Every year, between late April and early June, a magical phenomenon occurs in the woods of England.
A sea of delicate blue flowers carpets the woodland floor, creating a surreal and enchanting atmosphere that is hard to describe in words. These are English bluebells, a native species that has captured the imagination of poets, artists, and nature enthusiasts for centuries.
There is something deeply mysterious and alluring about the bluebell. Its delicate petals sway in the breeze, creating a symphony of whispers that echo through the woods. It is a dance of light and shadow, of stillness and movement, of anticipation and surprise.
The beauty of English bluebells lies in their ephemeral nature. They bloom for only a few weeks, and then disappear until the following year. This fleeting beauty has made them a symbol of love and transience in literature and folklore.
Join me as I wander through the enchanting Brampton Wood in Cambridgeshire, the second largest ancient woodland in the county.
The wood's roots can be traced back to the Doomsday Book, which dates it to be at least 900 years old. Since 1992, The Wildlife Trusts of Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire have been taking great care to restore its natural beauty.
As springtime approaches and the bluebells bloom, I heed its beckoning and venture forth, equipped with my trusty camera, braving any weather that may come my way.
When photographing wild English bluebells, it is essential to respect and preserve the natural environment. Stay on the designated paths, do not trample on the flowers (nor allow your dog to do so) and never pick them. Be mindful of other visitors and avoid disturbing wildlife.
Timing is everything when it comes to bluebell photography.
Visit the wood early in the morning or late in the afternoon when the light is soft and the colours are more vibrant.
The flowers bloom at different times, depending on the location and weather conditions. Gentle spring showers do not necessarily prevent photography, but heavy rain may wash out colours and make woodland pathways muddy. The photos on this page were taken on a showery day as you can see from the pathway below.
I take a camera, tripod, and a range of lenses with me which often includes a macro lens to capture the intricate details of the flowers.
I also take the opportunity to pop my Lensbaby Velvet in my backpack. This manual lens has two benefits when photographing in low light situations. The aperture opens right up to f1.8, letting in lots of light, and it will focus almost as close as a dedicated macro lens.
Open wide the Velvet emphasises the ephemeral nature of the flowers due to the soft focus effect, but stop it down and it offers sharp landscapes and vistas.
A tripod keeps my camera steady and helps avoid motion blur. Using a low ISO reduces noise and a wide aperture creates a shallow depth of field, throwing distant flowers out of focus.
If you are lucky enough to have a bright day and a clearing full of flowers, then you can stop down to a smaller aperture to get everything sharp from close to far due to the light conditions.
I experiment with different shutter speeds to capture movement or stillness, keeping the low light levels in mind where necessary.
I am always aware of where my tripod legs are positioned, to avoid damaging the plants.
I feel the ideal bluebell compositions are those that capture the essence of the flower in its natural habitat.
I compose my shots carefully, paying attention to the foreground, middle ground, and background. Experimenting with different perspectives, such as low angles to capture the drooping stem or high angles to capture the sea of flowers.
I take a plastic bag to lay on the ground and sit on, to keep clean when getting low angle images.
I try to watch for stray branches, such as those that crept in at the top left of the image below, as they can be a distraction. Moving a foot or so to the right, would have eliminated them here. However, it would have changed the composition so I have to compromise sometimes.
I find there is often confusion between the wild English bluebells and the Spanish variety. While they may look similar at first glance, there are several key differences.
Look at the leaves in the photos below. Those on the left are wider. These belong to the Spanish variety, introduced to the UK as a garden flower.
The flowers also differ, both in colour and shape. Native English bluebells are a darker blue/purple whereas the continental variety can be paler or more pinky mauve.
The tips of the native flower's petals tend to curl up whereas the interloper's don't.
Last but not least, the flower stems of the wild bluebells droop in a graceful curve, whereas the Spanish bluebells sit on straighter stems.
Why should we be concerned? The Spanish plants are more vigorous and can outcompete the native flowers or even hybridise with them. This is bad news for those interested in conserving the heritage of the wild English bluebell.
For me bluebell photography is not just about taking pictures. It is also about celebrating the ephemeral beauty of life itself. It's a chance to immerse myself in the beauty of the natural world, to capture a moment in time that is fleeting and yet everlasting.