Updated: Dec 12, 2019
What better place to organise a photo shoot than inside London's "best kept secret"
The Pergola in Hampstead is one of those places that whisk you back in time to a forgotten era. It is undeniably a "hidden treasure" secluded from the road and nestling amongst the leafy suburbs of Hampstead Heath in north London. It is without question a monument to the affluent extravagance of the Victorian age. I have worked there periodically for the past few years. However I still remember to this day the feeling of awe I felt as I approached the stairs and stepped out onto the walkways, for the very first time. The whole place is just filled with atmosphere and has a majestic feeling that is totally immersive. It was built by Lord Leverhulme in 1904 as an "add on" to his mansion. He wanted somewhere to while away the summer evenings hosting lavish parties and entertaining guests. Despite the creeping decay the place still manages to impress with its splendour and exudes an eerie silence. The gardens are now tended with loving care and the whole place is quite magnificent. In its heyday it must have been vibrant and bustling with life, full of London's social elite wanting to escape the city. It is also a licensed wedding venue. As a wedding photographer I try to arrange all my engagement portrait photography in UK sessions at this wonderful location. A perfect escape from the beaten track. After Lord Leverhulmes passing and with the onset of world war two the pergola fell into decline. Despite some restoration efforts the structure and grounds are no longer what they once were. But the faded sense of glorious yesterdays still remain and the impressive gardens retain an atmosphere of character and mystery. I must have driven past this place a million times and never realised just what lay behind the trees, it is quite simply a photographers dream. Composition here is the order of the day. I had arranged to meet Ziville a talented, lovely actress and model for a planned photoshoot. The weather was very hot and the Pergola was unusually busy with tourists and a couple of other photographers, obviously with similar intentions. The owners do allow photographers to shoot on the premises but its discretionary. If you just keep it simple and not take a full blown crew up there and ruin other peoples enjoyment, then you are fine. Ziville and I chatted about what we wanted to achieve and as to how the final images should look, something I do with everyone I photograph. Its important to keep all this in mind. She bought a change of clothes which included a lovely white dress complete with a wide brimmed hat as she had some specific shots in mind. Where to begin? We finished chatting and proceeded to check out all the locations. We started shooting and were spoilt for choice with the amazing backdrops, arches, long walkways, stairs, bushes and domes. Leading lines, depth of field and delicious Bokeh! I opted for my trusty 70/200 telephoto lens to take advantage of the many lovely leading lines the structure offered. This lens is world renowned for its amazing compression and is a firm primary favourite for me on a shoot such as this. Compositions were a plenty but you need to know what you want and how to obtain it. Most important of all you need to be able to work quickly! Crowded now on long summer days but still fantastic! Over the past few years the Pergola has become well publicised and its getting quite crowded. The real problem now is lots of people drifting into shot unexpectedly, so you have to be quick! I would advocate getting up there quite early to avoid the tourists. There are several fantastic locations for setting up different shots to add some variety to any shoot. But mostly I favoured the long walkways with the fabulous leading lines, the walls dotted with foliage providing a welcome contrast and adding a splash of colour.
Hope for the future? I sincerely hope the 21st Century doesn't catch up with this beautiful, serene, quaint little retreat. It would be a shame if it fell victim like the rest of London to the onslaught of commercialism. I somehow think that the addition of turnstiles, security guards and the obligatory cafe would sound the death knell. Lord Leverhulme would surely be spinning in his grave if his beloved terrace should ever end up in such a state. Its perfect for a nice stroll whatever the season. To wander through the avenues of wisteria covered pillars and to contemplate the lavish goings on of days gone by. To sit and enjoy the peace and quiet and take respite from the world outside . . .oh yes and to take fantastic photographs. But shhh . . . . please don't tell everyone. It was fantastic to be the Portrait Photographer for Ziville featured on this blog.
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