Into the wild blue yonder….

Blog - Phil-osophy on Landscape Photography > Into the wild blue yonder….
12/07/2013 - 12:52

Into the wild blue yonder…. 



A carpet of English Bluebells (Hyacinthoides non-scripta) is for those in Northern Europe a joy to behold. Britain contains more than half of the world’s population of these flowers. An estimated 71% of native bluebells are found in broadleaved woodland or scrub. In the south and west of Britain in particular, it is possible to see bluebells out in the open on heathland; in hedgerows and in coastal meadows (though it is often the case that these open areas were once wooded).


Below are a collection of photographs of the bluebells I have made over the last three springs - in various locations in the South West of England. Following that are some tips and suggestions of things to try and experiment with.




Ermington Woods, in the South Hams area of Devon






Ermington Woods are a mixture of old native woodland and a more recent pine plantation. The best areas for the bluebells are on the terraced upper slopes. The second terrace is the one that always has the greatest density of bluebells and there is good spacing between the beech trees here to allow for compositions with separation (of elements) and recession. Enough of a carpet of the flowers to allow for panoramic compositions as well. The heady aroma of such proliferation of these beguiling wildflowers is very engaging to the senses, a shame that this can’t be portrayed through the medium of photography!




Dendle’s Wood* [National Nature Reserve/ Site of Special Scientific Interest]





Beneath the ancient oaks and beeches and high above the tumbling waters of the River Yealm lie some considerable areas of bluebells. It’s setting within remnants of the ancient woods that covered the moors right up to the brink of its granite Tor summits, is one of the most magical settings I have yet encountered to witness these particular flowers.




Emsworthy Mire





Emsworthy Mire is a nature reserve lies in the valley between Saddle Tor and the Holwell Lawn on Dartmoor and is managed by the Devon Wildlife Trust. In late spring it is festooned with a carpet of bluebells – evidence that this area was once woodland.



The iconic ‘Red Barn’ adds a charming ‘anchor’ for photographs of the bluebells here and in interesting light, is a fine subject for photography throughout the year – its red roof and granite block structure has a definite halcyonic gravitas. The bluebell carpet fills much of the drystone walled field around the barn and there are a vast amount of angles from which to compose your photo from.





Tips and Experiments



  • Using a polarizer filter can help by reducing glare from the leaves of surrounding trees, whilst enriching the colour contrasts naturally? It also reduces the light entering the lens by up to 2 ‘stops’ thus allowing for longer exposures. Light breezes swooshing some of the leaves and branches of the trees above can help to simplify woodland compositions by subtly reducing ‘information’ within the woodland landscape whilst suggest a passing of time as well.



  • A tripod is a necessity for woodland photos due to lower light levels under the tree canopy.



  • Try low level (for intimate and inviting ‘bug’s eye view’) and high level (which can help give more of a sense of depth and recession of the trees) angles for your compositions.





  • Hard as it often is, try and avoid areas with lots of fallen branches/ twigs as this can detract from the viewer’s concentration on the flowers.








  • Have a go at making a panorama and choose wisely what you include, It’s the content of elements, shapes, form, ‘journey’ and lighting within the visualised ‘letterbox’ shape that matter rather than just stitching lots of frames together just to ‘make a bigger picture’ that counts. This is true of all good panoramas, wherever they are made.





  • However tempting – don’t wander into a carpet of bluebells ‘to get a better composition’ as the bulbs are easily crushed and will not then re-flower the following year!



  • Have a go at 'close-up's' using a narrow 'depth of field' by choosing a small aperture (e.g. f/1.8 to f/2.8





  • Early morning and mid to late evening light are some of the best times to visit bluebell woods – offering long raking shadows from the tree trunks above (which can be an aid for subtly dynamic compositions), though the shadow directions will depend on your position in the wood, time of day and the gradient of the woodland floor. A bit of prior research using the Photographer’s Ephemeris (a wonderful p.c. or ‘app’ piece of software that shows the path of the sun and moon at any location, on any day of the year) is worth doing.




*N.B. (Please note that accessing Dendle’s Wood N.N.R. requires a valid permit from Natural England - it is a remote & hazardous environment with very steep slopes, mudslides, gorges, white-water rivers & streams and Ticks – which may carry Lyme Disease)



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