Creativity with bluebells

woodland

I have spent much of the last two weeks out and about in our local landscape capturing images of bluebells.  Nearly 50% of the world’s bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) grow in the UK. Every Spring, for about two weeks, ancient woodlands are carpeted in nodding azure bells. If the Japanese go out in droves to appreciate cherry blossom, we Brits do the same for bluebells.

woodland

Of course, they are irresistible to the landscape photographer.  But capturing pleasing photos of bluebells is harder than you might think.  The temptation is to go wide, to capture all the majesty of the forest, but this tends to exaggerate the distance between the flowers, minimising the profusion that attracted your eye in the first place. So a longer focal length, that compresses distance, is often the better solution.

woodland

Finding a strong composition can be challenging.  Paths, the more winding the better, create shapes that led the eye into and through the frame.

woodland

Colour balance is also tricky. I often see comments on-line that either praise or criticise bluebell pictures for the way they reproduce the colour of the flowers: ‘nice to see proper blues” is typical.  But bluebells actually look different depending on the light.

woodland

In sunlight or at certain times of day (golden hour, for example) they take on a mauve/magenta tint. Pre-dawn or in shade, they appear more blue.  Equally, the fresh spring leaves of the trees under which the bluebells grow, especially beech, have a strong, almost acid-green colour, that can look over-done to people who have never properly looked at the real thing.

woodland

It’s always a good idea to try different apertures.  Landscapers tend to favour narrow apertures to achieve ‘front-to-back’ sharpness.  But, sometimes, using a wide aperture to narrow your depth of field can provide a more pleasing image, just picking out a detail and allowing the rest of the scene to become a blur.

wildflowers

Speaking of blur, on breezy days it’s worth experimenting with shutter speed to capture some movement in the flowers or the leaves of the trees.

woodland

In a wide view, it creates a subtle. dreamy feel.  Closer up, more abstract images can be made.

tree

There are other ways to record movement. Intentional camera movement, or “ICM”, is very on-trend at the moment.  Put simply, the camera is moved while the shutter is open.  The result, when it works, is a painterly, semi-abstract rendering of the subject.  The technique suits woodland because it tends to simplify, which can be helpful in cluttered forest scenes.

hammond's copse

One must be prepared for a lot of out-takes when using ICM, but it’s all fun and in the spirit of experimentation. I find that it helps to choose scenes where there are bold shapes, like tree trunks, to give your image structure.  Without them, ICM images can become a formless jumble.  I also like images where there are still some recognisable details within the blur, as in these extracts from the above image, where an oak leaf can be recognised…

bluebells ICM-3

… and, below, where the frill from a single bloom emerges (bottom right) from the blue haze.

bluebells ICM-2

Equally in vogue, making multiple-exposures in-camera can have unexpected and pleasing results. Many modern digital cameras make this simple.  I used my Fuji X-E1 for the shot below. The image on which you are going to superimpose a second shot is shown in live view under the picture you are now taking, enabling you to visualise exactly what you are going to achieve. This image features stitchwort, tiny white flowers I found growing among the bluebells at a local copse on Tuesday.

wild flowers

Bluebell season is mostly over now, but it will surely return to delight us all again next Spring.  I think it’s lovely that the Japanese have a word for their national cherry-blossom gazing, ‘hanami’.  Perhaps we need to invent one for bluebells.  Any suggestions?

Study in yellow

chrysoperla carnea

f/4, 1/250, ISO 1000, 100mm


A shot from October that I had overlooked. Lacewings appear delicate but are formidable predators of aphids. According to my Collins Complete Guide to British Insects, ‘the larvae of some species camouflage themselves with the dead skins of their prey’ (p.106). I thought it was pretty, toning with the autumn colour of my dogwood tree. Lacewings look amazing in flight; a photographic challenge for this year perhaps…

chrysoperla carnea

Cropped for those who like their bugs up close and personal

More murmurations

starlings
Last month, I posted some images of our local starling murmuration.  I popped back three times last week and was delighted to find them still there, doing their thing, only in greater numbers.  Yesterday was the best yet as the sunset kindly provided a colourful backdrop.
starlings

Murmuration

starlings flocking
Today, I want to share a very special experience.  Last week I had the pleasure of witnessing one of nature’s great Autumn spectacles, a murmuration of starlings.  During Autumn and Winter, starlings flock together at twilight, performing amazing aerial ballets that attract more birds to the group until they descend, all together in a moment, to their roost for the night.
starlings flocking
It starts with just a small group, circling in the sky in a way that seems to attract others.starlings flocking
Soon many more have joined, and fantastic shapes are created as they bank and wheel about.
starlings flocking
This was a very small murmuration, with numbers in the low hundreds.  Flocks in the thousands are seen at certain key locations in Britain at this time of year.  Sadly, however, starling numbers nationally have fallen by 70% in recent years and they are now counted as a threatened species.   For more information, see the RSPB’s website.
starlings flocking
I feel very privileged to have seen this waning, natural wonder.

Standing tall

tree

For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone. They are like lonely persons. Not like hermits who have stolen away out of some weakness, but like great, solitary men, like Beethoven and Nietzsche. In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity; but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfil themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves. Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree.

-Herman Hesse,Bäume. Betrachtungen und Gedichte.