really gothic at all, except perhaps when the dark lowering clouds mass overhead and the photographer's imagination runs a little too far away with itself...
For those wondering if the poor dogs had been left to go feral, I probably should add here the best piece of advice I can offer anyone considering an engagement shoot with their dogs; bring a friend or a family member along who is happy to take the dogs for a break so the two of you can also relax and pose a little for the camera. Taking advantage of a small break, we took a quick tour of the gardens.
We were treated to the most amazing array of autumn colours. The gardens at Scotney Castle were designed by Capability Brown with rhododendron and azalea competing with Wisteria and old English rose. Autumn is beautiful, but Spring is an absolute symphony of colour.
We retrieved the little retrievers and took them for a last photo tour of the gardens.
With the sun determined not to come back out again, and with the gates soon to close on the castle, we took a last tour of the old castle, which dates back to the fourteenth century. And to lift things a little, I brought out some handy lights, at first as a portrait key light to lift Cat and Toby out of the November gloom.
And then more dramatically - and this is one of my favourite cheats with using a flashgun with radio trigger - I created some fake sunlight behind them. While in reality we were halfway to darkness, see how the remote flashgun light highlights them and wraps round them, as if it were the dying rays of the sun through the bushes behind and picks out the golden autumn colours in the leaves. Much prettier than a flat near-dark grey early evening.
Because every lover's kiss deserves a bit of sun-dappled romance, even if it is courtesy of the hard-working photographer. Thanks for a great day Toby and Cat, looking forward to the big day next year!