How to take stunning bluebell photos this Spring
Bluebells are synonymous with Spring. The wonderful aroma accompanying the sight of a carpet of these wild flowers is something to look forward to after a cold Winter and for many people is an annual return to childhood haunts.
I've put together some tips which I hope will help you get some great images.
West Woods in Wiltshire. 28mm. Polariser and 0.3 Hard Grad.
How to find bluebells
Bluebells thrive with a lot of light, but despite this are often found under dense canopies of deciduous trees (like beech and oak). Because they grow from a bulb they are able to store energy and by flowering in early spring are able to do most of their growing before the canopies become too dense. The flowers conveniently coincide with the fresh green leaves. With that in mind deciduous woods are a good starting point.
Although the woodland scene is the one which springs to mind, they do grow out in the open in some places. Dartmoor, for example is quite abundant with them, as is the Lake District, presumably due to the altitude and lack of competing species.
If you don't have a specific location in mind, a good place to start is the woodland trust website. They have a Wood Finder which is easy to use and comprehensive.
The National Trust also have many properties with great bluebells woods, so it’s worth checking their website out as well. Botanical gardens and arboretums are also ideal if you don’t want to go hunting around the countryside or live in a city. You can alway contact the gardens and ask when the bluebells are looking at their best.
West Woods in Wiltshire. 200mm @ f2.8. Polariser.
When to shoot them?
It can vary a week or two either way on different years, depending on the weather, but early to mid April through until the end of May in some places would be typical.
The time of day is a fairly important consideration. Bluebell flowers are very delicate and bright sunlight will make them appear bleached out and make capturing a realistic colour very tricky. Early morning, before the sun rises too high and late afternoon are by far the best times. If you want to capture the shadows of trees across a carpet of bluebells pick a morning with a clear sky, to maximise the chances of the sun being bright enough to cast shadows, while it is still low in the sky.
Longer focal lengths will help compress the scene and effectively push the flowers closer together, making them appear denser than shooting with a wider angle lens, which will spread them out. A 50mm is a great lens choice as is a 70-200mm.
Wide apertures can work very well to pick out a single flower with a soft colourful background. You may need to increase your ISO if the breeze is making the bluebells move, in order to get a sharp focal point.
For a wide view, consider shooting a stitched panorama with a longer focal length for a wide field of view, while retaining the more compressed depth. Flipping the camera into portrait mode and shooting 5 -7 frames will give you a nice panorama.
Review your RGB histogram as well as the standard one and keep an eye on the blue and green channels for clipping in particular. With scenes with dominant colours such as this it’s worth keeping an eye on this, as you may find the blue channel is over or underexposed and “chopped off” on end of the histogram. Adjusting your exposure so that these are not clipped with allow you to retain the maximum amount of colour tonality in your files.
All to often people forget the importance of a polarising filter when they are shooting landscapes without skies in them. A polariser will help you control the glare of leaves and cut through the waxiness of them, to show the colour of the leaves.
Private Dorset Wood. 50mm 1/10s @ f11. Polariser.
Colour temperature will make a drastic difference to the colour of the flowers, but keep the camera set to a constant white balance, rather than auto. The dominant blues and greens will likely be way off and distract you while you’re shooting. Keeping it consistent, on shade or cloudy for example, is a safer bet.
Set your camera picture style to standard or faithful to avoid being sidetracked by the colour too much. Trust that your camera is recording the colour (and keep an eye on the RGB histogram as mentioned) and address it when you process your RAW files later. White balance and colour adjustments can be so shot specific that expecting to see the right shade of blue of the LCD can be a real distraction. I’ve shot bluebells with the camera set to mono before, so I can concentrate on the composition and not get hung up on why the colours don’t look right on the camera.
Emsworthy Barn, Dartmoor. 50mm at f11. Polariser.
If you would like to book a 1-2-1 day over bluebell season so I can help you put these tips into practice please get in touch.