I’ve been a photographer for nearly 10 years, and in that time I’ve learnt a lot about myself, and my photography. Being wheelchair bound doesn’t hold me back, there are times when I see something and just wish I could do more with the picture I see in front of me, it can be frustrating at times, and I’ve just learnt to just make the best of it, till now.
The estate is set in the beautiful countryside of Gloucestershire, and is known for the Badminton Horse Trials held every year, but there’s more to it than meets the eye. The estate is huge and has many forest areas, but a little known place off the road to Tetbury, is the Badminton Gatehouse. It’s set on a bend and if your driving, it’s so easy to miss, but the building is set 150m off the road, with its arched wall, leading to the main gate in the centre with a room either side and above, a large arched window, which must hold one of the most wonderful views down to the main house, which I would say is a good two miles down a centre green, with thick rows of trees either side.
I know the area well, as I was brought up in the Cotswold’s, which the main house and gate is built from Cotswold stone and weathers well. When I took up photography, I stopped at the Badminton Gatehouse to photograph, but its hard to photograph something that is solid, doesn’t move and only has one path leading up to it, only the seasons and weather can change the look of a image looking straight on at the building, this is the only way to photograph it from the track leading to the building.
Back near the end of 2018, after much research I got myself a DJI Mavic Pro 2 drone. This drone is small, easy to setup and fly, the camera and its ability to capture 20MB RAW images on its 1” sensor, which can also capture 4K video, makes for a great piece of kit to have in your bag.
The drone has open up new ways of me doing my landscape photography from above, just like others are able to do. But for me, it helps me reach places I can’t get to in my chair. The drone has also introduced me to videography, this isn’t something I would consider with my normal camera, as it’s hard work and difficult from my chair.
Getting use to using a drone, takes time in learning the skill just flying, its easy going forward and sideways, but a skill to fly in a arch and film at the same time. I’m use to using ND filters with my normal camera to get long exposures, but with a drone camera and filming, you use the ND filters in a different way, and I’m getting the hang of this.
Going back to Badminton Gatehouse
So my idea was to photograph about 30m off the ground so I could show the estate in the background, and anything else would be a bonus.
There’ just enough ground to park as the track leading to the gatehouse, which is chained off. My thoughts was to go up to the gatehouse and introduce myself and ask if I could photograph the building, but with a drone.
We know of late, us drone pilots don’t get a good press with the media, and asking if you can use a drone, comes with a straight answer no! But I think its all depends how you approach people.
As I pushed myself under the chain and wheeled towards the gatehouse, there was a car parked outside, so I knew there was someone home, but not sure if there would be a doorbell, as its turns out there wasn’t and so I had to call out “good morning”. I did this a few times and I thought I could hear a radio coming from one of the rooms as I looked the iron gate, but there was no answer and I thought maybe I was a bit early and thought I would pop back later.
As I started to wheel myself back the car, I turned round and saw this lady walk from one room across to the other room. So I wheeled myself back to the gate, and called “hello, good morning”. Finally a voice came from inside “hello”.
This lovely lady by the name of Hillary in her late years came to the gate, and I introduced myself and said, “I’m a landscape photographer and wondered if I could photograph the gatehouse?” she said “yes of course no problem at all”, then I said the dreaded words, “but I would like to photograph it with a drone, and I would be happy to share some photos with you, if you would like to email me”, as I pulled out a business card. Then there what seemed a long silence and expecting the outcome to be a straight no, but to my surprise she said “yes that’s fine, would you like me to move my car so you can get a good shot of the gatehouse”? I said “that would be wonderful, are you sure your ok to do that?” she said “let me get dressed and I will move it for you”. Then she asked me if I could walk, as she invited me to see the room above and the view from it. I said with a grin on my face, sadly know, but allowing me to photograph the building is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. As we talked, she told me she had lived there for 14 years and just loves the place. It is an odd building, with what seems from the front two small rooms, one either side, I have no idea where the bedroom is, but it’s a very special building.
This dear lady was lovely to meet and chat to. I think that we are so engrossed in the idea that everyone hates drone pilots, we just don’t look at places that we could potentially photograph and show that we do care, not just about the environment we are entering, but the people that are part of it.
I did everything by the book, by informing her that I had public liability insurance, staying 50m away from the building and above as I flew over. I registered the flight with NAT’s and I think initially a red hazard came up for high risk at Highgrove House, which of course is where Prince Charles resides, which is 5 miles away as the crow fly’s, but then I set it as permission from resident gained and the high risk disappeared, and it was landscape photography, and a non commercial shoot.
When I finished, I went back to the gatehouse and spent more time with Hillary thanking her for her kindness and helped close the big iron gates and went back to me car and put the chain back across, so I left it as it as it was when I arrived.
I think its the important point, in not just engaging with the people but to leave it how it was before you arrived.
I have confidence I could go back and Hillary would welcome me back, and that’s a great feeling, as I would like to go back when the season changes and maybe the trees will be in bloom.
If I had gone to the main house, or contacted by mail or phone, I would have been turned down with out a doubt. I don’t want to get Hillary into trouble, but I don’t know if she lives there as part of the estate and what they would think about it all, but if they saw my images, spoke to Hillary and saw the video, I’ve yet to put together, they would see that I did it to show the beauty of the building, the landscape that flows onwards down to the main house. I didn’t get paid to do this, and wouldn’t want to, I did it out of love of photography. The images I take are one of a kind and each one means something to me.
By reading this, I hope some drone pilots get a sense of what can be, you just have to put yourself in the shoes of the person you are asking to share their place with you, by offering them a copy of any images you take, as a gift to say thank you, would probably be welcomed. We all want to capture the beauty of this country, and we have to show what we can create to those that would take it all away from us. Social groups should invite the CAA to join them, so they can see on the inside of what is actually going on out there, with us capturing landscapes, coastal scenes, sunsets and sunrises, the mist that covers the dew soaked ground, this is what hobby drone pilots are mostly about.
As for me, this is one item I can tick off my bucket list of places I want to photograph. I’ve shared this story on social media and have had a great response, which I thank every single person for their like. It means a lot even if just one person likes my work, but when you have many, it’s a good feeling that I’ve done something good and worthwhile.