Story and Photographs by Franklin Kearney
After the last snows have melted and the winds have subsided, it’s once again, a time for rebirth. Much like autumn, spring is the time of year when even people who don’t normally give much thought to nature or photography, suddenly become “nature photographers.” Sometimes, it seems as though there are almost as many photographers out in the fields as there are blooming flowers. But, who can blame them? An endless sea of brilliant red, yellow, pink and green hues can be quite intoxicating.
Due to the popularity of this season, it behooves you to get out early to beat the crowds – especially if you’re planning on shooting unspoiled, wide open vistas. I took the photo above early in the morning on Daffodil Hill in the New York Botanical Garden. Normally, this is not a highly visited section of the garden, but for a couple of weeks in the spring, the grounds come alive with color and hordes of shutterbugs. Fortunately, I have an Early Morning Pass, which allows me to enter the garden several hours before it officially opens to the public. Even if you don’t live in a rural area, you should have access to some type of park or garden. If they offer an Early Morning Pass, it’s well worth the nominal investment.
Early morning light is beautiful, but you may have high-contrast issues to deal with – especially if you include the sun in the shot. Sometimes, dark shadows can add character to the scene, but usually they’re nothing more than distractions. I wanted to capture the sun rising behind the cherry tree, as well as the daffodils sprouting up around it. The sun was barely visible in the opening shot, so I repositioned myself to get a stronger sunburst seen in the image below.
With the sun more pronounced and right behind the tree, the flowers in the foreground were directly in the wake of its shadow. To knock down the contrast, I did a 4-image HDR compilation of the scene (the opening shot is also a 4-image HDR compilation). This technique is often pushed beyond the boundaries of reality, resulting in images that can appear weird or even distasteful. However, as long as you don’t get carried away with the controls, you can use it to create images that better represent what you saw at the time of the shoot. In these two photos, I only wanted to slightly open the shadows – releasing the flowers in the foreground from their veil of darkness and bringing out just a hint of detail in the tree trunks.
Equally beautiful (but far less challenging to photograph) is the flat lighting of a cloudy day. I shot the image above in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden along its famed Cherry Walk. With dozens of Japanese Flowering Cherry Blossoms on display, this is another hotspot that fills up fast. Photographers looking for uncluttered shots know to show up early.
The even lighting worked perfectly, but the day was a little windy. Being a film shooter for so long, I often forget that I now have the ability to raise my ISO at will. A faster shutter speed would have prevented the slight blurriness in the large blossoms at the top of the frame just right of center. To mask their softness, I decided to add even more softness with the Gaussian blur filter in Photoshop: Filter>Blur>Gaussian Blur. The effect is completely customizable – allowing you to add as much or as little blur as you prefer. Not only does this filter provide a beautiful ethereal quality to the scene, it’s also a great way to cover up any imperfections – a secret you might want to keep to yourself.
No matter what the lighting condition, there’s never a shortage of subjects to shoot in the spring. Just be sure to get out early if you want to have the whole place to yourself.