Before I left the states, I really had only one thing I knew I wanted to do for certain while in New Zealand: visit the Hobbiton movie set where all the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies were filmed. Well, parts of them anyway. I did that tour today, the 30th of March. It was almost everything I’d hoped for. I say almost because the entire area has been experiencing a bit of a drought lately so the lush green grass was more of a dead brown grass on the hills surrounding Hobbiton. Within the filming set, gardeners actually keep everything looking lively.
I didn’t come to Hobbiton because I’m a wild and crazy Lord of the Rings fan, although I have seen all the movies. I was more interested in the photo opportunities. As travel photographers, we’re always looking for something unique, and as it happens, this is the only place on Earth to find hobbit holes like these.
On the tour, I learned quite a bit about the area and the filming for all the movies. If you’re interested in that sort of thing, keep reading. If that bores you and you just want to skip to the photos straight away, go ahead and scroll down.
Hobbiton Movie Set
Entrance into the Hobbiton Movie Set was a bit expensive. $90 NZD for the tour and transportation back to my hostel. The standard rate is $75 NZD if you don’t require transport. Even if you’re on a budget, I definitely recommend adding Hobbiton to your list of stops. They also have a cafe on site for lunch and snacks. The prices are super high there, though, with sandwiches starting at $14 NZD. They also have a gift shop there, with all the LoTR and Hobbit memorabilia you can imagine. If you want to own a replica of Gandolf’s big staff, or a replica of the cloaks they wore in the movie, as well as simple t-shirts, scarves, hats, coffee mugs, and other trinkets, do spend a bit of time going through the shop.
Your entry ticket gets you a free beer at The Green Dragon pub at the end of the tour. They have three varieties; a light beer, a stout, and a cider. I opted for the cider, which had the most alcohol content, and it was wonderful. It’s brewed here in New Zealand using fresh NZ apples. They leave you about 20 minutes or so to hang out at The Green Dragon and enjoy your drink.
All tours are guided tours, and the guides are quite entertaining and knowledgable about the filming of each of the movies. Mike was my guide, and he was great. You learn plenty of unknown facts about the films, like which trees are fake, what’s behind the doors of the hobbit holes (I won’t spoil that one for you), how the location was scouted back in 1998 by Peter Jackson, details about the Alexander family who owns the farm, and more. It was all quite fascinating, really.
Speaking of the location – it’s owned by Ian Alexander (and family) and is actually a large sheep and beef farm. They still maintain more than 12,000 sheep and 300 or so head of cattle there to this day, which you’ll see around the surrounding land. The wool from the sheep is exported to China, where it’s turned into carpet, and then brought back to New Zealand. The beef from the cattle is processed and sold throughout New Zealand and a few other Pacific islands. In all, the Alexander farm is 1,250 acres. The Hobbiton movie set only takes up about 12 or so acres. They run tours of 20 – 40 people that leave every 15 minutes.
And now of course, for the fun part. Of course, I was shooting with my Sony A7. For all but one of my photos at Hobbiton today, I used the Zeiss 24-70mm f/4 lens. The one interior photo at The Green Dragon was with the 10-18mm f/4 lens. I was looking for a rather wicked wide angle perspective for that lounge and fireplace area, and it fit the bill quite nicely. I also used my MeFOTO RoadTrip tripod for all of the images.
Each photo here is actually three or more photos stacked together and processed with Photoshop, Lightroom, and Photomatix. In a few cases, I needed to layer mask in some areas to remove people from the shots, hence the multiple exposures. Today must have been an exceptionally busy day for tours, as there were folks everywhere, all the time.
I do hope you enjoy the photos from the tour. You can click each one to enlarge it via my Flickr page. Feel free to share this page with other LoTR and Hobbit fans, as well! This place was truly magnificent.
Hobbit Hole and Party Tree
This was one of my favorite hobbit holes of the entire place. Unbeknownst to most Hobbit fans, many of the actual hobbit holes aren’t built to size. They’re built to scale, but miniature versions of the full size hobbit holes. This one was full size and towards the end of the tour. The small path leading past it didn’t actually lead anywhere, and you can see it disappear behind the fencerow and shrubbery.
If you look closely at some of the details, you can see two small windows protruding from the ground. One is right behind the right fencerow and shrubbery, and the other is behind the fence on the left. Of course, the Party Tree in the background adds some nice distance perspective. The other element about this photo I was happy with when it comes to the composition was that none of the dead, brown grass hills were visible.
The Green Dragon Fireplace
This was the one photo from today where I used the Sony 10-18mm f/4 super wide angle lens. I could have used the 24-70mm, but the 10-18mm gave me the skewed look I was going for, especially since it was a rather small corner of the room. I took six exposures for this one just to make sure I captured all of the dynamic range possible. As for exposure compensation, I shot at -3 to get the fire and two wall lamps nicely exposed, -1 to get much of the details in the woodwork, -0 for a neutral exposure, then +1, +2, and +3 to bring out a lot of the detail in the shadows.
Once I had a solid HDR from all the combined photos, I went back to Photoshop to layer mask in details from some of the original exposures. I’m extremely happy with how this one turned out, as the originals right out of the camera appeared flat and didn’t preserve many of the textures of the final image.
Hobbiton Mill House and Stone Arch Bridge
The Mill House, where the hobbits turned wheat into flour, and the stone arch bridge next to it are towards the end of the Hobbiton tour. The Mill House sits on a small pound, which has no current or motion at all. So, the creators of the movie set built a pump system that pumps water up onto the water wheels for the right effect. Other than the breeze across the top of the water, the pond was completely still. I created this image just in front of The Green Dragon, and as with a few other photos from this set, shot multiple exposures so I could layer mask out some of the other tourists. Namely, a few on the bridge and a couple kids near the ale wagon on the far side of the bridge.
The only complaint I have about this photo is the dead brown grass on the hills in the background. Otherwise, it was a perfect day to be there. There were a few wafty clouds that broke up the blue sky and gave it some texture, and the light of the midday worked well. To create this HDR, I used three different exposure values: -2 for the deep blue sky tones and vivid green grass; 0 for a neutral base that nicely exposed the roof of the Mill House, the texture and detail in the stone bridge; and +1 to fill in the shadows on the near side of the Mill House that were completely under exposed in the other two images.
Hobbiton Fishing Dock
This photo was just a single exposure at 0. The sun was off to the right (as you can tell from the shadows), so most of the photo was well exposed anyway. I did some work in post to bring out the reflection of the blue sky in the water, and to bring out more of the textures in the wood of the dock. Otherwise, this single image came out of the camera quite nice straight away. In fact, I actually had to bring down the color saturation just a smidge, because some of the greens looked a bit electric and neon, instead of their nice natural colors.
Various Other Hobbit Holes
As always, I’ll have these and other photos posted on Flickr soon for your viewing pleasure. If you wish to purchase one, as I’ve heard many of you do, please get in touch. You can get ahold of me straight away from the Contact page. Additionally, if you find yourself in Middle Earth, you can book your own tour at Hobbiton and learn more about the location on their website, www.HobbitonTours.com.
I really enjoyed taking these photos and putting together this post. Thanks again for reading.