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

Garden Highlights (R-425)_edited-1

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

FIELD TECHNIQUES: Cherry Blossom Time by F.M. Kearney

Cherry Blossom Time (CB-109a(D)

Story and photograph by F.M. Kearney

I had almost forgotten what it was like to see vibrant colors in my viewfinder. Despite that and a nasty fall on the ice that took me out of commission for several weeks, I still prefer winter over the insufferable dog days of summer. Yet, as this winter–one of the harshest on record–comes to a close, I’m rejoicing along with many others the long-awaited arrival of spring.

One of the first jewels of spring are colorful cherry blossoms. In New York City, the place to go is Cherry Esplanade in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Every April, two rows of Prunus “Kanzan” trees–a gift from the Japanese government after World War I–adorn this area of the garden in a sea of pink. The month-long cherry blossom season known as Hanami ends in a weekend celebration called Sakura Matsuri. Continue reading

FIELD TECHNIQUES: Show the Snow by F.M. Kearney

W-300 Story and photograph by F.M. Kearney

This winter has certainly been one for the record books. While most people probably long for the warm days of summer, I personally can never get enough of the cold and everything that comes with it.

There’s nothing better than photographing a freshly snow-covered landscape glistening in bright sunlight. For an added dynamic effect, I sometimes include the sun and position it partially behind a tree branch, to create an eye-catching starburst. Although stunning images like these “after the snow” photos are well-worth capturing, I recently began experimenting with taking pictures during the actual snowfall. Continue reading

Into the Fog by F.M. Kearney

Story and photograph by F.M. Kearney


New York Botanical Gardens, © F.M. Kearney

Fog is a collection of liquid water droplets suspended in the air at or near the earth’s surface. It forms when the difference between temperature and dew point is less than four degrees Fahrenheit. At least, that’s what it says on the internet. I’m not sure I know what all of that means, but what I do know is that fog can create some pretty compelling—and, sometimes, creepy-looking—images. Continue reading

IN THE FIELD: Christmas Presence

Story and Photographs by F.M. Kearneykearney-PN_21a

A light to moderate snow had fallen the night before, coating the ground with a few inches of powdery goodness. The snow muffled my footsteps as I forged a new trail in the New York Botanical Garden. As an Early Morning Pass holder, I was able to enter the garden several hours before its official opening to the general public—allowing me one of the first unspoiled looks at what nature had delivered overnight. Continue reading


Story and Photo by F.M. Kearney

The brilliant colors of autumn have faded. Most of the leaves have already fallen; only a handful of stubborn diehards remain clinging to the trees. I used to think that come the end of October, the “show” is over until I started noticing all the little holes in these weather-beaten leaves. If the sun is placed directly behind them, a multitude of interesting sunbursts can be created.

I specifically look for low-hanging leaves with an unobstructed line of sight of the sun in the background. Exposure is best determined manually. Auto exposure will only drive you nuts as the meter bounces from one extreme to another with each subtle movement of the leavesresulting in a series of inconsistent exposures. I simply spot-meter the area of the sky next to the sun and lock it in. Now, no matter how much the leaves want to dance around, the overall exposure will remain the same. For a more dramatic image and to better emphasize the sunbursts, I’ll sometimes slightly underexpose the sky. So as not to underexpose the leaves as well, a flash is a must. Fill-flash isn’t always strong enough in these situations, so I usually turn it off and use the flash at normal power. If necessary, I increase its output by a stop, which restores detail in the leaves as well as any lingering traces of color. Continue reading