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

Friday, December 8, 2017

Five Most Important Photography Things I learned in 2017

Photography is a passion with an almost never ending array of new possibilities. Seems I am forever seeking to improve, to move forward, to continue to seek out that one perfect photograph. Along the way, every year I learn something new, and after every photo shoot I recognize areas needing improvement. There are times I fall into a state of complacency where instead of bringing visions to life, those visions seem to stagnate into the ordinary. Even though that one great photo I long for still seems far away, progressively, step by step, I do improve.

At the end of each year, to reinforce the learning process, I often take time to evaluate how that year progressed. Here then, is a short list of five things I learned about photography in 2017 and why they are important to me.

First of all it is important to not be so rigid but remain flexible. I've learned to tighten my photographic potential by focusing efforts toward a single type of photo shoot. This does not contradict my views on Cross Training where you pursue different kinds of photography. I still believe over the long haul, trying different kinds of photography is the best way to gain a balanced understanding of photographic techniques. What I mean by tightening your photographic potential is to expand how you approach any single type of photography. In my case, I began to focus portrait photography into a more tightly controlled event where the purpose was to create a single image with a specific look. Portrait photography is simply one type of photography I do as part of the cross training. By taking a tighter approach to it, I was forced to take a more creative look at lighting. Most location shoots can be done effectively using a single or maybe two speed lights and a simple light modifier, or even just natural light. But, focusing on a single look, requires you to evaluate not only the lighting on your subject, but how light can be used to add interest and depth to the background. It also rejuvenates your creative juices forcing you to think beyond the ordinary to create an interesting combination of subject vs location.

Secondly, it is important to photograph your life. Ask yourself, "What is really important to me right now?" and set about finding ways to document those things. It does not matter what it is. What matters is how you view those events and how you can capture them in such a way as to provide an interesting visual representation of what they are. As one example, this past year I realized my old Jeep was aging faster than I was and it was in need of a great deal of maintenance upgrades. After spending many hours working on it to bring it back to a point where its life could be extended, I realized how important that old vehicle has been to me over the past 20 years. Oddly enough, I almost never took any pictures of it, so I set out to do so...and will continue to do so in the future.

Thirdly, do it for yourself and don't worry about what others think or care about. If I have a fault photographically it is where I hope others would see the world the same as I do and they would also discover just how interesting and exciting some of the photographic challenges I've set for myself could become. For the most part, I was wrong to think that way and as a result I found myself being disappointed far more than I should have been. What I learned was that not everyone will have the same enthusiasm levels for what you are wanting to do and it is important to not allow yourself to become disappointed to the point you want to give up trying. The creative actions found in photography are directly associated to your own personal desires and dreams. All of us are different in that regard and we should encourage not only ourselves to follow our own dreams, but to encourage others to follow theirs, then cheer for them when they succeed.

Number four on the list revolves around the creative process and how it not only relates to the capture of photographs, but to building the tools we can use to do so. I work on a very limited budget and cannot simply go out and purchase new expensive tools when I need them. Sometimes, for a whole lot less expense, you can make them yourself. A DIY project can provide a great deal of joy and satisfaction, not to mention the practical benefits of using those tools. This past year I built two sets of Strip Lights based on original plans I found on the Internet. My versions were slightly modified from the original design, but it did not take long to discover just how useful they are, plus they provide a creative lighting edge you can not find using any other lighting source. Getting involved in projects like these simply adds to the fun of photography. I also took a long exciting look at post processing and began to experiment more with layering multiple zones of light to create a single image from several images. It did not take long to realize just powerful a technique this can become. With careful planning, creating dynamic portraits becomes a reality. It adds another dimension to the creative process and once you understand the principles, it is quite easy to do.

For number five I've learned to let go of preconceived notions about how to work with people in general. In a way this is related to number three. Working with people, even friends, can sometimes disappoint you if those people appear to let you down. As a general rule, eventually people will let you down. The trick is to not get too worked up about it. Three times this past year I had hopes of participating in some creative photo shoots I dreamt up. All three times, those hopes fell apart because people who seemed enthusiastic about participating seemed to always find excuses for not following through. My general rule of thumb is to give someone the benefit of the doubt two times, and then offer a third, after that I stop and move on. In spite of these setbacks, I also had several wonderful shoots where the moment was amazing and the results were wonderful because of the enthusiasm of the people involved. The joy and excitement from those shoots far outweighed the disappointments.

Photography requires a constant growth from those of us who pursue it. When we stop trying to learn, stop trying to discover new adventures, or settle for complacency, that is when we should consider placing the camera in the closet and doing something else. So far, even after decades of pursuing that one great photograph, I still find myself hungry for the adventure. I relearned how the process of discovery will help you retain a youthful vigor, and when you do discover something new, well...the long journey to get there turns out to be the most important part.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The Neurotic Photographer

I suppose it is our nature as photographers to act a bit neurotic when we are on a photo shoot.  Probably stems from trying to second guess the conditions wondering through all the what-if-scenarios…what if I were at the other location…what if I waited too long or left too soon…what if I used a different lens…what if I should be on top of the ridge instead of at the bottom…what if I had come the day before or waited until tomorrow…you get the idea.

A neurotic photographer always seems to be in a hurry and distracted, but somehow it works to our advantage. My thoughts are always working, my vision is always searching, and my creative instincts kick into automatic mode. As a result more often than not, some obscure frame of reference suddenly appears. It is less about finding an object to photograph. It is more about seeing it hidden amongst the chaos. I suppose it takes a chaotic mind to produce visions clear enough to find those hidden jewels.

I will often find myself skidding to a halt because something appeared out of the corner of my eye. Sometimes color is the trigger, other times it is a shape, and less often it is a combination or collection of signals that trigger the shutter in my neurotic mind. Out of the blue, my thoughts create an image out of the myriad of visual singles. What was obscure becomes defined. What was chaotic becomes clear. There is no way to quantify the process or even explain how it happens, it just does. What is most difficult is to find an ordinary photo opportunity, one that looks ordinary to the unaided eye, yet being able to see beyond the moment and create a visual image in your mind from the potential of what is there. Only truly neurotic photographers have this ability…or so it would seem.

The neurotic photographer does seem to focus more intently on the world around him. Where others might simply pass by, he sees potential. What others might consider mundane because they are only looking at the moment, he looks beyond the moment and sees it as it can be. The neurotic photographers mind will rapidly compute lighting angles, times of day, seasonal changes, weather conditions, and how all of them will positively affect what might actually be a mundane, ordinary view at the moment. Then he returns, multiple times if necessary until the lighting angle, time of day, season and weather coincide with the vision he created in his mind. Once there, an instinctual command of the mechanics of photography replaces all of the neurosis, and the creative process kicks in. 

Sometimes I wonder what would happen if I were no longer a neurotic photographer. I suppose I would become a mechanical photographer who takes pictures of things and relies on random chance as opposed to someone who visualizes, then captures all the glorious colors of light. The neurotic photographers mind is a colorful thing of beauty. I hope I never lose mine.