The Color of Winter: Techniques to Enhance Winter Photos

The Pool frozen over at sunrise Central Park New York, NY

The Pool frozen over at sunrise, Central Park, New York, NY (HDR compilation of 5 images).

Story & photography by F.M. Kearney

That time is quickly approaching. That time of year when many photographers will pack away their gear and patiently wait for the first colorful blooms next spring. Yet, winter isn’t completely devoid of color, as some might assume. In fact, if you carefully plan what you shoot and when you shoot, you may be surprised at the amount of color you can coax out of this often-overlooked season.

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What Not to Bring through Airport Security

Home-made bounce card on flash.

Home-made bounce card on flash.

From the Editor:  We recently started posting a series of travel tips about making the life of the traveling photographer smoother and easier.  In this installment, F. M. Kearney’s inner MacGyver inventiveness comes back to bite him. If you have a favorite tip, share it with us! Send it to publications@nanpa.org and we’ll post it in a future article.

Story and photographs by F. M. Kearney

Life can sometimes be a challenge. Much of it is beyond our control, but every now and then, you can do things to make the journey a little easier. Whenever possible, I try to streamline repetitive tasks. For instance, I always keep a self-addressed, stick-on label in my wallet in the event I need to fill out a form or have something delivered. Each time I hand one over, people marvel at my ingenuity in quickly getting through what could otherwise be a time-consuming process. I see it more as common sense. If I know there’s a high likelihood that I might need something shipped or delivered, why would I want to waste time by repeatedly writing out my name and address on one of their blank labels?

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The Autumn Show: Beyond “Trees & Leaves”

Fall foliage reflecting in lake, Twin Lakes area, New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, NY. f/9.5 @ 70mm, 5-image HDR compilation.

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.

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The Wonders of Water Plants

Water lily with Cokin diffractor filter effect.

Water lily with Cokin diffractor filter effect.

 

Story and Photography by F.M. Kearney

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.

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Making An Impression

Story and Photographs by F.M. Kearney

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.

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February Blues

Story and photography by F.M. Kearney

 

Snow-covered trees in Central Park New York, NY (HDR 5-image compilation) © F.M. Kearney

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.

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A Time to Reflect

Tropical Waterlillies © F.M. Kearney

Story and Photographs by F.M. Kearney

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.

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Spotlights

Story and Photography by F.M. Kearney

 

Korean chrysanthemum highlighted by spotlight of sun. “Sheffield” Asteraceae, New York Botanical Garden Bronx, NY. © F.M. Kearney

 

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.

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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