How to Photograph Wild Flowers

By Geoff Harris

bluebell woodThere can’t be many lovelier sights than a vista of bluebells transforming a wood with a carpet of blue under a canopy of fresh green leaves.

And yes, it’s that time of year again!  In the UK bluebells can flower any time between mid-April and mid-May, but in most areas the peak time is round about now.

If you don’t have Bluebells, then this article is still relevant to photographing any blue flowers, such as wild Lupines, Bluebonnets or alpine Penstemons

So what’s the best way to approach photographing a bluebell wood?

The whole thing is easier with digital cameras than it used to be with film.

On film, bluebells had a tendency to appear pinkish or magenta, because of the UV light reflected by the bluebell petals.

Film was very sensitive to this, but digital sensors are not, so that is no longer a problem.

Even so, it’s worth bearing in mind that on a sunny day the blue will appear bluer in the middle of the day, when the light is cool, than it will early or late in the day, when the light is warmer.

Overcast light is also a cool light and so will enhance the blue of the flowers.

In many ways overcast light can be best for bluebell woods, as it eliminates the problems of contrast which you get in woodland on a sunny day, with a range of bright and dark areas that can sometimes be too much for the camera to cope with.

On the other hand, the dappled effect of sun filtering through the trees certainly adds a lift to the image, if you can compose carefully to exclude any really bright or dark areas.

The type of woodland is also important.  If the wood is rather scrubby, with lots of low undergrowth such as brambles, it’s difficult to make a good clean composition.  My favourite type of woodland is beech, where the trees tend to have long straight trunks with not too many low branches.

bluebell wood panned

Also the colour of newly emerged beech leaves is absolutely glorious!  If your wood has paths leading through it, they can make excellent compositional devices to lead the eye into the picture and on through the wood.

Most focal length lenses can be used for good images in bluebell woods, but a wide angle is probably best to make the most of the carpet of flowers.

A telephoto can isolate the best parts of the scene, and also be used for panning (see my earlier blog about this on 30 March).  And of course a macro can be used for close ups of individual flowers.

If there’s a bluebell wood near you – and the rain stops for long enough – go out there and enjoy!  If you are interested in learning more about flower photography why not consider taking my MyPhotoSchool class.

Geoff Harris

I am a journalist and photographer and currently work as the Deputy Editor of Amateur Photographer (AP) the oldest weekly photographic magazine in the world. Before that I served as the editor of Digital Camera, Britain's best-selling photography magazine, for five years. During my time as editor it became the UK's top selling photo monthly and won Print Publication of the Year at the 2013 British Media Awards. As well as being lucky enough to get paid to write about photography, I've been fortunate to interview some of the greatest photographers in the world, including Elliott Erwitt, Don McCullin, Martin Parr, Terry O'Neill and Steve McCurry. This has been a wonderful learning experience and very influential on my photography. Beyond writing, I am a professional portrait, travel and documentary photographer, and reached the finals of the 2016 Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year competition. I am a Licentiate of the Royal Photographic Society and hope to take my Associateship whenever I can find the time. In addition I write about well being/personal development and antiques collecting for a range of other titles, including BlueWings, the in-flight magazine of Finn Air.

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