Visiting the Haller Forest, the Magic of Spring (2021)

Ever since I started as a photographer, I have travelled to the Haller Forest on several occasions. I always dreamt of shooting this amazing forest during magical conditions, but I was never lucky enough to experience a dreamy and misty sunrise, that is until now…

On the first day of May, after some careful planning and weather forecasting, Roy Poots and I decided to take our chance and travel to Halle. Be sure to check out Roy's vlog (in Dutch) below to see some behind the scenes footage!

The Haller forest

The ‘Hallerbos’ is a small forest area, located just below Brussels, which is known for its Wild Hyacinths or ‘Blue bells’. The purple sea of flowers that can be admired here every year, spans over 300 acres! The forest offers several walking routes that take you to the most beautiful places, two of which are hyacinth routes, each about 5 kilometers long.

Planning our trip

Before Roy and I travelled to Halle, we had to do a lot planning and weather forecasting. The main question we had to answer first was: when do the bluebells bloom? The precise flowering time of the bluebells varies from year to year and depends very much on previous weather conditions. The more sun in early spring, the earlier the bluebells will start to flower. Luckily, the forest has its own website, providing you with the latest status updates.

Second, we had to plan for the perfect conditions. I always use different weather apps such as Clear Outside, Windy and Weather Pro, to try to forecast misty conditions. Things I look out for are fog (no brainer) or a clear, often cold, morning. Humid conditions and the absence of wind are also a tell-tale sign for the possibility of mist and solar harps. Yet, even with all the planning in the world, it’s never guaranteed to get absolute perfect conditions and you’re always dependent on a bit of ‘luck’.

For a long time, it seemed we would not be able to visit the Haller forest (or Belgium for that matter) due to covid-restrictions. Luckily, the Belgium government lifted the ban on non-essential travel as of April 19th.

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The trip

On the first day of May, after some careful planning and weather forecasting, Roy Poots and I decided to take our chance. After very early rise at 3.30 AM, we were in for a 2-hour drive to Halle. Just before departure, we did a final weather check and everything still looked very promising. As we passed the city of Antwerp, we drove into some thick layers fog and our forecasts seemed to be accurate. Upon our arrival to the car park, there was still plenty of mist and we knew we were in for a treat.

During our walk into the forest, it was still quite cold and there was barely any light yet. We were greeted by the gentle smell of bluebells and I remember my first words to Roy were 'I am in a fairy tale'. You see many beautiful photographs of this place, but even after several visits, it is still overwhelming how many bluebells there are, everything is completely covered!

Because of the hilly terrain, it takes a while before the sun's rays to fall through the forest. This gives enough time to find a suitable spot. Once the sunlight had found its way through the leaves and trees, it all went very fast. There is so much beauty to photograph that you have to make choices, and I can give you only one tip: shoot, shoot and shoot!

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Photographic challenges.

Things can get quite overwhelming when shooting forest areas and it often takes some time to find a start. From experience, I know that by using a telephoto lens (70-200 or something similar), you can isolate certain details, which makes it easier to find a composition. Take your time while slowly panning through a scene and you’ll start to notice the right compositions. Long lenses, however, also pose the difficulty of limited depth of field and focus stacking is often required to get everything in your composition crispy sharp, so be sure to take that into account. You can also play with blur and depth of field, isolating certain details. Using wide-angle lenses can be useful too, allowing you to get creative by highlighting certain details in the foreground of your image.

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Practical tips

Our visit to the Hallerbos was very worthwhile to say the least. It really is special and wonderful to see, smell and experience that carpet of flowers. It is a pity that it is so far from home, but don’t let that be a threshold to drive there.

If our visit has sparked your interest, here's a few tips if you're planning a trip yourself:

- The Haller forest is free to visit and it even has its own website with information on parking, walking routes, etc.

- ONLY WALK ON THE WALKING PATHS. You are not allowed to step outside the paths while walking and photographing. Please respect nature as the soil and vegetation are very sensitive! Causing damage to the area takes years to recover and is completely unnecessary: the flowers grow right up to the edge of the forest, so you can also take beautiful pictures from the paths.

- Avoid the crowds and try to plan your visits outside the weekends. If you visit the forest during the early morning, there are far less visitors and the light conditions are also far more beautiful. You can even spot a dear or two during if you’re lucky ;)

- If conditions don’t work out the way you planned, don’t panic. Instead, enjoy and scout the area. It took me over 5 trips over the course several years to finally get the conditions I wanted. If I hadn’t visited and scouted the area before, I would not have known where to go and what to shoot.

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