The month of May in South Korea is very warm. The Summer heat is already starting to edge in, alongside the anxiety about how you are going to survive it.
Imagine my shock when experiencing my first British Spring in 4 years, to find myself (still) bunkering down in coats. Pouring over forecast apps in utter confusion as the weather continuously fluctuates, I keep asking myself ‘is it supposed to be like this?!’
I was excited about the prospect of doing some Spring woodland photography this year for one specific reason. Bluebells. These flowers love to spread across forest floors at this time of the year and the sight of them is magical.
My first Spring photography hurdle was the fact that I had no idea where the ‘best’ places for bluebell sightings would be. Let’s face it though, having moved to the UK and then had to face continuous lockdowns and restrictions, I have no idea where the ‘best’ place for anything is. Online research can only get you so far when it comes to scouting. Having gathered a small list of potential locations, I accepted this project was going to involve a lot of trial and error.
The very first woodland location I tried failed at the car park gates. Closed…and restricted to specific days and times people could enter. Okay, onto the next location then…
Finding a car park shouldn’t be difficult. Not when you’re following a Sat Nav. I mean it’s telling you where to go! But where is this blasted car park?!
Even between two people and google maps, we seemed to fail to navigate the roads around Cranham Woods. After a little more research and some persistence, we eventually got there.
There seem to be multiple forests leading into one another (with a Cotswold walking trail passing through most of them) in the Cranham, Birdlip and Witcombe areas of Gloucestershire. It’s difficult to decide which side to start at! Deciding upon Buckholt Woods in Cranham, it became a great starting place to crack on with some woodland photography.
My first walk around was a scouting trip, trying to get a feel of what kind of images this location could offer. The trees seemed to change depending on which part of the woods you were exploring. Narrow, winding paths veer off in various directions throughout Buckholt Woods, lined by spacious trees and wild garlic. Following steep hills towards Coopers Hill Woods, the growth becomes wild and chaotic for a moment until large, ancient trees appear, extending in all sorts of directions. As well as a quick shot of a small orange bush sitting alone among tall, bare trees, I came away with the confidence that these woods offered a lot of potential.
Now, it was time to wait for the arrival of bluebells. I’d already spotted large parts of the forest floor that seemed to be getting ready to sprout bluebells and wild garlic. It would take another couple of weeks before it was, sort of, ready. The colder and wetter than normal weather resulted in a delayed and inconsistent growth. Clusters would be ready in one small area, but either hiding away or already past their best in another. It was admittedly a little disappointing to realise I was unlikely to come away with images of dense blue and white flowers covering the floor. Regardless, it was still a beautiful location. I wouldn’t have too much difficulty coming away with a handful of lovely photographs.
Spotting woodland compositions takes a bit of time and patience. I’m no expert (yet ha) but as I walked around, I would look for leading lines (such as pathways) or unique looking trees.
When I found myself attracted to something specific, perhaps an oddly shaped tree, a fallen branch, a pocket of bluebells or a winding pathway, I would mentally examine why it stood out to me. As well as thinking about the light in the landscape, I would observe how the subject interacted with the scenery around it.
This curved pathway is lined by tall trees. Placed to the right of the image, the eye follows the trail to a cluster of trees to where the path veers off and disappears behind them. Where does the path go?! Bluebells sit in the left corner, filling the frame nicely. The trick with this sort of composition is to position your shot so your ‘main’ set of trees (the ones you want your viewers to be drawn to) are broken up from one another with space in between. This creates a clean and easy to view image. When trees overlap, trunks merging and blending into other trees around it, the image doesn’t feel as cohesive. Taking time to move the camera around, even just an inch sideways, can make a huge difference in the composition. Not all trees will line up as you would like them to, but you want to distinguish them from the background noise.
This next image was tricky to compose and is an example of when it may not be possible to ‘arrange’ the trees as you’d like.
Unlike the previous image, this one is more chaotic and contains supporting characters. A bluebell filled floor is littered with broken branches. The long, fallen branch in the foreground and the gradient of the floor behind both lead downwards. The trees in the background overlap and lean in various directions. The bluebells become the main element and give the impression of when this image was taken. Despite the lack of light on an overcast day, the colours are vivid. Woodland photography is great on rainy days as it makes colours pop. And boy did it rain while I was working on these images!
The weather struggles.
I’m pretty sure every time I went to Cranham woods it rained. Rain doesn’t necessarily bother me as my Nikon D750 is weather-proof. However, as I was also trying to document this woodland process on video, the rain did become an issue. It turns out
my Canon GX7 Mark II doesn’t really cope with the UK’s torrential rain very well. Each time I returned to Buckholt Woods to conclude my video; the weather would do its best to prevent me from doing so.
Bright sun, light rain, heavy rain, oh some sun agai-nope actually let’s have some torrential rain. Add some thunder in there too…. bit of hail? Aaaaand back to sun.
As thunder rumbled across the sky, I would glance up at the treetops nervously. It’s okay until you see lightning. Then it’s time to run for the car. The afternoon a hailstorm hit I was sure my Spring woodland video wasn’t supposed to happen. I sprinted back to the car, juggling two tripods and two cameras while yelling wildly at how insane the weather change was. Drenched and clutching a soggy camera, I sat in the car examining weather apps so I could decide whether to leave or wait out the storm. It was a short storm followed by a brief window of sun before another wave of rain.
The brief window of sun was enough to grab another image and wrap up my hectic video. It was almost as though the storm has never happened as the sun shone brightly onto the forest floor. Whatever compositions I had in mind before were pushed aside.
In my previous blog post and woodland exploration, I mentioned how the light completely changes a location. The sunlight created a highly contrasted scene. Dark shadows of trees crisscrossed the floor and light reflected off the wet shrubbery. I decided at this point to focus on more intimate scenes. The goal of woodland photography is to find simplicity in the chaos of nature. The harsh light made it more difficult to find that simplicity.
I did not limit myself to overcast conditions only as I believe good images can be taken at any time. Photographers may prefer to shoot specific scenes at certain times if it aids them in creating their vision.
I did not come away with the images I had originally hoped to. There were no paths
lined with dense garlic. The bluebells were patchy. But I am still very content with the images I did capture and my confidence in woodland photography capability is growing. When Spring rolls around next year I have a better understanding of what to expect and the type of location to aim for. Therefore, I’d say this was a successful Spring project.
Although…I think I may focus on something a little different over the next few weeks.
Make sure to follow me on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter for first look at what I am up to! You can watch my crazy woodland experience below. Thank you for watching, reading, and supporting Courtney Victoria Photography.