How to create beautiful photos of snowdrops
It’s snowdrop time. But snowdrops are the most frustratingly difficult flowers to photograph. From this weekend onwards, there will be ‘snowdrop walks’ all round Britain. The NGS, for the first time, has a list of private gardens open for snowdrop days. You may want to share the innocent gorgeousness of snowdrops on social media or your blog. So I have asked garden photographer Lisa Valder for her top snowdrop photo tips.We went to Doddington Place Gardens (Kent), which has its snowdrop day next Sunday (14th Feb).
The main problem is that snowdrops are very white. But they emerge in the dullest time of year, in shady woods, surrounded by dried leaves or tree trunks. All of which are either quite or very dark. Lisa explained that a camera (or camera-phone) has to work out what the average light level should be, and then adjusts itself accordingly. If there’s hardly any mid-range, then it will take either the very light bit or the very dark bit as ‘average’ and the rest of the photo will be over or under-exposed.
Surrounded by all that gloom, the white snowdrop petals often comes out over-exposed, with a blurry washing-powder glare. It was a huge relief to find out that I wasn’t imagining it – snowdrops genuinely are harder to photograph than many flowers.
If you’re photographing snowdrops in the home – in a vase, for example – then you’ll get a better picture of the flower if you use a pale background. If you’re out in the woods, look at where the light is falling, and experiment.
Lisa’s first tip is to go in closer and to photograph low down. Snowdrops (and many other flowers) look boring when taken from above. Sometimes going in closer helps the light problem – green is a mid-range colour, and your snowdrops will be less bleached out if they’re wholly surrounded by green rather than dark earth, brown leaves or tree trunks.
The next problem with snowdrops is proportion. Snowdrops are tiny, but they are surrounded by big things – landscapes, evergreen shrubs, trees…a swathe of snowdrops often emerges as a picture of a tree with dandruff. Unless you are an expert photographer, which I’m not. Doddington Place Gardens has a wonderful avenue of giant redwoods under-planted with snowdrops but I have never managed to take a decent photograph of them (you’ll have to go along on Sunday 14th to see them for yourself).
Going down low helps with proportion, too – but if the snowdrops are your target, you have to accept that you won’t be seeing much tree. But think about composition, warns Lisa. While I was taking the picture below, she reminded me about the ‘rule of thirds’. Don’t think about having your subject bang in the middle of the photo. Divide the picture mentally into thirds (both ways – ie 9 squares) and focus on an area where the squares intersect.
And the third problem with photographing snowdrops is that February usually has a stiff breeze, or even a howling gale. This means blurred flowers as the wind sweeps over them just as you press the shutter.
If you’ve got a proper camera and know how to use it (not a very common combination), then you can compensate by using a very high shutter speed. But if you’re on auto or a phone-camera, there will be more blurry whiteness. Look for sheltered spots or and/or use a tripod.
Floral photographer and blogger Darren Coleshill has a good tip – he takes a clip with him to help keep flowers still, even when he’s photographing them in the wild. Check out his photo theme competitions on Instagram, where I spotted his exceptionally lovely photo of snowdrop
As well as the NGS Snowdrop festival gardens, there’s a list of snowdrop days on Country Life and the National Trust has a ‘top spots for snowdrops’ listing, too. Photographing snowdrops will help you understand how to improve your photography. The difficulties apply to other flowers too – scarf designer Jacqui Eggar (St Agnes Eve scarves) says that photographing any flower with a strong block colour (daffodils, very red roses etc) will create the same problems. So you could either use ‘Snowdrop Days’ as a photography challenge. Or, you could go the other way and decide not to take any photographs at all and just to enjoy the experience….and do spread the snowdrop word by sharing this using the buttons below – thank you!