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.

Kentucky Winter Sunrise

Kentucky Winter Sunrise
Kentcky Winter Sunrise

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Paint Your Imagination With Light

Joe McNally is perhaps the greatest lighting technician in photography today. His videos are not only helpful 'how to' programs about applying artificial light to photography, they serve to inspire those of us looking to elevate our photography to another level. He has an uncanny ability to take an ordinary location with marginal light and layer it with his own vision of how the light should work. Not even close describes my own ability to mimic or to even understand how he does what he does, yet I have learned a great deal by simply watching and observing his technique. What I've gained the most is to not be afraid to employ imagination when trying new ways to capture images.

Single Studio light with softbox and homemade Grid - Image shot under an old bridge.
I have discovered that understanding principles of application is important, but, sometimes a significant gap separates us between simple understanding and applying that knowledge in the field. I recently watched one of Joe's new videos, The Garage Guys, one of the few I had not seen before, where he stepped into a mechanics garage with horrible florescent lights hanging from the ceiling and by strategically placing a few speedlights around the inside he transformed the scene into an exciting and transfixing photograph. His final image(s) left little doubt about the importance of using imaginative thought when creating a photograph. Check out his video.


Speedlights will increase your effectiveness as a photographer and using them opens up new potential for creative photography, but, like so many others, I have a tendency to fall into a cliche trap where I often fail to look beyond the potential of the visual elements in front of me. That is where using light to paint your imagination will often bring to life ordinary situations and become one of the most exciting photographic adventures you can travel through. The trick is to seek out opportunities to put the potential into play. This can be using very simple fill light as seen in the picture below, or more complex applications of multiple lights. It is to generate a balance between what is there with the full potential of what the image can become.
Single Sony Speedlight fired remotely using Camera popup flash as the trigger - Overcast day
Of course Joe McNally pretty much has unlimited resources when it comes to equipment and it is not unusual for him to use 6, 7, or even more than 10 speedlights with an array of available light modifiers in one shot. Most of us can't imagine owning that many lights much less using that many especially name brand lights like Nikon, Canon, or Sony.  However, available today are much less expensive models that do a wonderful job when used within their capabilities. (Yongnuo, and Godox are two of the more proven ones available and they cost a fraction of the name brand versions).

Single speedlight thru large window. Dark overcast day - Used a bed sheet to cover the large window and then fired the flash thru the bedsheet. Created a soft warm light which also cast interesting shadows across the wall in the background.
Even using a single speedlight will open up your creative instincts far more than simply always relying on available light. Combining the two becomes an imagination enhancing project.

Two Godox speedlights - One bare, one with orange gel. Additional available light in the form of incandescant street lights.
Photographers paint with light. When you begin to paint your imagination along with it, the limits of what can be accomplished photographically become almost infinite. Painting your imagination with light will in itself elevate your photography to a level well above what the ordinary photographer will normally accomplish. The trick is to not limit your imagination by being afraid to expand beyond your comfort zones. Remember...you learn by doing, so get out there and start doing.

Two Godox Speedlights fired remotely.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

On the Hunt: Searching for that One Great Photograph

I am always on the hunt...to find that one great photograph. I have not found it yet, but I am never deterred toward that endeavor. Searching for that one great photograph is an obsession where one seeks perfection as invisioned within the heart.


I try to see, I attempt to capture the world from the perspective of the camera. Even when I take time to study another photograph created by another photographer I find myself examining the image from the perspective of how did the photographer manage to capture such a fascinating print. I am always searching for ways to create an edge, to elevate what I see with my eyes into something that becomes a visually stunning image. It matters little what the subject might be, when the subject is illuminated by amazing light, even a single blade of grass can become a great photograph.


When a photographer begins to visualize the finished image before he ever releases the shutter, it is to step into a visual world filled with possibilities. It becomes an instinctive place where the mind begins to connect with and to think like a camera. To do so one must let go of preconceived prejudices and let your heart take control and allow your emotional self to lead you through what is there. Seeing the image means to look deeper, to look beyond the ordinary. It is to build the image from your imagination by collecting the visual components required for the composition and assembling them one piece at a time until nothing else is required.


Searching for that one great photograph becomes the driving force behind all great photographers. They develop an uncanny ability to see beyond the obvious to find the true deeper visual story in everything they attempt to capture photographically.

To become a photographic hunter, a searcher of great photographs, one must often experience discomfort and disappointment. But, like a hunter, the greater reward is not so much the final harvest, it is the process of persevering through the uncomfortable, to eventually reach a moment when the harvest stands presented in front of you ready for the taking, and you recognize something unique and exciting is about to happen.