Kent Wild Orchids

I’d like to share some of my photographs of Kent Wild Orchids from the past few summers. Whilst I am more of a ‘landscape’ photographer, seeking out and learning about these marvellous rare flowers turned out to be a great way to explore the county and fill those long summer days before a sunset shoot.

The first orchids I came across were in a small reserve in Denge Woods named Bonsai Bank. I had been to the woods before to shoot bluebells in the spring but after doing some more research online I found out about this chalk scrubland well known for its Lady Orchids.

A pair of Lady orchids from my first trip in 2017. Shot with my 70-200 f4 zoom lens.

There are hundreds of Lady Orchids here and all quite easily visible from the footpaths in the reserve. The difficult part is setting up the tripod and committing to a subject without worrying there is something better around the corner!

On my first few trips looking for orchids the only suitable lens I had with me was my 70-200 f4 zoom. This telephoto lens is perfectly capable of getting some nice ‘record’ type shots but I soon added a Samyang 135mm f2 lens which offered the chance to get very different sort of images.

I revisited in 2018 with a different lens which allowed for a more ‘environmental’ portrait approach.

It took some time to find the right lens to add to my setup and I went through a few macro lenses before I realised a traditional macro wasn’t going to do it. Macro lenses tend to stop down automatically the closer they need to focus which makes sense to keep the subject sharp but I wanted to exaggerate the shallow focus.

Monkey Orchid. Once I find a good example I start with a standard shot like this. This was with my telephoto zoom and extension tubes.

Park Gate Down nature reserve is on the outskirts of Stelling Minnis and is famous for being one of only a handful of locations in the country to have Monkey Orchids. They start to appear in early May although they are quite difficult to see and considerably smaller than Lady Orchids. Even in the well-managed meadows of Park Gate they are difficult to spot but once you get your eye in; you’ll notice them everywhere.

Once I find a nice subject with an uncluttered background I like to get the classic portrait shots completed first before I can experiment with shallow depth of field and try to create something different.

Using a wide aperture like f2 blurs the background and foreground so much which isolates the flower and creates smudges of colour with what’s left. I shot this close to a buttercup in the foreground to add a bit of colour and interest opposite the orchid.

I compare these type of images to an environmental portrait you might see with a pretty model but instead with flowers or fungi. Even though most other elements in the frame are now completely blurred they are important in balancing the frame like with this buttercup above.

Another bit of kit I added that can be essential for this type of shooting is a beanbag. I have a good tripod that spreads out fully but even that is not low enough to shoot these small flowers at ground level. In these cases, there is nothing else for it but to get dirty and lie down on your stomach with the camera balanced on a beanbag.

I shot this through the grasses by using a bean bag with my 135mm f2 lens at f2.2
A Greater Butterfly Orchid shot later on in the season. It is a larger flower but still, I needed to get low with my beanbag to be able to shoot it above the grasses.

Later in the season the nearby Yocklett’s Bank nature reserve is a good place to see the Fly Orchid, if you can find them, they are super tiny! I love the blue-ish ‘eyes’ on these flowers, these are my favourites.

A fresh-looking example I shot with a 150mm macro lens.
A pair of Fly Orchids which I shot with my 70-200 f4 lens and a 2x teleconverter. This made my lens a 140-400mm f8 lens which gives a flatter compressed view.

Here are a few other examples I shot in a few different locations in Kent. Hopefully, by the time they start to bloom the lockdown rules will have been relaxed.

Green-winged orchid. Whitstable
Early Spider Orchids at Samphire Hoe. The first orchids to show in late April.
Early Purple Orchid. Park Gate Down
Early Spider- Samphire Hoe
Common Spotted Orchid nr Wye
Early Purple Orchid. Park Gate Down.

Thanks for reading..! 🙂

I hope to add more species to the blog such as the Bee Orchid and others when I get out this season.

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