In March 2016 I was invited by Pope’s Grotto Preservation Trust to take publicity shots to help with their fundraising campaign. This involved a photo-shoot down in the grotto with Giles Abbott, an award winning and unique Story Teller.

I was intrigued by the whole concept and agreed to do the shoot.

The first thing I had to do was check out the Grotto beforehand. It is underneath Radnor School and locked up for health and safety reasons. Basically there is one long tunnel with light at the end and two small chambers either side near the entrance. I knew it would be dark but was not prepared for the confined space and ugly electric lighting.  The walls are covered in flint, pieces of mineral and shells etc.  I took my Canon 5D Mark III and 24-70 f/2.8 lens with a flash unit for some test shots. Without the flash I was getting ISO readings of 3200 and 400 ISO with flash attached.

On the day of the shoot I took same lens, two flash units, one umbrella, a reflector, a stand and tripod. I arranged to arrive 15 minutes early to set up in the chamber with the most space.  Giles arrived soon after and the fun began.

I used just one flash on a stand with umbrella and hand held my camera. Giles is tall so I had to give him enough space to avoid distortion.  He told a story which showed him in action with fantastic facial expressions.  I really liked the shadows cast on the wall so to intensify them I removed the umbrella.

Later I held it over the intrusive ceiling light with one hand while taking shots with the other.  This helped diffuse light and create interesting shadow on Giles face. While Giles told his story, I played around with angles and positions.

He changed into a lovely white shirt that his wife had made (which wouldn’t look out of place on Ross Poldark) and then a long black velvet frock coat.  I put the flash on top of the camera and we went up along the tunnel to a suitable sitting place for some close ups.  The ledge was very dusty but I had brought a cloth with me for Giles to sit on.  This is quite a good tip if shooting in old grottos.

When we had exhausted all options, we went outside to glorious sunshine and continued the session on the riverside lawn of Radnor School.

A short walk away is Champions Wharf on Twickenham Embankment where the newly-dedicated Pope’s Urn is situated amongst wooden benches bearing well known phrases by the famous writer Alexander Pope.

What I thought would be a daunting session turned out to be fun and creative challenge.  Giles is not only a great story teller but an accommodating and interesting photo subject.