Spring is a great time of year for the landscape photographer as our woodlands come to life with fresh green foliage and wildflowers. The most popular of those wildflowers has to be the native English bluebell and one of the best places to see these in abundance is at Middleton Woods, just north of Ilkley in Lower Wharfedale.
It’s generally worth starting to explore your local bluebell woods from the end of April onwards as the flowers start to come into bloom. In early May the woods around Yorkshire tend to be at their best for bluebells, but it will depend on how sheltered the particular woodland near you is and how warm the spring has been. Then it’s just a case of picking the right day for your visit, when the conditions are right for bluebell photography. What I generally look for is a nice still day with some light cloud cover to give good diffused light for photographing the subtle colours of the foliage and flowers. So you may need to be patient waiting for the perfect conditions!
My patience was rewarded one year when, after a few windy days where photographing the flowers would have been very difficult, the midweek forecast was for low wind and a sunny morning but with cloud moving over in the afternoon, so I aimed to get to the woods at about lunchtime. The forecast proved accurate with sunlight peeping through to start with making exposure a bit tricky, though one or two shots in denser parts of the woods worked OK with some dappled sunlight – but the best light came as the cloud started to build up a bit giving an hour or so of perfect light.
You’ll find that under the canopy of lush spring leaves on a diffused light day the exposure times can be lengthy, so don’t forget your tripod! This is another reason why a still day is best, so there’s not too much movement in the flowers or foliage for the longer exposures.
However, with a good selection of tripod shots in the bag, you might want to try a bit of experimentation with camera movement for some more abstract images of the fresh spring foliage and blue flowers. The vertical tree trunks surrounded by fresh spring foliage and vibrant flowers lend themselves particularly well to this!
The best areas of the woods tend to be around the paths on the northern edge of the area marked as Middleton Woods on the map, though lower down the hill and over the road into Stubham Wood is also worth a look. Another great thing about this location is that if the bluebells have faded, then it’s not too far over to Bolton Abbey where Strid Wood will be filled with wild garlic flowers later in May.