Usually, people who see Albert Dros’s delicate images of iced flowers think they’re beautiful. And how could that not be? These Spring-awoken buds and bright flowers are caught shrouded in perfectly clear ice, as though time has stopped. Elegantly framed and deliciously detailed, they are macro nature photography at its most artful and compelling. But beauty isn’t what everyone finds.
“A lot of people are actually very sad,” Albert laughs, “because they think the flowers are dying. But that’s not the truth of it at all as in reality, the ice is protecting them.” True enough, the blooms, captured in fruit farms within The Netherlands’ Neder-Betuwe region are very well taken care of. “In the spring when they’re first blossoming, the temperature can drop very suddenly overnight,” Albert explains. “So, the growers watch out for this and if there’s going to be a severe chill, they spray the plants with water to help them eventually form a layer of ice. If they're not protected by the ice, it’s the frost that will actually break them.”
In reality then, horticultural care is therefore photography’s gain! This is particularly true for Albert, who despite being highly respected for his wonderful landscape and nature images, has only recently begun exploring macro photography. “During COVID lockdowns, I was looking for new things to photograph closer to home,” he explains, “and so I picked up the Sony FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS lens to use with my Alpha 7R IV. That’s where the voyage of discovery began – albeit a quick trip just a few feet into my own garden, but one I’d suggest every photographer should take.”
But flowers aren’t a completely new thing for him. “I’d often shoot them as foregrounds to my wider landscape images, or make portraits of them using my telephoto lenses,” he explains, “but getting this close was something different for me and I was so hooked. So, when a friend of mine told me about the ice flowers in Betuwe, I was there in a flash.”
However, finding the frozen flowers is never an easy or quick process. “Like macro photography in general, it’s a deservedly slow process of careful selection and composition,” says Albert. “Compounding that, the required combination of frosty mornings and the trees’ development means they can only be found for a few weeks a year. And when you’re there, you also need to find a good one, because at the magnification of a macro lens, any small imperfections can be glaring!”
An exacting discipline, Albert takes his time finding the perfect subject, but that’s by no means the end of the process. “I’ll then spend around 20 minutes finding the right angle, and a lot of that is about the background, which is just, if not more important as the subject. It’s choosing the right background that allows a lone flower to stand out.”
Albert is constantly experimenting with his compositions but will often choose to shoot with the dawn light behind the subject to “get that beautiful, soft, glowing illumination,” he says. “But one of my favourite shots was actually taken about three hours after sunrise, because it let me contrast the yellow of the flowers with the pure blue sky. You can’t leave it too long though, or the ice will melt away completely.”
“Combined with the FE 90mm Macro, the pure detail I can get in these intricate subjects is tremendously exciting It’s addictive and it makes you want to shoot more and more.” Of course, as with any macro subject, that detail is dependent on precise focusing, something for which he has a special method on his Alpha body.
“What I do,” he explains, “is use the touchscreen to set the general point of focus, then I have a button on the body customised to bring up the Alpha 7R IV’s Focus Magnifier. This adds a crosshair, just like in a gun sight in a video game, which I position over the exact point I want to be sharpest – usually on the stamen of the flowers. It’s an amazingly simple and effective method that this camera allows.”
Another huge factor in sharpness when shooting handheld is Sony’s SteadyShot technology, found both allied to the Alpha 7R IV’s sensor and within the 90mm Macro lens. “This lens gives beautifully soft and dreamy out-of-focus areas, while everything else in focus is ultra-sharp. The Optical SteadyShot and 5-axis optical in-body image stabilisation plays a big part in that,” he explains. “I’ve tried shooting without it and wow, the difference is amazing,” Albert continues.
“You can spend hours just photographing a patch of flowers, investigating, fine-tuning your composition, and knowing that the results will be worth it. Macro turns the ordinary into the extraordinary, but if you’re using poor-quality gear, the process can frustrate as much as it delights, so I’m glad I have the Alpha 7R IV on my side to help me do it.”
"I am obsessed with getting the perfect shot"