Beyond The Campfire was created to encourage readers to explore the great outdoors and to observe it close up. 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 of photography 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.

Shanty Hollow

Shanty Hollow
Shanty Hollow

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Night Shoot at the Aviation Park: Photographing the Northrop T-38 Talon Jet Trainer

I’ve have for most of my life been fascinated with aviation. No, I am not a pilot…wish I was…but, too many other obligations over the years prevented me from pursuing this life-long desire. However, as a photographer I do have opportunities from time to time to photograph some of the historical aircraft that have appeared through the years. Here in Bowling Green we are fortunate to have a nicely conceived and constructed aviation park with several amazing aircraft on display. One of them happens to be the Northrop T-38 Talon Supersonic Jet Trainer. It looks like it is going fast even while sitting on the ground and is a beautiful example of an important development in jet powered aviation.

Our night photography group spent a couple of hours this week photographing this beautiful aircraft. What we wanted to do was to capture its sleek design elements in a unique way and avoid the cliché and obligatory snapshot of an airplane sitting on the tarmac. The purpose of this shoot was to allow our night photography team to gain some experience shooting with speed lights and to see firsthand just how creatively powerful and versatile they are.

 Creating the shot required more thought and effort than most typical photographs. The idea was to photographically eliminate most of the ambient light thru the exposure settings, then bracket the T-38 with speed lights, allowing the resulting light to display its form. What we wanted to accomplish was to capture a single final photograph with a unique and powerful look.

Eliminating the ambient light was not difficult as it was already dark except for some residual light bleeding into the area. We started with an ISO of 200 and a shutter speed of 1/15th to 1/20th of a second. We used various lenses between us, I used an 18mm to 50mm f/2.8 lens settling on a 35mm setting at f/5.0 for the final shooting configuration. The idea behind these settings was simple: By eliminating photographically the ambient light, all you had to do then was to use camera settings that would capture the light from the speed lights. So, in essence you were exposing for the speed lights and not the background light. By doing so, you then gain full control of the light. Using slight exposure adjustments and/or speed light adjustments, you can affect the final look of the image to achieve what you are wanting to create.

Setting up the shot:  The idea then was to bracket the T-38 with light, but use the tarmac as part of the light source by bouncing the light off it, and also to create a frame of light surrounding the aircraft. We used seven speed lights fired remotely from the camera. Two lights were clamped to the back edge of each wing, both with a warming gel attached. These were pointed straight down to bang against the tarmac.

One light was placed inside the front wheel well and pointed down and back to act as a flood light against the tarmac. This spread the light in an even arch around the front part of the airplane.

On either side just outside and slightly in front of the wing tips we used two more lights. These were held by two of our crew. These were pointed at an angle toward the front edges of both wings to provide a ribbon of light across the front and top of the wings.

One light was place behind the T-38 and held high on a pole to shoot some backlight and rim light across the aircraft. A final light was placed on a tall stand just off camera to one side and pointed toward the front of the airplane to provide a slight kiss of light across its bow so it would not revert to total black.

After that it was a matter of getting all the lights to sync up and fire at the same time. Because we had combined two transmitters to fire the two different sets of lights, we had a bit of difficulty getting all the lights to behave properly on each shot. We ended up setting my four lights, the wing lights, tail light, and wheel well light, to be triggered as slave units and fire optically from Jason’s light which worked very well indeed. Each of us then in turn took our photographs using the transmitter attached to our respective camera. We shot from a ladder to provide us a higher up perspective so our vantage point could be looking slightly down on the aircraft. This also made a bit more of the thin wing visible and gave us an eye to eye level view looking into the cockpit.

In the end I believe we achieved what we set out to accomplish. Some of the team with previous limited exposure to using speed lights received their first real quality instruction on the possibilities of this photographic tool. We also introduced the idea of creating a single look shot and how trial and error come into play when setting up a shot like this one. Most importantly, we got the shot, and that ultimately was why we were there.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Night Sky In Motion

The night sky is perhaps the most intriguing subject matter for a photographer. Capturing it presents a myriad of challenges that force you to look at the exposure equation from a different perspective. One way to break into night sky photography is to create a time lapse event. It's actually rather easy to get started and provides a satisfying result that will propel you toward capturing more exotic and amazing images of our Milky Way galaxy.

I recently setup my camera using an intervalometer and captured a moving sequence featuring the Orion constellation. It was a cool evening with a crispy cool atmosphere making for an amazingly clear sky.

So come and join me as we step beyond the campfire for another Adventure Photography outing and capture the Night Sky In Motion.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Three Misconceptions About Photography

Everyone approaches photography based on their own ideas and perceptions. This is a good thing for it allows each of us an opportunity to create our own photographic visions. I always encourage novice and experienced photographers alike to try new things and avoid doing the same ole thing the same ole way all the time.

Over the years while talking with other photographers either via Facebook, or during a workshop, or simply having questions tossed my way there are a few misconceptions about photography that continue to come up. These misconceptions can in fact hinder your ability to progress your photographic skill sets. Let's take a look at them.

Number 1: You should always try to capture a scene exactly the way you see it.  This first misconception is probably the most common one and is also probably the one that is most difficult to let go of. Sometimes capturing a photograph of something exactly the way you see it visually is just fine, maybe even in most cases that is what you might want to do. However, clinging to this concept all the time can hinder your ability to capture emotion, or feeling, or mood. You see, your eyes see light differently than the camera does. Our eyes and brain are marvelous sensors that work together to interpret visible light in such a way as to render it as a normal view. The camera on the other hand looks at light reflecting off of an object and wants to interpret it as a middle tone value. Meter off a white wall or field of snow and the camera will turn it gray. Meter off a black wall or a very dark object and the camera will also turn it gray. This applies to all colors, not just black or white, and every color has a middle tone value. Knowing this gives you a tremendous advantage in that you can use it to create and capture mood. You can also use your camera's exposure compensation options, that +/- button, to brighten or darken the exposure often turning what might appear to be an ordinary looking situation into something with a great deal more appeal and energy.

As Seen Visually

+0.0 Compensation - Middle Tone Values

-1.0 Compensation - 1 stop darker than middle tone

The three images above are good examples. They were taken a few seconds apart in the same light. The first one represents the scene pretty close to what the scene looked like if you were standing there looking at it. Although the sun had already set, the sky was very bright with a gradual darkening toward the horizon. The second photograph represents an image allowing the camera to do what it wants to shifted the light toward a middle tone value which created a lot more mood using the same light. The third image was taken using a - 1.0 exposure compensation reducing the exposure by one full stop below the middle tone value. A simple adjustment like this created a great deal of energy and mood. Same light conditions, three different results.

Had I relied simply on what I saw visually, I would never had taken the photographs. But, understanding how the camera sees light, and looking beyond the obvious, I was able to create an image that moved well past the natural lighting conditions.

Number 2: Your camera will always give you the correct exposure. This is another tough one for novice photographers to let go of and to grasp. Your camera's metering system regardless of which mode it is in will simply give you an average. Most digital cameras can use several types of metering modes. Matrix, Center Weighted, and Spot metering are the most common. Matrix will use a number of points scattered across the frame to determine the exposure setting. Center Weighted does the same thing except it places a higher value on the center portion of the frame. Spot metering allows you to select a single point as your metering point. All three have their advantages and disadvantages.

The thing to remember is that the exposure setting your camera selects is rendered as an average, and is related to the first misconception. This may or may not be an acceptable exposure for a given lighting condition. A light object sitting in front of a dark background will often not be exposed properly. The dark background will confuse the meter causing the exposure selection to be too light or bright. That is why if you use matrix metering while photographing the moon, the moon will often be way overexposed because the dark background will skew the exposure. Spot metering on the moon itself works much better for a situation like that one. A bright background does the same kind of thing only in reverse and will often cause a dark subject to be under exposed.

Think of your metering system as a way of getting a suggested or starting exposure. Then, based on the lighting situation, you can apply exposure compensation settings up or down to adjust the exposure to render the image like you want it. Simply setting your camera on a Program mode and letting it make all of the decisions will in most cases give you average looking photographs.

Number 3: It is cheating to apply post processing to your images. I still run across photographers who consider themselves purists and will only use photographs straight out of the camera as is. Nothing wrong with that philosophy per se, however very few digital images will come out of the camera not requiring some kind of post processing tweak. Sometimes you get lucky, but most digital images can benefit from some kind of minor tweaks. It is not cheating. Ansel Adams, possibly the best known American photographer, tweaked all of his photographs in the darkroom using dodging and burning techniques. His most famous images were not printed straight from the negative. In fact, most of his negatives if used as a straight print created rather ordinary looking prints. His compositions were wonderful. His exposures were dead on. His post processing, although done using chemicals and mechanical manipulation, turned his images into masterpieces.

He would have embraced digital photography and especially PhotoShop or any of the other image processing software now available. Post processing is a tremendous tool and can take a marginal image and turn it into a great image. Sometimes an image looks rather ordinary in color, but converting it to black and white and using a little creative cropping, that same image will be transformed into a wall hanger. I will often take an image with the intent of converting it to black and white.


Cropped Black and White
Take these two images. The first one appears rather ordinary with a lot of empty space along the bottom. By cropping out that empty space and converting it to black and white, this ordinary image becomes much more powerful and interesting.

When I capture a photograph, I always attempt to get the exposure and composition as close as I can to perfection in camera. Even so, the majority of my images will undergo at least some simple tweaks like brightness, contrast, sharpening, and sometimes color correction with a small amount of saturation boost both up and down. I always encourage novice photographers to learn some basic post processing skills. You can find a lot of videos online that cover just about anything you need to know.

There are other misconceptions about photography, but these three tend to be the ones I see and hear about all the time. It is okay to experiment, to try new things, to push your photography to a new level, and to question the status quo. The worst thing you can do is to allow yourself to stagnate and become trapped by a lack of understanding and misinformation. Take charge of your photography. Let go of preconceived notions that you must do things a certain way. Only by doing so will you allow yourself to expand your photographic world.