Each spring around mid-April I rattle off several hundred frames that I never show anyone. Frames of Virginia Bluebells. There’s really nothing in my landscape calendar each year that wrecks my confidence as a photographer more thoroughly than Virginia Bluebells, which perhaps is why in some reverse logical way I actually enjoy the experience! Ephemeral flowers, Virginia Bluebells appear as if by magic along the moist banks of rivers and streams around Northern Virginia, long before the leaf canopy above matures and blocks the sunlight from warming the forest floor. In the weeks leading up to the bloom I often drive out to each location only to find that color yet eludes the season. Then, as if by some imaginary schedule, the day comes when I arrive and the forest floor is carpeted with small, blue, bell-shaped flowers. For those of you locals who are interested, Virginia Bluebells usually nip on the heels of the National Cherry Blossom Festival and the passing bloom of the Yoshino Cherry Trees in downtown Washington D.C. Common locations to view the ephemeral spring flowers are Bull Run Regional Park, Riverbend Regional Park, Merrimac Farm WMA, and McKee Beshers WMA.
Why so difficult to photograph? I’m not entirely sure. I’ve seen others handle these little guys with a grace that eludes me behind the lens. Not being a macro photographer, I try each spring to learn the art of shooting small, but without the knowledge and the drive to learn focus stacking and image blending the exercise is largely fruitless. Pulling back and shooting big is riddled with challenges as well. The landscape in early spring is still a mess of bare sticks, leaving the better part of any frame full of chaos and a lack of color. Somewhere in the middle of the focal range, shooting tight but not small, is where I believe there is success to be had–a sweet spot if you will. But that sweet spot still eludes me! I went again and again in April, sure that I would piece together the puzzle and put out some good work featuring Virginia Bluebells. That was not the case.
Why keep trying? I’m not entirely sure. From a business standpoint, the sales potential of Virginia Bluebells have shown to be rather limited for me personally. Interest is generally minimal on my social channels as well, meaning even a kick of activity on my pages is unlikely. However, taking a much larger perspective for a minute, shooting (and failing at shooting) the Virginia Bluebells is a kind of early-year calibration for me. A realization that I’m not all put together; I don’t have everything figured out. There’s work to be done. Focus is necessary. I’ve historically done most of my best work in the coming months of May and June, and perhaps a part of that success has been due to the early struggles that I experience each spring with the Virginia Bluebells. And, aside from all that stuff, I just really enjoy seeing the forest come alive. I wouldn’t miss it even if I had no camera at all.