Ever since I was a small boy I was fascinated by topiary
Yes, I know it sounds a bit odd but the whole idea that people can make hedges into the most beautiful sculpture of animals, birds etc has always fascinated and amused me in equal measure
As a result it has appeared in my work more than once
The size, the shape and textures, the sheer ‘bonkers-ness’ of it and I mean it is bonkers labour of Love, some people spend decades crafting these creations often from seedlings
Japanese have the bonsai, the British have their topiary
The quirkiness of this art is one thing (and it really is quirky)but when you photograph topiary it opens up a whole world of possibilities that perhaps you’ve never really considered
Yes, I know it sounds like a bit of a sweeping statement but you can play with the size the shape of the scale and the texture of the bushes particularly when you light
I did I say light too
I know lighting on such a large scale is a bit erm extreme, but when topiary is lit, it only serves to accentuate the most amazing textures and shapes
So when I was commissioned By the Daily Mail to shoot the series of topiary all over southern Britain I left the chance and I chose not to do it by halves
Not doing by halves of course means shooting the project on my beloved Fujifilm GFX 50S with the lovely 32 to 64 mm zoom lens - the perfect ‘multi role’ lens for this commission.
I don’t normally go for zooms on medium format but this one is very, very good indeed.
The GFX has many advantages over traditional SLR medium format digital cameras but shooting with big lights outside without high-speed sync is always going to be a challenge
Indeed it’s true then I shot my acclaimed ’Alice in Wonderland’ shot with a Hasselblad H1 which had leaf shutter lenses but there are lots of ways shooting flash in daylight which don’t involve leaf shutters
I have some glowing reports have a high-speed sync capabilities of the latest Broncolor or Elinchrom flashes but the orgy of spending has to stop somewhere right? (for the time being at least!)
With this in mind I shot with my existing Elinchrom ranger heads and packs.
I can honestly say I really enjoyed shooting at every location in this series and meeting some really lovely people but there is one which stands out photographically from all of the others
Charlotte Molesworth’s garden is a national treasure
In fact she has grown the entire garden from seedlings over the past 30 years, I have photographed lots of topiary all over the UK and I have to say this is special, very, very special indeed for it is the work of one woman
I like to think I always try my best but when such an opportunity presents itself you really go the extra mile to make the photo’s shine
Learning my lessons from the ‘Alice in Wonderland’ series I did not go light on the lights
The key light was my go to modifier the Chimera medium soft box, the background lit by two bare bulb heads and kill spills.
It worked a little like this…
I’m pretty pleased with the finished spread, I mean who doesn’t get a thrill out of seeing one’s work in print?
I see some people writing that there is little difference between the images taken on a 35mm DSLR And the Fuji GFX - one commentator even stating that because the DxO sensor score from other medium format cameras being only marginally better than a good DSLR, that this proved there was little difference between a good DSLR and a medium format camera.
Well, if the sensor score on the website was the only metric by which have got a camera is then we may as well pack up and go home as a camera is about so much more than just sensor performance…..
Indeed there is a certain sparkling quality about the Charlotte Molesworth image that you simply would not get from a 35mm in my eyes at least.
In fact I will go little further than that.
For more years than remember I have been using the latest and greatest medium format cameras on a daily basis whether that is the Hasselblad or Phase One and I can honestly say that for me the GFX50S is a better bet in that it delivers more accessible performance more of the time thanks to the dazzling array of technology, allied to years of camera and lens building experience.
Now that Phase One’s excellent raw processing software Capture One supports the GFX familyI can see little reason for ardent medium format fans to miss out on this compelling camera.
If you have enjoyed these images and you are interested in creating some of your own I am holding a workshop at Charlotte Molesworth’s topiary garden on Saturday 29th June.