• Daniel Wretham

How to Find & Photograph Bluebells

Updated: May 18

Its that wonderful time of year again where the forest floors are carpeted with fantastic blue and purple bluebells, This is how I choose to find & capture my bluebell photographs, we will cover....

  • Best time of year to photograph Bluebells

  • Best way to care for the Bluebell forests

  • Best conditions to photograph Bluebells

  • Best position to photograph Bluebells, High or low ?

  • Best lens & focal lengths for Bluebells

  • Filters for photographing Bluebells

  • Best camera settings for Bluebell pictures

  • Best lighting for Bluebell pictures

  • Post processing Bluebell pictures

Dorset Bluebells
Side lit morning light on bluebells

Now the first thing I want to mention is the preservation of these wonderful flowers which bring so much pleasure to everyone.

Without fail every year I see people trampling through the bluebells in order to get a selfie or the perfect shot of someone sitting in the middle of them, please stop this and please actively encourage people to shoot them from the paths or very edges, A little known fact but it is actually illegal to pick or to trample bluebells so these people are breaking the law, stand up for the protection of the forest as these plants can't do it on their own and need our protection, please be responsible and say something to people who have no respect for the bluebells.

Bluebells take around 5-7 years from seed to flower and establish a colony and thrive and every time they are trampled they lose their ability to photosynthesise and therefore die, the leaves are far more important to the Bluebell than the actual flower itself.

The UK has nearly half the worlds population of Bluebells here so they really are something wonderful for the UK which makes finding them fairly easy if you live here.

Bluebells thrive best in ancient woodland and of course areas which see little of no disturbance, but they are not exclusive to woodland, you can find them on exposed hillsides basking in the sun and they will be clearly visible due to their bright blue colouring from a large distance.

Bluebells flower around mid April to mid May but it is obviously highly dependant on the conditions leading up to the spring as to when they actually come out so keep a close eye on the forests from early April.

Peak time at this bluebell forest

Peak time to photograph them is usually very late April or early May when most of the carpet is in full bloom and they're at their best, but again the season conditions will dictate exactly when this happens so best advice is to keep an eye on them.

Bluebell woods are easier to find as they tend to flower every year at the same place unlike the wildly nomadic poppy fields, therefore the locations are not really a secret and are very well documented on the internet, the national trust website has a bluebell locator so you can find a forest near you, although these will be the best known ones and of course see far more visitors through them so if you're looking for a more isolated forest then you will need to put the miles in and get off the beaten track.

Its often worth sharing information with a group of friends on bluebell forests, they will probably know a few that you don't and vice versa so you can quickly double your knowledge of areas, but not all photographers want to share and some keep things very much to themselves, if that is their wish then graciously respect it and don't make people feel bad for wanting to protect an area they have worked hard to find.

Bluebells on hillsides as well as forests

2019 saw an absolute bluebell explosion and pretty much everywhere I went I found a new location which had these fantastic woodland flowers growing in abundance, and best of all they were all open to the public.

A point here about forest land, a lot of it is private and the owners understandably don't take too kindly to an army of photographers trampling through them so please respect boundaries and don't go into private areas unless you have express permission from the land owners, in truth there's no need too either as there are so many public forests that contain them.

Best Conditions to photograph Bluebells

Well this is a funny one as we're all used to waiting for the perfect light or perfect moment to nail a shot, with bluebells it turns it all on its head really.

Overcast and dull conditions can make photographing bluebells a far better option as it really keeps the contrast down and helps to evenly expose the whole scene.

Mist over bluebells is perhaps the very best way to shoot them but its fairly rare and obviously mornings are best if you are after this, but if you see a forecast showing the possibility of this then get to the forest and nail an epic shot, but be sure to stick to the edge of the forest so the mist can penetrate it.

Bright conditions can still make for striking shots as you will have dappled light coming through the canopy lighting up certain areas and this is especially good for close up shots or indeed long lens shots picking out these well lit areas but they will have a large degree of contrast which will need to be controlled, The histogram is your best friend here.

Include foreground elements too add depth & interest

The preferred time to photograph bluebells is mornings and evenings due to the low sun and golden light, but for me morning is by far the best as the chance of mist is greater but the great thing with bluebells is you can shoot them all day from morning to evening as the forest canopy will control the light fairly well and each hour gives you something new to shoot, Mid day for example will have far more blue tones to the light which works really well for bluebells, whereas mornings and evenings will have a higher volume of red tones to the light which will give a warmer feel to the image

Bluebell pictures
Warmer tones at sunrise

Stating the obvious but the less wind you have the better for bluebells in order to stop any motion or blurring, but you can get creative with the wind and do a slightly longer exposure to capture the movement of the bluebells if you so wish.

After rain can be a really nice way to shoot bluebells as they will be revitalised and standing proud and who can resist the delicate nature of a raindrop on a bluebell with a macro lens to reveal natures most intimate moments.

So in summary anytime is a good time to photograph bluebells but if you want something really special then morning is probably your best bet.

High or Low ?

The position of your tripod will have a huge difference on your overall shot so its something you really need to pay attention too, but you don't have to limit yourself with a tripod, handheld is something I will do more than ever when photographing bluebells.

If you have image stabilisation on your camera then this is the time to switch it on for handheld and make sure you have a fast enough shutter speed to avoid any camera shake but if you do switch back to a tripod then remember to turn off your image stabilisation or it could affect your shot.

Bluebell Forest
Shot low down to emphasise the foreground

Shooting low gives dramatic effect of the bluebells and is great when you have a really foreground heavy shot but it will limit your view of the bluebells and you will have to pay careful attention to your aperture to make sure you are still getting everything in focus (assuming that is your intention) something around F16 is perfect whereas if you want only the foreground ones sharp and the rest in a beautiful dreamy blur then go low as your lens will allow around F2.8 or F4 for example.

How to Photograph Bluebells
Low down gives a more intimate feel to your pictures and is great if you have a dominate item in the foreground

Low down is also a lovely way to shoot bluebells when the trees have the sun behind them and are casting long shadows over your subject, it can give a really ethereal feel to the shot.

Shooting from eye level can reveal much more of the landscape and really works to show the layers of the forest, but does lack the intimacy of a low and close photograph but it brings with it its own secrets and charm as the eye wanders more freely in the shot.

From eye level you will be able to include far more in the scene, for example bluebells as well as trees and even the canopy should you wish, it can work really will for dividing your scene into sections, much more so than low level shots.

Dorset Bluebell Forest
Eye level bl