Here's the latest from ace photographer and naturalist, Tom Mason. We had some debate about featuring bluebells in April issue of Nature's Home due to them already being out by the time the magazine hits doormats next week. However, based on the fact that they were still only in bud in Wayland Wood, Norfolk on Sunday when I visited looking for rare plants, I'd say the timing is spot on. Here's Tom to get you in the mood for these iconic woodland flowers and some of his glorious camera work.
With April here, spring is certainly in the air, a nice change from those long evening and short days. As we enter into spring the natural world is once again starting to brim with new life, flowers are starting to open and the first bees are flitting between them excitedly. As a photographer it’s the perfect time to dust of the camera and stir some creativity into your work and one species that always proves to be a great challenge, has to be that wonderful emblem of spring, the Bluebell.
In the UK we are truly blessed with these wonderful plants, with over 50% of the entire population of the species being found on our little island. Part of the Lilly family, bluebells grow early to absorb as much light as possible before the canopy of the ancient woodland above forms. This allows them to replenish the nutrients in their bulbs before being shaded out by the leaves above.
An incredible plant, bluebells are also being studied due to a number of their properties that scientist hope will help to develop and improve some cancer medications.
Bluebells flower between mid April and mid May but make sure you are prepared ahead of time. Scouting location on foot, after researching online or speaking to local naturalists, you can easily stack up a number of possible locations for producing images.
A few excellent locations to try include -
- Blickling Estate's Great Wood, Norfolk
- RSPB Strumpshaw Fen, Norfolk
- Ashridge Estate, Hertfordshire
- Emmetts Garden, Kent
- Serpentine Wood at Calke Abbey, Derbyshire
- Packwood House, Warwickshire
- Skelghyll Woods, Ambledside, Cumbria
- Godolphin Orchard, Cornwall
- Standish Wood,Gloucestershire
- Woodland behind Abermawr Beach, Pembrokeshire
- Newton Wood at Roseberry Topping, Yorkshire
Photographing bluebells can often be a difficult task so take your time. Firstly walk around your location taking time to not step on the precious plants and keeping to footpaths in order to not disturb the habitat. Look for interesting compositions and dense areas of flowers to give vibrant results.
Most people will often reach for their wide angle for photographing bluebells, but often this can result in the flowers looking to be spread out, reducing the impact. Instead try to work with a telephoto, focus in on areas of the woodland to accentuate the colours and forms.
Move in close and identify single flowers within a patch, working with the individual plants to show the subtle details. Remember that if you are working with a macro lens and a single flower, any movement can ruin a shot, so use a tripod and a fast shutter speed to freeze any possible movement caused by wind. If you need some more light, try using a reflector to throw some additional fill light onto your subjects.
Of course sometimes adding movement to an image can add a great effect and with bluebells you can really paint a wonderful scene. Slow your shutter speed down to around 1/15 or 1/20th and then pan upwards with the lines of the trees to create painterly shots. Getting it right often requires many repeats!
Bluebells are a wonderful subject to work with and we are truly so lucky to have them in abundance in the UK. Our ancient woodlands are a precious reminder of the wooded landscape that used to cover this land and spending time in these special places is not only fantastic for photography, but a humbling and throughly enjoyable experience!
Get out there and get shooting! If you would like to share some of your shots, why not tweet me @tommasonphoto ? If you are interested in checking out more of my work, please head over the my website at www.tommasonphoto.com
I'm very excited to present a guest blog from Stornoway frontman Brian Briggs - and your chance to get a free download from the band's new album, Bonxie. I was fortunate enough to be invited to the album launch in London the other week and thought they were great. Not only that, Brian has also written a brilliant piece for April Nature's Home magazine. Don't miss his "Best day" on page 98. Look out for the mag dropping on your doormat from mid April. Here's Brian...
Spring is here
Open your window at dawn or dusk this week and you can instantly hear that spring is here. I learnt the songs of a few common birds in my first real job, working as a field assistant in Wytham Woods in Oxfordshire, and it opened up a whole new dimension in the outside world. Birds like wrens, chaffinches, robins and great tits are more easily heard than seen, but fortunately they all have distinctive songs that don't take much effort to learn. Once I began to recognise a few key phrases of the local characters I started to feel a little more part of the habitat and a little less like a tourist on my own patch.
Tuning into the sonic landscape allows me to enjoy my time outdoors even more. As I wrote recently in The Guardian, I believe that if children were taught the language of our gardens and countryside from an early age they would grow up with a stronger appreciation of nature's importance to us.
Stornoway with Brian Briggs second from right.
I'm a life fellow of the RSPB and did my PhD on ducks in Oxford, during which I formed my band Stornoway. I'm lucky to combine my two passions of birds and music, with the natural world forming an ever-present backdrop to our songs and lyrics. Our new album 'Bonxie' is named after the Scottish term for a great skua, and it features field recordings from a variety of habitats, woven into the songs on the album.
Get a free download from Stornoway's new album!Here's a free song from the album to download, so you can see how we’ve combined our love of nature and music. It is called 'Lost Youth' and I hope you enjoy it!
In two weeks time, I’ll be heading to one of the major RSPB events of the year – and one of my favourites. It’s Members’ Weekend, based at York University, and an event I’ve been involved in, and have a strong affection for. I really recommend it if you haven’t been before. If you haven’t booked up yet, there’s still time! 27 to 29 March are the dates for your diary.
First time nerves
I joined the RSPB’s workforce in 2005 having spent the years between University and then writing about birds and wildlife in a freelance capacity. One of my first big RSPB “gigs” was being asked to present a seminar at Members’ Weekend based on a book I’d had published that year – Bird Identification and Fieldcraft: a birdwatcher’s guide. This was my first book and it was a real honour being asked to talk about it at the RSPB’s main event for its members.
The talk went so well that it was standing room only and my competitive side was a little bit pleased to know mine was the best attended talk that year! Crikey I was nervous though, but it all worked out fine. Last year, I gave a seminar on my role as RSPB Editor-in-Chief where readers’ letters and stories gave me some top content.
The Friday afternoon seminars are a real highlight of Members’ Weekend as they are by staff members so you are hearing about them and the work they do. This year, I’ll be making sure I attend my very good friend and top photographer (one of the best out there in my opinion) Ben Andrew’s talk about his job as a Wildlife Adviser for the RSPB. Ben's talk is my "top pick" for the weekend, so don't miss it at 5 o'clock. he'll have some great stories to share from his job.
Will the summer migrants be back in time for Members' Weekend? (Blackcap by Paul Chesterfield (rspb-images.com)
We also have photojournalist Neil Aldridge talking on Friday evening - a fellow judge for the British Wildlife Photography Awards in 2012, that I have the pleasure of judging each year.
Up at the crack of dawn
On Saturday morning, I can pretty much guarantee that I’ll be one of the first people up (so early to bed for me on Friday). This is because I organised and lead the early morning bird walk around York University campus. It’s a 6 o’clock kick off and myself and my crack team of guides will do our best to show you the surprisingly varied birdlife that lives on and around the lakes,. Showy treecreepers are usually a highlight as are close views of great crested grebes either on nests or with chicks.
During the weekend, there’s always a chance of seeing something unexpected. Personally I’ve seen male hen harrier, Arctic tern, Little ringed plover, jack snipe and grey partridge.
Saturday afternoon is the time for excursions and visits to nearby RSPB reserves, and other places of interest. You can check out the programme here. The evening entertainment following the main presentation is always great fun and well attended and if you see me at the bar, mine’s a pint, thank you. And on the subject of refreshment, the food is absolutely top notch!
Sunday morning sees a packed programme of talks as well and then it's all over sadly - until next year anyway!
Do visit the web page to find out more about what's on offer, but I hope my personal perspective has whetted your appetite to come along and book your place.