10 Landscape Photography Locations in the New Forest, UK
At just 580 square kilometres, the New Forest is England’s smallest national park. But while it may be small, it is perfectly formed and contains within its boundaries a huge variety of scenery, including bogs and heathlands, ancient unenclosed woodlands, broad-leaved enclosures, coniferous enclosures, streams and rivers and even a stretch of coastline.
It’s probably best known for the spectacular displays of colour during the autumn, but there is excellent potential for photography throughout the year. In the springtime, the woodland areas look fresh and vibrant, in the late summer the heathland areas are ablaze with purple and they also look stunning in autumn mists and winter frosts.
Located in Hampshire in the south of England, the New Forest is easy to access and can be reached by car via the M27 and/or A31 or by rail from London Waterloo. For this reason, it’s a popular area with visitors and at certain times of year can be quite busy. But if you avoid the ‘honeypot’ locations and main towns, and plan your shoots for early morning and late in the day when the light is naturally suited to landscape photography, you won’t encounter too many people.
With that said, here are 10 of my favourite landscape photography locations in the New Forest, UK.
1. Rockford Common and Ibsley Common
Despite its name, large parts of the New Forest do not actually consist of woodland. In fact, when the word ‘forest’ was originally imported from French, it described wild land set aside for hunting – without there necessarily being any trees. And when the ‘Nova Foresta’ was established by William the Conqueror, this is exactly what it was. As a result, there are vast tracts of heathland in the New Forest, many of which are extremely photogenic.
One of these is Rockford Common and its neighbour, Ibsley Common, on the western edge of the forest near Ringwood. I’ve been shooting here for over 25 years and, until recently, could almost guarantee that I’d have the place to myself. However, it’s getting quite popular with photographers these days, especially in late August, when the heather blooms.
There are several factors which make it attractive: the first is the heather, the second is that it’s one of the the few elevated locations in the New Forest, and the third is the fact that there is often mist in the valley below.
The classic shot is from about halfway up the hill, looking along a gravelled bridle path towards Mockbeggar copse on the hill opposite. This a lovely composition at dawn, especially if there is a little mist – when you check the forecast, look out for cool, still nights and increasing humidity at dawn.
It’s fair to say that this particular view has been done to death now, but there is plenty more to shoot in this area. If you carry on to the top of the hill and follow the footpath along the ridge in either direction, you will see great views over to Ibsley Common. On the western side of the common, there are some lovely individual silver birches and elms, as well as a small copse. All of these look stunning with autumn colours.
You can also climb the hill opposite Rockford Common to access Ibsley Common. Again, there is some lovely heather in the late summer, as well as one or two lone pine trees which silhouette beautifully against a colourful sunset sky.
2. Bratley View
Head east from Rockford Common, cross under the A31 and after a couple of hundred metres you’ll see Brately View car park on your right.
There is a lone pine tree here which is often photographed, especially when the heather is blooming and the bracken is starting to turn orange. But, as with Rockford Common, it’s worth looking beyond the obvious: there are great views across the valley towards Bratley Wood; these probably look their best on a misty autumn morning.
3. Mogshade Hill
Cross the road from the Bratley View car park and follow the footpath for a few minutes to reach Mogshade Hill, another area of heathland with views from an elevated position. This area is full of interest: a large pond, with a perfect arrangement of trees on the far bank, a magnificent oak tree, and silver birches surrounded by bracken.
This is a location which photographs well throughout the year: the pond is a perfect location in winter, with the skeletal trees reflected in the water, the views across the valley look stunning on a misty morning, heather flowers in late summer, and the oak and silver birches are ideal subjects when shrouded in autumn colours.
4. Broomy Inclosure
Between Rockford Common and Bratley View car park is a track which leads down to the High Corner Inn, an archetypal English country pub. It’s a great spot to stop for lunch and a drink while spending a day in the forest and when you’ve finished your refreshments, you can continue to explore the area.
Walk down the footpath from the car park and take the right fork at the bottom. Pass through a couple of gates and you will find yourself in an extensive beech wood, with numerous paths running through the trees.
This is a must-visit location in the autumn. Head to the edges of the wood and shoot the sun shining through the trunks at either end of the day. With the rows of straight trunks, this is also one of the best locations to have a go at intentional camera movement (ICM), in which you create an impressionistic effect by panning the camera vertically during an exposure of around 1 second.
Being less well-known, this place is also a perfect spot for getting away from the crowds.
Bolderwood is located a few minutes’ drive from Lyndhurst, the administrative capital of the New Forest. It is one of the most impressive areas of woodland, but also a ‘honeypot’ location and the main car park is usually quite full.
Away from here, however, things begin to calm down. Just under a mile south of the main car park, just off the Ornamental Drive, is an area known as Mark Ash Wood. There is a small car park with space for around 5 or 6 cars here and you can explore in all directions – it’s an incredibly fruitful area.
As well as following the footpaths into the woods, there are also strong compositions looking along the Ornamental Drive. This is a narrow road, though the absence of road markings make it look more like a country lane and the road twists and turns through the woodland; overhanging branches frame the views along the road and in the autumn there are cascades of colour.
Just across the A35 from Bolderwood is Rinefield. Like Bolderwood, it is an ornamental drive with extensive woodland on either side, including an arboretum. There is a mixture of species here, including giant redwoods, Douglas firs and beeches, and this is where you can find the tallest tree in the forest.
The beeches are great subjects in autumn, with their straight trunks adding structure to the chaos of the woodland. Black Water stream runs through the forest here, which can also be used to structure a composition.
Like Bolderwood, the main car park is often busy, but you don’t have to walk very far to get away from the crowds.
7. Ober Water
The A35, the main road which runs through the forest from Lyndhurst to Christchurch, crosses a stream called Ober Water.
Markway Bridge makes a good viewpoint at sunrise and the slow-moving water is excellent for reflecting dawn colour. The stream runs through boggy fields, which also gives it excellent potential for mist in the right conditions.
8. Around Burley
The village of Burley in the south west of the New Forest is quite pretty, but a bit of a tourist trap. For the landscape photographer, however, there are one or two places of interest just outside the village.
Between Burley and the A31 is Picket Plain. Access to the heathland is easy from the car park and, while the elevated views are not quite as extensive as at Rockford Common, there are some lovely patches of heather. On the right morning, with a little mist to simplify the scene, equally good shots are possible.
In the other direction, on the minor road heading north-east out of Burley towards the A35 is Oakley – a small but extremely photogenic wood. Walk just a few metres from the car park and you will find yourself in the middle of mature trees, with plenty of space between the trunks to allow for a variety of compositions.
You can get close to the edge of the woods here and shoot the low morning sun coming through the branches. If you set a small aperture and you should be able to capture a sun star.
Autumn is the best time for this location, as the colours can be really vivid and backlit leaves look stunning.
9. Hatchet Pond
On the eastern side of the New Forest is the village of Beaulieu. This is most famous for the National Motor Museum, although landscape photographers are more likely to visit Hatchet Pond, just outside the village. This is the largest area of fresh water in the forest, although its photographic potential may not be immediately obvious.
However, eye-catching results are possible in the right conditions. Walk to the east bank of the pond – just a few metres from the car park – and on the opposite shore, you’ll see a small clump of trees, which makes a powerful silhouette against a colourful sunset. Visit on a still evening and any colour will be reflected in the water.
You probably wouldn’t associate beaches with the New Forest, but there is in fact a stretch of coastline within its boundaries. Lepe Country Park is on the shores of the Solent, on the eastern edge of the national park.
As well as offering a lot of potential for photography, the shingle beach is also of historical interest: this is where concrete breakwaters were manufactured in preparation for D-Day and also where troops embarked ready for the invasion. The remains of various structures are still visible on the shoreline and make great subjects for long exposure studies, as well as being a moving reminder of this period of history.
There are also a number of weathered groynes along the beach. These have no historical significance, but make for excellent minimalist compositions.
With the heather now coming into bloom and heathlands beginning to take on colour, late summer is the ideal time to visit the New Forest. From then until mid-November, depending on the weather, the forest will be looking its absolute best, so you can plan a series of shoots. Have fun!