Summer in the high country of Colorado means gorgeous alpine views, snowmelt and with that, carpets of wildflowers. Wildflower season usually peaks near the end of July in the Colorado high country. Join us on a photographic adventure into the heart of alpine country! We will be based in the San Juan Mountains. Set among the peaks of the San Juans and old mining camps, the flower displays combined with blue alpine lakes are a photographer’s dream. We will spend four days adventuring in Jeeps to the wildflowers that are only accessible by 4×4. Waterfalls, fields of paintbrush flowers, and crystal clear alpine lakes left behind by the glaciers are just a few examples of what we will be photographing. Both of these areas are near and dear to our photographic hearts, and we have spent extensive time exploring, scouting, and photographing these places ourselves. If you’re looking for a summer photography adventure, join us in the high country of colorful Colorado!
Prepare for something different as you explore and photograph ephemeral spring wildflowers in northern Michigan at the peak of the wildflower season. We will cover tools and techniques to capture better flower photos and will explore and capture photos in outstanding locations for wildflowers. Prepare to be amazed by trillium and other flowers which carpet the forest floor. Join us for a weekend in the beautiful northwoods.
Looking up through a tulip bed. New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, NY. (Digitized from film.)
Story & photos by F. M. Kearney
If you’ve had your gear packed away since the final vestiges of colorful foliage faded from the landscape last fall, now is the time to dust off the cobwebs. Spring is finally here – bringing an abundance of subject matter. Fresh flowers are popping up everywhere and demanding attention. But, you don’t want to fall into a habit of taking the same types of pictures year after year. A change in perspective is a good way to view an old subject in a new light.
Many photographers tend to shoot from an eye-level perspective. Let’s face it… it’s a comfortable position and the path of least resistance. However, it’s not always the best angle when shooting flowers. To capture more unique compositions, you will need to get on their level – often necessitating getting on your hands and knees (or even lower). Of course, none of us are getting any younger, and if the thought of this conjures up visions to the chiropractor, there are a few things you can do to make your life easier. I always carry a pair of gardening kneepads in my bag. They come with velcro straps, so they’re very easy to put on and take off. They come in very handy when I’m shooting low on rocky surfaces. Not only do they spare my knees, they keep my pants relatively clean and dry in dirty or muddy environments. Other helpful aids are right-angle finders (periscope-like devices that screw onto your viewfinder) and adjustable flip screens. These objects make it easier to view low-angle scenes without having to get too low yourself.
The opening photo of this article is about as low as you can go. I shot it 25 years ago with a film camera and a 16mm fisheye lens. I placed the camera flat on the ground, with the lens pointed skyward, in the middle of a tulip bed. After setting the self-timer, I quickly stepped away. Although I couldn’t see what I was shooting, I wasn’t completely flying blind. I was able to get a fairly good idea of my composition by looking at the reflection on the large lens surface. I didn’t have an autofocus lens back then, but even if I did, I certainly wouldn’t have trusted it in this situation. I used a tape measure to determine the height of the tulips, and then pre-focused the lens.
Daffodils in direct sunlight (left) versus daffodils partially blocking the sun (right).
Low-angle shooting doesn’t need to be that extreme in order to make an impact. Simply shooting at the level of the flowers will make your images stand out, because it’s an angle most people aren’t used to seeing. This angle also makes it easier to include the sun. I shot the two photos above in a field of large-cupped daffodils with a right-angle finder. The inclusion of the sun adds a lot more interest, but it can also raise a few safety concerns. Obviously, this wasn’t a factor in the opening shot because I wasn’t looking through the camera. In this case, I was looking right at the sun, but I was using a 28mm wide angle lens. This kept the sun relatively small in the frame, so I wasn’t too concerned. Nevertheless, I shot the majority of these images with the sun partially hidden behind the flowers (as seen in the shot on the right). That significantly cut down on its intensity and made it much easier to see what was going on in the viewfinder. I did that purely for creative purposes. Had the focal length been longer, I may have done it for safety precautions.
As a former film shooter, I can attest to how difficult it was to shoot high-contrast shots like these years ago. Film just didn’t have the dynamic range (the ability to record details in shadows and highlights) that modern digital cameras have today. High-end models have features that can actually boost the dynamic range to varying degrees. Nikon has Active-D Lighting and Canon has Auto Lighting Optimizer. I shoot with Nikon, so I set the Active-D Lighting to “Extra High.” Although I used a flash to remove the shadows from the flowers in the foreground, the added dynamic range helped to prevent the shadows in the background from blocking up.
Cloudy days can offer many opportunities as well. If you don’t want to include a large expanse of featureless, white sky in the shot, all you need is a longer focal length and a change of composition. I shot the group of triumph tulips below at a low-angle at 200mm – making it easy to exclude the sky.
Triumph tulips shot at level. Brooklyn Botanic Garden.
Although the tulips in the foreground stand out, there’s really nothing unique about the shot. Try to look for something different – something a bit out of the ordinary. Tulips are usually planted in tight clusters. Sometimes, a tight shot of their stems can be just as intriguing as the flowers themselves. Below is an example of what you might find when you shoot slightly under the average level of the group. The shorter tulip surrounded by tall stems creates a much more interesting perspective of the scene.
Triumph tulips shot slightly below level.
Shooting flowers in the field is fun, but it can also be very physically tasking. You may find yourself in some pretty uncomfortable and/or unusual positions. Years ago, I had my mother accompany me on one of my flower shoots. At one point, I had to lay flat on the ground to get the shot. She thought it was one of the weirdest and craziest things she had ever seen. For decades afterwards, whenever I told her I was going out to shoot something (no matter what it was or what the season), she would always ask, “Are you gonna lay on the ground with the flowers again?” My mother is no longer here, but that image of me left a lasting impression in her mind. If you take the time and effort to get the shots that many others might deem “too difficult,” the images you create will make a lasting impression as well.
F. M. Kearney began his photography career as a photojournalist for New York City newspapers. His focus soon shifted to capturing the beauty of the natural world. As an award-winning nature photographer, Kearney’s images have been widely published. A slight departure from photography, his recently published horror novel, “They Only Come Out at Night,” about supernatural happenings in the New York City subway (partially inspired by his travels as a photojournalist), is available on Amazon. To see more of Kearney’s work, visit http://www.starlitecollection.com.
The following Showcase images have been selected to appear on the NANPA home page for the week beginning Monday, March 25, 2019. To view all of the top 250 photographs from NANPA’s 2019 Showcase competition, see the photo gallery on the NANPA website.
Snow-covered branches frame urban landscape of Central Park, New York, NY.
Story and photos by F. M. Kearney
Making a subject stand out is the primary goal of all photographers. There are a number of ways to accomplish this and your subject matter will usually dictate the best method. Common techniques may include special lighting, subject placement, extreme angles or contrasting colors. If you delve into the world of digital imaging, your choices will be virtually unlimited. But, if you prefer to keep your images looking as natural as possible, you may want to stick with the in-camera methods.
One of my favorite ways to highlight a subject is to place it within a natural frame. This might consist of leaves, flowers, bushes … just about anything nearby that you can find to encircle your subject. In the opening photo above, I used the snow-covered branches to frame the distant buildings in this Central Park winter scene. Besides serving as decorative foreground elements, they were a great way to cover up the dead space of a white, featureless sky.
Sunrise behind “The Wheel” on Steel Pier, Atlantic City Beach, Atlantic City, NJ
Story and photos by F. M. Kearney
Webster defines serendipity as “the faculty of making providential discoveries by accident.” In photography, it’s more like capturing that once in a lifetime shot that could not be recreated again in a million years. The internet is full of these types of images, usually classified as “Photos Taken at the Perfect Moment,” or “Things You Have to See to Believe.” Of course, almost anything you see on the internet should be viewed with a certain degree of skepticism, and even more so when it comes to photos and videos. The old saying, “The Camera Never Lies,” has never been less true than in the digital age in which we live. However, assuming that even if a fraction of these photos are, in fact, real, they truly are serendipitous moments caught on camera.
I recently spent several days in Atlantic City, NJ shooting ocean views. Most of my visits in the past have been day trips lasting only a few hours – just enough time to grab a quick lunch, lose all my money and head back home. On this occasion, I had the luxury of time on my side – time to see the real beauty of this town, beyond the bells and buzzers, and the glitzy flashing lights within its casinos’ walls.
One morning, I took a walk along the beach to The Steel Pier – a 1,000-foot-long amusement park built on a pier of the boardwalk. Its latest attraction is a 227-foot tall Ferris wheel, known as The Wheel, which began operating in 2017. I arrived just as the sun was rising behind it. My main objective was to get the surf in the perfect position – far enough into frame to be a dominant foreground element, but not so far in that it covered up the sun’s reflection on the wet sand. I also wanted to get the rising sun directly between the spokes of The Wheel. The sun’s position changes quite rapidly when it’s this low on the horizon. I took several shots and the photo above was the only one where the sun and the surf lined up in the perfect positions. This was the result of careful timing (and a little bit of luck). However, the serendipitous aspects were the inclusion of the seagull and the woman – things I had absolutely no control over. I saw when the seagull walked into the reflection during the shoot, but I didn’t even notice the woman in the background until I was reviewing the images back home on my computer. She had walked into one of the openings of the pier directly beneath The Wheel at precisely the right moment.
Another serendipitous moment was the inclusion of the honeybees in the daylily image below. I was all set to shoot the flowers when I suddenly found myself surrounded by a small group of bees. Like little helicopters on a mission, they methodically visited each flower in the area – hovered for a few seconds, then landed to pollinate. Since I already had my camera locked down on a tripod and focused on one particular bloom, I decided to wait and see if they would pay it a visit. Eventually, two bees flew into the shot and hovered close enough for my flash to cast a catch-light in their eyes. When they landed, they went down too deep into the flower to be seen, so I was lucky to get this photo of their approach.
Honeybees “photo-bombing” daylily image.
Serendipitous moments in photography are unplanned and often referred to as “lucky shots.” But you can increase your luck if you’re prepared, have a little patience and are aware of specific patterns of behavior – as in the case of the honeybees. Sometimes, however, you just get a pleasant surprise. Careful planning made the image of The Wheel a good shot. Serendipity made it one-of-a-kind.
If you’re not a winter person, it’s probably been a few months since you’ve taken a single photo. But, you’re in luck. Spring is just around the corner, and it won’t be long before blooms of daffodils, tulips and cherry blossoms begin dotting the landscape. But, instead of settling for the same old photos this year, why not try something a little different?
I recently began experimenting with a program called Topaz Impression. I briefly touched on this program in my article, “The Final Frames,” in the last installment of eNEWS last year. Topaz (topazlabs.com) makes over a dozen programs that can really add a unique flair to your images, but when it comes to nature photography, Impression is probably the most useful. Taking its name from the impressionistic-style of painting that emerged in France in the mid-19th century, this program can transform an ordinary-looking photo into a stunning work of art.
Most nature photographers go out of their way to avoid the harsh, unforgiving contrast of direct sunlight. The resulting blown highlights and blocked up shadows have ruined many potentially great photos. This type of lighting may work for certain landscape images, but for floral portraits, the soft, even light of an overcast day is generally preferred.