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How to Photograph Beautiful Winter Snowdrops (or Other Flowers)

how-to-photograph-winter-snowdrops-flowers

Every year the forests and parks gain a touch of magic as the winter snowdrops emerge. For just a fleeting few weeks, their delicate flowers form beautiful white carpets that seem to flow in the weak winter sun. But sometimes, when we go out to photograph them, the results can be a little lackluster.

It seems like it shouldn’t be hard to take a great snowdrop photo, and yet many photographers really struggle to capture their beauty. Here are some of my top tips when it comes to the art of photographing these tiny flowers. Don’t forget your macro lens or close-up filters to get the best shots.

Get down low

When the flower you’re photographing doesn’t stand taller than the top of your boots, you’re going to have to get yourself and your camera down close to the floor for a worm’s eye view. For this reason, I always keep a couple of carrier bags in my camera gear. The alternative is wet knees and elbows, so I recommend you do the same!

Image: ISO100, 35mm (50mm equiv.), f2.8, 1/550th sec

ISO100, 35mm (50mm equiv.), f2.8, 1/550th sec

You can either rest the camera on the floor or use a very small tripod. Alternatively, some full-size tripods can invert, allowing you to get the camera down close to the ground.

Once you’ve got your camera down low, you can either use the screen to compose or the camera’s phone app (if it has one). I’d also suggest using manual focus for these kinds of shots; otherwise, you might find that your camera’s auto-focus locks on to errant blades of grass rather than the winter snowdrops themselves.

Choose interesting light

It’s hard to guarantee interesting light if you’re going out on location, but there are a few things that you can do to help swing the odds in your favor.

Heading out to your preferred winter snowdrops patch either first thing in the morning or during sunset can give you a better chance of having more interesting light. In the morning, you will also get the beautiful dew that makes specular highlights in the out of focus areas, adding extra magic to your photos (but you could also add “dew” with a spray bottle – I won’t tell anyone).

winter snowdrops

Left: ISO100, 35mm (50mm equiv.), f2.8, 1/320th sec. Right: ISO200, 35mm (50mm equiv.), f2.8, 1/4000th sec

Look for an opportunity to backlight the flowers with the sun. The light coming from behind can really highlight the thin white petals. You might want to add a small reflector or a pop of fill-flash to the front of the flower if you try this approach.

Of course, if you plan ahead, you could also grow winter snowdrops in a pot at home. That way, you can take them indoors when they start to bloom and spend as long as you like experimenting with different kinds of lighting!

Think about the depth of field

Your aperture choice can really make or break your snowdrop photo. Because it sets how much of your image is in focus, it’s the camera setting that requires the most thought for flower photos.

Deciding if you want a wide depth of field, or to focus on just one small part of the scene, is the choice that is going to make the biggest visual statement. It’s also one that you can’t reverse after the shot.

Both approaches have merit, and if you’re in any doubt, try shooting at a variety of aperture settings and choosing later.

My favorite way to shoot small flowers is with a shallow depth of field. This helps the viewer focus on just the subject without the background becoming distracting.

winter snowdrops

The image on the left was shot at f2, while the image on the right was shot at f8. Both were shot at ISO200, on a 35mm (50mm equiv.), lens.

A shallow depth of field also allows a single snowdrop to stand in isolation in your photograph, showing off its beauty. This approach can be especially good if the snowdrop is an unusual variety – some types of snowdrops can cost a huge amount per plant!

But if you’re trying to capture the vastness of a white carpet of snowdrops, then a larger depth of field can be more effective. That way, you can show the beauty of the mass of flowers without them all blending into one.

Post-process creatively

Many photographers shoot winter snowdrops every year, and a lot of images make it online. It’s easy to get lost amongst the crowd when it comes to photographs of snowdrops. Post-processing your images creatively can be both a good way to learn more about your software, as well as a chance to produce something truly unique.

winter snowdrops

ISO100, 35mm (50mm equiv.), f1.4, 1/1250th sec

You could go for post-processing that is as simple as a basic color grading. Emulating one of the different kinds of old film stocks might be a good place to start. Don’t forget to consider photographing with a black and white conversion in mind too – the white flowers really pop off a green grass background when you go black and white!

If you’re feeling adventurous, you could try adding textures to the image, or even following my method for layering multiple photographs in Adobe Photoshop.

There are no rules in flower photography, so let your imagination run wild when it comes to creative post-processing.

Try something abstract

These perfect clumps of little white flowers give you a great opportunity to try out something a little more experimental and off-beat. If you’ve not tried shooting abstract images before, just remember to approach the process with an open mind and try not to get hung up on what other people might think.

You could start off by trying an unconventional angle or using a tine depth of field to focus on just one part of the flower. Use the colors of the petals and the lines of the stems to create strong compositions where the subject itself is of secondary importance.

Image: Both: ISO100, 35mm (50mm equiv.), f16, 1/4th sec

Both: ISO100, 35mm (50mm equiv.), f16, 1/4th sec

Alternatively, how about trying out some ICM – intentional camera movement?

Set a long shutter speed (I usually start around 1/4 sec) and give the camera a wiggle while the shutter is open. You may find that you need to use a very small aperture or add a neutral density filter to your lens to allow for the long shutter speed without overexposing the image.

The technique is gaining popularity amongst many abstract photographers, and everyone has their preferred wiggle method!

When it comes to this kind of image-making, the key is to approach it with no expectations and not to be disappointed if you don’t get amazing results the first time.

As always, practice does make perfect, and it takes more than one attempt to create a masterpiece!

Take your camera for a walk and shoot

As always, the most important thing is to get shooting and start somewhere. You’ve only got a limited window of opportunity to photograph the snowdrops, so make the most of it while they’re in full bloom.

winter snowdrops

ISO100, 35mm (50mm equiv.), f2.5, 1/480th sec

The easiest way to find displays of snowdrops will be to follow the social media pages of country houses or landscaped gardens near you. They often use their social media pages to notify subscribers of whatever seasonal flowers are at their best.

You could also ask on local photography groups if anyone has an idea for other hotspots to find snowdrops – they often crop up in woodlands and parks that have been around a long time.

Don’t forget that these ideas can apply to plenty of other kinds of flowers too. But you might find that none are quite such showstoppers as the delicate little winter snowdrops.

So, go out and shoot some winter snowdrops and share them with us in the comments below!

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Charlie Moss
Charlie Moss

is UK based photography journalist with experience shooting everything from historically inspired portraits to e-commerce photography. Her passion is history of art, especially contemporary culture and photography. You can follow her on Instagram or catch her over at Patreon to find more of her teaching and mentoring resources!