Snowdrops: How to shoot the familiar?


Well, spring is here again (just about), so that means a couple of months of opportunities to photograph wildflowers. Little white wood anemones are starting to emerge and carpet our woodland, and it won’t be long before bluebells and orchids start to appear too.

I recently went out to photograph snowdrops, but found I had a problem: how can you shoot such a familiar subject in a different and interesting way?  Let’s face it, we’ve all seen thousands of images of snowdrops, and I bet when you think of snowdrops, some of those images go to make up how you would visualise “snowdrop”. This is because there are actually a fairly limited number of views that really work and therefore have become popular. The same holds true for countless other subjects, from flowers to landmark buildings and holiday destinations.  I don’t really have a problem with this – as I said, a particular view will become popular because it works – but if I visit the Taj Mahal I don’t want to come away with just another shot straight-on looking down the long pool and avenue of trees (check Google Images to see what I mean!) It starts to get a bit boring, no? Even a bit of a cliche?  Yes, I may take that shot, because it is safe, but I am also going to want to explore some different approaches too: shooting at different times of day, from a different angle than head-on, using wide-angle or telephoto, taking a higher or lower viewpoint, or including some other interest in the picture, such as the people who work or visit there.

So, back to snowdrops (finally). My challenge: could I avoid the cliché shots and come away with something a little different and interesting? So, off I went to my local woods, but as I was leaving the car park I spotted a clump of aconite flowers and though I would warm up a little with some shots of these.

As with all these shots, I was face down in the dirt to get a viewpoint level with my subjects. The first shot here is kind of ok, but for the second shot I decided to get even lower so that the out of focus yellow flowers behind the main subject featured more as a background.  You will notice that the depth-of-field (the amount that is in sharp focus) is extremely narrow this close, and for the final shot here I chose to focus on the stamens inside the flower rather than the nearest petals – it is a very minor adjustment, but helps to make the main flower a more defined subject, I think.


On reviewing these shots on my pc afterwards I felt that the yellows were perhaps too strong, and were masking some of the delicacy of the flowers themselves. So I played around a little and converted shots 2 and 3 to black and white and then added a subtle colour tone. In these images, the finer structure of the flowers is more visible. I think I prefer the mono versions, which surprises me.

And now to the snowdrops.  I spent some time looking for suitable subjects, and getting into the “zone” where I could start to see more interesting compositions. The first shot here is a bit of a warm up with just a clump of snowdrops – not really what I was looking for.

I then tried some compositions using a couple of flowers as the main subject against a background of out-of-focus flowers. This is starting to be a bit more interesting, but still not quite working for me.

Finally I came across a small clump of flowers growing near a tree, and decided to use the tree trunk as part of the composition, shooting past the trunk and using it to hide some of the tangle of flowers to clean up the composition.  The tree trunk is rendered out of focus because it is closer to the camera, and I think the effect creates a greater feeling of connection with the subject.

The first attempt was nice, but a little messy.

I then shifted my position again for the next couple of shots, and chose a more appealing subject. These 2 shots are almost identical, but the tiny shift in shooting position just does enough to make the background of the second shot a little darker  and excludes a little more foliage which makes the second shot a bit more defined.  This is much more the kind of shot I had in mind when I started the challenge.

Finally I moved a little bit further round the tree to exclude even more of the tangle of foliage, which give a n even more simple composition and emphasises the subject. In the first of these shots, though, I think the flower is a little too central in the frame, so I moved a tad closer and recomposed to the left, which balances the whole composition with some empty space to the right of the frame. I have also deliberately left the images slightly under-exposed to convey the sense of shadowy woodland.

So, there I have “the shot” that I had been looking for. Of course, it’s not perfect, and I will continue to try to improve my approach and output next time round. However, I do think I managed to get some shots here which are not quite what you will see on greetings cards, but which still work. That was really my objective – to create images that are my own interpretation, and not too heavily influenced by what I have been exposed to previously.  It is possible to come up with something different, but sometimes you have to look quite hard.


As a final bonus, on my way back to the car, I passed the same patch of aconite and noticed a number of bees busily collecting nectar and had to stop for one final shot……


Thanks for sticking with me through this one.