Thursday, 16 May 2013

Wildflowers in the wild of Kent

It's curious that I've chosen to indulge in photography as a hobby, a creative outlet and theme for most of my holidays. Curious because many photography workshops or travel arrangements to said photography events involve crack of dawn starts. And I'm just not a morning person at all, I'm more akin to being a creature of the night! I admit that I do love a good sunrise but it is probably no accident that so many of my dawn shoots are from my window, either at home or occasionally from a well positioned hotel room. It’s a major bonus that I can get some lovely shots without strapping on sensible shoes or anything waterproof. Maybe I need to dedicate my life to photographing owls and bats instead These thoughts are entering my head as on my precious day off when my alarm is set for a quarter to five. After one or two hits of the snooze button, I've packed my pink camera bag, donned a flowery dress and pink hiking boots (it seemed apt for today’s escapade), grabbed my tripod (thankfully not pink!) and headed for the station. I need to be in Sittingbourne Kent for 9am and I've realised that I'm being challenged by the various public transport operators to make the journey longer than necessary because of early morning schedules.
I have signed up for workshop photographing wildflowers in the deepest wilds of Kent with We’ve already had to postpone due to the terribly tardy Spring and the lack of flowers. After the protracted journey it really does feel like I'm in the wilds of somewhere. The other photographers have driven nearly as far as I've travelled and we all pile into Robert's jeep to head for our first protected wood.
In the total quiet of the wood, stood in the dappled light of the reluctant sunshine we're surrounded by purple orchids as far as the eye can see. First of all Robert shows us how it's done. We want a single, lone specimen set apart from its friends and conveniently close to our path. For our orchid supermodel we want a slender, upright stem, perfect petals and a background devoid of distractions.
After Robert has fired off a few test shots, we each establish our little station along the path. Tripods erected with legs splayed to ensure proximity to the ground, macro lenses screwed in, or in my case, macro settings applied we are ready for our first shots. The idea is to get this purple doyen of the flower world offset in our frame with a pleasing blurry bokeh of the surrounding greenery in the background.
After a handful of full-length portraits I'm now ready for our close-ups. In my case I prepared by purchasing some close up filters, something I had spotted on Robert's list of useful items to bring today. I had bought two close-ups +4 filters so I could stack then if desired. After my experiments with them at the weekend I knew that with them both attached to my camera I would have to get really, really close to my subject. Which can mean some awkward contortions so that you can see through the viewfinder and be the requisite distance from the subject. And also discovered that using autofocus wasn't always so precise when dealing with such a tiny area of focal point so Robert suggested that I tried manual focusing and after some experimentation I realise that this could definitely be the way forward, I can't believe I've never tried manual focus before but then it all seemed a little alarming. I wasn't aware of how to fine tune the focus (the button labelled ’focus’ doh!) but with a little practice it became easier. That's the beauty of a workshop like this, you've got the time to practice something you haven't done before to perfect a technique that you've always meant to experiment with but just did not have the hours to dedicate to such exploration.
After the full length and the close-ups, I experiment with some groups shots showing more of the environment and then I turned my eyes to the other flora in the area. Once I've got both set of close-up filters on, even a few blades of grass open up a world of possibilities, little tiny buds and insects attract my eye and I'm spinning around my little chosen spot finding more and more things to photograph. And then it's time to pack up head for the next wood and our next wild flower.
In the next darker wood it is the turn of the bluebell. We have a carpet of bluebells, mingled with the verdant green of the bluebell stalks and leaves.
We go for some long shots of the blue haze, some close ups (though I've managed to lose one of my filters somewhere) and then I try making a little “Monet” out of the bluebell wood.
I switched to shutter priority, extended the time a little and tried bowing with the camera. It’s hard to keep the camera steady so the results can be rather mixed. Robert explained that instead of one long movement, which often ended up quite jerky, a gentle nodding of the head would achieve better results. The effect is best when pointing the camera at some distinctly vertical lines already. The trees made the perfect backdrop and the bluebell and their stems the stripes of blue with flashes of green below and the lush green of the new leaves on the trees above. A little quirky, but fun!
After a very fine pub lunch we tackle cowslips. This entails laying face down on a ground sheet close to our chosen yellow victim and experiment with shots of the translucent petals against the background of the gentle green slopes dotted with the white fluffy sheep that seemed curious immobile for the entire time or the occasionally blue, blue sky.
It seems almost too easy to have a little post-lunch siesta but we manage to resist.
After photographing-out the cowslips, perhaps making use of the recumbent posture I had adopted, I turned my thoughts to the blades of grass. I had no shortage of material as we were very much in a grassy pasture dotted with delicate yellow cowslips. But these I think, after careful consideration, are my favourite blades!
Once again we head into the cool shade of a bluebell wood. I wasn’t immediately drawn to the view on entering, there was a bit of jostling for tripod space so I opted instead for the camera underneath the bluebell shooting up to the sky shot. It took a couple of attempts but I rather like the abstract and almost sinister nature of this one.
This wood is just full to the brim of old gnarly trees, fallen trees and decaying tree stumps covered in bluebells.
I started to feel like I was getting a little bit over the colour blue, personally I was hankering for a pink bluebell in the sea of blue but not entirely sure you'd ever find one. However once I spotted an albino bluebell I then concentrated all my efforts on finding the perfect white bloom to finish the day shooting.

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