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Field Technique: Nature . . . in a most unusual place, Story and photo by F.M. Kearney

By July 10, 2014No Comments

WF-72Kearney8-14New York is a city known for its attractions: the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, the Bronx Zoo, the Brooklyn Bridge Waterfall. Waterfall? Yes, for a brief period during the summer of 2008, there was a waterfall at the Brooklyn Bridge, thanks to the imagination of artist Olafur Eliasson.

The Brooklyn Bridge Waterfall was part of a public art project consisting of four artificial waterfalls situated along the East River and the New York Harbor. They were created by pumping river water up and over 100-foot-tall scaffoldings. The Brooklyn Bridge Waterfall was placed under the bridge’s tower. Of the four waterfalls, it was the most picturesque.

Like a typical New Yorker, I suppose, I never really paid much attention to public art installations. One in particular, installed a few years earlier in Central Park, left me more puzzled than anything else. It was known as The Gates–a winding, 23-mile-long row of saffron-colored fabric sheets strewn along the park’s pathways. Personally, I didn’t get it and I didn’t see the fascination. However, a waterfall flowing under the Brooklyn Bridge is something else. There aren’t alot of waterfalls to shoot in New York City, so even though it was artificial, I didn’t want to miss it.

In the light of day, the falls didn’t look like much. After sunset, however, they were illuminated and—combined with the regular bridge lights—became much more impressive. Scores of photographers with tripods lined the banks of lower Manhattan nightly to get a shot of this unusual spectacle.

I was still shooting film at that time, and I needed an exposure of several seconds for this image. I don’t remember the exact length of the exposure, but whatever it was I had to double it to compensate for reciprocity failure. This gave the water a smooth, silky appearance. Having to deal with reciprocity was always a hassle with film, but in this particular case, the extra long exposure was definitely a plus. A digital camera set to the same ISO as my film would have created the shot in half the time—giving the water a much less silky look. Of course, if the in-camera, long-exposure noise reduction feature was used, it would have doubled the exposure time, equaling that of film, but the water wouldn’t have looked any more silky. The camera is not actually exposing the scene during this time, but simply creating a “dark” exposure to reduce noise.

The waterfalls were taken down in October of that year. I was sorry to see them go. It takes a lot to stop jaded New Yorkers in their tracks, and whether they loved the Brooklyn Bridge Waterfall or loathed it, I think many would agree that this art project was certainly one of a kind.

Only in New York!


F. M. Kearney is an award-winning nature photographer whose work has been widely published. He is a long-time contributor to NANPA publications. To see more of Kearney’s work, go to

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