Fall foliage reflecting in lake, Twin Lakes area, New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, NY. f/9.5 @ 70mm, 5-image HDR compilation.
Story & Photography by F.M. Kearney
The final curtain is about to rise. A cast of billions is in place. Throughout their entire performance, they’ve all been restricted to the same regulation green outfits. For their finale, they now have a chance to break free – a chance to dazzle onlookers with stunning new yellow, red and orange wardrobes. A few glory-hounds will attempt to upstage the others with magnificent, multi-colored garb. Sit back and relax… The Autumn Show is about to begin.
I’m sure most nature photographers look forward to this show every year. But, it can be a challenge to come up with something different than the usual “trees and leaves” photo. Try looking for compositions beyond the obvious – compositions where the subject isn’t immediately evident.
One subject I always look forward to photographing during the summer months is the water lily. Native to the temperate and tropical parts of the world, there are over 50 species of these freshwater plants. However, it isn’t always easy to shoot them creatively. Unless you have access to a natural lake or pond (and are willing to get very wet), you will most likely have to shoot from the sidelines of a reflecting pool in a local park or botanical garden. A long lens will allow you to zoom in for a tight close-up, but you certainly won’t have any options to create those dramatic macro or wide-angle perspectives that are commonly used on other types of more accessible flowers.
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.
It may be the shortest month of the year, but to some, it can feel like the longest. Many of its days are dull and dreary. The few sunny days there are don’t last that long because it will be at least a month before Daylight Savings Time begins. Even people who love winter may be feeling that it’s high time to pack up the parka. As nature photographers, we find ourselves stuck in a sort of limbo between the last snowstorms of winter and the first blooms of spring. February can be a bit challenging in many ways, but when it comes to photography, it doesn’t have to be a barren wasteland.
The beginning of a new year is a time when many of us make resolutions to end bad habits, or to start that special project we’ve been putting off for months. It’s a time to take stock of our lives and to reflect upon our accomplishments (or lack thereof).
That got me thinking about literal reflections in photography. A perfect mirror image of a subject in a body of water is a great way to add interest and creativity to a photo. The amount of water can be as small as a dew drop on a stem that magically encompasses a floral portrait, to a river that reflects a mighty landscape.
Some reflections are easy to spot. I shot the two waterlilies above at a botanical garden in a reflecting pool – making it practically impossible not to include their reflection. It did take a bit of time, however, to find a “clean” composition where the reflection wasn’t obscured by any of the surrounding lily pads.
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.
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.
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 →
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 →
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 →