Good Images In Bad Weather

Story and photography by F.M. Kearney

 

Blizzard conditions by reservoir in Central Park.  New York, NY © F.M. Kearney

 

Blizzards – a time to cuddle up by the fire (or a good heater) with a nice hot bowl of soup and watch the wonders of nature unfold from within the confines of your warm home. This may be the ideal way to ride out “bad” weather to some people, but to nature photographers, it’s a golden opportunity to capture some unique images under very unique conditions.

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FIELD TECHNIQUE: The final frames

Story and photography by F.M. Kearney

Azalea garden, © F.M. Kearney

As you are probably aware, this is the final issue of eNEWS. It’s been an honor to write for this publication, and I truly hope that my words and images have inspired you with new techniques and ideas. For a slight change of pace, I’d like to focus more on human interest than technical details in this installment. The following is a small collection of some of my favorite unpublished photos and the stories behind them.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve visited the New York Botanical Garden. But, no matter how often I’ve been there, I never seem to run out of new locations to shoot within its 250 acres. The garden is constantly under renovation, providing endless photo ops.

The azalea garden underwent such a renovation a couple of years ago. I went there on an overcast day to shoot closeups of the azaleas, which were in full bloom at the time. By mid-morning, the weather made an about-face, and the day became completely sunny. The harsh lighting dashed my plans for intimate details. I reluctantly switched gears and decided to concentrate more on the overall area.

I passed by a large, red rhododendron bush several times, because I didn’t think it was worth shooting. It was in the shade, and a few of the leaves were spotted with yellow and black marks. When I finally decided to photograph it, I used an off-camera flash to balance shaded light in the foreground with the brightly-lit background. I removed the dead leaves later in post. I shot many compositions, but I like the one above the most due to the curvature of the footpath on the right and the garden itself. Continue reading

FIELD TECHNIQUE: Get the white out, creatively

Story and photography by F.M. Kearney

Central Park, New York City, © F.M. Kearney

A featureless white sky is the bane of nature photography. It can take a carefully crafted photograph and reduce it to what looks like a hastily grabbed snapshot destined for the trash heap. Of course, the lighting provided by white skies is highly sought after for capturing rich-toned, evenly lit images. But, aside from a few artistic purposes, white skies themselves are something most photographers try to avoid.

Unfortunately, this is a lot easier said than done. The best way to avoid white skies is to simply exclude them from your shot. If that’s not possible, a graduated neutral density filter might help. But, what if you don’t have a “clean” horizon? Any trees or buildings that jut up into the sky are going to be unnaturally darkened by the filter, thus ruining the effect.

You could try burning the sky in, but that may not work if it’s completely overcast and devoid of any cloud detail. Any attempts to burn in details that don’t actually exist will only result in a series of ugly, dark gray “burn marks.” Continue reading

FIELD TECHNIQUE: Season of the rose

Story and photography by F.M. Kearney

Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden New York Botanical Garden Bronx, NY (HDR 5-image compilation)

Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden at the New York Botanical Garden. © F.M. Kearney

I wondered if I had made a mistake.

The weather forecast called for a light shower in the morning, followed by mostly cloudy skies — perfect conditions for flower photography. The showers were light at first, but they gradually increased in intensity to the point where I was forced to seek shelter. It was beginning to look like my plans for the day were going to be a total washout, literally. After about an hour, however, the showers began to subside, and I was back in business.

I was at the New York Botanical Garden to shoot roses. At this time of year, the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden is at its peak with 4,000 rose plants in bloom in more than 600 varieties. I like to get there early to avoid the crowds and to survey the overall scene. On this particular day, I had plenty of time to do that because of the rain delay. It was still early when conditions improved, so I took advantage of the fact that I had the whole place to myself. Continue reading

FIELD TECHNIQUE: Capturing early morning dew . . . all day long

Story and photography by F.M. Kearney

Triumph tulip "Inistress Mystic" Tulipa Brooklyn Botanic Garden

Triumph tulips © F.M. Kearney

If you like shooting flowers, now is the time of year to be out in the field. Whether you live in a rural setting or in the middle of a large metropolitan area, these colorful little jewels of nature should not be too hard to find.

One of the most appealing aspects of flower photography are dew drops. As exposed surface temperatures cool, atmospheric moisture condenses in the form of water droplets. These droplets, commonly referred to as dew, can form on grass, leaves and even inanimate objects like railings and vehicles in the early morning hours. The formation of dew on flowers can turn a generic image into one that is stunning. Continue reading

FIELD TECHNIQUE: Let the sun shine in

Story and photography by F.M. Kearney

Years ago, I opened a box of Kodacolor II film and removed a thin, folded strip of paper. It contained a set of illustrated instructions for basic photography. One illustration, in particular, still sticks out in my mind. It was a photographer standing with his back to the sun while taking a picture of a model.

Indeed, conventional wisdom tells us to always keep the sun at our backs when taking a picture. This is a pretty good rule to follow for most subjects — especially if you don’t want important details lost in deep shadows. Always following conventional wisdom, however, will usually result in conventional-looking photographs. For a change of pace, why not try shooting directly toward the sun on a bright sunny day.

Including the sun in landscape photos is nothing new. But, aside from a few cameos, the sun rarely makes an appearance in photos of flowers. This could be due to a simple matter of logistics. It’s not that easy to compose the sun in the same shot with a subject that’s low to the ground. It’s much easier if you’re shooting at dawn or dusk when the sun is low on the horizon. Personally, I prefer the morning when the ambient light is rising instead of dropping.

Sun rising behind large-cup daffodils (Narcissus) "Manon Lescaut" Amaryllidaceae New York Botanical Garden Bronx, NY

© F.M. Kearney

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FIELD TECHNIQUE: It’s All in Your Perspective

Story and photography by F.M. Kearney

W-187a

Hessian Lake – Bear Mountain State Park, New York. © F.M. Kearney

It’s something that usually isn’t given much conscious thought, yet it’s like that one obscure ingredient that can make or break a recipe. Its effects aren’t as obvious as your choice of aperture or shutter speed, but nevertheless, it is just as important. What I’m referring to is perspective.

Contrary to popular belief, your perspective is controlled by your viewpoint — not the focal length of your lens. The only reason the perspective of wide-angle and zoom lenses is so different from normal is because they “view” drastically more or less of the scene. Focal lengths ranging from the mid-teens to the early twenties can provide dramatic landscape views. This is great if you want to include a very close foreground and a background that might be miles away. Sometimes, however, a scene might call for just the opposite kind of perspective. Continue reading

FIELD TECHNIQUE: Just Another Gray Winter Day

Story and photography by F.M. Kearney

New York City’s Central Park in winter. © F.M. Kearney

New York City’s Central Park in winter. © F.M. Kearney

The middle of winter can be a little depressing. The five-day forecast might show such a long stream of dull, dreary days that it makes one wonder if the weatherperson forgot to update the map. In the Northeast, it can seem as though the entire world is in hibernation. Everything is lifeless. Nothing is in bloom. On overcast days, you might feel like you’re living in a black-and-white movie. Then, of course, there’s the unforgiving cold. Continue reading

FIELD TECHNIQUE: One man’s trash

Story and photography by F.M. Kearney

Snow-covered saucer magnolia blooms.

Snow-covered saucer magnolia blooms.

The groundskeepers were a bit perturbed, but I was ecstatic.

Four inches of snow had fallen the day before. This wouldn’t be particularly noteworthy except it was April 8, 2003. These four inches brought the total amount of snow received in the New York area to just under 50 inches, placing the 2002-03 winter among the top 20 snowiest winters in the city’s recorded history.

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FIELD TECHNIQUE: The challenges of winter photography

Story and photography by F.M. Kearney

The Lake frozen over and snow-covered from The Hernshed Central Park New York, NY The Lake at the Hernshed Central Park New York, NY (5-image HDR compilation)
Left: The Lake in Central Park, New York City, in winter. Right: The same composition in early fall.
© F.M. Kearney

As beautiful as winter is to photograph, it also can be burdensome for you and your equipment. Certain precautions are required that no other season demands. Creativity takes a backseat when you’re cold and wet and thinking only about going home to enjoy a nice warm bowl of soup.

We’ve all heard that dressing in layers is the best way to go. You have the ability to add or remove articles of clothing as the temperature fluctuates. But what about your lower body? Jeans are probably the worst type of pants to wear, because they can freeze if they get wet and denim is often stiffer than other materials. Wool pants are warm, but I prefer to wear long underwear with nylon ski pants that stay dry even in the wettest conditions.

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