For the last three years, June/July has seen me out searching for that ephemeral wonder, the wild poppy field. This year, together with my photo-buddy Jenifer Bunnett, I went out looking for poppies on four separate occasions. Out first safari was disappointing; we found poppies galore but couldn’t get close to them thanks to some determined fencing. The second was much more successful, thanks to a generous tip from another photographer, Malcolm Oakley, on Twitter.Much hiking and a pair of binoculars were needed but we found them, in three patches, against the flank of Black Patch Hill near Storrington in the South Downs National Park. We were able to return a few days later for some gentler evening light.Poppy season is now mostly over down here in the South. Poppies do not reliably flower in the same place year after year. Their seeds need rough handling to germinate but then the ground must be left fallow to allow them to bloom, although they do well at the edges of rape fields where the rape seed has not taken hold (or it has been eaten by birds). But not knowing where they’ll be next year is all part of the adventure, and their ephemerality only adds to their allure.If you fancy joining the poppy hunt next year, there is now a group on Facebook dedicated to sharing locations for poppies and other seasonal wildflower displays: Poppy and Flower Site Finder 2015.
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.
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.
Finding a strong composition can be challenging. Paths, the more winding the better, create shapes that led the eye into and through the frame.
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.
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.
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.
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.
In a wide view, it creates a subtle. dreamy feel. Closer up, more abstract images can be made.
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.
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…
… and, below, where the frill from a single bloom emerges (bottom right) from the blue haze.
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.
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?
I am just back from an exciting trip to the Lofoten Islands, where we were lucky enough to see the Northern Lights on two evenings. Before I went, I was ambivalent about seeing aurora. There are so many pictures of them on the internet these days, and I had seen them before, in Canada decades ago. My purpose in going to Norway was, rather, to capture the beautiful, snow-covered landscape.
However, when green ribbons ripped across the sky that first night on Skagsanden beach, I was as excited as anyone. I was unprepared for the raw power of the spectacle, and for how fast the lights can move. Shutter speeds as fast as 1.3″ were required and even then the lights were occasionally burnt out. It seems incredible that all this drama is silent, apart from whoops of exhilaration from onlookers. I fear photographing aurora may be addictive.
During my trip to Norfolk last month, I had the chance to spend a large part of one day at Thurne wind pump. I took many of the usual, landscape type shots but I also enjoyed the chance to use my long lens and capture some graphic black and white details.
My photographic eye tends to veer automatically to the large vistas but I want to start catching more intimate aspects of the landscapes I visit too. It’s a new project for 2015.
Do you think your eye tends to favour one sort of composition to the detriment of others and is there another you’d particularly like to master too?
During the first couple of days of my trip photographing lighthouses in Brittany earlier this month, we had some nicely changeable weather. The wind was so strong at this lighthouse, it was hard to keep the camera and tripod still enough. Black and white seemed to suit this two-toned structure.
Dawn the next day, and it was still just as windy but the sky was serene, heralding more peaceful weather ahead. A long exposure in colour seemed the way to go. I love going back to locations and capturing their different moods.
* * * * *
Still catching up with my 365 redux backlog. 365/66, 68 and 69 are from 2009, the year of my original, and more conventional, project 365. It’s handy to have that project to rely on when I hit a patch where I haven’t taken pictures in other years. True to my pledge, I have re-edited these. 67 is from last year, a shot previously unshared of a midge on a pieris shrub in my garden. I am enjoying seeing how my images have improved (to my eye, anyway) in the 7 years since I switched to digital, and became obsessed.
Starting to catch up with my backlog of 365 redux images before a different sort of post tomorrow. 365/60 is from 2010, 61and 62 are from 2009 and 63 is from 2014. 365/64 is also from last year. According to the traditional song, seven magpies is ‘for a secret never to be told’, but what about 24? Finally, 365/65 is also from 2014, an image hitherto unprocessed from my day out shooting street images with Damian Demolder and Amateur Photographer magazine. If you want to know more about my 365 redux project, see here.
I am just back from an excellent adventure photographing lighthouses along the rugged coast of Brittany, France. The trip was organised by Jonathan Critchley of Ocean Capture. Some may remember that I had a few days in France with Ocean Capture this time last year. There will be more from Brittany soon, but this picture might be my favourite.
I have been promising a post about shutter speeds and sea photography for a while. It seems I am going to do two; this is the first. Long exposure photography, achieved with ND (neutral density) filters, has become ever more popular in recent years. I enjoy it too. Adjusting the length of the exposure, even during the brightest time of day, is one way to expand the creativity of my image making. Over time, I have found that I have begun instinctively to know roughly what shutter speeds are going to achieve the effect I am after. The following pictures were all taken within an hour of each other earlier this month, at one location, Climping beach on the West Sussex coast.
The ‘Big stopper’ is a 10-stop ND filter. That is, it reduces the light getting to the sensor by 10 stops, so an exposure of 1/250th of a second becomes four seconds. The first two images here were taken using a Big Stopper. Note how in the top image, at 20″, breaking waves have become an ethereal mist, really not like water at all. Reduce the time by a half and there is more of a hint of wateriness, but not much.
At four seconds (below), some of the movement of the waves is beginning to appear.
This increases as the exposure time gets shorter.
And then (below) we begin to reach my favourite zone for capturing breaking waves, something between half a second to 1/5 usually seems to suit me – I like to capture some sense of the form and energy of the waves, but without ‘freezing’ them.
My favourite picture from the morning is this one, at 0.3″. I am fascinated by the way the water splashes, scattering into different directions, and this shutter speed seems to be good at capturing that with an almost painterly effect.
The exact shutter speed will vary with the force of the surf. My second post on this topic will be from a very different set of conditions experienced at the coast in Norfolk last week.
Finally, not every shot of the sea has to be a long exposure! Sometimes you just have to go faster. Turning round from my chosen breakwater, I saw these gulls playing chicken with the waves:
* * * * *
A backlog of 365s: 365/59 is from 2010, taken at RHS Wisley.
365/58 is from 2009, when I was at my daughter’s school gathering images for their new prospectus. This one was a bit of fun, experimenting with shutter speed during a PE lesson.
365/57 is from 2014, taken in my garden as I started to flex my macro muscles for the forthcoming bug season. It always takes a while each year to get my macro ‘eye in’ after the winter when I tend to concentrate on the landscape.
There may be a hiatus for a few days as I am off on an adventure. More anon.