In the Frame of Things: Using Natural Frames to Emphasize Your Subject

Snow-covered branches frame urban landscape of Central Park, New York, NY.

Snow-covered branches frame urban landscape of Central Park, New York, NY.

Story and photos by F. M. Kearney

Making a subject stand out is the primary goal of all photographers. There are a number of ways to accomplish this and your subject matter will usually dictate the best method. Common techniques may include special lighting, subject placement, extreme angles or contrasting colors. If you delve into the world of digital imaging, your choices will be virtually unlimited. But, if you prefer to keep your images looking as natural as possible, you may want to stick with the in-camera methods.

One of my favorite ways to highlight a subject is to place it within a natural frame. This might consist of leaves, flowers, bushes … just about anything nearby that you can find to encircle your subject. In the opening photo above, I used the snow-covered branches to frame the distant buildings in this Central Park winter scene. Besides serving as decorative foreground elements, they were a great way to cover up the dead space of a white, featureless sky.

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Sweet Serendipity: Being Ready to Capture Life’s Unexpected Moments

Sunrise behind "The Wheel" on Steel Pier, Atlantic City Beach, Atlantic City, NJ

Sunrise behind “The Wheel” on Steel Pier, Atlantic City Beach, Atlantic City, NJ

Story and photos by F. M. Kearney

Webster defines serendipity as “the faculty of making providential discoveries by accident.” In photography, it’s more like capturing that once in a lifetime shot that could not be recreated again in a million years. The internet is full of these types of images, usually classified as “Photos Taken at the Perfect Moment,” or “Things You Have to See to Believe.” Of course, almost anything you see on the internet should be viewed with a certain degree of skepticism, and even more so when it comes to photos and videos. The old saying, “The Camera Never Lies,” has never been less true than in the digital age in which we live. However, assuming that even if a fraction of these photos are, in fact, real, they truly are serendipitous moments caught on camera.

I recently spent several days in Atlantic City, NJ shooting ocean views. Most of my visits in the past have been day trips lasting only a few hours – just enough time to grab a quick lunch, lose all my money and head back home. On this occasion, I had the luxury of time on my side – time to see the real beauty of this town, beyond the bells and buzzers, and the glitzy flashing lights within its casinos’ walls.

One morning, I took a walk along the beach to The Steel Pier – a 1,000-foot-long amusement park built on a pier of the boardwalk. Its latest attraction is a 227-foot tall Ferris wheel, known as The Wheel, which began operating in 2017. I arrived just as the sun was rising behind it. My main objective was to get the surf in the perfect position – far enough into frame to be a dominant foreground element, but not so far in that it covered up the sun’s reflection on the wet sand. I also wanted to get the rising sun directly between the spokes of The Wheel. The sun’s position changes quite rapidly when it’s this low on the horizon. I took several shots and the photo above was the only one where the sun and the surf lined up in the perfect positions. This was the result of careful timing (and a little bit of luck). However, the serendipitous aspects were the inclusion of the seagull and the woman – things I had absolutely no control over. I saw when the seagull walked into the reflection during the shoot, but I didn’t even notice the woman in the background until I was reviewing the images back home on my computer. She had walked into one of the openings of the pier directly beneath The Wheel at precisely the right moment.

Another serendipitous moment was the inclusion of the honeybees in the daylily image below. I was all set to shoot the flowers when I suddenly found myself surrounded by a small group of bees. Like little helicopters on a mission, they methodically visited each flower in the area – hovered for a few seconds, then landed to pollinate. Since I already had my camera locked down on a tripod and focused on one particular bloom, I decided to wait and see if they would pay it a visit. Eventually, two bees flew into the shot and hovered close enough for my flash to cast a catch-light in their eyes. When they landed, they went down too deep into the flower to be seen, so I was lucky to get this photo of their approach.

Honeybees “photo-bombing” daylily image.

Honeybees “photo-bombing” daylily image.

Serendipitous moments in photography are unplanned and often referred to as “lucky shots.” But you can increase your luck if you’re prepared, have a little patience and are aware of specific patterns of behavior – as in the case of the honeybees. Sometimes, however, you just get a pleasant surprise. Careful planning made the image of The Wheel a good shot. Serendipity made it one-of-a-kind.

Do Sweat the Small Stuff: How Attention to Small Details Can Bring Big Rewards

“S-shaped” pattern of pinecones

“S-shaped” pattern of pinecones

Story and photos by F. M. Kearney

They had all gathered in the same spot – practically standing shoulder-to-shoulder. When new members joined the group, they were careful in setting up so as not to bang into the legs of the other tripods already planted in their perfectly chosen spots. All the cameras were pointed in the same direction waiting for that special moment.

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The Color of Winter: Techniques to Enhance Winter Photos

The Pool frozen over at sunrise Central Park New York, NY

The Pool frozen over at sunrise, Central Park, New York, NY (HDR compilation of 5 images).

Story & photography by F.M. Kearney

That time is quickly approaching. That time of year when many photographers will pack away their gear and patiently wait for the first colorful blooms next spring. Yet, winter isn’t completely devoid of color, as some might assume. In fact, if you carefully plan what you shoot and when you shoot, you may be surprised at the amount of color you can coax out of this often-overlooked season.

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What Not to Bring through Airport Security

Home-made bounce card on flash.

Home-made bounce card on flash.

From the Editor:  We recently started posting a series of travel tips about making the life of the traveling photographer smoother and easier.  In this installment, F. M. Kearney’s inner MacGyver inventiveness comes back to bite him. If you have a favorite tip, share it with us! Send it to publications@nanpa.org and we’ll post it in a future article.

Story and photographs by F. M. Kearney

Life can sometimes be a challenge. Much of it is beyond our control, but every now and then, you can do things to make the journey a little easier. Whenever possible, I try to streamline repetitive tasks. For instance, I always keep a self-addressed, stick-on label in my wallet in the event I need to fill out a form or have something delivered. Each time I hand one over, people marvel at my ingenuity in quickly getting through what could otherwise be a time-consuming process. I see it more as common sense. If I know there’s a high likelihood that I might need something shipped or delivered, why would I want to waste time by repeatedly writing out my name and address on one of their blank labels?

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The Autumn Show: Beyond “Trees & Leaves”

Fall foliage reflecting in lake, Twin Lakes area, New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, NY. f/9.5 @ 70mm, 5-image HDR compilation.

Fall foliage reflecting in lake, Twin Lakes area, New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, NY. f/9.5 @ 70mm, 5-image HDR compilation.

Story & Photography by F.M. Kearney

The final curtain is about to rise. A cast of billions is in place. Throughout their entire performance, they’ve all been restricted to the same regulation green outfits. For their finale, they now have a chance to break free – a chance to dazzle onlookers with stunning new yellow, red and orange wardrobes. A few glory-hounds will attempt to upstage the others with magnificent, multi-colored garb. Sit back and relax… The Autumn Show is about to begin.

I’m sure most nature photographers look forward to this show every year. But, it can be a challenge to come up with something different than the usual “trees and leaves” photo. Try looking for compositions beyond the obvious – compositions where the subject isn’t immediately evident.

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The Wonders of Water Plants

Water lily with Cokin diffractor filter effect.

Water lily with Cokin diffractor filter effect.

 

Story and Photography by F.M. Kearney

One subject I always look forward to photographing during the summer months is the water lily. Native to the temperate and tropical parts of the world, there are over 50 species of these freshwater plants. However, it isn’t always easy to shoot them creatively. Unless you have access to a natural lake or pond (and are willing to get very wet), you will most likely have to shoot from the sidelines of a reflecting pool in a local park or botanical garden. A long lens will allow you to zoom in for a tight close-up, but you certainly won’t have any options to create those dramatic macro or wide-angle perspectives that are commonly used on other types of more accessible flowers.

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Making An Impression

Story and Photographs by F.M. Kearney

If you’re not a winter person, it’s probably been a few months since you’ve taken a single photo. But, you’re in luck. Spring is just around the corner, and it won’t be long before blooms of daffodils, tulips and cherry blossoms begin dotting the landscape. But, instead of settling for the same old photos this year, why not try something a little different?

I recently began experimenting with a program called Topaz Impression. I briefly touched on this program in my article, “The Final Frames,” in the last installment of eNEWS last year. Topaz (topazlabs.com) makes over a dozen programs that can really add a unique flair to your images, but when it comes to nature photography, Impression is probably the most useful. Taking its name from the impressionistic-style of painting that emerged in France in the mid-19th century, this program can transform an ordinary-looking photo into a stunning work of art.

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February Blues

Story and photography by F.M. Kearney

 

Snow-covered trees in Central Park New York, NY (HDR 5-image compilation) © F.M. Kearney

It may be the shortest month of the year, but to some, it can feel like the longest. Many of its days are dull and dreary. The few sunny days there are don’t last that long because it will be at least a month before Daylight Savings Time begins. Even people who love winter may be feeling that it’s high time to pack up the parka. As nature photographers, we find ourselves stuck in a sort of limbo between the last snowstorms of winter and the first blooms of spring. February can be a bit challenging in many ways, but when it comes to photography, it doesn’t have to be a barren wasteland.

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A Time to Reflect

Tropical Waterlillies © F.M. Kearney

Story and Photographs by F.M. Kearney

The beginning of a new year is a time when many of us make resolutions to end bad habits, or to start that special project we’ve been putting off for months. It’s a time to take stock of our lives and to reflect upon our accomplishments (or lack thereof).

That got me thinking about literal reflections in photography. A perfect mirror image of a subject in a body of water is a great way to add interest and creativity to a photo. The amount of water can be as small as a dew drop on a stem that magically encompasses a floral portrait, to a river that reflects a mighty landscape.

Some reflections are easy to spot. I shot the two waterlilies above at a botanical garden in a reflecting pool – making it practically impossible not to include their reflection. It did take a bit of time, however, to find a “clean” composition where the reflection wasn’t obscured by any of the surrounding lily pads.

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