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Where to Photograph Bluebells in the UK

Whenever Britain runs a 'Favourite Flower survey', Bluebells rate very highly on the list, which is quite appropriate as Britain is said to contain more than half the worlds population of Bluebells. They usually flower in April and May each year depending on their location and the weather conditions.

Within the UK countryside some feel that the native British Bluebell is at risk, due to a number of factors but including the destruction of it's native woodland habitat for agriculture or being converted to coniferous woodland, but also the threat of interbreeding with the Spanish bluebells which were introduced into British garden's in the 17th century and since the 20th century have escaped into the British countryside. This has resulted in one in six bluebells seen in our woodlands today being a mixture of British, Spanish and a hybrid of the two.

What to look out for:

  • Native Bluebells will be found in, but not restricted to, woodland and they are perfectly adapted to cope with the shade created by the woodland canopy.

  • The first green shoots emerge in January as they push their way through the surface of the woodland floor, with them flowering around April-May each year depending on their location and the local climate.

  • The number and density of the flowers give the impression of a carpet of blue on the woodland floor.

  • The deep blue-violet flowers are narrow, with parallel sides and give off a sweet scent.

  • The bells are positioned at the top of the stem and almost entirely on one side which causes them to droop to one side.

  • The leaves are fairly narrow, between 6-20mm wide halfway down the leaf.

  • The further west in Britain you go the more widespread they become in other habitats such as grassland, heath, scrub, sea cliffs and hedge banks.

  • The highest recorded sightings of bluebells within the UK has been on Craig-yr-Ysfa in Snowdonia at 685m up.

Facts and Folklore

There is archaeological evidence that Bronze Age people used bluebell glue to attach feathers to their arrows.

Bluebell sap was used to bind pages into the spines of books.

Bluebell bulbs were crushed to provide starch for the ruffs of Elizabethan collars and sleeves.

Like a lot of things in Britain they have their own claim to folklore, with Bluebell Woods and fairies. It is said that the magical creations of fairies were summoned by the ringing of the bluebells, and anyone who heard the flowers chime would not have long to live.

They are important early flowers for bees, hoverflies and butterflies which feed on the nectar.

Bees can 'steal' the nectar from the flowers by biting a hole in the bottom of the bell, reaching the nectar without pollinating the flower.

Bluebell Survey

In recent years the Natural History Museum ran an annual survey of bluebell populations within the UK. Members of the public were asked to help search for bluebells, in their area or when out and about to help them identify where they are. They built a picture of the distribution of British Bluebells and when and where they first flower across the country.

Photographing Bluebells

The blue colour of the bluebell is a challenge to photograph, just like purple. It is achievable if done correctly, and when out on location photographing bluebells an essential tool is your white balance target, whether that be a piece of grey card or one of the many manufactured targets you can purchase today such as the Lastolite EzyBalance.

Before taking your picture take time to set up the White Balance (WB) using your camera's PRE for the different lighting conditions you come across, they are not going to move on and you will be more than pleased with your results when you return to your computer with the limited amount of editing you will need to do. We have a range of articles specifically on white balance and colour management, see links below.

The best type of day is a bright still one, so that the heads stay still, and not too much sunshine will give the blues a much deeper colour. Bluebells are found predominantly in woodlands, but can also be found at other locations such as grassland, heath, scrub, sea cliffs and hedge banks.

By their very nature woodlands tend to be dark especially once the leaves are on the trees, so from this perspective if you can, you need to visit before the trees are totally covered in leaves. This can be difficult to judge and it might be that you need to visit your preferred spot a number of times until you get the right conditions to capture them. If you happen to come across a carpet of them at the coast, whilst out walking then the sun is likely to be your biggest problem, so position yourself to cut down the most sun you can, and make sure you have used the PRE   setting on your camera so that you capture the colours correctly at source and then you can always boost the colours in editing afterwards. If you're trying to do a macro   shot then try using something or someone, if you're not on your own, to block out some of the direct sunlight, but watch out for shadows, this can alter the colours and it will be necessary to do another PRE setting.

Cemaes Head on the Pembrokeshire Coast Path Jeremy Bolwell

Look out for attractive groups or clumps with no damage to the flowers and try out different viewpoints. Try using a longish lens from a low perspective so that you have them close to the lens and a blue carpet going into the distance. The effect of the long lens will shorten the perspective and compress the view making it look like there are more than there are. Wide angle lenses on the other hand used close to the flowers will allow you to get a sweep of the woodland in the shot as well.

Bluebells are naturally close to the ground and their flowers all appear on one side of the stem which causes their heads bend to over, so if attempting any macro work in their natural environment you will probably need a tripod or if not a very steady hand to get a good macro shot. You could also use anything that might be nearby like a stone or even your camera bag to support it, if you haven't taken you tripod along. There are other methods you can use to get close up images so take a look at close up methods for more on this.

Today it is illegal to dig up native bluebells from the woodland after a law was passed in 1998 to stop the uprooting of the native plants. So when out in the woods treat them with respect keep to the footpaths and resist the urge to pick them or move them to make a better photograph, take them in situ, a blue carpeted woodland floor is a picture which can gain admiration from many.


Finding Bluebell locations

Bluebells can be found in very many woodlands throughout Britain and driving around many areas like the Cotswolds, Forest of Dean, and many others, as well as taking woodland walks you are going to come across them at the right time.

There are some places which have become particularly well known, such as Micheldever Woods in Hampshire, and my favourite location is in the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire, at Staple Edge Wood in the Soudley Valley.

To find a location a bit more local to you you may find our Bluebell Locations lists of help, which lists some of the more well known sites we have been able to identify. If you know of any that we have not included then please let us know and we will add them for everybody else to share.

Where to Photograph Bluebells in England

Where to Photograph Bluebells in Scotland

Where to Photograph Bluebells in Wales

Where to Photograph Bluebells in Northern Ireland

The following is a list of articles specifically on white balance, colour management and how to set PRE. Take a look you may find some interesting techniques and methods you could use to help get that bluebell photograph with impact.

So what is white balance and why won’t auto white balance do  Here we look at what white balance is and why we should use it, introducing the topic and giving the foundations for other articles.

Setting and using PRE  The PRE setting within white balance allows us to get the most accurate colours and here we look at this in detail and how to use it.

Colour management outlined explains briefly the larger topic of colour management, although concentrating on the aspects that are connected with white balance.

Choosing the white balance setting to use  looks at how to use the camera settings in relation to white balance on a Nikon DSLR. If you have another make of camera you will still have similar controls.

Other steps we can take on white balance  There are other ways to manage colour and other approaches, and this article covers some of these.

The K values of light   is a table rather than an article and gives the colours of different types of light.

Exposure and White Balance Targets 

You may also find the following of help:


Filters Section

See Also:-

visitwoods.org.uk The Woodland Trusts special Woodland Website that incorporates the woods owned and managed by itself, but also those of the Forestry Commission, Wildlife Trusts, RSPB and the National Trust.

Natures Calendar Survey  A site also managed by the Woodland Trust, but looks more at the wildlife and nature in the UK. Is the home for volunteers to record the signs of the seasons where they live, and it is open to anyone to take part. There are links to a  free downloadable nature identification booklet as well as other free wildlife guides, forms for recording as well as a link to submit your findings. This particular link goes to their Bluebell Fact page.


By: Tracey Park Section: Woodlands and Forests  Key:
Page Ref: uk_bluebells Topic: Nature Last Updated: 04/2016

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