Sussex PR & Public Relations Photography - Petworth House Dutch Paintings Exhibition

Sussex PR and Public Relations Photographer, Scott Ramsey photographs a National Trust exhibition of Dutch paintings on display at Petworth House in West Sussex. Photo © Scott Ramsey/The National Trust

Sussex and especially the small town of Petworth is beautiful this time of year, and recently I was lucky enough to spend the morning there covering a PR Photography assignment for one of my regular clients, the National Trust team at Petworth House. A new art and design exhibition, Prized Possessions - Dutch Paintings from National Trust Houses, was about to open and I had been asked to create some photographs for the marketing team.

Petworth House is a former Tudor manor house which was transformed into an English "Versailles" by heiress Elizabeth Percy and her husband Charles Seymour the 6th Duke of Somerset in 1661. It's a magnificent building which is located within its own park just a short stroll from the centre of the town of Petworth in West Sussex, England. I've covered many assignments here in the past and always try to find the time to stay on and explore the local area with my camera, but alas on this occasion time was against me.


Beautiful Petworth

Here's a top travel & photography tip if you plan to visit Petworth. The house and park is a must, and I also recommend visiting the town, it's beautiful. Head along to Lombard Street, a lovely traditional Sussex cobbled street, and enjoy taking some photos before nipping into The Hungary Guest Cafe for a cheeky coffee and something to eat, you won't regret it as the coffee is fantastic. Just say Scott sent you ;-)

Photographing Dutch 17th-century paintings by some of the finest masters of the 'Golden Age' can be challenging enough but throw in the fact the exhibition is in a magnificent house filled with exquisite paintings, sculptures and furniture, this type of photo assignment needs extra care and attention. Also, the house is open daily to visitors so often the entire photoshoot needs to be completed within 2 hours, so I don't get in the way of the paying visitors, and there are many!

Taking a photo of artwork can be tricky especially if the painting has a high sheen or is behind glass, it's the kind of thing that keeps me awake at night before an assignment! So preparation is best, and a site visit beforehand is ideal, but as in this case not always possible. Thankfully I've photographed previous exhibitions at Petworth, so I know what to expect, but there's still the unknown! My advice, take every bit of darn photographic equipment you own, as you never know what you might need. Flashes, light boxes, stands, tripods, radio triggers, LED lights, batteries, more batteries. Just take it all!

To Light or not to light, that is the question?

First stop the main exhibition room and the clock was ticking, thankfully Henry from the marketing team was on hand to help me get set up.

My brief was to create a set of photographs of the main paintings along with some general views of the room. It's worth me pointing out this assignment is to create a collection of photos suitable for publication in magazines and newspapers. Although the quality needs to be outstanding, I wasn't there to create archival copies of the paintings that could be reprinted as fine art prints. Instead, my clients hire me to tell a story, and I needed to portray the story of an exhibition of Dutch Paintings visiting Petworth House in my photographs.

Professional PR and Public Relations Photographer Scott Ramsey covering an assignment at Petworth House in West Sussex, England.

Professional PR and Public Relations Photographer Scott Ramsey covering an assignment at Petworth House in West Sussex, England.

I started taking a few test photos and was relieved to find that I was only picking up reflections on a couple of the paintings, which I resolved by doing the photographers shuffle to the left or right. Thankfully the Petworth team are experts in putting on exhibitions and really know how to light their artwork, so the light was good. I did consider setting up my own lights, but decided it wasn't worth it and as it would have slowed me down and would have probably caused me more problems. Instead, I used a slow shutter and my trusty tripod, perfect, and after showing Henry the photos on the back of the camera, he agreed. A quick selfie of me working, thanks Henry, and we headed to the next room, all the time staying one step ahead of the paying visitors.

Pictures, pictures everywhere.

The room was long and dark, and although it made photography tricky, it had something special about it that I liked. The subdued light seemed to add something to the artwork, mysterious. Once again available light and a steady tripod was needed. I only had a few paintings to photograph, so it didn't take me long and once done I had a chance to chat with a volunteer about one of the pictures. As she was telling me about the artist and the history of the painting she turned on her torch, shone the light on the canvas, and examined it. "I've never looked this closely before, look you can see horses and people right here." she said. But I couldn't see them. I was too busy taking her photo and creating one of my favourite images from the assignment.

Always Be Prepared. Never leave home without a flash or two!

I never did get to see the horses or people in the painting, and I must go back again to have a closer look.

Next up The Carved Room.
I love natural light, and whenever possible, I use it. It's a common thing photographers say, in fact, I often say it myself, but sometimes you definitely need a flash or two or maybe three. Most of the time the trick to lighting a photograph is to make it look as natural as possible. It needs to bring something to the party and enhance or compliment the subject. Photographer Peter Thuring did just this with his photographs of Grinling Gibbons' carvings, and this was the next part of the exhibition I needed to photograph. Situated in the same room as the original carvings, Peter specially constructed a lighting rig to capture his photographs and I needed to do his work justice. His beautiful B&W photos were on display on large boards directly under some of the carvings, the problem I had was although his photographs were well lit the carvings weren't! If I exposed for the exhibition prints the carvings couldn't be seen, and if I exposed for the carvings the prints where overexposed. Thankfully I had a plan!

I had just enough room to position two flashes, or strobes for my American friends, in two large softboxes behind the exhibition stand. Shooting on a 50mm lens and with the camera on a tripod, I used a radio trigger to fire the flashes. It worked well, and the light from the flashes illuminated the intricate carvings perfectly, you can see for yourself below they are the last three images in the gallery. That’s it the assignment was complete. My client was happy, and I was especially pleased I had completed the brief in the time permitted and had also managed to create a few extra photos my client hadn't expected, perfect.

Thank you to Petworth House, The National Trust and Henry in allowing me to share my photos with you. The Prized Possessions exhibition runs until the 24th Match 2019 and is well worth a visit.

If you're looking for a PR or Public Relations photographer in Petworth, West Sussex or East Sussex, please get in touch, I'd love to hear from you.

All photographs copyright Scott Ramsey/The National Trust 2019.