Herstmonceux Castle, home of wizard school Bothwell School of Witchcraft. Event photography by Carla Watkins

For years, I dreamed of attending wizard school – Hogwarts, and then St Trinian’s (less wizards, more rebelliousness).

When I was invited to photograph Bothwell School of Witchcraft (sadly not by owl, but I did get to cuddle Bramble the owl while I was there!), I was excited. I imagined a typical magic school setting, maybe some new friends, while taking lots of lovely photos for them to use in their marketing.

Bothwell blew every expectation I had completely out of the water – and has eclipsed St Trinian’s and Hogwarts in my dreams, too.

There’s no other word for it – it was magical. Truly magical.

Bothwell School of Witchcraft flag - a wizard school for grown ups

The reality of wizard school, in a real castle, surrounded by people who got me, instantly, is like no other experience I’ve ever had. I was photographing rather than being a player, so got to see the action unfold as well as feeling part of it, which was really rather wonderful.

Back up and a bit of explanation, if you’ve not heard me rave at length about this! Bothwell School of Witchcraft is a larp, a live action role play event for adults, based in a castle in Sussex.

It’s owned and organised by Rogue Events who are a brilliant, immersive experience production company. It’s run at Herstmonceux Castle, which is normally open to the public (and some of them saw us and did some amazing double takes).

Larp roughly translates to an enormous game of pretend for grown ups, though often with much darker themes – one of the things I love about this particular game is its lightheartedness, its friendliness, and how accessible it is for first time larpers.

A pirate, in a castle, in a larp. Wizard school is full of surprises!

The costumes, set dressing and attention to detail are incredible, as is the commitment of the players. As events go, larp is right up there with my pure joy activities, but it’s also an extreme version of event and branding photography.

With a castle (not renowned for its glorious indoor lighting), acres and acres of land, intricate costumes and anywhere between 80 and 150 people running around between lessons, duelling in the courtyards and battling giant monsters, it was a glorious challenge in terms of photography.

Obviously, in a wizard school, there are spells:

Wouldn't be wizard school without wands and spells, right?!

And some unexpected beasties in the forest:

Magical beasts to fight - another staple of wizard school

There are falconry classes (and owls! squee!!):

Falconry lessons with Bramble the owl - wizard school perfection
One of Bothwell's professors meeting an owl.

And there are night time antics and initiations:

Wizard school initiation - can you answer the riddles the sphinx sets?

Classes and costumes and glorious little details are everywhere:

A witch (or wizard) measuring potion ingredients (possibly tea).
Two young witches having a break at wizard school - Bothwell School of Witchcraft, UK
Magical History textbook!

There were candid portraits:

Candid portrait of a young witch and her haggis.

Not so candid portraits:

Two of Bothwell's gnomes caught on camera. Wizard school is full of helpful, and less helpful, gnomes!

And there was also time to look up at this view, and squee with delight at just how gorgeous life can be.

View of the rear of Bothwell - Herstmonceux Castle from its gardens.

Imagine standing there at midnight, with just moonlight for company, and knowing this is your ACTUAL LIFE and actual job now?

Yep, I was excited too!

I’m heading back in August and can’t wait to see what the players and organisers cook up.

And while event photography has been part of my services for a while, now I’ve covered Bothwell, I’m fairly sure no lighting situation will ever faze me again!

So if you’re looking for branding photography, event photography or personalityful portraits for your business & life, I’m your girl – drop me a line on hello@carlawatkins.com and let’s chat!