Bluebells In The Middleton Woods

By YaopeyBlog

Focus stacking, light accentuation and dodge/burn to the tree trunks

Bluebell, or Hyacinthoides non-scripta is a species of flower that is very common in the British Isles particularly in mid-spring. A bluebell has several blue-violet color flowers dangle from its main stem. The plant is miniature, the flowers are tiny and it may not look remarkable alone. But having thousands of it covering the entire ground is another story!

I’m not usually a flower person, but I couldn't help but impressed by the endless sea of bluebells in the woodlands. It was my first encounter and it’s safe to say that I’ll be hunting for bluebells again next year during the spring.

The Idea Inception

The idea of shooting flowers was inspired by the images posted by a group of photographers called Photo Cascadia. Their beautiful images of grand landscape often have flowers or trees in the foreground. I thought the composition (with flowers in the foreground) really complements and contrasts the towering mountains in the background.

High mountains is not something you get to see in the UK. In fact, the highest mountain is only 1344 meters - Ben Nevis in the Scottish Highlands. Where can I find a composition like this and where are these flowers?

Then it hit me.

I remember reading about heather and bluebell in a local walking guide. So, I searched the internet.

“...are seasonal”. Ok, when?

“...heather in autumn”. Well, it’s winter at the moment.

“...bluebells in spring”. Great! Where can I find it?

I found several woodlands that others have spotted bluebells before and are all within 30 minutes drive from where I live. I was really excited and started planning when I could check these places out.

The first two locations were a huge disappointment. There were bluebells alright, but not like what I had imagined. They were scanty and scattered around the hills. Although I took several shots, I didn't’ find a composition that I like.

But, third time’s a charm.

I went a place called Middleton Woods in a village called Ilkley at the border of the Yorkshire Dales. Ilkley wasn’t a stranger to me as I’ve been to Ilkley Moor several times before.

I didn’t want to get my hopes high so I walked through into the park without any expectations.

Little did I know what was coming...

I was absolutely stunned!

Thousands and probably millions of bluebells carpeted the entire place, leaving only footpath that winds through the woodlands. The view was incredibly breathtaking and it reminded me of the lavender farms in Provence (and also Avatar, but that’s probably because both are blue!).

From Idea To Image

My idea was to capture the vastness of the bluebells that covered the entire ground. I also wanted to include the trees to give viewers some perspective on how small these flowers are and add some interestingness at the same time.

In order to get my ideal composition, I needed an area that is relatively flat to show how far these bluebells grow. The location was pretty hilly and finding a flat ground wasn’t easy. Eventually, I found a slope that could give me the feeling of openness.

I think what makes this composition interesting is the angle of the slope that points towards the lower right corner of the image and the viewer. Coupled with the direction of the trees (going upwards), it kind of “opens up” the image to display the bluebells.

The one thing I didn’t have that morning was sunlight. It wasn’t raining but the sun was behind the clouds. There were the occasions of light bursting through but that was about it.

When I was composing the image, I noticed there was a small area where the trees were more scanty. The brightness in that area was slightly greater than the rest of the scene. I thought this was an opportunity to experiment in post-processing so I decided to include that small patch of “baldness” in my composition.

Before and after focus stacking.

I didn't have to bracket exposures for this one because the histogram showed mainly midtones. What I did was focus stacking for two reasons. (1) Since the main subjects here are the bluebells, it makes sense to have it all in focus. (2) I had plenty of time to kill (LOL!).

Post-processing was pretty straight forward. The first step was getting Photoshop to focus stack all the images for me. After tonal and color adjustments, I spent some time on dodging and burning the tree trunks to enhance the lights and shadows. Then, I selectively enhanced the light that came through the area with less trees (where you can see the sky).

Before and after post-processing.

The Unintentional ICM

I was pretty happy with my shots, so I carried on to explore the woodlands for more opportunities.

Maybe my finger was still on the trigger or I accidentally set my camera to timer. Apparently, I took an accidental shot while on the move. Either that, or my camera was swinging by the strap.

intentional camera movement

The unintentional ICM

When I was going through my images at the end of the day, I saw this (above). At first sight, it looked like an image ruined by motion blur. But when I looked again several times, I noticed the circular pattern of the motion blur. It had created an unexpected effect and I really like it!

I wanted to label it ICM (intentional camera movement) but it wasn’t intention at all. In fact, I didn’t even know I took the shot.

Anyway, I gave the image some gentle post-processing and the result was actually quite pleasing. It is now one of my favorite images from that trip!