So once again we have a new studio hidden in the depths of Liberty’s Owl Raptor And Reptile Centre near Ringwood on the edge of the New Forest. My relationship with Liberty’s goes back quite a long time now. It all started with a very large, very grumpy Bald Eagle crash landing on my head after she missed her landing perch … which kind of broke the ice between myself and the Centre owners. I started running photography experience days there. In the early days it was simply a matter of either opening an aviary door so people could photograph the birds in the aviary with no wire in the way, graduated to using a staff member as a perch outside of the aviary and finally let to us actually building perches for these days. Somewhere along the way we did a couple of studio days … the first of which was with a Cockatoo rather than the birds of prey!
We liked the concept of a studio for the birds of prey, and a corner of one of the barns was designated the “Studio Area”. At first just a little cleared area of the barn with a backdrop on a stand and a couple of Elinchrom BXRi lights. It became quite popular so we got a couple more lights, ending up with 2 sets of 2 lights at diagonals to each other. Sometimes we had 12 people in the “studio”, so 6 people using each set of lights all competing for the light. Not an ideal situation! First of all only 2 people out of the 12 would get the shot if the bird flapped, yawned or did something photogenic. Secondly the poor BXRi’s weren’t designed for this kind of usage! I became a frequent caller to the Elinchrom repair department – who finally got fed up of me and told me to buy some of the HD Pro lights. I did and I still have them.
A couple of years later Liberty’s decided that we could do with a dedicated “studio” … and cleared a larger part of the barn. Almost overnight a wall appeared between the studio and the rest of the barn. We had our own 12 x 24 foot room!
Sort of … I mean, it didn’t have a ceiling or any thermal insulation. When the wind blew outside, it pretty much blew inside as well as the barn wasn’t very weather proof! A thick concrete floor and no insulation meant that it was freezing cold in there in winter. In summer the lack of ceiling made the whole roof act as a radiator blasting heat into the studio making it almost impossible to work in there. Eventually, a couple of years later a ceiling appeared (thank you Geoff!) and suddenly the room was quite pleasant … in summer anyway! Still freezing cold in winter but at least if was possible to heat it just about with multiple fan heaters!
And that was our little home for some 3 years before Covid brought everything to a screaming halt. We all went home on that Sunday evening not really understanding what was about to happen. “See you in a couple of weeks when it’s all blown over” and “it’ll be good to have a couple of weeks off”! I’d run a photo day on that day and not really cleared up after it. I did take the expensive stuff home on the off chance, so all the strobes were in the car as well as cameras. “I’ll clear up tomorrow” … I didn’t see the inside of the studio again for more than 3 months!
I did clean up but was still closed to the public for a long long time. I also had a typically silly situation where I had to go to work for 30 hours a week to qualify for Government help, in a business that was closed. With no money for heating I spent a lot of very cold hours in that little box!
So, eventually we slowly came back from the years of lock-downs. Hazard tape on the floor to show 1 metre markers so people could avoid each other, boxes of masks scattered around and enough hand sanitiser to fill a bath tub. Life slowly went back to almost normal.
Then, at the beginning of 2023 Liberty’s decided to move the studio room … into a much nicer (warmer!) purpose built building. A window! A less brutal floor! My very own door! A little separate office/store room! Best of all a heater!!! It’s like a proper little work area now. Plenty of space for the kind of things that we do, enough to work 2 tables at the same time which is helpful when it comes to dealing with bigger groups. The store room means that ALL the space in the studio room is open to use, so although the studio area is slightly smaller that the infamous barn, the amount of working space is greater. It’s comfortable.