Exposure tips for shooting snowdrops

In the video below, you’ll see how I rescue an overexposed highlight area on a snowdrop but this error is also best avoided at the shooting stage. To do this and get some great snowdrop shots right now, check out my top 10 tips for shooting snowdrops listed below the video player, writes Andrew James.

1 Get low
Sorry, but it getting down and dirty here can’t be avoided because snowdrops only grow a few inches off the ground, so the only way to shoot them properly is to get down to their level and that means lying flat. A beanbag can be helpful to balance the lens on. Get your waterproofs on and be prepared to lie prone for your photo. Pretend you’re doing exercise push-ups if anyone asks 😉

2 Use a macro lens or a telephoto lens
These are small flowers so a macro (or at least using extension tubes with a standard optic) lens is an obvious way to get a frame-filling image. Your telephoto lens will work well here too, especially if you want to shoot a group of snowdrops. When you are low and looking through the viewfinder, think carefully about the background and how it works with your main subject.

3 Shoot a wide aperture
A wide aperture such as f/4 or f/2.8 will give you a lovely drop off in sharpness and accentuate the delicate nature of the subject. If you need a little extra depth of field with a telephoto shot, to show other flowers in recession, also try f/5.6 and f/8 but remember to keep an eye on what else becomes visible in the background.

Isolate one flower from the rest with careful use of aperture. This image was shot with a telephoto lens at 200mm and f/4.

4 Avoid direct sunlight
Bright sunlight on a white flower can be a nightmare for exposure so often it’s best to avoid it altogether and shoot the more ‘shaded’ flowers. You can use a reflector to bounce back a little extra light into the shaded scene to brighten it subtly, without making exposure more difficult.

5 Use exposure compensation
Even if there is no direct sunlight, a small amount of negative exposure compensation may be needed, so try a third under as a starting point. If you do shoot sunlit flowers then use at least two-thirds (or more) negative exposure compensation to preserve those highlights. As long as the rest of the image isn’t really dark, you can lift the shadows in post-processing.

6 Use the histogram
Keep checking the histogram to be sure about exposure. Remember, you must avoid the brighter tones being pushed against the far right of the histogram graph. If you shoot in Live View then you can have the Histogram visible as you shoot, as well as get a ‘real time’ assessment of your exposure. Of course, mirrorless users can get this through the viewfinder too.

For gentle fine art shots avoid direct sun on your subject but you may still need to use negative exposure compensation to hold the detail in the white petals.

7 Try backlighting
Gentle backlighting (natural sunlight) can give a lovely sparkle to the scene – especially if the snowdrops you are shooting have lots of water droplets on them. Angle your lens slightly to avoid unwanted flare – even shade it with a hand over the top of the lens itself. Using your lens hood is important too.

8 Pick a snowdrop with clean petals
Your main subject needs to have clean and undamaged petals, so pick your subject wisely. While small blemishes can easily be cloned out later, larger mud splatters are harder to remove, so select a perfect or near-perfect specimen to focus on.

9 Allow some room in your image
Think about your composition and don’t feel the need to cram everything into your shot. A single snowdrop in space has room to breathe and will give your image a sense of calm.

10 Focus with a single AF point
Whether shooting with f/2.8 or f/8, to be really accurate just have one AF point active and make sure it’s on the point in the scene you want to be the sharpest. This is especially important when using f/2.8, because a slip of the focus point could spoil the shot. Don’t rush this either – that snowdrop isn’t going to run away.

Careful focusing is essential and ALWAYS think about the subject's relationship with its background.
Published in Imaging Skills
  1. a few hours late! spent a few hours “working” with snowdrops this morning 😉

  2. Get the shovel out Mary 😉

Leave a Reply