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Tips and techniques

FIELD TECHNIQUES: A Tulip in the Sun

By August 31, 2013No Comments

by F.M. Kearney

The weather forecast called for clouds in the morning, followed by sunny skies in the afternoon. I had spent the morning shooting a series of tulip photos in the New York Botanical Garden. I was using a double exposure, soft-focus technique giving them a certain romantic quality that was further enhanced by the subdued light. But I had to work fast. The cloud cover was getting thinner by the minute—soon to let forth the full, harsh light of the sun.


Of all the days for the weather report to be completely accurate!

When the last of the clouds finally dissipated, the direct lighting totally changed the mood of the images I was seeking. As I reluctantly began packing up my gear, I noticed one tulip that stood out from the rest. It was surrounded by shadowed blooms, but bathed in direct sunlight itself—like a personal spotlight. Knowing this type of lighting wouldn’t last long, I quickly began setting up again. I lowered my tripod to the height of the tulip and composed a shot by placing it in the middle of a darkened environment. I used a shallow depth-of-field to ensure that this tulip would be the only thing in sharp focus. Due to the high concentration of shadows, shots like these are prone to overexposure—if you’re not careful. I spot-metered the tulip so that it was the only thing taken into consideration when determining the exposure. I then sprayed it with water to simulate early morning dew drops.

When I first noticed this tulip, it was completely enveloped in direct sunlight. In the few minutes I took to make adjustments and calculations, the sun had shifted slightly and was only lighting the top of the flower. It would have been nice to have photographed it in all of its glory, but I’m just happy I was at least able to capture a piece of this brief and unusual lighting.

F. M. Kearney began his photography career as a photojournalist for New York City newspapers. His focus soon shifted to capturing the beauty of our natural world. As an award-winning nature photographer, Kearney’s images have been widely published. He is a frequent contributor to NANPA’s Currents, and the weekly photography blogger on His latest endeavora slight departure from photographyis a 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), available at To see more of Kearney’s work, visit



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