FIELD TECHNIQUE: The Magic Hours, Story and photographs by F. M. Kearney

S_121-200x300Most nature photographers know that the best light of the day occurs during the first and last hours of sunlight—sunrise and sunset. During this time, the sun is low on the horizon, and its light travels through more of the atmosphere, creating brilliant shades of red, yellow and gold. For that reason, photographers fittingly refer to this time of day as the golden (or magic) hours.

I was recently in Atlantic City and captured “bookends” of the same day on the beach. In the morning, I shot a photo (above) of the sun rising above the Atlantic Ocean. When shooting directly into the sun, it’s best to use manual exposure. Auto modes will go haywire in this type of light. Although it’s been said many times before, some advice bears repeating: Never look directly at the sun in the viewfinder. This is especially true if you’re using a long lens, which will, of course, magnify the sun’s intensity. A spot meter, which measures a small portion of the frame, is also helpful. I spot-metered a clear area of the sky next to the sun, then locked in that exposure on manual. Continue reading

FIELD TECHNIQUE – Avoiding the Tourist Trap, Story and photographs by F. M. Kearney

Vacations are a great way to get away and de-stress. However, I often find myself stressing even more. While I try to be mindful of the fact that I’m on vacation and not on assignment, I can’t seem to leave home without my camera gear.

With only a limited amount of time, I worry about getting the shot. Where are the best locations? When and where does the sun set and/or rise? How can I best secure my equipment in the hotel room?

On a recent trip to Antigua, West Indies, I was focusing on a bevy of tropical treats that don’t normally grace my lens. It’s easy to get sloppy and fall into the “tourist trap.” You want to shoot everything, but end up shooting not much of anything worthwhile at all. Slowing down and actually seeing your subjects, as opposed to simply looking at them, can make all the difference in the world.

Pride of Barbados Caesalpinia pulcherrima (Fabaceae) Antigua, West Indies

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FIELD TECHNIQUE: Add a Flash of Color

Story and photographs by F.M. Kearney

There are several ways to add more color to your photos. Nowadays, that usually involves any number of amazing things that can be done in post. But if your computer skills are lacking or you’re old school and prefer to create your masterpieces in-camera, there is a quick and easy method for adding a touch of color using flash gels.

Many methods are available to attach gels to a flash head. I use a LumiQuest FXtra Gel Holder that attaches to the head via Velcro strips. There are lots of colors to choose from, but you’ll probably want to use the red gel to get the most realistic results. Also, if you are shooting flowers, look for those that are white or light colored for more impact. Continue reading

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