... blog post:
Photographing bluebells and getting their colour right has always been a challenge as they reflect infrared which makes cameras see them as much less blue than we humans do. However...
Now let's deal with some technical myths you are going to encounter which are self perpetuating fallacies when it comes to snapping the blue ones:
- You absolutely will need a tripod with a shutter-release cable, remote control or self-timer in order to achieve sharp pictures and greater depth of field through smaller apertures with longer exposure times without worrying about camera shake. Rubbish! My OM-1 with its IBIS used in conjunction with the OIS in my 14-100mm f4 Pro lens, in Sync IS mode, gives me eight stops (ev) of anti wobble to achieve all this hand held. Who needs a tripod? Witness all of the photos shown here.
- You will have to shoot in RAW, it's the only way you will successfully make the necessary adjustments in post to the colour and white balance needed to get the correct blue for the blue bells. It is also essential for that other darling of the RAW processing crowd, ETTR (see below). Also Rubbish! All the pictures here were done as Jpegs and the blues corrected for in Perfectly Clear using the Fix Tint Colour preset. As for ETTR...
- You will need to employ the ETTR (expose to the right) technique, they will insist, adjusting your exposure to maximise the tones appearing on the right hand side of the luminosity histogram using your camera's LCD display. This will allow you to retain detail in the shadows while also minimising noise. This is a much disputed technique these days, that has been carried forward from the early days of digital cameras which had very limited dynamic range and very high native noise levels unlike modern machines like my new OM-1. With the latest technology it is much better to meter to avoid blown highlights (one of the biggest vulnerabilities of the ETTR approach), unless you are using extremely high ISO's (which here we are not) where ETTR may just about be worth the faff (and maybe not) but this is a whole different story.
- You will need to shoot at f8 or f11, essential for greater depth of focus and sharper images. Well, not if you are sensible and use MFT as I do where f4 and f5.6 give equivalent field depth and let in more light to help keep your ISO down closer to the lowest native setting for maximum image quality.
So, what does matter? Well the bluebells do first and foremost of course; that means being out and about regularly checking them in their favourite woodland growing spots from mid-April to mid-May. Then there is the light; dappled sunlight in woodland glades, backlit seas of blue or individual plants, the sunlight being at its bluest each hour on either side of midday to light up the blue flowers. Then there is the composition; try to provide a focal point for your picture such as the bottoms of tree trunks or fallen logs, not just the 'bells themselves which on their own can be a boring blue amorphous mass.Then there is the glass; a zoom with a medium telephoto reach (200mm or equivalent) is good, as stepping off the path into the field of plants is a no no. Then again you could use a lens with a good close focusing capability to get so called 'macro' shots of individual plants. Finally, watch your feet; it's all too easy to stray unthinkingly off path and trample these delicate plants in search of that 'perfect' picture, so stay aware of your surroundings before you move. This is why I use a wide range zoom for this work (12-100mm f4 which is a 24-200mm crop equivalent) on my MFT format OM-1, it encourages me to stand fast.
Below is a gallery of a few pics snapped on the day from about 11:00 onwards, all taken hand held, as JPEGs, normally exposed, with my new Olympus OM-1 and my Olympus M.Zuiko 12-100mm f4 IS Pro, post processed in Perfectly Clear using the Fix Tint Colour preset:
So there you have it. Bluebells in all their glory. If only our photographs could be had in smell-a-vision so we could experience their sweet wild hyacinth perfume, wafted on the wind, across the woodland glade. Beautiful!