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 Pilot

The Pilot
The Pilot

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Bucky...A Real Baseball Player

The old baseball glove lay hidden on a shelf in the garage for several years. A relic from years ago sports adventures, or mis-adventures in my case. Still the fresh aroma of worn leather filled my senses as I slipped it over my left hand. It felt stiff and dry having not been used in so long. I gripped the grass stained baseball I found still tucked inside the pocket, twirling its seams in my right hand until it lined up just right, then with a quick motion I heard the unmistakable and remarkably pleasing snap it made as the ball sunk deep into the pocket. I repeated the motion two, then three times and smiled as my thoughts were taken back to an early less complicated time when I was a nine or ten year old boy trying to figure out how to play baseball on a
real team.

Growing up in southeastern Oklahoma in the small Mayberry-like town of Wister during the 1950's and early 1960's provided a golden opportunity for me to experience possibly the most important life lessons I could have lived through. My grandparents lived their entire lives in this small little town. Neither of them were highly educated, but were filled with hard life-lesson wisdom and managed to secure a precarious yet comfortable existence running a business. My dad was born and raised there and grew up playing baseball during the golden era of the sport. From all accounts he was one fine ball player anchoring the infield as a shortstop and second base for the Wister Wildcats. Sometimes he would pitch a game or two. Back in the late 1930's and early 1940's before the war, that small team with barely twelve players on it managed to win their way all the way to the national regional finals in Oklahoma City, only to succumb to one of the big Oklahoma City schools on a fluke series of events which caused them to relinquish a three or four run lead late in the game. The team that beat them went on to the nationals and eventually lost to a team that won the championship. Yeah, he was one fine baseball player, and a pretty good basketball player as well. Seemed as I grew up I thought I'd be a great baseball player too. Why not, my dad was, so I was going to be one too. Didn't turn out that way and for a young boy to discover he wasn't as good as he thought he was, well, the disappointment hovered long and gray over my dreams.

By the time I was seven years old, my dad decided to seek out a better opportunity and moved us away, but each summer my brother and I would spend the entire summer with my grandparents. Of course I wanted to play summer baseball and Wister was so small they only could field one team and was happy to include me even though I was not very good. There was no such thing as T-Ball or coach pitch or machine pitch baseball back then. We just played baseball. There were no participation trophy's or snacks at the end of the game. We just had fun playing because we wanted to. The game was reward enough.

I can't remember the coaches name, but he was a good friend of my grandparents and so when I wanted to play on the team he would make sure there was a place for me. It was always a real treat when I received my uniform, all folded neat in a square. It was made from thick flannel material and in the 100+ temperatures of the Oklahoma summer heat, well, we got pretty hot during games. We also wore those long socks, blue ones for us, that wrapped around the instep and covered your leg almost to the knee. The funnest part was wearing the dark blue ball cap with the big white W ironed onto the front. Back then we would cup the top front of the cap into a ridge giving it a distinctive high brow look. I really felt like a big league player when I wore that uniform and cap, even though I never got to play much.

Although I knew most of the boys on the team, having moved away and only returning during the summer months, I at times felt like an outsider trying to make a new team. They were good kids though and accepted me with no reservations. I don't remember all their names but there was Gary and Kendle, two brothers who were pitcher and catcher for the team. Our shortstop was a big kid named Thad, who stood several inches taller and considerably heavier than the rest of us. He was a good one too with quick reflexes and a cannon of an arm. Gary Billings played first base and was a big ole boy who could rip the hide off the baseball with his bat often driving the ball off the fence, but he was so slow running that at times he would get thrown out at first base after having done so.

We were a hodge podge of kids with different backgrounds and skills and somehow we just seemed to fit together as a baseball team. We'd ride out bikes or walk to practice which seemed way longer than they needed to be. Playing baseball was a natural thing for us though. If we were not playing or practicing as a team, we would put together a woofle-ball game, or a 4 on 4 sandlot game in the vacant field next to my grandparents home. We used musty old burlap sacks for bases and a piece of plywood for a home base. Out of bounds was the ditch that ran along side the road behind right field and my grandparents neighbor's garden with standing corn along the edges in left field, and any balls hit beyond the far tree line was an automatic home run.

Most of the kids also chewed tobacco and I wanted to fit in so I thought I'd give it a try. I took a pinch and stuffed it inside my jaw and bit down. Oh my how it burned, burned something fierce, and try as I might to not show my discomfort and disgust for that nasty stuff, I spit and spit and spit some more as coolly as I could, but a good percent of it was inevitably swallowed. By the time I got home I was not feeling too well with my head spinning and my insides all woozy. My grandmother picked up on it rather quickly. With a scowl, she looked at my face, which was rather pale by this time, took her apron and wiped the residue off my chin and said, "You been chewing that nasty old tobacco haven't cha?" I nodded yes. Swallowed a bunch of it too didn't you. I nodded yes again. "I told you not to do that, serves you right, now maybe you might learn yur lesson." I rolled over onto the seat cushion of a chair face down and groaned, and said, "Yes ma am."

There were other kids on the team, I can't recall all of their names, and then there of course was me, who wasn't very good at any baseball skills..not for the lack of trying though. I was too skinny and not very strong, couldn't throw the ball very far, and struggled to get enough velocity on the bat to drive the ball past the pitchers mound, and that is if I made contact with it at all, which didn't happen very often. More often than not on the few times I actually got into a game I'd strike out and walk head down back to the dugout. But my biggest short coming was that I simply could not catch a well hit fly ball. It would either fly over my head or drop in front of me. I just could not get the hang of it, actually, I was afraid of it and would flinch my eyes and turn my head at the last moment before the ball arrived.

The coach had a couple of assistants who helped out, both high school players, one named Bucky Hunt. Bucky was I guess 16 or 17 years old and stood about 6 feet tall or so and weighed maybe 150 pounds. His hair was slicked back with a bit of a curl hanging across his forehead, a bit of a carryover from the 1950's. More often than not, on Sunday's you'd see him sitting on the back pew beside his girl friend at the First Baptist Church. I always knew who Bucky was from growing up around there and by watching him play ball when I was too young to play myself. He was a genuine hometown hero and had that natural Mickie Mantle talent. He could hit, and throw, and field, and run bases like a demon. I once saw him playing shortstop where a batter ripped a rocket ball that hit a rut and bounced off to one side. Bucky, although moving in the opposite direction, snapped his glove hand around effortlessly and snagged the arrant ball with out missing a beat...then turned it into a missile as he threw the runner out at first base. There was nothing he could not do as a baseball player and stood well apart from the everyday ball player. But, there was more to Bucky than his playing ability. He understood how to teach the game to younger players and always showed patience giving encouragement to those of us who struggled with the basics.

One day during a long practice session, another high school player assistant with considerably less patience than Bucky was hitting pop up fly balls to some of us, myself included. Every time, I'd flinch and the ball would fly over my head and I would have to chase it down. I wasn't strong enough to throw it all the way back, but I tried and every time that guy would yell at me and put me down. I would turn away and walk back into the field, head down, waiting for another failed attempt to catch the ball. When another one would sail over my head, I'd hang my head again, throw my glove in the dirt and take the long hike to retrieve the ball. About that time, Bucky must have recognized my situation and he trotted out to where I was.

"Having a tough day, huh."  I nodded yes. "You know why you're missing those catches don't you?" I nodded no. "Okay then. Let me tell you how to do it. You see you have to watch the ball while it's in the air. When the ball looks like it is still rising against the sky, it means it's going to go over your head. If it looks like it is falling against sky it's going to fall in front of you. When its rising, you have to step back a few steps, when its falling you have step forward a few steps until the ball looks like its not moving across the sky. When it does that, it means it coming right at you. But, you have to raise your glove up before it gets to you and watch it fall right into the glove. Don't be afraid of it, just use your glove to protect yourself."

I must have looked confused because he smiled and said, "Let's give it a try, I'll help you," and he waved at the other guy to hit another one toward us. There was a solid crack of the wooden bat and the ball started sailing toward us. "Watch it now...see it's rising against the sky to the right, step back, over a little...that's its falling against the step it comes...glove up..." a second later the ball smacked into the pocket of my glove just like it was suppose to. I stood there in disbelief that I had actually caught a fly ball.

"See keep on practicing until you get the hang of it." I did...still struggled at first, but I was at least catching a few from time to time, and each time Bucky would shout out his approval. That's the way Bucky was and it caused me to idolize him even more than I already did. When he wasn't playing in games himself, he spent a lot of time with the team. He'd joke around with us, and pat us on the back when we did something good. We thought the world of him and we were a better team because of him. There were times he would come sauntering down the road that ran next to my grandparents home and he'd wave to me if I was out. My grandmother's eyesight wasn't so good anymore and she' ask, "Who was that?" I'd say with a air of superiority, "That was Bucky Hunt", like it was a real special treat to be noticed by him, and it was.

The season progressed through the summer, we won most of our games, but lost a few, and eventually we were to play in a big tournament in Fort Smith against some really good teams from Arkansas and Oklahoma. We also got to play night games under the lights which was a real treat if for no other reason than to get out of the hot summer sun. We managed to win our first couple of games against some really good teams. I managed to not contribute to any of those wins because coach deemed it unwise to let me play during such important games. But that was okay. I still had fun just being there. Eventually, we managed to make it to the finals and late in the game if I recall correctly, we were nursing a one point lead. For some reason the coach must have realized I was the only one on the team who had not played so probably against his better judgment, he decided to put me in for a few innings. Wisely, he placed me in the safest place...way out in the dark right field where not much action happened.

I remember feeling almost disconnected with the game as the infield was lit up very bright from the lights but where I was it was dark...and lonesome. Not much came my way but at the bottom of the 6th inning...I think we played 7...they got a few hits and a couple of the ground balls trickled out toward where I was. I managed to scoop them up and toss them back in to limit the runners advance. There was only one out but they now had two runners on base. One on third and one on first. Things were getting rather critical.

Then the top of their batting order came up to bat. Gary made his windup, looked over to first to hold the runner, then let it fly. A swing and a miss. Strike one. Two balls thrown next, then another swing with a tip foul. Two strikes...two balls. The infield was chattering, "Hey batter batter batter..." I joined in but no one could hear me way out in right field. I stood with my hands on my knees watching as best as I could from where I was. Another windup and pitch, and with a big swing there was a loud crack. The ball rocketed into the dark sky...right toward me! There was a loud moan jump from the crowd as though they could see the game slipping away. My first thought was, "Oh no..." Then I remembered what Bucky had told me...the ball was climbing against the sky so I took a step or two back and it started coming right toward me...glove up...and to my surprise...I snow coned it, barely, in the top of my glove!

The hushed moan from the crowd erupted into a loud roar yelling at me to throw the ball in. I grabbed the ball and heaved it as far as I could toward home plate. The runner on third tagged up and started his run toward home plate bound on tying the score. I threw that ball farther than I had ever thrown a ball before as it arched from deep right field all the way to a yard or two from home plate down the third base line. Kendle, our catcher who also looked a lot like Yogi Berra, grabbed it off the first hop and blocked the runner, tagging him out...a double play and the threat was snuffed.

The crowd literally erupted into fantastic roar of approval. I hopped and jumped back to the dugout in time with the cheers of the crowd and the first person to meet me was, you guessed it, Bucky. He ran out of the dugout with the biggest grin and his athletic arms outstretched. He grabbed me around the waist and launched me high off the ground and spun me around. The rest of the team was jumping up and down all around and shouting. Bucky finally sat me back to my feet and said "I knew you could do it...great catch!"...and yes, we eventually won the game and the tournament. That one single catch was the highlight of my little league career. Knowing that Bucky was as excited as he was and when lifted me off the ground was the most thrilling of moments, the kind of moment that could never have been scripted, it just happened.

The summer ended along with baseball much too quickly and school was again about to kick off. My parents retrieved my brother and I and as we drove away to return to our other home, my grandmother with a tear in her eye waved goodbye to us from her carport. School started...the fall set in, then the winter chill, and finally spring once again lifted us from the grasp of cold air into a warming trend. It was baseball season again.

We had an old Philco black and white television complete with vacuum tubes, tuning dials, along with vertical and horizontal control knobs...and oh yes, rabbit ears from which we picked up three or four channels. One Saturday afternoon I sat in the living room watching a baseball game, not sure who was playing, probably the Yankees with Mickie Mantle and Roger Marris as they were my favorite pro players. I wore my old glove and baseball and my dark blue ball cap with the white W on the front crease. The telephone rang and my dad answered.

"Hi mom..." my grandmother was calling. "Just fine...what was that...yeah, he's here why." There was an unusually long pause as my dad listened. "Oh...I'm sorry to hear that," another long pause,"Okay...yes we'll let him know...thanks for calling."

I barely paid much attention to what was being said. He and my mom talked a few moments in the kitchen and then both of them stepped into the room. My dad turned the volume down on the television and said. "I'm afraid I have some difficult news to tell you, but your grandmother wanted you know."

I said, "What kind of news?" as I tried to glance around him to continue watching the baseball game.

"You remember Bucky Hunt?"

"Yeah...sure I do."

"Well, he was playing in a high school baseball game yesterday and the pitcher threw a wild pitch which hit him in the chest."

" that he get on base?"

" he trotted over to first base he stumbled, then collapsed. The hit on his chest shocked his heart and it stopped," my dad paused with a rather long face. "Bucky died before they could get him to the emergency room...I'm so sorry to have to tell you."

I don't remember what I said after that, but I recall curling up on the couch and watched some more of the ballgame, feeling numb and alone. My young heart and mind had a difficult time grasping the moment. I instinctively knew it was bad, but did not know how to respond. My mom gave my dad a long sad look, and they both walked away leaving me to my thoughts. Not much was ever said about it again.

I never again played little league baseball. Seems the circumstances just did not allow for it after that. The previous summer with Bucky's help I learned a lot about myself. Things like I could do more than I thought I could, or that it's okay to strike out at the plate, just keep trying. He also demonstrated a value I hopefully have applied to my life, the value of compassion, of being willing to help, to encourage others, and to believe you can do it, and to not be afraid.

I've often wondered what might have been had he not so tragically left us because of a freak accident. He really was a great baseball player who might have gone on to bigger and wonderful things in the sport. I have no way of knowing how his life influenced the other kids on that team...something tells me it did though. I do know Bucky, the baseball player, the timeless iconic hometown hero, and my friend, who taught me how to catch a fly ball, and who taught me to believe in myself, is someone I will never forget. He and baseball are one in the same to me.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Shooting With a Game Plan

On one of my first model location shoots I showed up at the location not having a clue of what I was going to do photographically. "I'll just wing it..." I told myself. The results were, well...predictable. The images looked rather ordinary and snapshotish at best. Winging it can at times produce some wonderful results, but that usually happens only after you apply lessons learned from previous shoots using a game plan. As I continued to develop my location shooting skills it became apparent how having a game plan of what I wanted to accomplish was an important element to help me focus my efforts on a particular theme.

A good photographer friend of mine seems to do this naturally without effort. At times it appears he is winging it, and maybe there is an element of that in his technique, but his approach is one of mentally breaking down the shoot into manageable photographic steps, tweaking the moment just enough until what he is visualizing suddenly appears in front of him and then he captures it. He has a knack for identifying the artistic elements of what is truly there and then being able to bring the moment to life. I've learned a great deal simply observing him as he works.

Shooting with a game plan involves several things. First of all, you must have an instinctive command of your equipment. Being able to know how your camera is going to react to a given lighting situation is key as it gives you the ability to make exposure adjustments on the fly without too much thinking about it. Understanding exposure in general is a must. Always shooting on program mode handicaps your ability to use creative instincts. Also, understanding exposure using artificial without a doubt one of the most important elements of your game plan. Speedlights give you the ability to control different planes of light at the same time. Understanding how to apply this gives you a powerful advantage. Also, test your equipment. I once did a shoot that required several speedlights where three of them were placed some distance from the camera transmitter. Turned out the transmitter would not reach that far and I struggled to get the shot, initially. However understanding how the lights worked, I was able shift them from being fired directly to being fired as slave units trigger by the flash of another another unit which solved my problem. So understanding your equipment and its limitations is an important aspect of implementing a game plan.

Secondly, having a game plan gives you a place to start. You know from the beginning what you want to accomplish even though the steps to get there may not be readily apparent. Every shoot is different in their dynamics. The lighting is different, the setting, the model, the angles, the energy, in short you the photographer must be able to adapt to your surroundings. Your game plan provides you with an idea, a direction in which to travel. It becomes your shooting roadmap without which it might become easy to get lost or sidetracked. Also, remember the best laid plans do not always go according to the plan, so be willing to adjust your game plan. Even though some of my most successful photographs are the result of having a plan in place, the idea did not always fit the actual live situation.

Thirdly, your game plan should include knowing the location. Ask yourself a few questions. What direction will the light be coming from at any given time of day? Are there shaded areas or high contrast areas? Are there background distractions? Will I need overcast skies or sunny skies? Will this be better late or early in the day? How easy is it to there a hike involved and if so how do I get my equipment in there? What equipment will I need? What is the most dramatic angle? And, most importantly, what am I trying to accomplish...what will my finished photograph become? I will spend a great deal of time simply searching for locations and then make mental and sometimes physical notes about the location and how it might be used in a shoot. One thing to keep in mind, a game plan will work regardless of the purpose be it a high school senior location shoot, a wedding, or a shoot focused on capturing a single specific type of look or photograph.

Shooting with a game plan helps you to become more efficient in the field. During many of my earliest attempts of shooting a model on location I struggled to find a focused effort and wasted a lot of time. In reality I did not know what I was doing and jumped around trying this and that and ended up with photographs that looked like this and that. During the times I have observed my friend during his shoots, it became apparent at just how efficient he was. Move here, move there, this angle, this lens, this light. He seemed so in command of what he was doing. It is a trait I wish to emulate. Many times I tend to attach a lens and stay with it throughout the shoot when I should have changed lenses a time or two to obtain a different look. Be willing to make strategic changes during your shoot if for no other reason just to see what happens. You can always go back to what you were doing.

A game plan can apply to other types of shooting. Take for instance this photo of a beautifully restored 1976 Corvette in front of the National Corvette Museum. Having a plan in place, knowing the location, using speedlights, then adapting to the situation allowed for a really fun shoot of an iconic car and location.

Lastly, stay within your style of shooting, but experiment with new techniques and styles. Avoid growing stale by not doing the same ole thing the same ole way all the time. All of us can learn from others, but all of us tend to migrate toward a comfortable style. It is perfectly normal to do so, but do not be afraid to try something new...step out on the edge every now and then and spread your photographic wings. That is the only way you will grow.

Having a game plan helps you in so many ways, getting started can often be the most difficult part of the process. To avoid always falling into the I'll wing it trap, start to develop your game plan by saying to yourself, "This is what I want to how do I get there?"...then, go out and do it.