When he arrived in New Zealand from Liverpool, England, three years ago, photographer Shaun Jeffers landed a gig that most of us can only dream about—photographing the Lord of the Rings’ Hobbiton set throughout the seasons for official promotional materials
From a young age, Jeffers has been a huge fan of the Lord of the Rings. It was the movies of Peter Jackson that prompted him to study film production at university, though he later realised he was more suited to still photography.
After starting his career as an event and PR photographer in Liverpool, Jeffers decided to move to New Zealand to visit the rolling green hills immortalised in Jackson’s trilogy based on J. R. R. Tolkien’s classic books.
Before his arrival, Jeffers got permission to visit Hobbiton, the movie set designed and built as the Lord of the Rings’ ‘Middle-earth’, and take some pictures at sunrise.
Hobbiton, located near Matamata in the Waikato region, is now maintained for tour groups wishing to see the film set.
After seeing Jeffers’ photographs, Hobbiton management loved them so much they’ve since used his images in their brochures, on social media and on their website, and now he works with several tourism operators around the country.
He told stuff.co.nz: “I love going to work everyday. Long before I was a photographer, I really wanted to go and see New Zealand. It’s sort of come full circle.”
Jeffers is now based in Auckland, though he visits Hobbiton every six weeks to photograph the village from every angle and for its events throughout the seasons.
“Every time I go there it’s totally different. Because I’ve shot it so many times, everyone always says to me, ‘do you not get bored of it?’ I can’t say I ever do,” he shared.
“I love Autumn but all the trees change at different times so it’s difficult to shoot,” he told DigitalRev. “My favourite season to photograph would probably be summer, it’s hot, the sun’s out and the Shire looks so colourful—so many different flowers to shoot!”
Jeffers, or ‘the Hobbit guy’ as he has come to be known on Instagram, is followed by more than 66,000 people, all keen for more of his other-worldly images.
“People seem to go crazy for Hobbiton on social media so I try to choose shots that have a bit of everything,” he told us, “Close up hobbit holes do well and an awesome sunset or sunrise is always a winner! Night shots with the Milky Way are always great too. It varies—I could post Hobbiton shots everyday for the next six years and never run out!”
Jeffers’ go-to kit consists of a Nikon D810 and a D750 with Nikon 14-24mm 2.8, 24-70mm 2.8 VR, 70-200mm 2.8 and 50mm 1.4 lenses, though he admits that travelling light is not his forte.
The photographer has gradually developed and refined techniques to help him capture the scene and do it justice while having to shoot at various points throughout the day. He told us, “I like to get some cool sun bursts so I shoot a lot with a small aperture, between f/8 to f/22. I also like to shoot handheld in the daytime to get into places the tripod can’t get to.”
For evening shoots, or when shooting a sunrise or sunset, Jeffers always uses a tripod, with exposures of between 2 and 30 seconds. Although, he pointed out, you never know when luck will be on your side and you’ll have to act fast to get a great shot. “If the sky goes an amazing colour, I run around the set like a madman trying to nail as many key shots as I can,” he said. “It’s only happened four times in the past three years!”
As for post processing, Jeffers usually adds a little contrast in Lightroom to make the colours stand out more or brings out the shadows on darker sunrise and sunset shots, using Photoshop to stitch together his panoramas.
He has shared a couple of before-and-after views of his more processed images to show how he looks to enhance the vibrancy and colour of the Hobbiton set.
To aspiring photographers wanting to capture great nature shots, Jeffers offered the following advice: “Get out and do it! I meet so many aspiring photographers and some of them only venture out once a month—if you’ve got a real passion for it you’ll be out as much as you can building a portfolio. The more you shoot, the better you become. Look for those places that aren’t widely publicised through social media and shoot something different.”
To see the rest of Jeffers’ magical Middle-earth pictures, and to view the rest of his portfolio, head to his website.
Images used with permission.
Cover image: Shaun Jeffers Photography/Hobbiton Movie Set