A real-life woodland in Dorset, England, evokes imagery of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.

I enjoy visiting so many beautiful, curious and wildlife-rich copses, woods and forests in England as I complete fieldwork for the last of the books in The Forest Guide series. I tend to be out in all weathers, rarely having a chance to return to a site under better conditions, but it’s rare that I can’t capture a usable photograph to accompany my writing. I am usually up before dawn to catch the best light of the day, well before golden hour around dawn, and active until sunset hour before retiring early to bed (often in a tent shared with my spinone Alba).

There is a well-accepted maxim that the best camera you own is the one you have with you when you need it. For many people today, this might mean a smartphone. You are more likely to have a smartphone with you than a camera bag complete with SLR and collection of lenses. Smartphones are now more than capable of producing images good enough in quality to publish, though not perhaps for most fine art exhibitions or advertising. An professional photographer on an assignment or fieldwork of course will hopefully be suitably equipped with their chosen camera equipment.

A second fundamental ingredient for photographers is being in the right place at the right time. I am lucky enough to be able to visit many fabulous woodland sites while I work on my writing and photography projects. Put it another way, if you are not in a location with the right equipment (and know how to use it), then magic will not happen. Every photographer seeks to capture an image that moves the observer, capturing their imagination, stimulating their mind, and creating emotions.

On a recent visit to some woodland in Dorset, I arrived well before sunrise, and made may way up a hilly track. A hoar frost lay on all the branches and remnants of bracken and a dense mist swirled around me and my dog as we traipsed between the trees in silence. I hoped I would reach the top of the hill in time to see the sun rise over the valley. I thought there might even be a cloud inversion which would look great. As it was, the cloud didn’t burn off and strange eerie glow pervaded, the gloom only cheered by a muted dawn chorus led by robin and blackbird.

The woodland did not look promising for photography, and the low light was a challenge. But then, near the top of the hill and looming through the mist I came across a spectacular scene. In the middle distance, serried ranks of conifers disappeared into the gloom, but in front of me capturing all my attention was the fractured stem of a huge beech tree. While its giant crown lay dead on the forest floor, the base erupted from the ground like a sharpened lance. The sight instantly evoked imagery from The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving.

“There, in the dark woods on the side of the river where the bushes grow low, stood an ugly thing. Big and black. It did not move, but seemed ready to jump like a giant monster.”

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, by Washington Irving.

In the 1999 film Sleepy Hollow, starring Johnny Depp and Christina Ricci, the headless horseman rides into a giant tree.

A real-life woodland in Dorset, England, evokes imagery of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.
A real-life woodland in Dorset, England, evokes imagery of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Photo (c) Gabriel Hemery

I was fortunate (you could say organised) in having the equipment I needed to capture this image of a real-life scene evoking The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. I carried my full-frame and favourite camera, my Hassleblad X2D with 45mm lens. The resulting image is technically astounding. If you look closely at this low resolution image, you may just make out some white threads visible top left of the tree stump. At full resolution you can see the hoar frost crystals glistening on the spider threads which arch between the fractured wood. One day perhaps, I may be lucky enough to print this at full resolution in an exhibition so that viewers are transported with me back to this moment in time.

Read more about The Legend of Sleepy Hollow on Wikipedia or buy on Amazon (affiliate link).


  1. This such a great image, the Sleepy Hollow headless horseman whispering through the wood leaving a shiver down your spine.
    Tim Burtons film was made in the woods around my boatyard, complete with polystyrene grave stones and endless mud. The action was always done at night with eerie lighting rigs held high above the wood by huge cranes.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.