Top tips for photographing bluebells
Bluebells in woodlands are one of the joys of spring, but they are not the easiest subject to photograph. The dappled light in woodlands presents a range of challenges, ranging from depth of field and exposure, to problems with contrast and colour.
Bluebells usually bloom from mid-April to mid-May, although this can vary according the pattern of spring weather. You can photograph bluebells in any weather, but a lightly overcast day is ideal. This reduces the contrast problems you might experience on a bright, sunny day.
Taking shots around midday gives a more neutral light with a greater proportion of blue wavelengths, which suits bluebells very well. Sun-dappled woodland floors that look great on a sunny day can present problems with contrast, which you will need to control.
Misty mornings can add atmosphere to your shots and early morning or early evening shots can add long shadows. By shooting into a very low sun at the beginning and end of the day you can get some interesting effects with the sunrays penetrating the tree canopy. By placing the sun behind a tree trunk you can get some strong shadows radiating out across the image. The effect of backlit flowers can also be very effective.
When surrounded by a sea of blue flowers it’s easy to forget the need for a subject in your photograph. A winding path, a fallen log or the base of an interesting tree trunk can provide a focal point for your image.
Alternatively, consider using a macro lens for detailed close-up shots of individual stems or flower heads. If it has been raining, water drops on the flowers add interesting details and a sense of freshness. You might want to avoid areas of woodland floor with a lot of clutter, such as saplings, fallen branches and brambles.
Think about angle
Try a few shots taken with the camera or phone close to the ground at the level of the flower heads. Or even lower, looking up to make the flowers look larger than life. To capture the wider bluebell carpets, try shooting from about head height or just below.
For the best shots, you need to use a tripod with a shutter-release cable, remote control or self-timer option on your camera. Not only does this encourage you to think more carefully about composition, it also means you can achieve sharper shots and greater depth of field.
You can also use a smaller aperture (indicated by higher f number, such as f8 to f11) and a longer exposure time without worrying about camera shake. This is particularly important when light levels are low as the exposure time could be a second or more.
A tripod also lets you keep the ISO low to minimise graininess. A telephoto lens can have the effect of shortening perspective and compressing the view, which makes it look like the blooms are more compact. Adding a circular polarising filter to your lens will remove glare or sunlight reflections, which will add depth to the blues and greens.
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.
However, by shooting from a low angle it’s easy to create the illusion that a person is sitting or standing amongst the bluebells when they are actually out of harm’s way on a footpath. Look for bends in the paths or junctions if you want flowers in the foreground as well as behind your subject.
Try using the footpath as part of your composition to lead the eye to your subject. A small child bending to smell the blooms on the edge of a path, or family group wandering along a winding footpath between carpets of bluebells, can make great compositions and they minimise the risk of damage to the plants.
If your camera allows it, you should always shoot in RAW mode. Cameras don’t quite see the blue of bluebells in the same way as the human eye, so minor adjustments to colour and white balance back at home can make a considerable difference to your photographs.
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.
But make sure you don’t overexpose so much that you start to lose highlight detail. The images will most likely appear a bit overexposed on the preview screen but you can easily adjust the exposure levels to those you observed on your photoshoot.
Digital cameras capable of taking RAW images will come with the software required for post-processing when you buy the camera, or you can usually download it from the manufacturers’ websites.
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