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Tips and techniques

FIELD TECHNIQUE – The Perfect Storm, Story and photographs by F.M. Kearney

By January 23, 2015No Comments


Some members of my family were trying to decide between turkey or roast beef. Others were already thinking about dessert. My only concern was how long the perfect conditions outside were going to remain that way.

It was December 25, 2002, and I was enjoying Christmas dinner. It had been snowing for most of the day, and a couple of inches of thick, heavy snow had coated everything it touched. This was the first official “White Christmas” New York City had experienced in several years. Throughout the evening, I found myself constantly leaving the holiday festivities to look outside. I hoped that the magical conditions would hold out until I could get out and photograph. I was not disappointed.

The next morning was like stepping into a real-life Currier and Ives print. Everything from the smallest twig to the largest tree was coated in an impressive layer of white. Total accumulations amounted to just a little over six inches—a perfect amount to beautify the city, but not enough to paralyze it. Before conditions could deteriorate, I quickly headed to the New York Botanical Garden.

I went to the Twin Lakes in the northern section of the garden to shoot the mostly frozen westside lake. The completely overcast sky gave the landscape an almost melancholy appearance. The flat light also made calculating the exposure easy. Stepping off the trail, I gingerly positioned myself in the middle of some thick brush located directly underneath a heavily snow-laden branch. I tried hard to avoid touching anything, as the slightest disturbance would trigger my own personal mini avalanche. In situations like this, a lens hood is extremely helpful.


The skies cleared up later that morning, allowing me to capture images with a totally different mood. I used a fisheye lens to shoot the sun rising over the partially frozen eastside lake. Once again, the snow-covered branches worked as perfect foreground elements, but these were much bigger and more dramatic looking. I nestled the sun in the crook of the branch and used a small aperture to create a starburst. To prevent the branch from being rendered mostly in silhouette in the strong backlight, I used an off-camera flash zoomed to around 50-60mm. This concentrated light helped to emphasize its detail and contrast. I then based my exposure on a spot-metered, mid-tone section of the sky. Later, in post production, I pumped up the saturation of the red leaves and selectively burned and dodged portions of the scene.

Conditions that day could not have been better. I was able to shoot a series of “postcard-like” winter images in both flat and contrasting light—all without the aid of snowshoes. It was truly a perfect storm I won’t soon forget.

F.M. Kearney is a fine-art nature photographer, specializing in unique floral and landscape images. To see more of his work, please visit