My sister-in-law Alice and her family have recently moved into a lovely cottage out in the sticks somewhere. It’s rural enough that when we visited there last week my satnav dumped me on a country road with just a few houses along it and said, ‘good luck’.
For me, as a photographer (or a rough approximation of one), the best bit about their new home is just on the other side of the road from them.
The largest bluebell forest I’ve ever seen. Stretching as far as the eye could see in all directions (apart from the one from which we had entered) were thousands of bluebells. The last expanse of bluebells I’d seen was the so-called Bluebell Wood in the Waterhouse Plantation in Bushy Park, and that was little more than a large patch of them.
So right before lunch my wife, our niece and I took a stroll in this amazing forest.
I’m not usually one for staged photographs like this – even most of my portraits are people caught in off-guard moments – but I really like the colour of the bluebells surrounding the bottom of the frame.
Speaking of colour, there is a small amount of cheating going on. It wasn’t the best day ever, it was overcast and a little chilly. I was occasionally having to nudge the ISO up a tiny bit and for most of these images I’ve tweaked the white balance to make the images look a little bit warmer than they did in the grey flat light of the day.
This little white balance shift has also helped bring out the colour of the bluebells a bit, although it has created a hint of evening light in photographs taken at midday.
I’m not using the word forest lightly here either – one of the things I really loved was the numerous thin trees poking out from the field of blue. It served to break up the colour a bit.
It was on one of these trees that we stopped for another posed shot. Not as bluebell-heavy this time but I quite like the composition, even if I’m not really a fan of these staged portraits.
Faced with a carpet of bluebells, I started to play about a little bit with where the focus was. With so many flowers having a shallow depth of field helps to bring out smaller lines of them from their company, but there are various options as to where to put the focus. The traditional option would be to focus on a row in the foreground and let the rest disappear out of the depth of field.
With such a big batch of bluebells, however, I was able to experiment with moving the depth of field backwards see the result.
None of these images really convey the scale of the forest in which we were standing. Fortunately this one does a better job.
From there I started trying to get a bit closer to the bluebells to get some detailed shots, starting at first with my normal lens.
Merging into the bokeh in that image are my wife and niece, traipsing through the bluebells that, when you think about it, are actually more of a violet colour.
Seeing them I decided to try something a little different, and closed up the aperture for a wide depth of field, hoping to capture both them and the violetbells sharply.
As you can see, shutting the aperture that tight necessitated upping the ISO to 3200 to cope with the lack of light.
In amongst the multitude of bluebells that weren’t blue were somethings called snowdrops that weren’t actually drops of snow. It’s like the whole forest was a lie.
There were only a few signs of humanity in the forest of lies. The first were the slightly trampled walkways we had used on our wanders.
The other was this rusty bucket, which looked quite interesting but proved difficult to bring out in a photograph.
I should note, part of the reason this wilderness is so untouched by humankind is that this is private land. Fortunately, it is the sort of private land owned by a large faceless corporation who weren’t doing anything with it, rather than by a crazed farmer with a shotgun who might have opened fire on us. I’m presuming there wasn’t a groundskeeper working on the corporation’s behalf with a shotgun and an itchy trigger finger, mainly because no-one tried to kill us. I understand if you don’t think that logic particularly sound. (on a more serious note, I’m also aware of the legalities of photographing on private property)
Shortly Alice came to get us. It was time to go for lunch. As she appeared in the undergrowth, I fired off a quick shot of her from the hip, not even glancing at the viewfinder.
As is often the case, it turns out that the resulting shot is one of my favourites of the bunch. All it’s missing as far as I can see is some strong sunlight shooting through the trees in the background.
Knowing we’d soon be disappearing for lunch, I switched to my trusty macro lens to get some extreme closeups. Of the bluebells, not Alice.
The macro lens having a lovely f/2.8 aperture it creates a shallow depth of field with fantastic bokeh, so it also works quite well on less-close shots.
When I got to our point of entry, and despite the fact that there was a car full and ready to go (I was walking to lunch, but still holding up the convoy) I had to switch back to my work-a-day lens to grab a shot of the naturally-trodden path at the entrance.
Ever indecisive, I shot it two marginally different ways and couldn’t pick between the two, so they’re both presented here.
The former image is shot from a slightly higher angle, the latter is slightly lower and has been desaturated to produce a more ‘grotty’ feel. I think I prefer the latter, but as I’ve noted before I’m not really good at deciding such things, so I welcome your own suggestions on that front.
I’m definitely going to have to spend more time here when the sun is out and time is more on my side. I seem to say that about everywhere I take pictures these days.