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 Backroads - Canola Field

Monday, April 24, 2017

The Night Train Portrait: Applying Rear Sync Flash as Part of the Photographic Equation

Shooting with off-camera lighting is possibly one of the most misunderstood elements of photography. Many photographers shy away from using them simply because they do not understand how. I know because I was for many years one of those photographers who relied on the excuse, "I prefer to use available light," which really meant I had no clue how to use speedlights. Yet, after studying the results of other photographers who did use speedlights, I became convinced of the value and creative power off camera flash can generate. The principles behind their use are actually quite simple, however, learning how to apply their power to my photographic desires has been an uplifting challenge I continue to develop.

One of the most creative ways to use speedlights is to apply what is known as Rear Sync Flash. Rear Sync is fundamentally quite simple. It is best used in low-light situations where it allows you to apply a slow shutter speed to pickup more of the ambient light, then freeze your subject with the flash which fires at the end of the shutter cycle. In other words, the shutter opens and remains open for an extended period of time before the flash fires just before the shutter closes. This also allows the camera to pickup some movement before freezing the subject. Used creatively, you can obtain some amazing results.

Trial and error, and applying visual compositional equations that work allowed me over time to build confidence in using off camera lighting. The Night Train Portrait shown here is one of my first portraits using speedlights where I stretched the imaginative realm beyond what I would ordinarily do. It was a moment when the use of artificial light became a larger part of the equation and was blended with a wonderful nostalgic setting along with appealing ambient light. It became a moment where the creative impact of off camera lighting was applied fully to create an exciting photographic moment.

Lets look at how this image was set up. The background, the Bowling Green Historic Railpark and Train Museum, was a key element in the design of this image. I wanted something classic and nostalgic as a background, yet interesting. Bold, yet simple. A place where design and simplicity of character were present. The bold incandescent lighting in front of the building provided a contrasting warm tone that worked well against the dark blue of the sky at dusk.

The model, the lovely Dallas, provided a delicate strength to blend with the contrasts of the background. By shooting from a low perspective, I was able to partially isolate her against the smooth texture of the sky. Although I knew pretty much how I wanted to setup the shot, applying the lighting took a bit of planning as well. On most location shoots I will use one light, sometimes two. For this image I wanted to take it to an entirely new level. To concentrate on creating one photograph, and one look. To experiment with Rear Sync creative lighting.

Two lights were required for this shot. One Key Light and one Kicker Backlight. The backlight was placed to create a halo around the model and the trailing train of material. All lights were fired remotely using a camera mounted transmitter. The train consisted of 3 yards of thin cotton material in a Burgundy color because burgundy will work with almost any color...white, blue, black, red....My model was wearing a delicately styled patterned dress which added a measure of elegance to the composition.

The Key light, set initially to about 1/8th power was on a stand set to be slightly higher than and about 4 feet in front of my model, just out of the line of sight of the camera lens.  The kicker light was placed on a stand behind the model. Its power setting was initially around 1/32 power, about 2 stops lower than the key light...just enough to provide a rim light effect. My camera, as always when using speedlights, was set to manual and the flash mode was set to Rear Sync. I used a wide angle lens and needed a bit of depth of field to keep the background somewhat in focus so I used an aperture of f/6.3. I also needed more light gathering ability so I bumped the ISO to 800 which allowed me to use a shutter speed of 1/6th of a second.

The beauty of using flash is that it freezes your subject so even with a slow shutter, my model was still sharp and clear, yet the ghost-like movement of the material was captured during the non-flash portion of the exposure. To keep the background sharp I set the camera on a tripod collapsed all the way down to its lowest level and made the shot from a low angle.

At that point it was simply a matter of choreographing an interesting look with the model which took some trial and error, but the results turned out better than I hoped for.

Monday, April 17, 2017

The Creative Edge: Finding The Right Stuff

Many photographer friends of mine are excellent photographers. A good number of them are outstanding while most are solid practitioners of their craft. From all of them I see elements of inspired creativity and from all of them I have learned a great deal about applying technique in the field. A few of them clearly stand apart from the others in their ability to be creative and unique. Often I will gain inspiration from their work, but more importantly, I gain a greater perspective of what it takes to truly stand apart from all the rest. What I see in them is their ability know the difference between creating good, routine images, to understanding and applying a creative edge to their photographs. The Truth is...they possess The Right Stuff.

There are times I am able to observe other photographers in-the-field work flow. I watch what they do, listen to them explain what they are thinking, and I see the fruits of their work. From these observations and applying what I've learned to my own attempts, I've come to understand that taking the leap from being a good photographer to one who is truly creative is often a matter of continuing to think beyond the ordinary, to push the thought process to another level, to take each new image challenge a greater distance. Think of it like this; One does not become an expert at playing the piano except by pushing to play increasingly more difficult musical scores. Only by working through the new challenges does one become stronger. The same applies to photography.

Too often I discover too late that I failed to push the creative process far enough. In other words...I settled for what I had. The results, although sometimes promising, often fell short of my expectations as a photographer. But each time I examine mediocre results, I learn a little more, begin to recognize the limitations I placed on myself, and move closer toward finding the right stuff. I've discovered that failure in a photograph is never truly a failure if you learn from it. Oddly enough, I've failed so many times one would think I would be a lot farther along my creative learning curve, but the curve is long and undulating and in some places very steep.

Finding the right stuff as a photographer I do believe requires one to try many kinds of photography. Always doing the same thing over and over tends to reinforce old, bad habits. Trying something new forces you to rethink what you are doing both in technique and in creative thinking, and it builds upon what you already know. Then, when you do return to your comfort photographic area, your ability to look at what you do from a fresh perspective opens the door for more in depth creative thinking.

Finding a Creative Edge requires a degree of imagination. I often see (and take) technically good photographs, yet they often lackthat all important artistic element, one that is difficult to teach. In workshops I have taught I almost always emphasize the concept of looking and thinking beyond the ordinary. This alone, once mastered to the point it becomes instinctive, helps you the photographer to visualize your final product before you ever release the shutter. Sometimes we get lucky and things simply fall into place in spite of our efforts, but those with the right stuff have an uncanny ability to create with their imagination, then capture it with technical skill that lies beyond the scope of what most of us possess.