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Tips and techniques

FIELD TECHNIQUE: Let’s Be Careful Out There Story and photographs by F. M. Kearney

By August 14, 2015May 10th, 2022No Comments

A shutterbug is washed out to sea by a sudden wave, while precariously perched on a precipice during a storm. Another is mauled by a grizzly after snapping a closeup of its cub. We’ve all heard stories like these of photographers putting themselves in harm’s way just to get a shot. I, however, choose not to go out like that—opting instead to place my equipment in the line of fire. Of course, I don’t want to lose that either, but it is better than the alternative.

© F. M. Kearney

© F. M. Kearney

At this time of year, autumn colors are about to explode. While trying to capture it all, it’s easy to lose track of everything, including your own personal safety. One of my favorite places to shoot is the Thain Family Forest in the New York Botanical Garden. The colors are especially brilliant around the Bronx River, which runs directly through the forest. An excellent vantage point is from the 100-year-old Hester Bridge, which spans the river near a small waterfall. Some of the most interesting scenes are located almost directly below the camelback bridge.


I like to use the colorful, overhanging foliage as a framing element for the raging river underneath. These types of shots require a delicate balancing act (in more ways than one). You want to use a slow shutter speed to give the water a soft, silky look. Besides being aesthetically pleasing, it will also help to offset the sharp leaves. The key word here is “sharp,” so you don’t want to use a speed that’s too slow. Luckily, the winds cooperated and allowed me to get several good shots.

© F. M. Kearney

© F. M. Kearney

However, before I can shoot anything, I also need to “balance” my tripod. It’s always easier to compose the shot while hand-holding the camera first. Once it’s locked down on a tripod, it becomes much more difficult and time-consuming to try new angles. I use a Gitzo Explorer that’s specifically designed for outdoor work. Although it has independently adjustable legs that can be securely positioned on the most rugged terrain, I don’t think the manufacturer considered the edge of a bridge as a terrain. Nevertheless, that’s exactly where I had to place it to get these shots. With one leg on the bridge, another braced against its stone wall and the other free-hanging over the edge, it wasn’t exactly secure, but it was stable enough to support the camera. After attaching the camera to the center-post, I extended it far out over the edge, hoping that my quick-release mechanism wouldn’t suddenly decide to release.

When it comes to fall foliage, I don’t think there is ever a bad time to photograph it. Stunning images can be created on sunny days, as well as in overcast conditions. Also, all is not lost if you happen to miss the peak period. Post-peak offers scenes of amazing foregrounds covered in multicolored carpets of fallen leaves. Pre-peak, as when these photos were shot, can actually be even more colorful. As the leaves begin their transition, the still present green color helps to break the monotony of the predominately warmer tones.

It’s easy to get lost while trying to capture the beauty of fall. Just remember to stay safe and avoid a nasty fall while doing it.


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