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.

The Dark Horse Region

The Dark Horse Region
A View into the center of the Milky Way

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Shoot the Transitions

If you have followed this blog at all, you will have learned by now how I emphasize that photography is all about light...not the quantity of light, but the quality of light.  Quality light comes from many sources and is influenced by time, place, season, subject, angles, color, and intensity.  More importantly, quality light depends on you the photographer to seek it out and recognize it.

Recognizing quality light takes a bit of practice, but there are a few things you can count on to almost always find it.  One of the easiest is to 'shoot the transitions'.  Transitions are those times during the course of any given day when the light begins to change from one form to another...high to low, low to high, cool to warm, warm to cool, direct to filtered...and so on.  let me give you some examples.

The most obvious transition occurs at sundown when the bright and flat light of the day begins to drift toward a warmer, sometimes bolder, sometime more subtle, colors when the angle of the sun has to filter through a thicker part of the atmosphere.  Sunsets are also somewhat of a cliche...everyone photographs them and there isn't a sunset that has ever happened that hasn't been photographed somewhere...sometime.  I still find myself drawn to them, but I often instead photograph the effects of the sunset light as opposed to the direct sunset itself.  The soft warm nature of the sunset light casts a warm glow on everything it touches.  Sunrise on the other hand can offer an even more variety of transitional lighting conditions.  The predawn sky can vary from soft pastels to bold reds and yellows.  The trick is to use these color transitions within the context of time and place.

Although sunsets and sunrises offer the most common form of transitional light, other circumstances provide wonderful transitional opportunities.  Just before or just after a thunderstorm when the overcast is breaking apart or just gathering are two of my favorite transitional situations.  Some the most dramatic light is found where there are contrast of dark and light.  Dark and ominous skies offer great contrast of grays, blacks, and whites as they mix in the atmosphere.

Another often underutilized transition light is where bright beams of light contrast with darker example being inside a barn with light filtering through the cracks in the boards or under a canopy of trees when light penetrates to the floor.  Although difficult to generate correct exposure...they are not impossible problems.

Fog is probably my favorite transitional light.  I am always keeping tabs on the weather.  Here in Kentucky we have a lot of fog...and many times the first day or so after a rain the fog will develop in the low areas and across the fields early of a morning and sometimes right at dusk.

Transitional light does not have to solely be associated with the outdoors.  Reflected light bouncing off or through something is a type of transitional light as it is changed from direct light into indirect light.  Some of the best moody light is that mysterious reflected light illuminating a person's face against a dark background...or filtered light coming through and opaque object like glass or thin material.

Shooting the transitions will provide potentially wonderful quality light.  It's just a matter of anticipating ahead of time the conditions that might develop...and then being there.  Use transitional light to your advantage and you will begin to see a transition of your images from extraordinary.


Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Mystery of Exposure - Part 3

One of the biggest mistakes novice photographers make is to believe that the camera will always give you a correct exposure for every lighting circumstance.

In part 1 we looked at the elements that make up the exposure triangle and followed up with a discussion in part 2 on how those elements work together.  In part 3 we're going to look at how the camera sees light and how the metering system applies the exposure values.

Have you ever returned from a vacation with a stack of photos to share only to have your friends quickly thumb through them..."Those are very nice..." they say.  Sort of you say " had to be there...the pictures just don't do it justice."  There's a reason for that.

What we see visually can often be spectacular because of how our eye and brain work together to create an image in our mind.  We visually are able to distinguish between a wide range of contrasts, colors, and depths and are able to filter out all the clutter.  Contrary to popular belief, the camera does not see light the same way we visually perceive light.  A camera can only evaluate the intensity of the light that enters through the lens...then based on that evaluation make a programmed guess as to what the exposure should be.  That programmed guess is based on what is call the 18% neutral gray value.

The Thru the Lens or TTL metering systems built into cameras today are sophisticated computerized processes and will for the most part do a pretty good job of determining a workable exposure solution.  There are variations in the way they work, but all metering systems fundamentally do the same thing...They simply  take an average of the metered light and sets exposure values that are shifted toward the middle.  Remember the black to white light scale where the middle is a neutral gray.

There are three basic metering modes that TTL systems use:  Matrix or Evaluative, Center Weighted, and Spot.  Matrix/Evaluative meters the light across the entire spectrum of the view.  Center Weighted does the same thing except it places a higher value on an area concentrated around the center of the view.  Spot metering allows the photographer to meter off a specific area...or a face, or band of a distant hill...without  having the rest of the view skew the reading.  All three have their advantages and disadvantages.

Ninety percent of understanding the mystery of exposure is based on understanding how the metering systems work.  Using the strengths and weaknesses of each will give you an advantage when it comes to capturing those great shots.

Let me give you an example.  Take for instance photographing snow.  Snow is very bright and white.  Visually, even on cloudy days snow still looks white to us because our brain is able to recognize it as such.
But, the camera responds to bright white circumstances differently that what we see visually.

Allowing the camera to select the exposure will tend to make snow look a dingy gray (top image) as a result...think about it for a moment.  Why is that?  Well the camera doesn't know the difference between a snow field and coal field. The TTL meter wants to move everything toward the middle...or neutral gray.  Visualize the scale again...the white value of snow falls toward the outer white edge of the scale.  The camera wants to set an exposure that moves toward the middle...which is gray...thus white snow will often look gray as a result.

How do we get around that?  By using the Exposure Compensation (EV or AV +/-). This tool is something you need to understand and use.  On the back or top of most cameras you will see a button marked with +/-.  This button is used to trick the camera into shifting the exposure it wants to make, either more toward the lighter (+) or more toward the darker (-).  Going back to the snow scene...the camera wants to shift it toward the want it to look would you do?

The plus (+) sign adds light to the exposure and the minus (-) removes light from the exposure.  To make the snow appear more would have to add light to the exposure by using the + compensation.  Just how much depends on the circumstances...snow may require as little as +0.3 of a stop to more than one full stop higher (+1.0).  (bottom image)  Too much can create an over exposed be careful.

This concept applies to almost any bright (or dark) object including beach sand, buildings, birds, animals, even the sky..and to any color...not just black or white.  A dark red barn will have it's color shifted to a more neutral lighter red grass is already a neutral color and will often remain unaffected...Are you beginning to get the idea? Just for grins...what would happen if you took a photo of a pile of coal ...very black.  You figure out what would happen and how you would compensate.  Understanding how the camera sees light and how to use the exposure compensation gives you a huge advantage.

This three part series was designed to get you to thinking about what the camera is doing and to use its capabilities to your advantage..not as a full blown workshop on exposure.  Even so, if this information helps you move forward, then the series accomplished its goal.  Todays cameras take a lot of the guess work out of the exposure process...but leave enough gaps open so you can begin to use the artistic flair that resides inside every photographer.  Knowing how to blend that artistic value with technical understanding is what separates the ordinary snapshot from artistically expressive images.


Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Mystery of Exposure - Part 2 - B

In part one we defined the four parts of the exposure triangle...Aperture - Shutter - ISO - and White Balance. So now lets expand on that basic knowledge and see how everything works together.

Years ago before the advent of the light meter, photographers used a technique called 'The Sunny Sixteen Rule' to help them with their exposure settings.  The sunny sixteen rule works like this.  On as bright sunny day, the basic exposure is set based on ISO (ASA way back then).  If the ISO is 100, then the aperture is set to f/16 and the shutter is set to the nearest equivalent of the ISO most cases it would be 125th of a second.  ISO = 100 - Aperture = F/16 - Shutter 125th of a second.  This setting will produce an image basically the way the scene is observed and would be considered the photographers starting exposure from which they could make adjustments up or down depending on the results they wanted and the lighting conditions.

An important concept to understand is the concept of exposure equivalent.  Exposure equivalent works like this: Remember how the aperture scale you go up the scale or use larger f/stop numbers, the smaller the aperture actually becomes...down the scale and the aperture grows larger. The basic aperture settings or f/stops are based on what are called full stop increments.  An f/stop of f/16 allows in half the light of the next lower down f/stop of f/11. F/11 is down the scale from f/16 so it is a larger aperture opening.  F/22 on the other hand is up the scale from f/16, so it allows in less light...exactly half the light of f/16.  Try to visualize this as you work up or down the f/stop scale.  From f/11 down the scale is f/8.  How much light does f/8 allow when compared to f/11....think about it now...well...f/8 allows in twice as much light as f/11.  As you work up or down the scale the same increments apply. Go up the scale, the light is halved with each full stop increment...down the scale, the light is doubled with each full stop increment. (most cameras today allow for less than full stop increments usually in 1/3rd stop, but the basic scale is set for one full stop increments between the f/stop settings.  Here's the basic scale:  f/1.4- f/2.0 - f/2.8 - f/4.0 - f/5.6 - f /8.0 - f/11 - f/16 - f/22 - f/32
(Do you see the pattern? Do you see how the factor of 2 applies?)

The shutter speed undergoes a similar progression.  1/15th of a second is twice as long as 1/30th of a second and using the same aperture the combination of shutter / aperture will allow in half as much other words f/8 at 1/30th of a second allows in half the light as f/8 at 1/15th of a second.  Heres the basic shutter speed scale starting with 1/15th of a second:  1/15 - 1/30 - 1/60 - 1/125 - 1/250 - 1/500 - 1/1000. Again, most cameras allow for increments of less than one full stop between the basic scale settings...for instance between 1/500 and 1/1000 will fall 1/750th of a second or a half stop differrence. what does that mean.  Remember the sunny sixteen rule.  Under equal lighting conditions if you change the f/stop from f/16 to say f/11...what happens to the volume of light?  What happens then to the shutter speed?  To keep the same exposure equivalent, the shutter speed must increase or speed up.  Why is that?  Well, think about it. F/11 allows in twice as much light as f/16, so the shutter speed would have to increase to avoid overexposing the image.  From 125th of a second, the shutter speed would need to increase to 1/250th of a second.  What would happen if you went to f/8...where would the shutter speed have to go?...think about it...F/8 allows in twice as much light as f/11, so under the same lighting conditions, the shutter speed would have to increase again to the next full stop setting.

Sound a bit confusing?  It's really pretty simple once you begin to visualize what is happening.  Open the aperture to a larger setting, more light is allowed in.  When more light is allowed in, the shutter speed must compensate by speeding up accordingly to keep the same exposure.  Keep in mind that most cameras can increment the aperture and shutter in fractions of a full stop...something like 1/3rd intervals.

Maybe this will help.  F/5.6 @ 1/125th of a second will generate the exact same exposure as f/8.0 @ 1/60th of a second.  Why is that?   Exposure equivalents.  They both allow in the exact same amount of light..they are just using two different setting to accomplish it.  One uses a faster shutter speed with a larger aperture while the other uses a slower shutter speed with a smaller aperture...the end results are basically the same.  

The concepts just described were based on an ISO of 100.  If you change the ISO to say 200, what would happen?  Well, conceptually everything is the same, its just that your basic setting must adjust for the more sensitive ISO setting.  The sunny sixteen rule would shift only in that the starting shutter speed would change to the nearest equivalent to 200, or probably around 1/250th of a second instead of 1/125th.

One more quick concept before we move on.  Let's talk about Depth of Field.  Depth of field is a subject better left for a discussion on composition, but because aperture is a key component of determining the DOF I want to at least define it here.  DOF is basically that portion of an image that remains in focus from foreground to background.  Several factors affect DOF...focal length of the lens, distance from your subject, distance of the subject from the background, and aperture.  Simply stated the larger the aperture (f/4.0...f/3.5...f/2.8) the narrower the depth of field.  A small aperture like f/16 or f/22 will provide a very wide DOF.  A narrow DOF is an effective way to isolate your subject (top image) while a wide DOF is preferred when photographing landscapes because you want the foreground all the way to the background to be in focus (bottom image).

Okay...again space doesn't allow for an in depth discussion...but I hope part 2 at least gets you thinking more about what is happening when you start turning dials and pressing buttons on your camera.  The auto exposure process built into your camera basically follows the same rules just described and helps to take away a lot of the guess work.  The problem is, the auto exposure system doesn't always select the best exposure.  Theres a reason for that.  In part 3, we'll discuss how the camera sees light and how that affects the image results.  You just might be surprised to learn that the camera doesn't see light the same way we visualize light...understanding this is a key concept to improving your photos.

Keith Bridgman

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Mystery of Exposure - Part 1

Ah...exposure.  That dreaded word that novice and experienced photographers alike hate.  Well, contrary to popular belief, the principles of exposure are really not all that complicated.  It just takes a basic understanding of what is involved.  Exposure is a process of three separate but related functions.

            1. The mechanics / functions of the camera
            2.  How the camera functions relate to each other
            3.  How to use that knowledge when taking a photograph

Blog space does not allow for an in depth description of these elements, but what I'd like to do is break it into three parts and briefly discuss each.  With any luck at all, I hope to clear up some of the mystery and maybe get you to thinking differently about what you're doing when it comes to taking a picture.

Let's begin with the mechanics.  Exposure is made up of four things...or the Exposure Triangle:
                 White Balance
             Aperture  /  Shutter
Some people think that white balance is separate, but for arguments sake, I'm going to include it in the discussion because it does affect the visual outcome of the image.

Aperture:  The aperture is what regulates how much light enters the camera. It is a function of the lens. Think of it like using a faucet to fill a glass with water.  Turn the faucet to where a trickle of water comes out and it takes a long time to fill up a glass. Turn it wide open and the glass fills up quickly.  The same thing applies to the lens aperture and exposure.  Allow in just a trickle of light and the exposure process takes longer.  Allow in a lot of light, and the exposure takes less time.  It's really that simple.  But you may be wondering about all those numbers on the lens or the ones that keep flashing on the camera's display.  An aperture is designated in what are call  f/stops...F followed by a number like 16 or f/16.  F stops are actually calculated using a mathematical progression based on a factor of 2...but you don't need to worry about that. All you really need to know is that the larger the f/stop number, the smaller the actual lens opening.  The smaller the f/stop number, the larger the actual lens opening.

Take a number like f/16 or f/22.  These are large f/stop numbers but they represent a rather small aperture setting and allow in a small amount of light.  A number like f/2.8 or f/3.5 are small f/stop numbers, but they represent a large aperture and allow in a large amount of light.

Aperture is also a factor in what is called Depth of Field or DOF.  I'll talk more about that in part 2, but basically DOF is what portion of the image remains in focus from foreground to background.

Shutter:  The shutter is an electro-mechanical devise that regulates the length of time the light is allowed to enter the camera.  It is usually represented in some fraction of a second such as 1/10th of a second or 1/125th of a second.  The shutter and aperture work together to generate the mechanical exposure process.  Pretty straight forward.

ISO:  Understanding ISO is actually quite simple, it's understanding how it affects the combination of aperture/shutter sequence that is confusing (more on this later).  ISO is simply the sensitivity to light setting that your digital camera's sensor is set to...or how sensitive the film is to light if you are using film.  ISO usually begins at 100, but can go lower...and then it progresses upward doubling in sensitivity as you go up the scale.  So, ISO 200 is twice as sensitive as 100.  ISO 400 is four times a sensitive as 100...and so on.

White Balance:  Different kinds of light have different properties and light temperature is defined using a temperature scale called the Kelvin scale.  On the Kelvin scale, very cool light, like cloudy skies, or twilight skies has a very high Kelvin temperature, as high as 10,000 degrees Kelvin. Very warm light has a low Kelvin temperature...down around 1800 or so...kind of opposite of what you might think.  The source of the light also affects the Kelvin temperature.  Candle light is very warm and reddish in nature as is indoor light from a tungsten light bulb. Light from those kinds of sources have very low Kelvin 1800  to 2000 or lower. Middle of the day, blue sky light has a temperature of around 5500 Kelvin.  Outdoor light is different than indoor light and the digital camera must be able to distinguish between the two or your images will not look normal...they could be too blue or too red.

Okay...we've briefly defined all the elements of the exposure triangle.  Next time, we'll talk about how the elements of the exposure triangle interact with each other.  You don't want to miss that part as that is when I get into the nitty gritty of how the camera does what it does.


Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Prairie Storm

It always amazes me how photography is so sensitive to time…a matter of a few minutes and in some cases a few seconds can make the difference between getting the shot or missing it. That’s what happened to me one morning. I left Tulsa at 4:45 am so I could be on location at the Tallgrass Prairie by sunup. The sky was broken and as I got closer to the preserve it started to look like it was going to be a spectacular morning. It was…unfortunately I was about 15 minutes too late to capture the best of it…at least at the location I wanted to capture it. I did manage to snap a couple quick shots before I lost the moment…but I had to rush and shoot by hand…not sure what the images will look like.

When I finally arrived at my favorite morning location, the best of the morning show was beginning to wind down…I did get a few shots…but bit my lip all morning knowing that if I had only left a few minutes earlier I would have caught one of those perfect lavender mornings on the prairie.

Within minutes after I arrived…it clouded over. Within an hour it began to rain…a few minutes later a classic prairie storm blew in…thunder, lightning, and torential rains…it was fun to experience. The once bright morning sky grew almost black within seconds…just before the main rain event erupted…Man what a treat!

Prairie storms in Oklahoma are an amazing event to experience...especially when you are caught out in it. On a previous trip up there I managed to arrive just as one storm was finishing. During the drive up there the pre-dawn light was lit up by dozens of lightning bolts exploding all around me. Right at first light most of the storm had passed on to the east so I hiked a few hundred yards to the top of rise so I could feel the wind and experience the remnants of it in person. It was was also rather foolish. As I stood on top of that as I was...I realized I was the tallest object inside of 500 yards in either direction. Lightning was still flashing off in the distance, so I wasn't too concerned...until one bolt ripped the sky apart just a few hundred yards away. I jumped about six feet when the boom hit me. A short time later I retreated to the safety of my vehicle.

On another trip, I followed a particularly severe storm up there and arrived well before daylight.  By the time I arrived the rain had moved on to the east, but the wind was gusting upwards to about 40 mph.  Again, lightning was exploding all around.  I sat my camera on a tripod and positioned it on the lee side of my Jeep to block some of the wind.  Attached a wide angle lens and set the shutter release to Bulb which when used with a cable release, allows the shutter to remain open until you let go of the release button...then pointed it toward the most lightning activity.  Took several tries but managed to get one good shot of a flash across the prairie landscape.

Storms on the prairie are one of natures most exciting events to experience and can provide some of the most unique photo opportunities...but they can be dangerous and caution is the better part of valor in most cases.

Got any storm stories...loved to hear about them.

Keith Bridgman

Monday, November 15, 2010

In Need of an Adventure

I'm in desperate need of some kind of adventure.  Been way too long since I was able to get out and face some kind of outdoor challenge.  Other than an occasional day outing or maybe hiking across Oklahoma's Tallgrass Prairie on a photo safari, the last real adventure of any length I had was a multi day float / camp / fishing trip down Arkansas's Buffalo River about three years ago.  I love that place.  It's one of the few places in that area where you can experience a near wilderness least for a few days anyway.

Arkansas's Buffalo River is one of the few rivers that remains intact from its source, the Boston Mountains in the Ozarks, to its end, the White River toward the north central part of the state.  Over one hundred and fifty miles of scenic splendor like 500 foot bluffs, clear water, magnificent night skies, wildlife, and heavily wooded Ozark country side   On the upper end you'll encounter faster moving currents and some pretty good rapids along the way especially if the river is running at optimal levels.  Over the course of its length, the river's personality changes and the current further down is characterized by slower moving currents and longer pools.

The fishing is usually pretty good with lots of smallmouth bass, Kentucky bass, and assorted other creek related swimming critters.  The closer you get to the White River, you might even tie into a rainbow trout as the White is one of the best trout fisheries in the country and they tend to migrate a few miles up the Buffalo.

Over the years, some of my hunting and fishing buddies and I have made numerous trips down the Buffalo.  We pack all our gear into our a vehicle at the takeout...and shove off.  Most of our trips run about three days or so, but we've made trips up to five days on the river.  It's a great adventure.

Sometimes the weather doesn't co-operate and we've been caught several times on the river during an Ozark thunderstorm and downpour.  Sure makes for an interesting adventure when that happens.  I've rarely been able to capture the Buffalo photographically at least in the way I know is possible.  Mostly because of time and weather not always coordinating with each other.  But, I never fail to at least make the attempt for there is no shortage of's just a matter of combining the opportunity with the right kind of light.

One of my favorite places on the river is the area called Skull Bluff.  Actually its an area that extends several miles upriver from Woolum, to Skull Bluff, to the Nar's.  The Nar's is a unique geological formation where two separate river systems, Richland Creek and the Buffalo, have eroded both sides of a ridge to where a narrow slit or wall of rock maybe 150 feet high separates the two sides.  If you're brave enough, you can climb up the ridge from down stream and work your way over to the narrow wall and walk out on to it.  I've done it a time or two, but will probably never do it again as I'm not as brave as I was in my younger years...or maybe I've gotten a bit either case...I've had thrill enough of standing on that four foot wide ledge and seeing nothing but air straight to the bottom broken by a few tree limbs.  I did catch the largest smallmouth I've ever caught at the base of the Nar's.  A nice, deep, pool swirls around where the rock wall climbs skyward from the water, and grandaddy smallmouth bass tend to prowl around in its depths.

Of the friends I've floated the Buffalo with, two of them are gone now.  Although they are no longer able to make those floats, the memories of the times we had still pleasantly linger.  Those stories are told over and over again when the rest of us do manage to regroup, and share a few days of adventure...I think I'll give them a call soon and see what kind of adventure we can conjure I said...It's been way to long.

(Would love hear about your adventures...)

Keith Bridgman

Friday, November 12, 2010

Hunting with a Camera

Over the years I've spent a great many hours in the field hunting...deer, quail, ducks & geese, squirrel among others.  As I have grown older, I still do some of the traditional type of hunting, but more often than not I hunt with a camera.  The challenge to photograph wildlife is basically the same as the techniques required to do the other kind of hunting. I discovered early on that doing so can be very difficult as the lighting conditions are usually not in your favor for such endeavors, and the wildlife rarely cooperates.  Regardless, I've found it to be quite rewarding and fun.

On one arm of Barren River Lake not far from home, I discovered a few years ago that Kentucky has a good population of Greater Sandhill Cranes that migrate through and even winter over.  They are an ancient bird standing almost four feet tall with a wingspan of almost 6 feet.  They migrate from southern Canada and the northern United States by the thousands through Kentucky. Their cousins the Lesser Sandhill Cranes, migrate across the central plains states from areas a bit further north along the Artic circle.

The Greater Sandhill species were almost hunted into extinction by the early part of the 20th century and were down to only about 25 or 30 mating pairs at one time.  With protection and migratory bird treaties their numbers have rebounded to around 40,000.  The Lesser Sandhills number into the hundreds of thousands.

They are a difficult bird to photograph as they are extremely wary and have excellent eyesight.  The middle of December will find me donning full camo and heading out to find the birds as they work the cornfields in and around the lake area.  They tend to like using the same locations and will fly in and out during the course of the day.  If you can catch them  early or late when a large group of them are flying in, then your odds of getting some good photographs improve.

What I normally do is find a field I know they like to use, and then station myself along a fence row or tree line, hide amongst the cover, and wait for them to start coming in.  Sometimes I wait in vain, but usually I will be rewarded for my efforts.  I use a 50-500 mm zoom lens as you need a lot of reach.  It's great fun to observe them by the thousands circle and settle into a field.  Their chattel like honking is very distinctive and sounds nothing like anything else in the wild.

Hunting with a camera can provide much of the same kind of rewards that traditional hunting offers.  Both activities require stealth, perseverance, a knowledge of the natural history and tendencies of your target, and a lot of luck.

Keith Bridgman

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Simplicity of Purpose

A few years ago I drove to a location a few miles from home hoping to catch one of those fabulous Kentucky sunsets.  At that time I was still shooting film...which by the way is a great learning tool when it comes to I was in the mode of thinking through every shot for fear of wasting valuable field time and expensive processing costs.  One thing I noticed back then was that many of my photographs all looked the same...there just wasn't enough variation in them to generate much interest.  Over time I began to more seriously evaluate what I was doing and why I just wasn't capturing the photo's I knew were possible.

I studied other photographers work and compared them to mine.  What I noticed was simply quite revealing, in fact, simplicity was one of the major elements that separated the 'professional' images from my snapshots.  Simplicity of Purpose as it pertains to photography means that everything seen in the photograph should be there for a reason.  Nothing should be in the image that detracts from the story you are trying to show or tell. It doesn't mean that the image lacks for complex details, just that all the details that are there contribute to the image story. When I began to evaluate my images, I realized I was ignoring the context of simplicity in my compositions.

An artists begins with a blank canvas and adds the elements that eventually becomes a work of art.  A photographer on the other hand, begins with a full canvas, and must through effective use of composition and light, remove all the elements that don't belong.  It may require a different lens, or different position or perspective.  It may require that you change the angle or orientation of the camera.  It certainly requires that you have a command of how the camera see's light and how the exposure process works...even with the auto exposure capabilities built into cameras now a days.

On that day I was reaching the end of my last roll of slide film and only had one exposure left.  I didn't feel all that confident that I had captured anything of quality, but as the sun lowered to just above the shallow hill to my west, I noticed there was this one single Queen Ann's Lace standing just inside the fence line.  The sun was a great ball of orange, so I thought I'd try to place that wildflower between me and the sun and see what would happen.  It was a difficult shot for several of which was because I couldn't get into the position I needed and had to bend low under the barbed wire and lean way out.  With it being my last shot on that roll, I also had to think about what the brightness of the sun would do to the exposure...and compensated a full stop higher than what the meter reading wanted to use.

When I had the slides developed, as I was afraid, most of the roll just didn't work...but that one shot of the Queen Ann's Lace stood out...primarily because of its simplicity.  It is still one of my favorite images today.

Keith Bridgman

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Look Beyond the Obvious

I spent a few hours this afternoon hiking over on Long Creek, a scenic little creek characterized  by clear water, gravel bottom, long pools, lively ripples, and an abundance of natural beauty.  As always, I took my camera and camera pack.  Most of the fall leaves had already fallen, but a few were still lingering that provided at least some photo opportunity.  As I wandered along, I snapped a few shots of this and that, but nothing really seemed to work.  All the shots were rather cliche'ish.

The obvious photo's included shots of the trees along side the creek, some looking across, some looking up or down its length.  Although they weren't bad shots, I've become a lot more critical of what I produce.  As I shuffled through the images on the camera's viewer, I knew I just wasn't getting the shots I spite of all the natural beauty that surrounded me. When that happens, I'll often challenge myself to quit looking for the obvious and start looking for the subtle things that might not ordinarily be readily visible.

Floating in a shallow portion of the creek were some recently dropped leaves.  Photo's like that create a different kind of challenge for the photographer, for now the image becomes all about shape and form and color.  It's not as easy as it sounds, because it takes an artistic eye to find the right combination of shape and form, balanced by color.  It's a matter of building the composition to create a visually appealing image.

Keith Bridgman

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Look for Order Amongst the Chaos

One morning just before sunrise I packed the camera and tripod and headed out looking for something to photograph.  Didn't really have an agenda, but it was quite foggy so I figured something would appear out of the mist eventually.  Ended up driving over to the Octagon Hall not far from Franklin, Ky, about a half hour drive from my home.  The Octagon Hall is a three story, eight sided, brick building with a lot character and history associated with it.  Various Civil War activities both Confederate and Union, took place in and around the building.  Legend has it that the building is haunted with some funny and odd things happening to visitors.  Today it is museum.

As I walked around the compound that morning I began photographing this and that but nothing was really working like I wanted it.  As the sun rose higher, the fog began to glow with a yellowish hue and things got a bit more interesting.  The hard part was trying to capture the moment with a simplistic image, but I just couldn't quite find the shot.  Too much clutter.  When that happens to me, one thing that always helps is to remember one simple rule: As a photographer, your mission is to create order out of chaos.  So I began to look for that one defining shot that told the story of what I was seeing.  Most of my shots were rather obvious and included the building and scenes around the perimeter.  They were also rather ordinary.

One technique I use to help me find order, is to simply place a long lens on the camera, zoom it out, and slowly pan around until something catches my eye.  The zoom helps to isolate things.  I had taken several images of an old buckboard wagon sitting in the yard.  It was really kind of cool looking but the images were missing that something.  That's when I began to ask myself...just what is it that is really capturing my attention about what I'm seeing here...and that is when I found it...the order amongst the chaos I was looking for.

The general layout shots were not what captured my the shape and form of the wagon wheels with the fog glowing in and around them.  Zooming in closer, I isolated the wheels...and came away with the one shot I was really looking for.

Keith Bridgman

Monday, November 1, 2010

Anticipate the Potential

I spend a lot of time just driving around the back roads of Kentucky mostly around the area where I live near Alvaton.  It's a good way to find those lost scenic corners that offer great photo opportunities.  I've discovered the trick to finding these great locations is being able to visualize the potential of an area. Many times I'll find a location and the lighting conditions at the time are too bland or flat and the photo op just isn't working.  But, by looking beyond the current conditions and visualizing the potential of the location, I'll realize that if I come back another day at a different time or maybe during a different season, then the light just might be where I can capture an amazing photograph.

While performing these preliminary scouting trips over the years, I've began to understand how the varying nature of light changes the dynamics of a location.  One place I found a few years ago is a good example of how this works.  I found myself driving down a winding and progressively narrower country road that eventually came to an end atop a rise where a gate blocked the way.  From that vantage point, to the south and east the landscape dropped into a valley toward the Barren River that snaked along a bluff on the backside of the valley about a quarter mile away.  There was a barn, a cornfield and pastures, with a few cattle meandering around.  The hills that rose high above the river provided a wonderful backdrop.

It was the middle of the afternoon on a late summer day and the light was rather boring and bland and the photo op just wasn't working.  I snapped a few quick shots for reference, but more importantly, I recognized the potential of this location simply because the lay of the land offered a great view of the valley.  Morning fog was sure to gather here when the weather began to cool off.  So, I bookmarked the location and left myself a mental note to return someday.

A month or so later, when the first hint of fall colors were starting to show, I returned and was able to capture some of the best images I've ever taken.  I was greeted with some amazing fog the hovered in the valley, and the first light of morning illuminated the scene with soft warm light that mingled with the cool flavor of early fall.  Anticipating the fog paid off in a huge way...understanding the dynamics of the lighting conditions helped me to visualize the potential of this location before the conditions even existed.  I've returned to this spot a number of times since then and I'm always amazed at how the diversity of light during the seasons dramatically enhances the dynamics of the moment.

Taking great photographs is often a matter of anticipating the potential of a location and doing a bit of footwork.  Look beyond the obvious, and be willing to place yourself where and when the greatest potential exists.

Keith Bridgman