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Tips and techniques

FIELD TECHNIQUE: Season of the rose

By May 19, 2017No Comments

Story and photography by F.M. Kearney

Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden New York Botanical Garden Bronx, NY (HDR 5-image compilation)

Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden at the New York Botanical Garden. © F.M. Kearney

I wondered if I had made a mistake.

The weather forecast called for a light shower in the morning, followed by mostly cloudy skies — perfect conditions for flower photography. The showers were light at first, but they gradually increased in intensity to the point where I was forced to seek shelter. It was beginning to look like my plans for the day were going to be a total washout, literally. After about an hour, however, the showers began to subside, and I was back in business.

I was at the New York Botanical Garden to shoot roses. At this time of year, the Peggy Rockefeller Rose Garden is at its peak with 4,000 rose plants in bloom in more than 600 varieties. I like to get there early to avoid the crowds and to survey the overall scene. On this particular day, I had plenty of time to do that because of the rain delay. It was still early when conditions improved, so I took advantage of the fact that I had the whole place to myself.

I shot a series of “establishing” shots to show the entire garden in all of its glory, surrounded by meticulously manicured grounds. The opening photo was taken with a 16mm fisheye lens, which has an angle wide enough to capture everything from the threatening skies to the ornate staircase leading into the garden. The stonework of the staircase was still wet, giving it a rich, amber-colored hue.


Shrub roses climb the trellis in flat light. © F.M. Kearney

Once inside, I was drawn to the climbing shrub roses that adorned the trellis surrounding the garden. Ironically, this is the one part of the garden that visitors tend to ignore. Instead, most make a mad dash to discover the multitude of wonders that await within.

Usually, the shrub roses aren’t in the best of shape, but on this day, they looked better than I had ever seen them before. In the photo above, I managed to find a spot that showed a good balance between the roses and the trellis and provided a nice decorative element to the photo.

Conditions during this shot were extremely overcast, and that provided perfect even lighting.

Roses and trellis in mixed light.

Roses and trellis in mixed light. © F.M. Kearney

The photo to the left was shot on a sunny day. It was a picture I almost didn’t want to take due to the high contrast, but the sun was only shining on the foliage in the background. The roses in the foreground remained in the shade. This separation in lighting not only made the image work, but I feel it adds a degree of vibrancy that’s lacking in the other photo. In the end, I guess it all comes down to a matter of personal preference.

There are almost half a million different types of flowers in the world, and roses are considered to be the most popular and acclaimed species. Actually, I think a rose was the first flower I ever photographed.

If you love roses, now is the time to get out and capture all the beauty they have to offer. It doesn’t really matter if it’s a sunny day, a cloudy day or even a rainy day. The splendor of these jewels will prevail under almost any conditions.



F.M. Kearney began his career as a photojournalist for a variety of local New York City newspapers. It was an exciting profession, which allowed him to cover everything from famous celebrities to ride-alongs with the NYPD and the FDNY. He now specializes in nature and urban landscapes. As an award-winning photographer, his images have been licensed on many products and published in numerous publications, as well as exhibited in galleries in the United States and abroad. To view more of his work, visit Kearney can be contacted at, or via Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.