Beyond The Campfire was created to encourage readers to explore the great outdoors and to look at it more closely. Get out and take a hike, go fishing or canoeing, or simply stretch out on a blanket under a summer sky...and take your camera along. We'll talk about combining outdoor activities with photography. We'll look at everything from improving your understanding of the basics to more advanced techniques including things like how to see photographically and capturing the light. We'll explore the night sky, location shoots, using off camera speedlights along with nature and landscape. Grab your camera...strap on your hiking boots...and join me. I think you will enjoy the adventure.

The Jeep

The Jeep
The Jeep

Monday, November 13, 2017

The Odds Are With You: Using Triangles and Odd Numbers Compositionally

Countless books, articles and videos have been produced about the importance of composition in photography. Trying to encompass all compositional features in a single article is virtually impossible because there are so many variations, however, there are a couple of simple to understand techniques that can be utilized that will improve your compositions; Using Triangles and Odd Numbers.

Triangles are exciting. They form an easy to follow and pleasing shape. In a photograph they can be applied in almost every aspect of composition. Triangles help to break up the image, yet create a closed circuit appeal. Keep in mind they do not need to be perfect in form. Just a hint of shape is often enough and when used in combinations with other shapes they work very well to close an image.

They are very effective when shooting a large group of people or a family. Take this image of a high school prom shoot. Notice how a triangle was used to add interest to the shot. Had the guys been lined up like ducks in a row, the impact would not have been as great. Also, shooting from a low angle gave the guys a bigger more dramatic look and accentuated the triangle.

Here's another triangle group pose used in conjunction with some creative lighting and background. Their shape appears to work well with the triangle form of the stained glass window in the background, plus the shadows, created by simply placing a speed light behind them, also creates a balancing triangle along the bottom portion of the image.

Triangles work well in almost any composition. Take this image of a barn reflected in a pond. Actually there are several triangles used here; the slanting roofs of both barns, the reflection, and the positioning of the barns and reflection create a subtle, odd number, triangle shape. Also, the shadow stretching across the bank of the pond creates a nice long triangle which works well with the smaller forms.

When shooting couples, think in triangles as well. Notice how triangles were used in this composition. By combining straight lines and angles, the image presents an overall triangle shape through the use of receding space. The same principles can be applied to family shoots as well.

Triangles also imply odd numbers as there are of course three sides to the form. Using odd numbers in a composition will generate a greater degree of interest and help the viewers eye follow the story. Take a look at this shot from the Tallgrass Prairie of three coneflowers.

Three flowers shown against a dramatic sundown carries a great deal more appeal than an even number of flowers. Do you also see the triangle created by the positioning of the flowers. Odd numbers used in conjunction with the triangle shape will produce a wonderfully pleasing effect simply because of the random variation it creates.

Triangles can also be shown when used with a large number of a subject. Here is an image of a group of Blackeyed Susans shot using a long exposure to capture the effects of the prairie wind. Without really looking, the eye will pick out the subtle triangle shapes and groupings plus by using a large number of the subject matter flowers, the concept of odd numbers becomes immaterial as it will automatically create a sense of random variations.

Using odd numbers in your composition will generate an easy to follow flow. This late evening snow scene used to great effect the concept of odd numbers plus there are subtle triangles here as well. In this case, the triangles are created by the placement of the objects in the picture. The pile of rocks, the lamp post, and the dock together create a type of triangle configuration...and oddly enough, an odd number.

Here is another odd number setup that works well, even though is uses an even number of flowers. The odd variation comes in the three rows with two at the bottom, three across the middle, and one at the top of the flower arrangement. So even when an even number of objects appear, the random nature of odds can be employed.

Okay, so here's a test. Do you see the triangles in this next image...what about the odd numbers?

Triangles and odd numbers are subtle yet important elements in a photograph that can improve your compositions. Sometimes we just do it without even thinking about it because in reality, using these types of shapes and configurations creates a natural appeal, the kind of appeal we are drawn not just to, but into.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The Concept Photo Shoot

Joe McNally, Joe Brady, Gavin Hoey are just a few of the pro level photographers who have positively influenced my photography in many ways. Not only are they inspirational in how they create amazing portraits, they are able to breakdown the photo process into simple to understand ways that instructs aspiring photographers on how to achieve a higher level of skill sets. One thing I noticed early on while watching their videos is their tendency to work toward creating a specific look. They start with an idea, a concept, and setup their shoot to capture that idea photographically. You can call their process many things, but I call it The Concept Photo Shoot.

The Concept Photo Shoot is pretty much exactly how it sounds. You begin with an idea or a vision of what you want to capture, then you work toward building the image, and then capturing it. The idea you start with can vary a great deal ranging from just a vague understanding of where you want to go, to a very specific concept and look you are wanting to create. Getting to the final image may require the taking of a good number of shots before you achieve success, but the idea is to build the shot one step at a time. It is unlike the random nature of a location shoot where you purposely take a large number of photos to come up with a final collection of images you provide to your client or model. Instead, you stay focused on one idea, one photo that captures the image you are trying to create.

The concept photo forces you the photographer to concentrate your efforts. It also encourages you to look at the photographic process from a more creative aspect. Posing someone next to a tree or fence and taking their picture is not a concept photo. The concept photo requires more from the photographer. It requires you think through what you are wanting to accomplish. Things like what angles to shoot, what kind of and how much lighting is required, what the background is going to be, how you want your model to look, the style of clothing, the time of day, exposure values, will it require a single shot or the blending of multi-shots, color or black and white, landscape or portrait format, how the weather will affect the look, sunset or foggy, bright or dark and ominous, have other photographers done similar things. These are just some of the things you have to evaluate before you create a concept photo.

I've used this photo several times as an example mainly because it is a good example of what I am writing about. The concept here was to capture a pilot and his airplane in a unique way. How this photo shoot developed followed many of the requirements listed above. First I started with an idea; Photograph a pilot and his airplane. Then I did some research and studied how other photographers had made similar images. It turned out not many examples existed, so I had to think through this to come up with a creative idea. At first I had no definate look I was locked into, just an idea or possibilites of how it might look. Those ideas evolved over time as I actually diagrammed on paper the image idea I wanted. By diagramming the look I wanted, I could identify the kind of and the placement of the required lighting. This helped me to focus in on things like the time of day, how many photos would be required to complete the image, the kind of weather I would need, the style of clothing and other shooting requirements. I also did some test shots because I knew the image I wanted would require three or four separately lit shots blended together. These test shots allowed to perfect the Photoshop technique that would be used to blend the images.

Even after all of this preparation, I still did not have a pilot or airplane, however as luck would have it another photographer friend of mine ran across a young pilot who had a small grass airfield and hanger with a couple of airplanes inside who would be willing to help me out. After several conversations, weather delays, and other unforeseen difficulties, we managed to meet up on an almost perfect setting for the shoot. Even so, my original concept idea had to be altered slightly upon arrival simply because the setting layout dictated a change, but it worked out rather well  regardless.

Another example I've used a few times is this shot of a 1976 Corvette in front of the National Corvette Museum. The idea started several months prior to capturing this image when a couple of photo friends of mine invited me to join them during a Super Moon photo shoot at the museum. After capturing several dramatically lit images I realized how by placing a Corvette in the forground might create a wonderful image. So I contacted the owner of the 1976 Corvette and setup a time for the shoot. 

The shoot started with an idea and evolved over time as details became more defined. During the shoot, we had to make several lighting adjustments and try a few different angles before we locked onto this composition. The trick with this image was that we had a very narrow window in which to shoot because the shot required the sky to have some color in it thus dictating we work just after dusk. We had to work quickly and make ajustments on the fly before we lost the ambient color in the sky. It turned out to be a wonderful example of how the concept photo can be put into play.

Individual portraits also lend themselves well to the concept photo shoot. At the top of the post is a concept portrait focused on a vintage look. The setting was the National Corvette Museum Cafe and our model was dressed in a 50's early 60's style. When shooting indoors like this, all of the same lighting considerations come into play. In this particular image the far corner of the cafe was rather dark but by placing a speedlight in that area and adding a warm gel to it, a wonderful splash of color helped to liven up that dark space. Angles are also important and became key elements in this shoot. The image at the top of the page was shot from a low angle and the one shown here was shot from a higher up angle. Both have pleaseing merits to them, but provide a different persepctive to the same idea. The low angle shot opens up the room more while the high angle shot employs a more graphic nature by using the checkerboard floor to great advantage. Regardless, all the concept shoot principles remain the same.

Here's one of my son Christopher. For this image I was going for one specific look and the lighting was critical. First of all this image was taken outdoors near dusk when there was still a good amount of ambient light filling in the background. Using an exposure technique that killed ambient light created a studio-like black background. Then, by applying speedlights and strip lights to illuminate my subject, a dramatic and rather cool looking portrait became possible. Again, I had a specific look in mind and worked the shoot toward that end. A good number of shots were made, but when it all came together, I knew I had accomplished what I set out to do.

I've always said one of the worst things a photographer can do is to always do the same ole thing the same ole way. Building a concept photo is an exciting and fun way to jump start your photography out of its doldrums.