In Search of Spring (2024)

In Search of Spring (2024)

blooming wildflowers in beautiful landscapes

Hey everyone! How's it going?

My Springtime photography this year was confined to local woodland wildflowers and a somewhat obsessive determination with finding immersive compositions of bluebells and flowering garlic there.

My storm chasing duties Stateside meant I only had a small window of opportunity to get out and about when things finally bloomed. This also meant I missed capturing what promised to be some great looking fields of rapeseed.

However, I did pay an obligatory visit to Bolam Lake where I went in search of one particular subject and came away with something both unexpected and delightful - my favourite shot of this Spring season.

Bloomin' 'eck!

Bluebell Wood and Pegswood near Morpeth in Northumberland have some of the best examples of bluebells and flowering garlic in the North East that I know of. However, despite being ‘ancient woodlands’, the forest floor here is somewhat scrappy and littered with saplings and fledgling trees which can often distract and spoil the view.

Finding a 'clean' composition here requires some effort and exploration.

Despite its name and the abundance of bluebells, I find Bluebell Wood (and the neighbouring Pegswood) is far better for flowering garlic. Once in bloom, the entire forest floor can be awash with them and the smell is divine. Given their distribution around the wood, especially along pathways, finding compositions isn’t as difficult.

Bluebell compositions on the other hand can be a bit of a nightmare, for me anyway, though I guess it comes down to the type of image you’re trying to capture. Due to their protected nature, you have to be extra careful wandering through bluebell patches as the more visually interesting sites are trickier to get to and I have to wonder if the effort was worth it.


Hollinside Wood in Durham, however, is miles better for bluebells and offers many great sites, all within a relatively short walk around the wood. The best areas lie at the bottom of the hill which can be quite steep and, because this is Wearside, quite muddy. This place never seems to see the sun (hello… Wearside) and the banks are often quite muddy and well trodden. I had what can only be described as ‘hilarious fun’ trying to scramble up hills for a decent vantage point whilst trying not to wipe out a whole swathe of bluebells.

Sunlight, as it always has been in the past here (did I mention Wearside?) was at a premium and so the light was flat (again!). The images I managed to capture were less than desirable and I feel I got a much better clutch the year before.

Allen Banks continues to be an enigma. Now, I know garlic and bluebells flower at different times, even between neighbouring sites of the same flower (Bluebell Wood flowered earlier than neighbouring Pegswood for example), but Allen Banks varies wildly year on year and I never seem to be able to time it right. This year when I visited the bluebells had yet to flower but the garlic was already dead. And this was in mid-May!! Maybe I should just stick to Autumn photography here which, by the way, is very very good!

Into the images then...

relax and reap dividends

As I mentioned earlier, you have to put in the effort to find a clean composition in the woods here to the point where I wonder if its even possible (though I’m sure a better photographic eye than mine would find one). I don’t just mean by simply wandering around, but by letting your photographic eye relax, take your time and absorb your surroundings.

I think this is one of the areas where I fail at this kind of thing - I rely too much on trying to achieve compositional norms instead of ‘feeling’ the shot and capturing the essence and meaning of Spring.

trees for the wood

Unless you stand in precisely in the right spot, this composition below goes by unnoticed (even I had trouble finding it again after my first visit). I think it was only because I was looking for a collection of uprights that this view stood out to me in the first place to be honest. A couple of steps to either side and the composition disappears - you can’t see the trees for the wood. When I originally saw it, the garlic had yet to flower, or maybe it was just beginning to in patches. Either way I became slightly obsessed with it and made repeat visits until the flowers had bloomed. After that, it was just a case of waiting for the sun to poke its head out which, given typical British weather, took a while.

multiple moods

I was able to make several different images with different mood and feeling from this one spot. Is the focus of the image about the trees being surrounded by garlic or is the focus about the garlic in which a group of trees sit?.

Wrangling dappled light is always an issue as the camera’s sensor can never capture the full range effectively so I had to resort to exposure bracketing and blend accordingly. I defocused the background ever so slightly and added a tiny hint of Orton to create a more hazy, summer vibe.

The subtle misty morning shot was achieved entirely in post. I was pleased enough with the composition when I took the image but the light on the day was pretty boring and for whatever reason, I just couldn’t recreate the strength of the composition when I revisited and the light was good.

I don’t think I was ever going to find the ideal composition I was looking for; that of a level ‘clean’ forest floor with a few tree islands and golden hour sunlight. Given the nature of the woodland here, a more intimate take is necessary, or maybe just a better eye than mine.

epitome of spring

And so onto my favourite image I created this Spring...

I’ve been fascinated for ages by this pair of trees that stretch out over the lake but what to do with them or how to compose them has always eluded me. By chance, during one of my wanders, I saw how the evening sun just fell upon them and then I knew immediately. Given that Bolam Lake plays host to some native swans, I figured they’d make the perfect subject.

Were the swans playing ball this day though? They were not! I didn’t care though, for - almost on cue - a family of ducks and ducklings willingly obliged instead, helping me create one of my favourite images for some time.

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