We all have our favourite places – for photographer Arran Witheford it’s always been the Dorset shoreline. But then one day he found a way to see the Jurassic Coast from a totally new angle, and it made him an Instagram sensation…
Down on the Jurassic Coast, not far from the Dorset village of Lulworth, is a very famous rock arch called Durdle Door.
It’s a fascinating geological feature – a giant, 140 million year-old limestone arm, reaching into the waves as if to scoop a vast handful of sand from the seabed. The shape is instantly recognisable when viewed from the cliffs to the west; an image that has been painted or photographed countless times, and that features in a thousand calendars and postcards and gift shop tea towels.
But then just last year Arran Witheford discovered a way of seeing Durdle Door from a completely new perspective. And at the same time he accidentally invented a brand new genre of photography: the ‘Aerial Fog Landscape’.
Instagram has gone crazy for it.
‘Waterfalls of Fog’
When Arran first uploaded his Durdle Door images to Instagram, his followers could scarcely believe they were looking at the English coastline. Gazing down from dizzying heights – sometimes from direct overhead bird’s eye views hundreds of feet up – the Jurassic Coast looks every bit as exotic and ancient as its name.
Most evocative are the cloudy vistas, with glimpses of rock visible through what Arran describes as ‘waterfalls of fog.’ This is Dorset as nobody has ever seen it before.
The secret, of course, is that Arran is a pioneer of drone photography – a technology which enables imaginative cameramen to take flight.
‘The Instagram explosion’
Arran, 28, is a professional photographer with a studio in Blandford Forum. He took to Instagram from the start, at first using it just like everyone else does: to share phone snaps with his friends.
Then one day he decided to take the social media platform a bit more seriously. He deleted everything on his page and resolved to upload only carefully-selected, high quality photographs made with his camera. This practice saw him creep up to around 6,000 followers over about four years.
Then he bought himself a drone, and the numbers exploded. The extraordinary aerial landscapes he took with it were repeatedly reblogged by the huge photography pages, and inside a year his following had increased tenfold to over 66,000.
But of course anyone can own a drone. What makes Arran stand out is the way he has used the technology to show familiar places in unfamiliar ways – and somehow reveal something about the essence of his subjects.
Arran says: ‘When I got the drone I fell in love with capturing Dorset from a perspective that no one has ever seen before. Like with Durdle Door it’s not your typical here’s the arch. When I put the shots on Instagram I got all these messages asking ‘where is this?’ and when I tell them it’s Dorset they can’t believe it.’
Yet Dorset it really is. The Isle of Purbeck, Lulworth, Old Harry Rocks… these are special places for Arran. Born and bred in the county, he knows the Jurassic Coast inside out – spending his weekends hiking the cliffs or surfing at Kimmeridge or Bournemouth Pier.
Now drone photography has given him another way to enjoy his favourite places. A ‘Drone Adventure’ – as he calls it – might take half a day: driving to a location, hiking up to a remote spot, flying, shooting and then editing. Arran is constantly amazed at how well the shots come out – yet he’ll still reject nine out of ten images (a quirk of Instagram is that pictures of the landscape actually look better in the portrait format, so the images that make it to the feed are those that best suit the platform).
A typical recent Drone Adventure took Arran to Winspit, an old quarry on the Purbeck coast. “When I woke up it was incredibly foggy – just driving out to Lulworth was a struggle. I hiked up to Winspit and the fog was just pouring out like a waterfall, like nothing I’d ever seen before.
‘It was just me there, so in my head I’m thinking: I’m the only person who can see this. That’s an amazing feeling. I spent fifteen minutes just sitting in the peace and quiet watching it. Then I sent the drone up and pictures came out ridiculously nice. All the fog was just bouncing off the water, I’d never seen anything like it.’
Nor has anyone else. Arran harbours ambitions of moving into travel photography and travelling the world (he’s taking his drone and camera to the Greek islands soon, which he hopes will ‘persuade a few people’).
But, selfishly, we rather hope he never leaves the Dorset coast. It’s a special place for so many people – and thanks to Arran Witheford and Instagram, we get to see it in a new way every day.
You can follow Arran Witheford on Instagram here.
On Thursday 6 April Arran will be exbihibiting and selling some limited edition prints in aid of The Wave Project charity at Jimmy’s Iced Coffe HQ in Christchurch. More information is here.