"We'd love to shoot at Pooh Sticks Bridge and Ashdown Forest. Neil proposed to me on the bridge and it's one of our favourite places."
What could be more romantic, I thought. AA Milne country, the very wood where the Winnie the Pooh stories were based, AND bluebells! This was going to be a riot of blue, an explosion of spring blossom colour. Why then is one of my favourite shots this black and white high contrast shot of the loving couple in a field of gorse?
Because, to our dismay, when I arrived early - and a smart photographer will ALWAYS arrive early, to recce the location and make sure everything will be right (the light, the ambience, the weather, all the variables) - not only were there no blossoms and no bluebells, there was... no bridge!
Sadly, Pooh Sticks Bridge was closed for repairs, a big ugly fence around it. Luckily for the three of us, we were in a beautiful part of the country, the sun was shining and Emma and Neil were game for a hearty walk and a bit of experimenting.
And after all, perhaps the most important element of an engagement shoot is to get to know each other, not only photographically (to find what works best visually, what each couple's best looks are) but also personally, what makes each couple tick, what their chemistry is, and how to get the best from them and the surprisingly intimate relationship a wedding photographer has with their couple.
The first thing that became apparent was, of course, that Emma and Neil are deeply in love, and that they clearly have the easy, relaxed, intimate bond that marks a marriage that is guaranteed to last.
And then there was the blessing of not being able to use our first choice of location. A less-prepared photographer might have stumbled around in the woods - on that particular weekend a muddy, barren forest of sticks, spring having decided to turn up late to the party. So while were able to enjoy some of the magic that the edges of the forest provides - and the reason A.A.Milne left his apartment in Chelsea London, to live with his wife and young child in Hartfield was the Ashdown Forest - we were also gifted some some stunning views of the Sussex countryside and skyline.
AA Milne himself stated: "Anyone who has read the stories knows the Forest and doesn't need me to describe it. Pooh's Forest and Ashdown Forest are identical."Several hundred years ago the Forest was "enclosed" to keep the deer available for their Majesty's pleasure to hunt and rangers were appointed to patrol the boundaries. The deer still roam much of the 4,000 acres that remain of the ancient enclosed forest and there are rangers that still care for the deer. These days their duties extend to care for all the flora and fauna and, with our help, they conserve the landscape as "An Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty". The earliest rangers would have ridden on horseback and today, when they have a permit, riders and their horses are frequently to be seen negotiating the wide fire breaks and rides that criss-cross the rolling heath land. For the many thousands of Pooh fans that flock into Pooh Country in recent years, the most hunted creatures are from the pages of the Pooh storybooks. Although sightings are almost unheard of, the intrepid Pooh hunter can find tracks. It is obvious to the Pooh fan that these tracks have been made by Pooh and Tigger (sometimes made by dogs), and Piglet (sometimes made by the deer). Then you can discover tracks made by Eeyore (sometimes made by ponies), and Kanga (sometimes made by very large dogs) and Wol & Rabbit (probably made by Owls & rabbits)!