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Urban Nature: Getting a Broad Perspective on Spring Flowers

By March 3, 2023No Comments
Fisheye view of a tulip garden. © F. M. Kearney

Fisheye view of a tulip garden. © F. M. Kearney

How a Wide-Angle View Can Enhance Your Spring Photography

By F. M. Kearney

For most of us, this has been a pretty mild and lack-luster winter. If you had visions of capturing magnificent winter wonderland scenes of snow-covered fields and ice-coated trees, well… you might have to wait until next winter. But, in a few short weeks, we will all be treated to an annual spectacle that, fortunately, is a lot more reliable than that perfect, but elusive, winter storm. Spring flowers will be making their debut appearances all over the place… even in the most urban areas.

In the past, I’ve often written about using a long lens to come in tight and focus on intimate floral details. Obviously, this can open up a lot of opportunities. Some flowers have very intricate parts and close-up views can be quite intriguing – even bordering on the abstract. Also, if you’re shooting in an urban area, a long lens is a great way to crop out unwanted distractions, i.e., fences, sidewalks, people, traffic, etc. But sometimes the surrounding area can be quite attractive and could actually enhance your image if it’s included in the shot. Using wide to super-wide-angle lenses opens up a completely different range of possibilities. You will be able to capture very unique and unconventional views of the flowers and show a sense of place.

I shot the opening photo in the Home Gardening Center of the New York Botanical Garden. This area contains small, decorative gardens showcasing the current seasonal attractions. Tulips were on display at the time of my visit. I’ve always liked the circular design of this little garden. To emphasize it, I used my 16mm fisheye lens. The extreme barrel-distortion of this lens doesn’t work for most images, but it was perfectly suited for the shape of this garden. As wide as this view was, it still wasn’t quite wide enough to include the entire sun. If I tried to exclude it by lowering the angle, I would have gotten my tripod legs in the shot. I felt this composition was an acceptable compromise.

PHOTO A: Fisheye view of a flower patch in Flushing Meadows Park.

PHOTO A: Fisheye view of a flower patch in Flushing Meadows Park. © F. M. Kearney

Indeed, circular subjects seem to work best with fisheye lenses. Photo “A” is an image of a circular flower patch that I photographed in Flushing Meadows Park, in Queens, NY. This park is famous for a 140-foot tall, stainless-steel representation of the Earth, known as the Unisphere (seen in the background). It was the feature attraction of the 1964 New York World’s Fair. It wasn’t until after I shot this photo that I realized the number of objects that complimented the circular theme. Even the moon was nice enough to make an appearance.

Springtime in the New York Botanical Garden is a spectacular event. After a long, gray winter, it seems as though everything wants to bloom at once. One of the best places in the Garden to experience sensory overload is Daffodil Hill. Thousands of daffodils adorn the grounds in an endless sea of yellow and white. Around the perimeter of the field are cherry blossom trees, sporting pink and white blooms. Photo “B” is an image I shot early one morning as the sun was rising above this dreamscape. I used a 24-70mm lens, set to 26mm. With this focal length, I was able to capture a huge branch of early blossoms arching over a field of daffodils. The low angle of the sun produced elongated shadows on the tuffs of tall grass patches in the foreground. Since I was directly facing the sun, I composed the shot with it partially hidden behind a branch. Not only did this make the exposure easier to control by reducing its intensity, it also helped to emphasize the sunrays. NOTE: If you’re using a tripod (which I was), be prepared to constantly check the position of the sun. When the exact placement of the sun is critical, be mindful of the fact that the Earth is constantly moving. If the sun is currently in the perfect position, it may be in a totally different position within a matter of minutes (or seconds). Locking a camera down on a tripod is good practice, but it tends to put you in a “set it and forget it” frame of mind – not the best way of working in a fluid situation.

PHOTO B: Sun rising above Daffodil Hill in the NYBG. PHOTO C: Low-angle view of a daffodil cluster. © F. M. Kearney

As you can see, these daffodils are grown out in the “open,” as opposed to being corralled in a designated garden. This makes it a lot easier to photograph them in a more natural-looking setting – and to take advantage of the unique perspective a wide angle lens offers. Photo “C” is an up-close and personal view of an individual cluster I shot while laying on my stomach in the middle of the field. I used an older model, manual-focus 28mm lens. You might be wondering why I didn’t just use my 24-70mm lens. There are a couple of reasons. First of all, the 28mm focuses closer than the 24-70mm. I’m able to focus to within 8 inches with it, as opposed to just over a foot with the zoom. Getting this close to the flowers with a wide-angle lens makes the use of a tripod extremely inconvenient and impractical. But, since the 28mm is so much smaller and lighter than the zoom, it’s very easy to handhold – thus, negating the need for a tripod. This lens is the oldest piece of equipment I own. I’ve been using it since the days of film, and I still use it today solely for this purpose.

PHOTO D: Low-angle of petal-covered ground in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. © F. M. Kearney

PHOTO D: Low-angle of petal-covered ground in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. © F. M. Kearney

A 28mm lens is great for low angles, but if you really want to highlight the ground, a super-wide is even better. When cherry blossom petals start to fall they leave a beautiful carpet of pink confetti all over the ground. I shot Photo “D” in the Brooklyn Botanic Garden – again, laying flat on my stomach and hand-holding the camera. I used a 14-24mm lens at its widest focal length to really emphasize the fallen petals on the dappled-sunlit ground.

If you live in an urban environment, a wide-angle might not be your first choice of lens when it comes to shooting flowers. Although a longer focal length is perfect for cropping out unwanted distractions, sometimes, these “distractions” can actually add interest to your photos. Photo “E” is an image I shot of a tulip display in Columbus Circle – a busy traffic hub in Midtown Manhattan. Rather than just shooting the tulips – which really weren’t that interesting on their own – I used my 24-70mm lens (set to 29mm) to capture the light trails of passing traffic and the nearby buildings reflecting in a glass tower. I’ve written a number of articles explaining how to creatively incorporate nature into urban scenes. The latest one can be viewed here.

Due to the unseasonably mild winter most of the country has experienced, we should be in for an exceptionally beautiful display of spring flowers this season. Although a long focal length lens is wonderful for capturing intimate details, try not to shoot with blinders on. Be aware of your surroundings. If it complements the scene, don’t hesitate to use your wide-angle to include it in the shot.

PHOTO E: Tulip display in Columbus Circle. © F. M. Kearney

PHOTO E: Tulip display in Columbus Circle. © F. M. Kearney

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 He can be contacted at, or followed on Facebook (@fmkearneyphotos) and/or Twitter (@fmkearneyphoto).