Gardens Illustrated
Photographer Rachel Warne
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Shooting Chelsea: 'I work at high speed, fuelled by pure adrenalin'

Published: May 21, 2022 at 8:00 am

Rachel Warne, garden photographer, gives Jodie Jones a snapshot of her action-packed press day at the Chelsea Flower Show

The best bit about doing what I do is having the opportunity to arrive really early on the morning of the Monday press day. I usually get there at about 5am. There might be a few builders running around and one or two designers will start arriving to check on their gardens but, basically, I have the whole of Chelsea to myself.

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It is such a gift. I know that in a few hours there will be crowds everywhere, but for those precious moments I can just be at one with the gardens and really appreciate all the hard work and effort that goes into making the Chelsea Flower Show so remarkable.

RHS / Luke MacGregor

Although even at that time in the morning, high vis jackets are the bane of my life. Someone wearing one in the far distance can ruin a shot for me, so I have learned to just practice patience and wait until they have gone. On the plus side, unlike the gardens that I photograph through the rest of the year, there is never a sense that things might have looked better the week before, or the week afterwards. At Chelsea everything is perfect.

Of course, that puts a lot of pressure on the designers and their teams. You can see the stress on people’s faces in the final build up. Maybe there are problems with a water feature, or a branch has snapped off a specimen tree. But by about 10am everything has calmed down.

That’s my cue to head for the press tent and download all the digital images I have taken. A few years ago I invested in a pop-up mini studio in a case. It’s got visors to keep the light out, a proper workstation with a graphics tablet and everything else I might need. Then it’s a race against the clock. There are people waiting for my pictures so I work at high speed, fuelled by pure adrenalin.

I send my clients a set of low-resolution images in the morning then, once they choose the pictures they want, I have just a few hours to complete all the laborious editing and retouching that are needed to make a really top quality image.

Since I normally work alone, I also love the social side of the show. Given how early my day starts, by the time I’ve filed all my pictures I am usually pretty tired, but I do get second wind once I know my clients are happy. It’s always nice when a designer invites me onto their garden for a chat and a closer look. And sometimes a group of us designers, photographers and journalists will go out for drinks in the evening to celebrate.

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The whole experience is wonderfully mad, and I love it.

RHS Chelsea Flower Show takes place 24-28 May 2022

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