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.

Prairie Sunrise

Prairie Sunrise
Prairie Sunrise

Friday, June 8, 2018

A Time Alone to Listen

By the time I hiked the quarter mile or so to the rocky outcropping the bottom half of my pant legs were soaked from the morning dew. I was panting heavier than the short hike should have induced, but the footing was uneven and the prairie grasses grabbed at and hindered my progress making the task of hiking much more difficult than one might expect. The familiar outcropping jutted from the earth along the edge of a rise that fell away toward a distant arroyo and somewhere down there was heard the morning yelps and howls of a coyote family returning from their evening hunt.

The ever present Oklahoma breeze was once again starting to stir the landscape, a landscape magnificent in its own way, a place where what once was, yet still remains, a place almost lost, yet now protected held now in reserve as one of the last token, large scale examples of Tallgrass Prairie. Along the horizon the morning glow cast the pale tint of pre-dawn where the slumbering cool of the day lingered as long as it could before being driven away by the heat of the sun.

I removed my camera backpack, gently laying it next to one of the larger stone emplacements, then I sat on the smoothest place I could find and let the fog of sleepiness lift from my eyes. As the morning progressed, prairie birds blended their songs into an orchestrated performance that somehow seemed to play out in a perfect rhythm and the prairie became alive once again.

With the rising sun, the veil of pale darkness that hovered over the land filled with color. Around me, in all directions, no sign of human presence appeared. It was as though I stepped through a window to travel to an earlier time where the only sounds were of the prairie, the only scene were from the prairie, and the only purpose was to find space where one could spend a quality life moment...time alone.

If the prairie could speak it would say, "Come...listen to my song...a song written just for you." Haunted I am, at times, by the song of the prairie, a song seeking a place to reside inside my soul hoping to discover a new outlet of expression. I must again someday, return and rediscover A Time Alone to Listen.

Friday, June 1, 2018

Not Your Ordinary Camera Bag

When I purchased my Tamrac Cyber Pack probably close to ten years ago now, at the time I thought it was way to large for what I really needed to carry my meager selection of camera gear. The other day I was searching for an adapter and started digging through the Pack when I began to realize just how fully stuffed it was. Today, it actually is a bit too small for my needs as it is filled to capacity. In fact, I don't even have all the ' camera stuff ' I own stuffed inside of it. Much of it sits inside other smaller bags, or on a shelf. I do however realize just how useful and versatile this bag has been for me.

Photo shoots for me tend to be situational where each situation demands specific equipment. As a result I am constantly playing this ' what do I need this time ' game and end up sorting through the gear to determine what I really and/or might need vs what is just extra weight. Over the years I've managed to refine the process into an art form and can pretty well get the selections right for most any situation, but I still tend to carry more gear than I need to. Of all the gear inside the bag, only one piece is carried for every outing...the camera, my Sony A65 which has performed very well for me since I first acquired it some years ago now. Everything else is optional.

Take for instance when I manage to shoot Oklahoma's Tallgrass Prairie. I really do not need to carry five speedlights or a bunch of gels, nor do I need the electronic triggers for those lights, so they tend to be left behind. The slots they use are better filled with a few extra water bottles as I will be hiking across rough terrain on what at times can be very warm days. When hiking across this landscape I will often find myself some distance from my vehicle, so I need to be prepared for just about any kind of weather. Rain gear is a must and so is a rain cover for the camera and bag along with a light weight cotton scarf which is useful for many things. Shooting the Prairie requires multiple approaches, so I will carry my 18mm to 50mm f/2.8 lens along with my 50mm to 500mm zoom lens. This combination gives me a great range of shooting options. I will also make sure I have with me a graduated neutral density filter to help with balancing the exposures between the sky and landscape.

When I am on a location shoot with a model or for a concept photo shoot the contents of the bag changes. Speedlights become essential equipment so I will carry all of them along with triggering devices and mounting attachments. In addition to these, I will carry again the 18 to 50 lens along with the 50 to 500 lens. Although I tend to settle in using one lens, I carry both just so I will have them if I need to switch. This also requires stands for the lights and a softbox or two along with sandbags to anchor the stands against the wind. These of course are carried external of the camera bag, but are essential accessories for these kinds of shoots.

Shooting at night requires a different setup depending on what you are doing. A concept shoot at night uses much the same equipment as I would during a day shoot with more emphasis placed on the lighting equipment. The same applies to a night model shoot. Shooting the night sky requires very little equipment. A tripod and camera, remote release, and a wide angle lens is all you need so I rarely even carry my camera bag when making this kind of shoot. Most of the time I simply transfer the few extras to a smaller hand carried bag and keep it simple.

The camera pack also has a variety of zippered compartments where I carry things like cleaning cloths and solutions, extra batteries, a few bandaid's, writing material for notes, remote releases, and various cables and connectors along with other obscure and rarely used accessories. There is also a place for a laptop, but I rarely ever carry one.

Over the years the Tamrac Cyber Pack bag has become an essential part of my photographic efforts and I have put it to hard use. It's wide shoulder straps allow for cross country treks. A single, well designed handle across the top makes for easy transport from and to a vehicle. The myriad of adjustable pockets and zippered pouches allow for just about anything to be carried inside. The large solidly built zipper has held up well with constant opening and closing. A series of straps allows for things like a tripod to be attached. It's rugged construction has held up to aggressive use for close to a decade now. It has contributed as much to the success of my photography efforts as any piece of equipment I possess. Certainly, it is not your ordinary camera bag.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Taking a Break

Taking a break from Blogging for are the links to a look into the past...please enjoy.

Every year about this time a melancholy cloud begins to hover around my thoughts. It was this same time of year a good many years ago when I made my first exploratory visit to Oklahoma's Tallgrass Prairie Preserve. From that first visit a passionate desire to return to that amazing landscape took seed and through the years it has blossomed into a obsession which at times overwhelms my need to return. Circumstances often will circumvent me from making the 700 mile trek west to catch another glimpse, take another photo, to experience again the soul calming qualities of the prairie.

 I'll be taking some time off from my blog posting duties for the next few weeks. In its place I will re-post a series of articles I wrote several years ago about the Tallgrass Prairie. The series is called "On Coneflower Hill", a four part attempt to capture not only in imagery, but in word just how important this rare and almost lost landscape has become to my slice of the world. 

Also, I will be working on a new Adventure Photography Series video about photographing the Tallgrass Prairie. So, please enjoy once again, part three and four of "On Coneflower Hill".