FIELD TECHNIQUE: Working the Subject

Story and photographs by F.M. Kearney

If there was ever a Superbowl for floral photography, it would most likely be held in April. Flowers are blooming almost everywhere you look. Framing these little wonders of nature is usually a straightforward decision of using a vertical or horizontal composition. Occasionally, however, you may come across a subject that refuses to play nice and be placed in a neat little box.

Before you actually begin shooting, it’s a good idea to walk around first and survey the scene for the most promising subjects. This tight cluster of white Easter lilies in a botanical garden eventually caught my attention.

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© F.M. Kearney

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FIELD TECHNIQUE: Bringing the Field Indoors, Story and photos by F.M. Kearney

March is an interesting time of year. Spring flowers have yet to bloom, and most of the winter snow has melted. It can be slim pickings as far as nature photography is concerned. One option is to bring a little bit of nature indoors. Buy some flowers at a local florist and let your imagination run wild. I don’t have an actual studio, so I used a container to hold the flowers, a few tripods, some flashlights and a mirror.

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FIELD TECHNIQUE – The Perfect Storm, Story and photographs by F.M. Kearney

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Some members of my family were trying to decide between turkey or roast beef. Others were already thinking about dessert. My only concern was how long the perfect conditions outside were going to remain that way.

It was December 25, 2002, and I was enjoying Christmas dinner. It had been snowing for most of the day, and a couple of inches of thick, heavy snow had coated everything it touched. This was the first official “White Christmas” New York City had experienced in several years. Throughout the evening, I found myself constantly leaving the holiday festivities to look outside. I hoped that the magical conditions would hold out until I could get out and photograph. I was not disappointed. Continue reading

FIELD TECHNIQUES – Transitions, Story and photograph by F.M. Kearney

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I thought it was a joke or, perhaps, the mother of all typos. The weather forecast called for scattered showers in the morning, with an expected high of 50 degrees and a low of 8. It was not a mistake. It was the actual forecast for January 6, the first Monday of 2014 in New York City. A 42-degree temperature plunge in a single day dropped even further on Tuesday, to 5 degrees. On Wednesday the temperature climbed out of the single digits and was expected to rise to a balmy 25. Continue reading

FIELD TECHNIQUES: The Snowless days of winter, Story and photographs by FM Kearney

S-217Winter is a time when many nature photographers look forward to photographing snow-covered landscapes, hanging icicles, frozen waterfalls and other wintry sights. But, what if the winter is mild and these types of scenes are difficult to find?

Such was the case a few years ago in New York. The winter saw only a dusting of snow, and temperatures rarely dropped below freezing. There were no pastures of puffy powder, nor fields of frozen fantasies. Continue reading

THE MORE THINGS CHANGE – Story and photographs by F.M. Kearney

It’s fun to look back on some of the things we used to do in the past. Out-of-fashion hairstyles and clothing are always good for a laugh. Old photographs can reveal poor techniques or embarrassing mistakes. I’m sometimes surprised at what I used to consider quality photography. Comparing my early work with what I shoot today can be like comparing night to day. Sometimes, however, the changes are less drastic.

Years ago, for example, I read a weekly article in the Sunday paper called, “Then and Now.” It was a photo feature comparing a random street scene from the turn of the century to a modern-day capture shot from the exact same perspective. It was amazing to see just how foreign some of the most familiar areas of town used to look. Buildings, unless designated historical landmarks, can go through drastic changes over the years. Continue reading

FIELD TECHNIQUE: Watch your Back…Background that is! Story and photographs by F.M. Kearney

Daylily "Silken Touch" Hemerocallis (Hemerocallidaceae) New York Botanical Garden

Daylily  “Silken Touch” Hemerocallis (Hemerocallidaceae) New York Botanical Garden

I was setting up atop a small hill when I heard the sound of quick footsteps. Seconds later, they stopped. I heard a click, and the footsteps sounded again followed by another stop and another click. This pattern repeated several times. With my curiosity stirred, I finally looked up and saw a man briskly walking through a cluster of daffodils. He would stop just for a moment to take a quick photo, then walk a few feet away and take another. That kind of “rapid-fire photography” usually results in mediocre snapshots. Creative photographs take time. Often, deciding what to do with your background can make the difference between a mediocre shot and a creative one. Continue reading

Field Technique: Nature . . . in a most unusual place, Story and photo by F.M. Kearney

WF-72Kearney8-14New York is a city known for its attractions: the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, the Bronx Zoo, the Brooklyn Bridge Waterfall. Waterfall? Yes, for a brief period during the summer of 2008, there was a waterfall at the Brooklyn Bridge, thanks to the imagination of artist Olafur Eliasson.

The Brooklyn Bridge Waterfall was part of a public art project consisting of four artificial waterfalls situated along the East River and the New York Harbor. They were created by pumping river water up and over 100-foot-tall scaffoldings. The Brooklyn Bridge Waterfall was placed under the bridge’s tower. Of the four waterfalls, it was the most picturesque.

Like a typical New Yorker, I suppose, I never really paid much attention to public art installations. One in particular, installed a few years earlier in Central Park, left me more puzzled than anything else. It was known as The Gates–a winding, 23-mile-long row of saffron-colored fabric sheets strewn along the park’s pathways. Personally, I didn’t get it and I didn’t see the fascination. However, a waterfall flowing under the Brooklyn Bridge is something else. There aren’t alot of waterfalls to shoot in New York City, so even though it was artificial, I didn’t want to miss it. Continue reading

Field Technique: Embracing the Backlight, Story and Photographs by F.M. Kearney

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Flowers are usually best photographed on overcast days. The cloud cover acts as a giant softbox, evening out the light by eliminating dark shadows. Sometimes, this flat, contrast-free lighting is exactly what I’m looking for. Other times, when I’m in the mood to spice things up a bit, I seek out the harshest, most direct lighting I can find. I don’t necessarily want this type of light on my subject but, rather, behind it to create a nice backlight.

Roses are in season now, providing many creative photo opportunities. One sunny morning, I came across a row of white shrub roses in the New York Botanical Garden. After surveying them under standard frontal lighting, I thought: “Nothing to see here. Move on.” But when I walked around to the other side, I was absolutely amazed to see just how much more dramatic the roses looked backlit. No longer static and boring, they came to life against the sparkling highlights that danced in the background.

However, backlight isn’t the easiest kind of light to work with. Unless you’re going for a complete silhouette, additional lighting and techniques are needed to properly expose your subject. Continue reading

FIELD TECHNIQUES: The Complexity of Simplicity, story and photo © F.M. Kearney

 

F-14_edited-1I’m often amazed at just how much subconscious thought and planning goes into the creation of a “simple” photograph.

A couple of years ago I was in the Thain Family Forest of the New York Botanical Garden. Located in the center of the 250-acre garden, this forest is the last remaining tract of original forest that once covered most of New York City.

I was initially attracted to a rustic log fence at the entrance to one of the forest trails. Seeing it as the perfect foreground element to lead a viewer’s eye into the photo, I positioned my tripod in the center of the trail and leveled it to the height of the fence. This was the best perspective to show the lines converging as they disappeared around the bend in the distance. Continue reading