It’s my favourite time of year again here in Dorset, the woods are carpeted with bluebells and the leaves on the trees are bursting from their buds. Bluebells are one of my favourite flowers to spend time with and to photograph so I thought I would write a post about how I go about photographing them. I’ll share a few techniques and tips about both shooting and post processing and talk a little bit about the bluebells and the woods themselves. I am really lucky to live in a little village near several beautiful bluebell woods, each with very different characters and ground flora. Some are beech plantaions with little understory and blankets of uninterrupted bluebells and other woods are old hazel coppice or gnarly oaks and the bluebells share the woodland floor with wood anemone, yellow archangel, greater stitchwort and wood sorrel. The bluebells start to appear in late March usually peaking in mid-late April, however this year they are a little later and will likely continue into the middle of May.
Bluebell woods are often fragments ancient woodlands or plantations on ancient woodland and as such the ground flora can be both rare and sensitive to disturbance. Many woodland plants are poor colonisers and don’t recover if they are disturbed. Bluebells are easily damaged and are protected under the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. Great care should be taken photographing flora in any woodland and it’s so important to stick to the paths to avoid crushing and trampling the bluebells. If you are shooting portraiture in the woods, it’s possible to use a little cunning and position subjects on bends in paths to create the look of a subject sitting amongst the flowers without actually leaving the path.
As I shoot most of my images from ground level looking upwards, the paths are perfect to shoot from, and staying out of the vegetation minimises the chances of being bitten by ticks. I have found bluebell woods perfect to shoot in in any light, bright high key shots can be achieved in the middle of a sunny day, warmer shots with creative bokeh are best achieved in the early morning or evening light, colours are at their most vibrant just after rain which is also good for bokeh, and then there is every photographers dream, the misty bluebell wood, which has escaped me so far this year.
The images I have shared in this article were taken either with A Sony A58 and my Tamron 90mm f2.8 macro, or the Olympus EM10 mark iii and the M. Zuiko 45mm f1.8 and a MCON P02 macro converter. Being drawn to create images with interesting bokeh being able to shoot at really wide apperatures is key to the pictures I make.
To create the bokeh I shoot from ground level, through vegetation and facing into the light. I find using the live view setting to be really useful when composing a shot as it enables me to shift through the scene to find the most interesting effects. Often moving your position a little will completely change the patterns in the bokeh. Another trick is to hold a flower up to the camera and this will then cast itself as a shadow withing the bubbles of bokeh, this is particularly good after rainfall or in the early morning dew. It’s also a trick I like to use photographing fungi.
Little shifts in your position to the light source, when shooting through the dew or rain can also create rainbows. If you aren’t up early for the dew or the woodland is dry and this is something you want to create it’s possible to shoot through a prism. You can buy these or if you have some old costume jewellery laying about or a chunk of quartz or even some broken glass these can also be used to fracture the scene and the light. I always shoot this style of photography with the lowest ISO I can, usually around 100 but as the aperture is wide open at f/1.4 – f/2.8 I can take my images hand held eve in the dappled shade of the woodland.
With the image below, I have shot through the carpet of bluebells, angling the camera upwards and focusing on the beech trees some way off in the distance, creating a blue and green haze. This image was taken in the middle of the day and as such the bokeh is soft and fairly blurred, to create more pronounced bubbles of light you may want to shoot in the morning through dew, or after rainfall, or alternatively spray some water onto the flowers.
Another technique I like to use, to create soft, painterly ethereal images is to take several high key images, at least one being in focus, and to layer them in PS. My cameras won’t allow me to create multiple exposures in-camera so I have to try and picture the final result as I take the images in the woods. When it comes to processing the soft images of bluebells I take I tend to follow the same principals I have written about previously in my article about ethereal nature photography.
I will usually process to make the images have a cooler, bluer feel than the RAW files, lowering the yellows and greens in the image and maybe pushing the purples and blues up a little in LR. Or split toning with blue and gray/brown.
The image below is created using a static image of a bluebell and several ICM (intentional camera movement) layers taken at the same spot. This was done in part as it was early in the season and not many of the bluebells had opened. I wanted to draw the eye to the central bluebell and create a haze around it. Increasing the exposure on the ICM layers helped to achieve a dreamy effect when layering them (using overlay, lighten or soft light mode) and plaing with the opacity slider until I achieved the effect I was looking for.
My favourie time to photograph bluebells using ICM is at dusk. As the last pools of dappled light filter through the canopy and illuminate pools of blue on the woodland floor. The contrast between the brightly lit flowers and the dark textures trees helped to make the bluebells in the image below stand out in the images below. The first was taken without an ND filter and a 1/10th sec exposure using a barrel rolling motion, pausing momentarily on the flowers, so they “stick” in the image and retain some definition, and then rolling forward to create the motion in the image.
The second image (below) was taken using a swirling movement as can be seen by the streaks of light in the picture. Here again I have apused briefly within the shot to capture some definition in the flowers.
The final image in this article I created yesterday. This image of the path through my closest bluebell wood, two fields walk from my home in the village, was made by layering several ICM images I took whilst wandering down the paththrough the woods. In this picture I have used the hard light and pin light blending modes to achieve a textured and more highly saturated look than I usually do. I have also added a texture layer to soften the highlights in the image.
I’d like to thank you for reading the post and I hope that perhaps I may have mentioned something that might be helpful to you. As ever I will do my best to answer any questions you may have and I hope that you all get the chance to visit a bluebell wood this spring, with a camera or just to enjoy the spectacular beauty of our native woodands. I’d also like to apologise for any spelling mistakes, as I’m dyslexic.
If you’d like to see more images please do wander through my site and if you’d like to purchase a card I have a gallery of bluebell and woodland cards available at my shop at Love from the Artist.
With thanks, Jo x