Under the Surface

It's here I know it is. Under the surface but only just under the surface. Spring.

We looked at the sharp tough grey stems of snowdrops sticking up out of the frozen mud. And there, like a dim clouded moon, our first pearly bud, low to the ground, desperate to survive.

In this shot you can see how the low contrast of a properly dull winter morning has enabled the sensor to capture the delicate ribbing of the snowdrop petal.

In this shot you can see how the low contrast of a properly dull winter morning has enabled the sensor to capture the delicate ribbing of the snowdrop petal.

At the Beth Chatto gardens in Essex in February we will be photographing snowdrops, one of the favourite subjects for a plant photographer. The flowers are luminous against the dark brown winter earth. I look for overcast days to photograph snowdrops so that the delicate white of the petals won't burn out.

The cloud cover will lower contrast and enable the sensor to record subtle variations. I hope for still days as well and this can mean an early start to capture that morning stillness. A macro lens is useful since the huge variation in petal markings, green or sometimes yellow, is one of the snowdrop’s most attractive features.

But we've all seen images of snowdrops. In snow. In frost. Open petals, closed petals. With raindrop. Without raindrop. How to create a more original image? What I try to do is not to look at the snowdrop at all. 

I try to study its surroundings, especially the tones. I know that with a wide open aperture my camera will create a blur of tone that can either work or not work. I tend not to use the word 'bokeh'. I see now that some lenses are sold with the virtue of 'great bokeh'. As if blur is a feature that can be added into an image - like artificial sun rays – that bokeh enhances a photograph just by being there.I’ve seen some horrible bokeh effects – circles of light diffused by the lens making the background look like frog spawn. For me, blur is tone. It's the ground colour of a painting or the continuo of baroque music. It has to communicate a feeling or an atmosphere to make sense of the main subject matter.

So here I am photographing snowdrops without looking at them. This frees me up and I start to notice patterns and colours that start to fascinate, that open my eyes and brain to the world around me and I see all sorts of things with which I can, maybe create my own vision of the winter garden.

Cornus at RHS Rosemoor with snowdrop underplanting.

Cornus at RHS Rosemoor with snowdrop underplanting.

I know that at Beth Chatto gardens there are many many subjects that can make wonderfully imaginative subjects and I’m looking forward to it!

To book a space on the workshop at the Beth Chatto gardens go to

http://www.bethchatto.co.uk/courses/bcet-igpoty-photography-workshop-snowdrops-in-focus.htm