PHOTO A: Sunrise on Hollywood Beach in Hollywood, Florida. © F. M. Kearney
By F. M. Kearney
Well, another year has come and gone. Besides simply being a year older, hopefully, we’ve all gained another year’s worth of knowledge and kindness. For my first article of the year, I thought I would do something a little different. Instead of my standard “how-to” piece, I thought I would look back at some of the photos I shot in 2022. Not exactly an exhaustive, “Year in Pictures” review, but a look back at a collection of some of my more unusual techniques; personal favorites and images that didn’t fall neatly into any article category.
In March, my wife and I took a trip to Hollywood, FL. Located on the east coast of the peninsula, sandwiched between Ft. Lauderdale to the north and Miami to the south, Hollywood is a quieter alternative to these more well-known tourist destination sites. We were only there for a few days, so I was really looking forward to capturing amazing sunrises. Each morning, however, was windier than the one before. It was so windy on our last day that I couldn’t even set up my tripod. It made for dramatic waves, but the sea spray was nearly unbearable. On the morning I shot Photo “A,” I kept wondering why I wasn’t seeing things as clearly as I should. When I took a look at my glasses, I saw that they were coated in a fine mist. I then began to pay less attention to them and more to my lens – literally giving it a wipe every few seconds. What looks like a nice, calm scene was anything but in reality!
This image was one of my favorites because of the effects I added in post. I applied a soft-focus technique in Photoshop using the Gaussian Blur filter. As a finishing touch, using a separate, plug-in program, I added the sunrays and the birds. I felt the effects gave the image a “Dawn of Creation” type of feel. Photo “B” is the original version of this photo.
PHOTO B: Original version of photo
PHOTO C (left): Unaltered cherry blossoms PHOTO D (right): Cherry blossoms with Gaussian Blur effect. All photos © F. M. Kearney
The Gaussian Blur technique is definitely one of my favorite effects. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. When it’s successful, it gives the image a rich (almost ethereal) quality that cannot be achieved by merely applying a soft-focus filter. I used the same technique (minus the sunrays and the birds) to enhance this image (Photo “D”) of cherry blossoms I shot in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden this past Spring. This effect may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but since much of my work is geared towards artistic purposes, it suits my needs perfectly.
PHOTO E: Falling leaves compilation. © F. M. Kearney
Throwing Caution (or Leaves) to the Wind
Have you ever heard the expression, “Throwing Spaghetti on the Wall to See What Sticks”? It’s basically used to describe the tactic of trying multiple methods as a last-ditch attempt to find a viable solution to a problem. In the political arena, it can refer to a shady politician uttering various statements in search of a somewhat believable explanation for some dubious activity. In neither case, however, does it involve the physical act of throwing anything. But, last autumn, I took this expression literally.
I aimed my camera skyward in the forest area of the New York Botanical Garden. I then gathered up a bunch of colorful leaves on the ground and threw them up in the air above my camera. I had never attempted such a haphazard shooting technique, and I knew there was no way I was going to get a perfect composition in one shot. Each time I threw the leaves in the air, I only caught a small handful in the frame. In some frames, I didn’t capture any leaves at all! (I really don’t know how I managed to miss an entire wide-angle frame, but I managed to pull it off.) In any event, I fully expected a low success rate, so my goal was to shoot several photos and combine the best parts of each later in post. Photo “E” is the compilation of around 8-10 separate images.
I consider this a “technique in progress.” I shot this at 1/60 sec. Even though some movement can be detected in the leaves, it’s not really that evident unless you blow the image up. Next time, I’ll experiment with speeds in the 1/30 – 1/15 sec. range to make the movement more obvious. Also, I will set my flash to “rear curtain sync,” rather than the normal, “front curtain sync” it was set to here. Rear curtain sync causes the flash to fire at the end of the exposure – producing a more natural-looking motion blur.
PHOTO F: Empire State Building – 10/8/14 – 6:38 pm PHOTO G: Empire State Building – 10/19/22 – 6:08 pm. Photos © F. M. Kearney
They say no two snowflakes are alike, but does that apply to cloud formations as well? At first glance, it may appear that photos “F” and “G” were taken minutes apart. In actuality, Photo “F” was taken a full eight years before Photo “G”! While processing Photo “G” in Photoshop, I thought that there was something vaguely familiar about the cloud formation. I searched through my files and found Photo “F” – taken eight years earlier at around the same time of year and the same time of day. Both photos were shot in Hoboken, NJ, with an uncannily similar cloud formation rippling over the Empire State Building. Adding to the coincidences was the fact that the building was lit in a special pink color, as opposed to its signature white.
I wish everyone a Happy New Year – a year filled with new opportunities and incredible images!
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 NYPD and FDNY. He now specializes in nature and urban landscapes. To view more of his work, visit www.starlitecollection.com. He can be contacted at email@example.com, or followed on Facebook (@fmkearneyphotos) and/or Twitter (@fmkearneyphoto).