Down In The Woods
13th May 2013
Spring is here at last and new life is starting to abound - trees have blossom and new leaves, animals have young, birds have chicks, the countryside is filling with insects AND the flowers of spring are with us once again. I took a trip down to the woods yesterday to photograph the bluebells and had an unexpected but wonderful encounter.
The English Bluebell - Hyacinthoides non-scripta have been in the news over the last few years as it has been seemingly under threat from an invader from Europe by the Spanish Bluebell Hyacinthoides hispanica, while similar to our native bluebell it is paler in colour and bears flowers on both sides of its stem.
Early May is the traditional time for our woodland floor to be carpeted with this quintessential English flower and they make a great subject for the landscape photographer. A few scouting missions are required to ensure you take your photographs at the optimum time - too early and the flowers are very pale, almost pink - too late and they look tired. This year (2013) they are slightly later than usual and the specimens I found are perfect right now around 12th May.
So what do you need to know about photographing bluebells, what techniques do you employ and how do you plan your photographic trip?
1) Decide on what 'style' of image you want to make - this year I decided I wanted some images of the bluebells as sunlight filtered through the trees casting bright patches of light on the carpet of blooms.
2) For this image I needed an area of woodland with a good carpet of blooms that was close to the eastern side of the wood. This would allow the morning sun to flood this area with rays of light thus making it 'sparkle' with life.
3) Which lens? This is a creative choice for the photographer - there is no right or wrong, it is dependant upon the type of image you want to produce. I could have gone for a wide-angle zoom lens and used the zoom to fill the frame but I chose my 24mm TS-E lens to give me a nice, wide view of the scene. Also the wide angle will emphasise the distance between the foreground and background, this is something that I wanted to do to make the most of the contrasting light and shade. I also chose to make this image from a high'ish position to emphasis the recession and elongate the shadows which I wanted to reach out and drawn the viewer into the scene.
4) What settings did I use? For image 1 (above) I used ISO 100, 0.8 sec at f14. The ISO of 100 is pretty standard for most of my landscape photography so that stays the same. Next I chose my aperture of f14 which gave me the depth of field I required - using 'live view' I focused on the hyperfocal distance which was a point 1.37m into my scene, I knew that would mean everything from 1.01m to infinity would be acceptably sharp. I then adjusted my shutter speed until the 'live view' image closely resembled the image I wanted and then took my exposure.
Back at home the image required minimal processing, I used Adobe Lightroom for my RAW conversion and applied minor tweaks to the shadows and highlights to emphasise the areas of contrast and applied a nominal amount of capture sharpening.
In Adobe Photoshop I used curves to try and bring out a little more contrast while not 'blocking up' my shadow areas, resized and then sharpened - that was it.
The more you do 'in camera' the less time you have to spend in front of your computer.
For the image on the right, I changed my camera position and put it in 'portrait' mode, set my tripod low to the ground as in this image I wanted to render the sun with a start burst effect. I framed a bluebell in the foreground and changed my position slightly so that the sun was partially obscured by a tree trunk, this was to prevent it 'blowing out' the highlights. I stayed with an aperture of f14 but took several 'test images' to assess the focusing as I was very close to the bluebell in the foreground, too close to use the hyperfocal distance and I wanted my image to be as sharp as possible from front to back. I determined that I would have to take 3 exposures to make sure I got the sharpness I required throughout the frame. I took my first exposure after focusing on the foreground bluebell, my second image after focusing about 3m into my scene and the final image after focusing on the distant trees. I may have been able to get away with just 2 exposures but I took the 3rd just to be on the safe side. Back at home I processed them in Adobe Lightroom and the opened them as 'layers' in Adobe Photoshop and used the 'Auto-Blend Layers' command to 'focus stack' the images. Finally a few tweaks of using curves and luminosity before resizing and sharpening!
Finally I promised you a wonderful encounter!
After the sun rose too high in the sky I wandered around the woods having a bit of an explore, scouting out future photographic compositions. I set up in a clearing and was just looking around when I spotted something in the woods, among the bluebells that looked 'unusual'. As my eyes focused on this strange object I realised it was a young fox sat on a small mound enjoying the sunshine but with its eyes fixed on me. I quickly attached a 400mm lens, composed the scene to show the fox in the environment and took an image. I started to move slowly forward to try and get into a better position, as I moved the fox just sat watching me, closer and closer I edged until I dared not go any further. I set my tripod down and moved the camera to frame the scene, as I was doing so I saw the fox suddenly avert her gaze from me to something off to my right. Instinctively I turned my head to see what she had spotted - a jogger running through the woods towards the fox and in a flash she was gone, off down into her den. I can't tell you how frustrated I was, just seconds away from an image of a lifetime - oh well that is life I suppose. Anyway here is the first image of the fox for you to enjoy.