Its that time of year again when the vibrant purple/blue flowers of the Bluebells carpet woodlands across the UK.
Bluebells transform our woodland in springtime. The carpet of intense blue under the opening tree canopy is one of our greatest woodland spectacles. It’s not surprising that bluebell is one of the nation’s best-loved wild flowers.Over half the worlds bluebells can be found growing in the deciduous broadleaved woodlands of UK.
So, how best to capture their beauty?
A wide angle lens to capture swathes of the flowers is a good start as is a short telephoto lens such as a 70-200 to isolate individual plants, blur backgrounds and compress the scene. A fisheye lens may produce some fun results as well. Alternatively, consider using a macro lens for detailed close-up shots of individual stems or flower heads.
A polarising filter will reduce glare from the leaves as well as saturating the blue and greens of the plants and a ND grad filter will help stop skies blowing out. If using filters of course, you will need a tripod and shutter release.
If its dry try using a misting bottle to add drops of water to the plants.
Bluebells are at their best during late April and early May before the trees foliage cuts out the light to the forest floor.
Beech woodlands provide some of the best opportunities to photograph bluebells.
Bright midday sun will bleach the colour from your pictures so consider shooting in the soft light of an overcast morning or late afternoon to capture the ‘true blue’.
At sunrise and sunset, rays of light streaming between trees will create dramatic long shadows and silhouettes. An early rise may also reward you with a dreamy woodland mist.
Towards the end of the day, evening sunlight can flood the scene with a fiery purple colour.
Bluebells work in all weather and also look good in overcast light and after rainfall.
The perfect scene would be after light rain or drizzle with the sun breaking through just before dusk.
Mist might also add to the scene in the early mornings.
Take photos at a selection of focal lengths and aperture from very narrow to wide open. Pay careful attention to your composition, and in particular to the clutter of branches and fallen trees on the forest floor.
Less is so often more here, so find a few, simple elements and compose them well.
Try to place trees using the rule of thirds and use paths through the woods as leading lines.
Bluebell woods can be very contrasty in bright light, so it’s worth bracketing your exposures to make sure you get it right.
Shoot in RAW to allow corrections for exposure and light balance in your post processing.
Try ‘exposing to the right’, by which you adjust the exposure to maximise the tones appearing on the right hand side of the histogram on your camera screen. This will allow you to retain detail in the shadows while also minimising noise.
Get down close to the flowers rather than photographing from head height, especially good to create the impression of being amongst the plants.
Try vertical motion blur techniques to make an abstract scene.
Where to find them?
Locally to Cardiff, The Wenallt, Forest Fawr at Tongwynlais, Cwm George and Casehill wood in Dinas Powys, Wentwood in Llanfair Discoed are all great places to start.
Web resources are also available here.
Avoid damaging the subject
It is important to avoid accidently damaging the plants with your camera equipment, or your feet. When plants are trampled, not only does this reduce the enjoyment of others, also the bluebell bulbs can’t produce enough energy to survive and to flower the following year, so they die.
As always, when out in nature, have respect for your surroundings and keep to footpaths and clearings.