How to photograph bluebells
By Hugh Mothersole, National Trust volunteer photographer
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.
Bluebells usually bloom from mid-April to mid-May, although this can vary according to spring weather. A lightly overcast day is ideal for photographing bluebells as this reduces the contrast problems you might experience on a sunny day.
Taking shots around midday gives a more neutral light. Sun-dappled woodland floors that look great on a sunny day can present problems with contrast. Misty mornings can add atmosphere to your shots and shooting into a very low sun at the beginning or end of the day can give an interesting sunray effect. 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 but you might want to avoid areas of woodland floor with a lot of clutter, such as fallen branches and brambles.
Alternatively, consider using a macro lens for detailed close-up shots of individual stems or flower heads. If it’s been raining, water drops on the flowers add interesting details and a sense of freshness.
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.
Avoid damaging the subject
Most bluebell woods have well-defined paths and 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.
Where to see them
The old beech woodlands of the Chilterns are perfect for bluebells as they like undisturbed ground and dappled shade. You can enjoy a wilder experience in woodlands looked after by the National Trust at Bradenham (near West Wycombe) and Winter Hill Road woods by the old Brick and Tile works near Maidenhead. There are also popular bluebell woods at Cliveden, Hughenden, Greys Court and Nuffield Place (normal admission applies) where you’ll be able to get a cup of tea and slice of cake after your photography endeavours.