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Tips and techniques

IN THE FIELD: Christmas Presence

By December 15, 2013June 18th, 2022No Comments

Story and Photographs by F.M. Kearneykearney-PN_21a

A light to moderate snow had fallen the night before, coating the ground with a few inches of powdery goodness. The snow muffled my footsteps as I forged a new trail in the New York Botanical Garden. As an Early Morning Pass holder, I was able to enter the garden several hours before its official opening to the general public—allowing me one of the first unspoiled looks at what nature had delivered overnight.

I was very excited to see the snow. The Northeast winter that year had been particularly mild, so I was happy to see any snow. As an apartment dwelling New Yorker, I never have to worry about personally creating a pathway in front of my building. So, when your only concern is photographing the snow, and not shoveling it, you tend to look at it in an entirely different light.

I wouldn’t have classified the scene in the garden as a “Winter Wonderland.” Although there was a healthy coating of snow on the ground, the trees held barely a trace. I had always admired those classic snow scenes in the Midwest, where the trees looked like they were literally painted white. However, the conditions in the garden weren’t anywhere near as dramatic as that. As I made my way through a cluster of pines, I came across a small sapling, not much taller than myself. A little scrawny and somewhat isolated from the other, more mature trees, it sort of reminded me of the pathetic-looking “Charlie Brown tree.”

Like Charlie, I, too, wanted to brighten up this sad, lonely tree. Since Christmas ornaments aren’t the typical accessories I carry in my camera bag, I had something a little different in mind. I mounted my camera on a tripod and placed it directly in front of the tree. I then did a double exposure where I placed a red gel on my flash and handheld it to the extreme right, far off-camera, for the first shot. I did the same thing on the left side with a green gel to complete the exposure. Fortunately, the winds were almost non-existent, so everything remained perfectly still. I also underexposed the ambient light by one stop to emphasize the effect.

I felt the festive lighting put a little holiday spirit in the air of this photo I entitled, “Christmas Presence.”


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 publications and the weekly photography blogger on His 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 at To see more of Kearney’s work, visit