FIELD TECHNIQUE: The Beauty of Bokeh

Story and photography by F.M. Kearney

© F.M. Kearney

© F.M. Kearney

Years ago, I referred to the out-focus parts of an image as, well, the out-of-focus parts of an image. Nowadays, it seems as though there’s a specific name for everything, and bokeh is the name for the aesthetic quality of the blur in the out-of-focus parts of an image produced by a lens. It has also been defined as “the way the lens renders out-of-focus points of light.”

After viewing several You Tube videos, I’m still not 100 percent sure how to correctly pronounce bokeh, but I can tell you it was popularized in Photo Techniques magazine in 1997. The word began showing up in photography books in 1998.

Perhaps the only thing that really matters is how to use it to enhance your photos. Continue reading

FIELD TECHNIQUE: Autumn—The foolproof season

Story and photography by F.M. Kearney

If there was such a thing as a Super Bowl season for nature photography, it would have to be autumn. Perhaps the best thing about this time of year is that there are no bad days for a shoot. Fall foliage is one of the few subjects in nature that look good in virtually any type of lighting or weather condition.

Fall foliage at Hessian Lake Bear Mountain State Park Bear Mountain, NY

Overcast condition. © F.M. Kearney

Fall foliage around Richmond Lake Clove Lakes Park Staten Island, NY (5-image HDR compilation)

Sunny condition. © F.M. Kearney








Colorful foliage and bodies of water are a great combination. Look for reflections along the shorelines of lakes and rivers. I used to think that sunny days provided the best reflections, but as you can see from the images above, stunning results can be obtained in cloudy conditions as well. Although purely a personal choice, I prefer shooting fall foliage on overcast days. However, there is one important thing to keep in mind: a gloomy white sky won’t add much to your photos. In fact, it can be distracting. In the overcast shot, I zoomed in tight to crop it out—placing the emphasis on the multicolored tree line. Continue reading

FIELD TECHNIQUE: Shedding New Light on Common Subjects

Story and photography by F.M. Kearney

Overcast light, direct sunlight, high angles, low angles: there are probably as many ways to photograph flowers as there are flowers themselves. However, if the flowers are the sole subjects of your shot, each image might not look radically different from the others. If you’re tired of the ordinary and you want to create something truly unique, try a totally different approach.

Photography is all about light, so it stands to reason that if you drastically change the light, you will drastically change the look of your photo. One way to do this is to shoot indoors under artificial light. You don’t need a studio or any special equipment to do this.

Backlit lily (Liliaceae) In studio New York, NY

© F.M. Kearney

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NANPA Weekly Wow: Aug 8-14

"Mauritius ornate day gecko, Phelsuma ornata, Ile aux Aigrettes, Mauritius" © Gabby Salazar

“Mauritius ornate day gecko, Phelsuma ornata, Ile aux Aigrettes, Mauritius” © Gabby Salazar

Each week highlights 7 images from the top 100 submissions of the 2016 NANPA Showcase competition. This week’s images are by:

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Urban Nature

Story and photography by F.M. Kearney

How can I crop out the edge of that building?

Has the traffic completely cleared the scene yet?

Are those tourists ever going to move?

If you’ve ever tried to shoot nature photos within an urban environment, you’ve undoubtedly asked yourself questions like these at one time or another. I often write about the difficulties of pursuing a career as a nature photographer in a large metropolitan city. It’s not always economically or logistically possible to escape city limits and venture into the wild to capture true nature. You sometimes have no choice but to shoot nature wherever you can find it—amidst all the inherent distractions of a concrete jungle.

I used to go to great lengths to avoid any man-made objects in my nature photos, believing that any hint of urban artifacts would lessen the impact of the natural subject. This would be true if the objects were only in the shot due to careless oversight. However, it’s an entirely different story if their inclusion is deliberate and done for creative purposes.

Cities come alive with color in the spring. You probably won’t have to go far to find a beautiful flower display. Instead of attempting to isolate it from its surroundings, try to incorporate the natural and the artificial worlds.

Looking down Park Avenue

Looking down Park Avenue

In New York, colorful tulips adorn the median of Park Avenue for several miles. With the traffic zooming by just a few feet away, it’s amazing that they survive. Yet, not only do they survive in this inhospitable environment, they flourish. And for a couple of weeks during the season, they really put the “park” in Park Avenue. Countless tourists photograph these flowers each year, but very few hang around until twilight. That’s too bad (well, it’s great for me since I practically have the whole place to myself), because the city and traffic lights add a lot of vitality to the scene. Instead of waiting for the traffic to clear out of the shot in the photo above, I waited for it to enter. I wanted to use the light trails from passing vehicles as a dynamic framing element for the tulips, as well as a way to help draw the viewer’s eye into the shot. I chose this particular spot in between two glass towers for more symmetry and more colorful light reflecting off the windows. Lastly, I used a 16mm fisheye lens to emphasize the “tunnel” effect of the scene. Continue reading

FIELD TECHNIQUE: The Best Laid Plans

Story and photography by F.M. Kearney


The view from my airplane window on the way to Orlando.

Summer is finally here, and vacation plans are probably on the minds of many of us. For nature photographers, a vacation offers the perfect chance to explore and photograph new environments around the world.

Planning is an essential part of successful photography. When it comes to nature photography, the weather is probably the most important factor. Rarely do I go out on a shoot without checking the weather on a variety of websites. Certain subjects require cloudy days. Others may favor sunny conditions, and some might look best in heavy fog. Continue reading

FIELD TECHNIQUE: Get Your Head in the Clouds

Story and photography by F.M. Kearney

With summer now in full swing, a day at the beach is one of the best ways to beat the heat. The beach is also a great place to photograph interesting cloud formations.

I was recently in Antigua, West Indies, photographing the seascape of Dickenson Bay, located on the northwestern coast of the country. Dickenson Bay is a beach known for its calm seas and white sand. Like other Caribbean beaches, its beauty is often enhanced by magnificent skies filled with puffy, cumulus clouds. If you’ve been to the tropics, you have probably encountered dramatic skies like these, which are mainly due to the region’s rising warm, moist air.

Photos of seascapes consisting only of water and sky can be a little boring. That’s why it’s always a good idea to anchor an image with an interesting foreground element to give it more depth. Since palm trees are such a clichéd choice, I decided to use parts of the shoreline instead.


Cokin blue/yellow Varicolor polarizer filter

Cokin blue/red Varicolor polarizer filter.







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Showcase Images


Each week highlights images from the top 100 submissions of the NANPA Showcase competition. This week’s images are by: Tony Frank, F.M. Kearney, Mark Lagrange, Gabby Salazar, Nancy Hoyt Belcher, Ian Frazier, Matthew Hyner.


FIELD TECHNIQUE: Making Something Out of Nothing

Story and photography by F.M. Kearney

One of the hardest parts of creative photography is trying to figure out how to make an ordinary subject look extraordinary (or, at least, a bit more interesting). It’s not so easy to know when to stop and take notice of something that most people would simply pass by without giving it a second glance—that is, if they ever glanced at it in the first place. I experienced something like that during a recent visit to the New York Botanical Garden. I was there to shoot the roses, but I arrived before the rose garden opened. To kill some time, I passed through the hydrangea area, which was in full bloom. I had seen hydrangeas many times before, but I never considered photographing them. Nothing really special stood out about them. Since I had the time, I decided to stop and give them a more serious look. I spent several minutes surveying them from many angles before the seeds of inspiration slowly began to sprout.


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FIELD TECHNIQUE: The View from Below

Story and photography by F.M. Kearney

The Awakening, © F.M. Kearney

The Awakening, © F.M. Kearney

Spring is finally here and the abundance of blooming flowers will soon present an array of interesting photo opportunities. From delicate daffodils to charming cherry blossoms and tantalizing tulips, you certainly won’t go wanting for interesting subjects. However, coming up with new and interesting ways to shoot this annual spectacle may present a challenge. Continue reading