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.

Corvette Cafe

Corvette Cafe
Corvette Cafe 50's Shoot

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Parachutes, Stilts, and Flaming Torches - Or How I Probably Should Not Have Survived Childhood

If my two boys had done half the stupid things I did while growing up, I would have killed them myself once I found out what they were doing...or at the very least the flavor of my sailor language would have been a great deal more colorful.

Seems we were allowed a greater freedom growing up in the 1950's and 60's to experiment with what parents today, and we as parents, would have had a heart attack just thinking about.  It could be that parents today have been so conditioned by the negativity self esteem police that the idea of allowing our kids the freedom to fail, or freedom to get hurt or to take risks just isn't a part of life any more.  If you ask me, this self esteem thing has ruined a lot of kids. Sometimes you lose a game...sometimes anther player just might actually be better than you are and gets more game time.  Participation trophies were not rewards...you were suppose to actually earn those things.

I remember growing up in the Mayberry-like sleepy little town of Wister, Oklahoma tucked away in the pine covered hills of the southeastern part of the state. Back then Wister thrived a bit more than it does today as it has had a long history of floods and storms and such. Man what a life that was...Slow paced living, friendly neighbors, roosters crowing every morning, no air-conditioning...just burlap water coolers ( remember those?), going barefoot all summer only wearing shoes on Sunday or when trying to cross a hot asphalt road.  Shooting fireworks in town without worrying about getting into trouble, the swimming hole on Caston Creek, shooting at turtles heads with our BB-guns on Caston Creek, riding our bikes all over the place and then into places you probably shouldn't have. Racing homemade sailboats and homemade ramshackle go-cart racing down the old hill that emptied into a water filled ditch, woffleball games in the vacant lot that turned into a football game that evolved into a wrestling match...then sitting on the porch afterwards enjoying a popsicle, fishing on Hammonds Pond, and just laying around watching the clouds drift by while eating a homegrown watermelon and homemade ice cream churned with a hand crank freezer.....whew, and that's just the first week of a full three months of summer vacation.

We had no video games, color television, cable TV, trips to the museum, planned cultural activities, or big elaborate birthday parties...nothing like those things to interfere with...well...growing up.  We never took a real vacation...no such ideas as going on a cruise, or trips to Disneyland, or driving cross country to see the Grand Canyon...we had that big water filled ditch at the bottom of hill to explore.    Neither did we ever have very much in the way of material things...but we never really thought about it.  We were having too much fun doing what kids ought to be doing...just having fun with our imaginations.

Sometimes it was that imagination thing that got us into trouble.  Take for instance the parachute.  One day when we lived in Hobbs, New Mexico, I asked my mom if she had an old sheet that I could have.

She said, "Yeah...I suppose...what are you going to use it for?"

"A parachute..." I said as a matter-of-fact.

"Oh...Okay."

Now, the operative word 'parachute' would have raised the red flag warning to most mom's that something no good was up.  But, to my mom's credit, she seemed to instinctively understand that learning by experience rather than by lecture was a far more effective training method for a nine year old boy.  She was right.  After tying four pieces of various lengths of rope to the four corners of the sheet and then attaching the loose ends around my chest with a bohemian style knot ( one that is all but impossible to untie ), I used a ladder to climb up to the roof of the house.  With the sheet parachute rolled into a tight bundle under my arm, I scooted along until I reached the highest altitude I could obtain, about twelve feet I'd guess...peeked over the edge, gulped, then jumped as high as I could and flung the rolled parachute into the air.

Oh my, how magical it was...as I floated across the yard drifting on a a clo..."THUD!"  The ground came up much more abruptly than I thought it should for someone floating on a parachute...well, maybe the chute never actually opened.  After I was able to stand up again...I pondered about what might have happened.  Hum...could it be I rolled it too tightly...maybe if I held it more loosely...

The second and subsequently last attempt jumping from the roof ended much the same as the first...a painful collision with the ground...but in the mind of a nine year old, I had successfully completed my first two skydiving jumps...although with a slight limp to show for it.  Subsequent jumps were relegated to a lower altitude by jumping off the four foot high brick wall that was the outside edge of our carport.  I successfully completed hundreds of parachute jumps from that lower altitude and before long considered myself an accomplished skydiver ready to give lessons to the other kids in the neighborhood...a few of whom actually took me up on the idea...until their moms found out they were missing several sheets from the hamper.

That brick wall tripled not only as the wing strut of my jump airplane, but a WWII battlefield wall where countless wars were won and lost, and the occasional tight rope walking circus act I tended to perform when the cute little girl from down the street was out and about. (She was always singing the newly hit song of the day "I Will Follow Him...Follow Him..Wherever He may go..." whenever we happened to be out at the same time much to my irritation).  Best I can remember though I never really was seriously injured climbing around and jumping from that wall...and only managed to accidentally fall off a few times..usually scraping numerous parts of my anatomy in the process as I skidded across and down the various levels of bricks.  That particular athletic maneuver, whether planned or not...usually generated astonished looks of concern, tossed out affectionately between the chortles and giggles and song chorus's from the cute little girl down the street.  I learned quickly the need to toughen up and show no pain in spite of the..well...pain.

One of the more infamous mis-adventures I managed to survive was walking on homemade stilts in my grandparents yard during those summer months in Wister.  From my Uncle Polk's barn, we found some 2x4's and with a little sawing and hammering with bent nails we managed to roughly construct two pairs of stilts that allowed us to stand about a foot taller than our normal nine year old runt height.  The world looks a lot different from up that high and although it took a few dozen falls, several scent knees, and assorted bruises, we eventually learned how to stay upright for extended periods of time.

Much like the chewing gum of the day, just walking around the yard on those stilts quickly lost its flavor so we began thinking of more creative ways to injure ourselves.  First came the stilt races across the yard.  That lasted all of about four races until after we spent more time extracting assorted rocks, sticks, colors of dirt and grass from our mouths and knee caps than racing...we deemed it not as fun than first thought.  Also, frequently colliding our faces with the ground prevented us from ever having a clear winner on any of those races.  So we turned to a safer activity; climbing  stairs...the wide concrete kind that attached the yard to my grandmothers porch...or my grandmothers porch to the ground depending on which direction you were climbing from.  Those stairs extended about five feet high and ten or twelve feet wide and I guess they had...oh...I'd don't know maybe a hundred steps...(Seven or eight really).

It was summer of course and running around barefoot was a natural thing to do...walking on stilts barefoot was not.  On my first attempt I made it about half way up the stairs when, in spite of my summer toughen feet, the bottoms of my feet began to hurt as the pressure of the foothold began to cut into the scrawny and boney flesh.  I couldn't move up or down, so I just twisted and fell...my left big toe catching an edge of a step and jamming it downward to where it almost touched my heal.  My left shin then scraped across the lower edges of the concrete steps and my hands ground off several layers of skin as I skidded across the bottom two or three steps...where I eventually rolled to a stop somewhere between the stairs and the main road down the hill about forty yards away.

My grandfather, bless his soul, seemed to enjoy the situation more than the circumstances would dictate as he would twist and rub the bruised and blackened appendage that used to be my big toe...presumably with the mistaken idea that it would make it feel better.  He'd bust out laughing every time I'd howl in protest.  I never did figure out what he was laughing at...my howling, the pathetically bruised appearance of my toe, the assorted cuts and bruises, or the manner in which I managed to obtain those injuries.  My grandmother on the other hand, quietly had Uncle Polk dismantle the stilts and return the lumber to the barn, stowing it in a location high enough to where we couldn't get to it.

In spite of similar and numerous other such misadventures, somehow I managed to survive until my early teen years...the outcome of which was as much in doubt as the previous thirteen years had been.  My friend Rocky and I, on some crazy whim, decided we were going to become scientists.  Downtown Okmulgee, Oklahoma, where we lived at the time, had a medical lab high in one of the taller buildings.  A real nice lady ran the place and she would allow us to purchase various flasks and beakers, glass tubing and assorted other lab like paraphernalia at the bargain price of whatever money we happened to have in our pockets at the time...which was never more than not very much.  We built an elaborate laboratory in his basement complete with a gas Bunsen burner and a smaller one in my dad's garage complete with not much but leftover stuff.

One summer day, we were experimenting in our garage lab boiling various colored flavors of water to see what would happen...hoping no doubt to maybe discover a cure to some obscure disease or something...when we got the bright idea of trying to distill some gasoline.  ( Please don't try this!)  Oh, we were really smart about what we were doing so we thought...the process called for using a small amount of water inside a larger beaker where we placed a smaller flask containing the gasoline, connected to the distillation tubes where our experiment would ultimately end.  The idea was to use the boiling water to heat the gasoline...presumably safer than heating the gasoline directly.  The heat source was a large alcohol burner.

After watching for a few minutes nothing seemed to be happening...so we figured we didn't have enough gasoline in the distilling flask...so I removed the cork that connected our experiment to the distillation tubes and commenced to pour in a few more ounces of gasoline from another flask.  Well...one thing we didn't know about at the time, but learned about rather quickly, was that gasoline vapors are heavier than air...so the fumes managed to filter down to the alcohol burner and in a very short period of time....CAH-WOOF!...three spectacular flaming torches erupted.  Unfortunately, two of the flaming torches were my hands...seems I had spilled some of the flammable liquid on them and the third torch was Rocky's legs.  Maybe a millionth could be possibly a few hundred thousandths of a second (I lost count somewhere in there) after the first Ca-Poof, I tossed the flaming flask across the garage and a good amount of the contents spilled across Rocky's legs during that controlled panic of a moment.  The concrete floor burst into a small lake of fire when the burning flask, after flying across the garage, busted into several hundred flaming pieces upon completion of its flight.

Not one to wither in the face of adversity and wanting to take full advantage of the learning potential of the moment, I waved my burning hands around in the air for a few seconds to see if I could fan the flames into larger flames...it worked quite nicely.  About that same time Rocky spontaneously created a new dance that would have become as  popular as any new dance crave of the '60's had we had time to perfect the moves.  In its rough form it went something like this:  As you are wildly slapping your burning pants legs, you jump around screaming.."I'm on Fire...I'm on Fire!"...it looks really cool with a partner who is waving his flaming hands around in the air also screaming, in synchronized time,.."I'm on Fire...I'm on Fire!".  We called it...wait for it now...."The Flaming Pants Burning Hands Dance".

Somehow or another we managed to smother the flames suffering nothing more than a few singed hairs, blackened eyebrows, and an elevated blood pressure...not so much from nearly being burned alive, but from worrying about what my dad was going to say once he found out..  I am unable to repeat in mixed company the words my church going dad cut loose with when he did discovered what had happened.  As a result, the garage lab was shut down permanently...having a great negative impact on our self esteem.

That episode also pretty well satisfied any interest I had about becoming a scientist.  Soon there after, my dad feeling sorry for me no doubt...introduced me to photography...and now...as the late Paul Harvey would say...You know the rest of the story....Believe it or not...It's all true!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Line, Form, & Texture - and Throw in Some Color

Sometimes the light just isn't there...too bland...to harsh...too dark...too bright. Sometimes I'm just not seeing it...nothing is really working for me.  When that happens, so I can jump start the creative juices, I often look for Line, Form & Texture.  By doing so...the bad light often becomes instead of a problem...a solution.  Nature is full of all three.  Many times when I find the time to get out and about, my eye begins to wander and the first thing I often see is Line, Form, or Texture.  With a closer look, a composition materializes.

Line and Form can by themselves generate a great composition, but you have to work with them in a way as to create that unique, eye catching image.  Sometimes it's just a matter of position...sometimes angle...and other times contrast...  How you place those lines and forms on the page makes all the difference.

The form itself will often have its own set of lines...usually along the outer rim.  They can be abrupt, or soft..straight or curved...subtle or bold.  More often than not, it's how you create the image that determines what it will be.  That's where being able to see beyond the obvious comes into play.  Many times the form or lines are not readily seen, but with a bit of visualization, they suddenly appear.

Texture on the other hand can be difficult to capture effectively.  It almost always must be photographed in conjunction with Line and Form...but it can be in almost limitless abundance...if you train your eye to look for it.  Also remember that color, or more importantly contrasts of color...light and dark...vibrating color schemes...bold vs subtle...will provide the context inside of which the lines and forms generate their energy.  Color always adds energy to every line and form photo...but it can also be simple black and white...or one color against a dark background combined with the line, form and texture of your subject that makes the image move across the line of sight of the viewer.

Photos that are primarily made up of Line or Form or Texture often take on that abstract look.  Nature is full of abstract situations.  The hard part is knowing how to see it.  We often get caught up looking for the big picture and miss the real picture.  This real picture may actually be a small and often subtle subset of the larger scene.  Over time, your eye will begin to lock onto those things...look beyond the obvious...but getting there takes practice and time.

One of the most effective ways to learn how to find line and form is to not take your camera at all, but simply walk around and look for those things where ever you go.  Go to the park, around your house, or ... it really doesn't matter where...be creative and start looking for things that have a unique form or shape everywhere you go, then think of ways you can capture it...what kind of exposure would you use to create a silhouette against the available background...what angle would you shoot it from...where would you place the image in the composition...what background would work best...how best to group the object(s)...How best to Isolate what is there...concentrate on what is exciting you about what you looking at...It's these kinds of thought processes you go through in order to see the forms and lines that are out there and be able to capture them using a photographic solution that is unique to how you are viewing the world around you.  Try it...I think you might like what you find.

Keith

Friday, February 18, 2011

The I's Have It

In most of the blog entries I've mostly written about this or that and maybe try this or that, but I've not actually said much about a methodology that can be used to help point the aspiring photographer toward bigger and better output.  So how do you go about developing the concepts or ideas that I've written about.  Well, everyone develops their own style of doing things and most of us work through those learning curves at our own pace.  Even so, there is a methodology I've used that can help a novice photographer take progressive steps toward more production photographically.  I call it  'The I Method'.


The I Method consists of six related concepts that progressively guides a novice photographer toward creating innovative photographs.

1.   Idea  
 2. Instinct
 3. Identify
4. Isolate
5. Invest
6. Inspire

Let's look at each one.

Idea:  Before you can truly take charge of your photography you should formulate an idea of what you want to accomplish.  Having a purpose for your photography helps you focus on not only the techniques and concepts of exposure, composition, and post processing, but helps you develop a vision.  With a vision of where you want to go, you will more likely find the enthusiasm required to get there.  Going at the craft of photography by simply relying on random chance...well...as I've said before...all you are accomplishing is playing the notes, when in reality what you are wanting to do is create wonderful music with emotion and feeling.

Instinct:  All of us possess our own preferences and interests.  By tapping into those interests, you will find it easier to become motivated to follow through.  Use your instincts to help you focus in where your stated purpose for your photography will take you.  If you instinctively enjoy sports, then maybe sports related photography may be the angle you should take.  If you enjoy nature, then nature photography might be a good directions.  If you are good with people and kids, then portrait and/or people photography could be a solution.  Go with your instincts and most of the time you will not be disappointed.

Identify:  Once you have formulated an Idea, now comes the time to do some research.  Identify potential opportunities for you to follow through with your idea.  If sports is you where you want to go, then check out local sporting events that may allow you access to the fields.  If people photography, then check out local or community events where you might be able to photograph performers or take candid shots.  Practice with your own kids, or the neighbors kids.  Identify as many opportunities as you can and then follow up on them.

Isolate:  Once you have an idea and have identified potential opportunities, it is probably a good idea to isolate specific things to focus in on.  Some ideas are very broad and to avoid being overwhelmed, it often helps to decide that this day or this week, I will concentrate on only one aspect of that idea.  Take the sports idea for instance.  There may be numerous high school and even college sporting venues going on along with little league or development leagues.  Pick one of the easier venues and give it a try...not just once or twice, but over a period of time to develop skill and technique.  Afterwards, you may want to branch out to a more advance situation.  The idea here is to focus your efforts into a manageable opportunity.

Invest:  There is no substitute for time afield.  Simply having an idea is not enough...you must allocate time to follow through with it.  Time afield also means to invest time researching...finding those opportunities...looking for potential locations or venues, then planning ahead to take advantage of them.  Look beyond the obvious when doing this...and always factor in lighting conditions.  What you see visually at the time you find a location may change dramatically with different light at different times of day...so try to visualize what a location will look like in different lighting conditions.

Inspire:  There is a difference between capturing simple memories and creating an image that inspires.  Inspiration comes from the heart and is often triggered by a creative vision.  When photographing nature, always think in terms of inspiring your viewer...not illustrating a text book.  Light is the key to generating those inspirational moments...Inspirational moments are often visualized by looking beyond the obvious...Looking beyond the obvious requires that you develop your unique vision and purpose for your photography.  Seeking to inspire is the engine that elevates your photography to the next level.


The idea behind the I's is to help establish a methodology that will guide you toward developing your own unique style of photography.  It's not an all inclusive stepping stone approach...just something to get you thinking differently about what you might be doing...and that after all...is what this blog is all about.

Keith

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Three Misconceptions about Photography

As I have stated numerous times, Photography is all about Light.  Light is the key to great photographs...and it is the quality of light that is important...not the quantity.  Most beginning photographers tend to concentrate on the equipment side of the equation and rely too heavily on the camera's mechanical ability to take good photographs.  They often ignore the most important element which is looking for and seeing light...or being able to see photographically.  Granted, there is no substitute for quality equipment, but that alone is not enough.  Even the best equipment will only take mediocre photographs if the person using it doesn't understand what to look for, or have a solid grasp of the mechanics.  More often than not novice photographers grow frustrated because they approach photography from a frame of reference based on several misconceptions.  Having talked with a a lot of photographers of varying levels of skill, it seems to me that three misconceptions are most prevalent and tend to prevent us from graduating to the next level of becoming artistic photographers.  Let's take a look at them.

Misconception Number One: Concentrating on Place or Object...or believing that a place or an object alone will generate that great photographic moment.  Think about this for a minute.  I've often used music as a comparison to photography.  There are a lot of piano players out there...they can play the notes...but...there's a difference between playing the notes and imparting emotion into your music.  Photography is the same.  Many people can mechanically play the notes...take a snapshot...but rarely understand how to impart emotion into their photographs.  They rely on the mistaken belief that the location or object, and their camera will do that for them.  Granted, places like the Grand Canyon offer some potentially wonderful photo ops...but that alone isn't enough.  Do you just want to play the notes, or do you want to create emotional music?

The problem is placing too much emphasis on the wrong thing...the object itself.  I recently had a photo friend of mine proudly show me her first ever photo of a deer.  It was a nice 'note playing' photo of a deer...but only that.  There was nothing exceptional about it, the deer was too far off, and standing in a shaded area.  No thought was given towards how light plays a dynamic roll in any artistic photograph, nor was the composition cleverly thought out.  Without great light combined with creative composition...even a great location like the Grand Canyon, or a wonderful critter like a deer will look...well ordinary.  With great light, ordinary objects are transformed into artistically expressive images.  Always...always...think quality light...combined with creative composition.

Misconception Number Two:  Believing that you must capture a scene exactly the way it looks.   Now the idea of capturing a scene/image exactly how you see it is not always a bad thing...but neither is it always the right thing to do.  This may be one of the most difficult misconceptions to overcome.  Countless times I have had people say to me..."I just want my photographs to look like what I see...but my pictures never turn out that way...and I don't understand why."
I really don't have enough space to do justice to the subject...but you must understand that the camera cannot detect the emotion of the moment...all it is capable of doing is registering the intensity of the light...and your camera sees light differently than your eye.

We can see great spreads of colors, contrasts, differentiate between glare and clutter...but the camera doesn't know that.  Once you understand how the camera captures light, then you can begin to use it as a tool to capture a scene the way you want to express it...not necessarily how it looks visually.  The point here is to get you to thinking about photography from a different perspective.  Use the camera to capture your vision...use your mind to visualize the potential of a scene...look for and use light in such a way as to bring out the unique qualities of the moment.

Virtually all of the images you see on this page in their final form did not look like what I saw visually.  What I try to do is look beyond what is there visually, and try to observe the scene from the perspective of how the camera will see it...how I know it will look in its final form.  Knowing in advance how the camera will react to certain lighting conditions will give you a huge advantage and open up windows of photographic opportunity way beyond what you may be experiencing now.  Sometimes, even marginal visual light can look stunning through the lens of the camera.  Make it a practice to look at your scene from the perspective of how the camera will see it.

Misconception Number Three:  Always shooting on Auto or Program mode...or believing the camera knows best.  This is closely related to Number Two.  Full auto or Program mode will provide a mechanically good photograph and can be a good starting place for new photographers to begin understanding how their camera works.  Photography is actually more of a visual art form than a mechanical process.  If all we want to do is 'Play the Notes'...then program mode will work just fine.  But, if we want to impart emotion into our images and create a work of art...it's going to take a bit more effort on your part to understand of how the camera does what it does...then using that knowledge, capture a moment the way you want it to look...not the way the camera wants to capture it.  


I know an individual who has a solid grasp of the mechanics of photography..could easily teach those mechanics and do a good job of it...but...that person's photographs fall well short of what that knowledge base should dictate.  Why is that?  Well there are probably a lot of reasons, but based on conversations we've had, these three misconceptions play a part in it.  That person simply never looks beyond playing the notes.  Another person I know gets this far off look whenever anyone speaks tech talk about cameras...has not a clue what is being said...and further more probably doesn't care.  But...that person takes some really very nice photos...simply because of not being afraid to break the rules and never wanting to be known as a note player.


Today's cameras are marvels of engineering and they have tremendous capabilities.  I hope by examining at least in definition, these misconceptions...it will encourage you to look at what you are doing photographically a little more creatively...

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Four Levels of the Photographic Learning Curve

There are some great photographers out there and every time I visit one of their websites I realize just how much I still have to learn..  A year or so ago I was asked to teach a short workshop on photography. I really had a lot of fun putting it all together and then presenting the material. Part of that workshop included what I like to call "The Four Levels of the Photographic Learning Curve".  It raised a few eyebrows at the time, but it actually made a lot of sense.

Level 1: The Snapshot...or "nice picture...you must have a good camera."
Everyone takes snapshots...even the pro's. Snapshots are those images that when taken you really don't put a lot of thought behind it...or put another way, it's simply a way to capture memories, as a photographer friend of mine once said.  They may capture memories, but they don't necessarily possess a lot of artistic value.  Snapshots are where every aspiring photographer begins.  They are the shots you bring home from vacations and show to your friends and family.  More often than not their reactions are along the lines of, "...those are nice pictures, you must have a good camera..."  Well, you may have heard this before, but that's like saying to a cook, "Nice meal...you must have a lot of good pots and pans."

To a novice photographer, snapshots are a necessary stepping stone and valuable learning tool.  Only when you begin to separate yourself from the notion that the camera does all the work, then you will begin to understand the difference between what it takes to create a snapshot verses what it takes to create a photograph with artistic value.

Level 2:  "That's a good picture...it looks just like a post card."  How many times have you heard that one?  I've graciously heard it more times than I really want to hear...because what is really being said is, "I've seen this kind of image a thousand times before."  That answer would probably be right...there are thousands of post cards in every drugstore and tourist trap you go into.  What this means is that the image may be a technically good photograph, but it's not unique...it looks just like  every other post card image in the same category.  There is not much to separate it from the ordinary photograph that every vacationer takes by the millions.  What is needed to separate those kinds of images from all the rest is to visualize the same scene in an extraordinary way...and then add a bit of 'Wow' to the composition and light.

Level 3:  "Wow...Great picture". Wow factor photographs are generally powerful enough to elicit an emotional response  from whoever is viewing it.  They clearly stand apart from most photographs, but...what this kind of reaction really means is..."Hey, this is a really good photograph, but can you consistently take these kinds of images...or did you just get lucky."  Even novice photographers will from time to time manage to take a Wow photograph.  What separates the novice from someone who consistently generates this level of image is that the novice tends to rely on luck, while the other relies on his or her ability to visualize the potential of a location, plan out a strategy, returns again and again until just the right light is present...and has the technical skills to take advantage of the moment...and do it over and over.

Level 4:  "Whoa...". The forth and highest level of photography is what I call "The Whoa Factor". Like the term whoa suggest...these images stop the viewer in their tracks.  They are so powerful that they move well beyond wow and generate a "Whoa! How did you do that?"  This means you have reached a level of creative understanding and mastery of what you are attempting to accomplish photographically.  Your photographs become like fine music.  Images you create are consistently at a high level because you have an exceptional knowledge of the principles of exposure, composition, story telling, visualization, and technical expertise...and you understand how to combine those principles into an extraordinary photographic solution.  Like the very best musicians, your photographic music imparts feeling, emotion, and depth.  Only a few photographers ever really consistently reach this level.  Even though I know it when I see it...very...very few of my images might fall into this category...but...that's why I keep shooting.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Fifty things I've learned about photography...

(I wrote this about a year ago...slightly modified)

1. Watching someone take an unexpected swim with a $2000 camera in one hand and several thousand dollars of equipment in the other hand is not a pleasant experience for either party...just less so for the swimmer.

2. Repair bill for a drenched $2000 camera...$300.  Repair bill for a water logged $1000 lens...$200.  Aggravation costs waiting for return of equipment...Way too much $.  Having insurance on said water logged equipment...Priceless!

3.  The piece of mind about having insurance on your camera equipment is of far greater value than the small price of actually getting it insured.

4.  Just like Writers Block...there is such a thing called Photographers Block.

5.  The technology just keeps getting better and better...but the old style equipment made a better learning tool.

6.  A good camera backpack is better than a camera bag slung over the shoulder.

7. A good camera backpack is essential for cross country hiking photography trips.

8. Photographing a dragonfly is not easy.

9.  What's left of the Tallgrass Prairie is one of the most under utilized photographic opportunities available.

10.  Wild buffalo (American Bison) are indeed wild and unpredictable.

11.  Did I mention the having insurance thing yet?

12.  Planning ahead and anticipating where and when a great photo op might occur is more productive than relying on random chance.

13.  Random photo ops often produce spectacular results...only if you're prepared for it.

14. When photography stops being fun...well, its time to take a break.

15.  Photography has yet to stop being fun.

16.  A great model(s) can make an average photographer look good.

17.  Getting up before daylight to catch that great moment of light is worth the effort.

18.  Sleeping in because you're too lazy to get up before daylight to catch that great moment of light is a lot easier to do...just less rewarding.

19.  A quality lens is worth the extra cost.

20.  A photogenic spouse is often your most critical critic.

21.  Be optimistically critical of your own work...and less so of others.

22.  Some pro's can be very willing to help...others no so willing.

23.  Try to get something published...it doesn't hurt to try...and it just might pay off.

24.  Publishers are a finicky bunch of characters.

25.  Why do publishers overlook your best work and settle for the lesser submissions simply because it better fits with their publishing requirements?

26.  An 85 year old parent and DVD and/or computer technology don't mix well.

27.  Take all criticism of your photographs constructively..most praise with a gracious grain of salt.

28.  Photographing coyotes is pert-near impossible...how do they do that?

29.  You know when you've created something special photographically...it doesn't matter what anyone else thinks.

30.  Sandhill Cranes are goofy looking birds...but magnificent to photograph.

31.  The best times to photograph is now.

32.  There is always time to learn something new...just less time to perfect it.

33.  Going on solo photo trips offers a lot of flexibility...going at it with others offers great fellowship.

34.  Photographing with a purpose in mind maybe more productive than relying on random chance...it just takes a bit more thought.

35.  Check your batteries before you head out.

36.  Standing exposed on top of a prairie knoll during a prairie thunderstorm to photograph the moment is one of the most exhilarating experiences you can have...it's also very stupid.

37.  Photographing lightning is much harder than it looks...but an exciting thing to attempt.

38.  The weatherman gets it wrong a good deal of the time...so go anyway...the predicted good weather just might turn out bad...which is usually good for photographers.

39.  Complaining about the conditions won't change them.

40.  There is no such thing as bad conditions for photographers who take the time to look around and seek out the opportunities that are there at that moment.

41.  Skill is better than luck...luck is better than nothing...nothing results if you don't try.

42.  You don't have to travel very far to find great places to photograph...just look out your back door.

43.  When you do travel a long ways to find great places to photograph...you end up showing the people you meet all the old photos you took at home.

44.  Figuring out how to create effective HDR photographs is like trying to re-fold a map in the dark...I eventually just wad it into a mess and shove it into the glove box and hope I don't get lost.

45.  Plastic grocery bags make decent rain covers...just trying to find one when you need it most might be a bit tricky.

46.  Work the scene...don't settle on one or two shots.

47.  There is a difference between a slide show and a photo presentation.

48.  A photo presentation set to great music can make even mediocre photographs look great.

49.  There is no such thing as a mediocre photograph if someone likes it...even just yourself.

50.  The Good Lord created a beautiful world out there...photographing it can help you begin to more deeply appreciate what is there.

51...bonus entry...Did I mention the insurance thing?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

So Much the Better

Resolutions...New Years or otherwise...almost never work, so the only resolution I ever make is to never make a resolution I know I can't or won't keep.  About this time of year I always seem to take count of my physical condition more than other times and usually come to the conclusion that it is way below what it should be.  For someone my age I stay reasonably active, but not nearly enough so to compensate for adverse effects of the volume of down time I seem to experience.  Off and on...mostly off...over the years, I've managed to find time for various physical activities...things like bicycling, running, hiking/backpacking, canoeing, tennis, various team sports, swimming and swimming related stuff, hunting and fishing, and weight lifting...and I even tried triathlons there for a while.  At best I never became more than mediocre at any one of those activities, but combined I suppose those adventures have contributed to at least a moderate measure of physical phitness.  My current favorite pastime of laying on the couch indulging with various types potato chips, among other assorted snacks, unfortunately has contributed to a decline of that fitness level of late.  Even so, every once in a while I take measure of the layer of flab and sag that has developed around my mid section and decide to do something meaningful about it.

For the last couple of years I've managed to frequent the gym a few times a week to grunt and prod through various levels of lifting heavier than I should lift weights.  My joints and other parts of my anatomy seem to benefit ( and suffer ) as a result.  In past years, one of my favorite workouts has been swimming, and although never at a competitive level, I obtained at least a reasonable level of competency at it.  For lack of an adequate facility and an overall general attitude of age related malaise, I've not swam a single lap in several years.  A little over a year ago Bowling Green and Warren County built a brand new state of the art aquatic center complete with a real dandy swimming hole inside...a 25 meter competition level facitlity that just happens to be only a few minutes from my office.  So, realizing I no longer could rely on the 'a lack of adequate facility' excuse, I recently purchased a membership and began my quest to start swimming for fitness again.

First time out I managed to flounder through about 600 meters...50 at a time with long periods of letting the gorilla on my back gasp and choke between each one.  By mid-afternoon I crashed and burned.  Second time wasn't quite as bad, and by the third time I felt like I was starting to get my old form back...but still have a ways to go.  I hope to soon work up to a 1000 meters in under 25 minutes...respectable for an old fart like myself.  Who knows, maybe that potato chip fed gorilla and myself might trim off some of the excess flotation around my mid section in the process.

S0...what does this have to do with outdoor photography?  Well...nothing really, except I hope to try something new this summer; underwater photography.  The plan is to purchase one of those disposable 35mm cameras encased in a plastic waterproof container and visit one of the local clear water streams and see if I can photograph some of the fish or other aquatic interesting things that lurk on or near the bottom of the shallows.  Might be kind of fun to try.

In the mean time, I plan on hitting the gym a couple days a week and hitting the pool a couple days a week, and when the weather permits, hitting the road on my old trusty and probably rusty triathlon bike for a quick 20 miles from time to time.  Throw in a canoe trip or two, maybe a hike here and there...and who knows, maybe this tired old body of mine just might come back to life.  If I happen to lose some of the sag around my middle...well...so much the better.

Keith