Well, we thought Spring was just around the corner, to be rudely corrected by the Beast from the East (I mean really, what a name!) and the subsequent mound of snow we found ourselves fighting to get out of. I can’t be the only one who runs outside to ‘rescue’ the garden, can I?
I’ve spent the last few weeks monitoring the progress of our native snowdrops in one of my favourite rural locations (check out my recent post about where you should photograph in the Home Counties), so assuming they’ve not been completely flattened by our heavy snowfall and frosty starts, you’ll be wanting to get out and photograph them too. Here are a few tips for how to do just that.
Tips for Photographing Snowdrops
1. Be prepared
When going out to capture wildflowers, one essential thing to remember is, you will get dirty! Pack a ground sheet, or bring your waterproof jacket, to kneel on. Ground space will be limited, you don’t want to squish your photographic subject, but anything is better than damp and muddy knees!
2. Venture off the beaten track
Here in Hertfordshire there’s one garden renowned for their carpeted displays of snowdrops, which sees visitors flock to it every season. However think a little more outside of the box, and there’s absolutely no need to pay to see a field of snowdrops in bloom.
Head toward your nearest patch of woodland, or out onto the cross country public footpaths, and you’ll find plenty of natural bulbs popping up in clusters. Visit again at the right time, and it may well have turned into a natural carpeted display.
Like me, all outdoor photographers I know are seriously allergic to crowds, so unless you want to shoot macro, or spend far too much time photoshop-ing people out of your shot, head somewhere no-one else will think of.
3. It’s all about the light
Depending on the type of shot you want to compose, you may want to venture out early in the morning; not necessarily to catch the Golden Hour, but to catch the low sun as it casts areas of light and shade into your shot.
Grey, cloudy days seem more commonplace of late, and though they do provide the opportunity to capture some sublime macros, adding just a sprinkle of sunlight makes the world of difference. I visited the same spot numerous times over a month to capture the best light. Weather is never on the side of us Brits.
In my various trips to capture the best snowdrops I utilised several different pieces of kit, aiming to see which was the most ideal combination. Among this was: Joby GorillaPod, LED Macro Ring Light, Nikon 105mm macro, Nikon 18-300mm, Nikon 10-20mm and Nikon remote shutter release.
It’s unnecessary to assume that you need a lot of fancy and expensive kit to capture beautiful images. Work with what you’ve got to begin with, and add a few things to your arsenal to see what a difference they make to your work should you wish.
I assumed that this would be the most ideal piece of kit I could take with me, due to its height and flexibility. I quickly ascertained that once you’ve bent the legs to achieve a nice low perspective, it’s nigh on impossible to straighten them fully again. With some careful manoeuvring, you can lie the tripod down, each leg in turn, pressing it against a flat surface. But when you’re outside this is less than ideal.
Watch out for how heavy your kit is, as you’ll find the camera slip after you’ve composed your shot. I found myself holding the camera at times to add extra support, having used the GorillaPod 3K, though in hindsight the 5K would have been more appropriate for my heavy lens. Equally, given the right settings, it is possible to take some great photographs handheld. If you don’t have a Joby GorillaPod to take the weight of your camera, you could try a beanbag instead.
Again, not a necessity – note the difference in these two images (below) taken within seconds of one another. The light just enhances the vibrancy of the white petal – which was needed on this overcast day. I shot consistently with this light when I wasn’t presented with enough daylight, and was very pleased with my results. Though of course it goes without saying, if you’re lucky to have blue sky, you won’t need an additional light source.
Many lenses have the ability to capture stunning macro shots; telephoto lenses however mean you can’t get as up close and personal with your subject as you can with a specialist macro lens. Experiment with whichever lens you have.
As a rule of thumb, I shoot with my Nikon 18-300mm (which saves me carrying multiple other lenses all of the time) when I want to capture the whole of the plant, setting up farther away and zooming in to frame my composition, or my Nikon 105mm macro lens when I want a gentler focus or extreme close up. Given the lens aperture, you can produce softer, more artistic, shots with a dedicated macro lens.
I’d always recommend having a go with all of your lenses to see which result you prefer. You can even, for instance, take a wide angle shot like I did with my Nikon 10-20mm, to showcase wildflowers or other subjects within the context of their landscape. Yes, I did crouch under a tree to take this shot, and yes, I got very very dirty…
Depending on the combination of the above that you’ve implemented for your shots, you may find a remote shutter useful for further reducing camera shake. Ensure that your camera is secure and your composition framed, and fire off your shots remotely – perfect for the most delicate of subjects, or the dampest of grounds! For longer exposure where you’re sheltered from the wind, use Mirror Up mode.
Take note of the settings I’ve given with my images, and just go shoot! There is no formula for the perfect shot, merely the confidence in your photographic knowledge, in your kit, and maybe in the weather. If you’re unsure of where to begin, stick your camera on Auto, take a test shot, assess the settings, and go from there. Remember, photography is an art form, and not all about the ‘right’ way to do things.