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

Bird Photography at Mono Lake by Marie Read

Wilson's Phalaropes (Phalaropus tricolor) flock at South Tufa, Mono Lake, California, USA

Wilson’s Phalaropes (Phalaropus tricolor) flock at South Tufa, Mono Lake, California, USA

Story and Photographs by Marie Read

Mono Lake is one of California’s most photogenic locations, a well-known destination for landscape photographers worldwide. Bizarre rocky spires called tufa towers punctuate the waters and shoreline of this desert sea, while the snow-capped Sierra Nevada forms a spectacular backdrop to the west. The well-kept secret is that Mono Lake and its surroundings are great for bird photography as well.

Mono Lake’s alkaline, highly saline water supports no fish, but it teems with brine shrimp and alkali flies, providing food for numerous breeding birds, including California Gulls, American Avocets, and Snowy Plovers. Osprey nest atop the tufa, commuting to and from freshwater lakes nearby for fish for their young. Around the lake sagebrush scrub, pinyon-juniper, and conifer-aspen woodlands support many other birds. I’d like to share some of my favorite bird photography spots. Continue reading

NATURE’S VIEW: Lessons from the Lake – story and photos © Jim Clark

Part I: Going Beyond F/stops &  Shutter Speeds

“There is no place like springtime in the marsh. I like to just sit back and let it tell me all its stories.”—Karen Hollingsworth

Karen is a fellow NANPA member and nature photographer, and I’ve often repeated her words to my workshop students to emphasize the value of savoring the experience. I have learned that an outstanding image takes more than technical skills. The more you are into the moment, the more your images stand out.

Northern Parula Warbler  (c) Jim Clark

Northern Parula Warbler © Jim Clark

A few weeks ago, I drove to my childhood home in the remote coalfield region of southern West Virginia. Much has changed since I grew up there, but one constant remains: a small mountain lake that has served as my secret location to explore and photograph nature. There is nothing fancy about this lake, but it has provided me with countless hours of enjoyment. 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

NATURE’S VIEW – Isolated Scenics

Story and photograph by Jim Clark

Isolated Scenics

…or, how I learned to stop worrying and love telephoto zooms for landscape photography

Trees in meadow @ sunrise - Canaan Valley NWR WV (c) Jim Clark

Trees in meadow @ sunrise – Canaan Valley NWR WV (c) Jim Clark

Ever look at those images you captured with a wide-angle lens and feel like something was missing? The scene was magnificent and you feel stymied as to why the grandeur did not translate in your final image? It might be because you included too much of the scene in the composition. 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

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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

FIELD TECHNIQUES: After the Fall

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

NATURE’S VIEW: Getting to Ground Level

by Jim Clark

Oystercatcher_20120429_001(c) Jim ClarkOf all the genres of nature photography, my most challenging one is wildlife photography.

Challenge one: the primary subject is mobile and doesn’t tend to stay in place very long unless sleeping, resting or nesting.  Challenge two: the primary subject is more wary than a landscape, flower or inanimate abstract subject. Challenge three: The primary subject has eyes. It may very well be watching your every move.

The first inclination of many aspiring nature photographers is to remain standing to photograph a critter that is much smaller than they are. While I, too, will stand to photograph a smaller animal the first time I encounter it, I then make an effort to change my perspective and get lower. Continue reading