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

Monday, May 30, 2011

To Those Who Served

That's what it takes to be a hero, a little gem of innocence inside you that makes you want to believe that there still exists a right and wrong, that decency will somehow triumph in the end”...Lise Hands

There comes a time when we as a country must set aside our political differences and reflect on what it cost for us to first obtain, then retain the freedoms we have.  No amount of words will ever suffice in such an endeavor.  Emotions are often rendered incomplete when translated into written form.  The following photo essay is an attempt to capture first the feeling of gratitude I have regarding those individuals who served, fought, and died to protect all of us, and second to send a message to all veterans...all heroes who placed themselves in harms way so we could live in safety...

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Teaching a Photography Workshop

Photo courtesy Ronnie Ryne
One of the more challenging things I've ever been asked to do is to teach a Photography Workshop.  The first time I was asked to do that my initial reaction was..'sure I can do  that...' then I got to thinking about what I actually needed to do to pull it off and I rapidly began to understand just how involved something like that was.

I went over and over all kinds of scenarios...should it be a beginners class...generic...advanced, well as advanced as I could make it anyway...lecture material...hands-on...and so on.  It was hard to focus in on one agenda.  I eventually settled for Generic that would include some basics and tips and techniques.

Photo courtesy Ronnie Ryne
That ended up being the easy part.  Now I had to come up with a viable program that would fit inside a 2 hour window.  Good grief!  Photography concepts are full of material that would probably require a single subject to take a full 2 hours if I thought about long enough, but it had to all make sense for people with a wide range of skill levels.

What I ended up doing was to create a program that was based on many of the same problems I had difficulty with over the years.  As I began to ponder about those difficulties, one recurring idea kept infiltrating my thoughts.  What was the one thing that gave me the most trouble?  As I thought about it, I began to understand that it was not the technical/mechanics of the camera, for those things are rather objective in nature and for the most part, can be learned with a bit of practice and simply reading your owners manual.  No, what gave me the most trouble over the years was learning how to see photographically.

Being able to see photographically requires a different thought process than simply understanding the mechanics of the camera, or to take simple snapshots.  It requires an understanding that light is the key to creating those amazing photographs.  It goes way beyond simply relying on the camera to make all the decisions for requires a blending of how we visually perceive light vs how the camera sees light...the two are not necessarily the same.  Once I began to grasp that concept and apply it to what I was doing photographically, for the first time my photographs began to evolve away from the realm of the ordinary toward the realm of extraordinary...I said it was evolving toward it...I haven't reach it yet.  In fact, the more I evolve toward it, the more I realize that it is becoming one of those journey's that never has an end point.

So with that in mind, I formulated a program that would get the participants to thinking about what they are possibly change their perspective about photography and remove the intimidation factor related to the mechanics of the camera, and focus their mindset more toward understanding how to see to see photographically.

Although I had previously presented similar material at our local photography club meetings, the first real presentation occurred back in March of 2010 that was sponsored by the county library.  They signed up almost 50 people of which about half showed up.  The program went very well for the first hour until the digital projector lost it's red color and all the sample images thereafter were displayed with a strong greenish hue.  Not exactly the best way to talk about and demonstrate how to see light...but overall it worked out pretty well.

Photo courtesy Ronnie Ryne
Since then I've refined the presentation and have broken it into two sections each about 90 minutes long.  This makes for a much more relaxed presentation as I now don't have to hurry through the material to squeeze it all in in under 2 hours.  The next presentation is coming up next should be a good one as I now know more about how to present it, and have smoothed over some of the rough edges, plus I'll have more time to work through the material.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Getting Away - Watching Blue Birds - A Day at the Pond - A Day Fishing

I had a rather disappointing and discouraging week at work last week.  Everything is fine really, nothing bad happened, but sometimes circumstances and events pile up to where I have to say to myself...'I've had enough' I tacked on a couple days of vacation to the weekend for some rest and recovery.

On Thursday Kris and I spent a good part of the day first sitting in the swing under the shade tree in the backyard listening to and watching all the song birds. By mid morning we headed out to the pond a few hundred yards behind our house.

We carried a couple of folding chairs, my camera, and found a shade to sit in.  For the most part we just sat there and talked...took a few photos...talked some more, and enjoyed the the morning and later the cooling effects of an afternoon breeze.

I had fun watching her get excited about taking some photo's...looking for interesting things to zoom in close to like the Lady Bug crawling on  Buttercups, one of the days favorites, and finding parts of the pond that would tell the story of that day.  Too often we hurry about looking for stuff and never see really it in our rush to find it, when by simply sitting and slowing down, the good things tend to come to us instead. That's what happened that day...ordinary things suddenly became interesting subjects to observe and photograph.

We shared the camera...I took a few...but she did most of the picture taking and did a pretty good job of it.  The day at the pond was split into two sessions...the morning, and then again that afternoon for a couple of hours.  Between the two we grabbed a bite to eat and stopped over at Romanza Johnson Park and enjoyed the flowing waters of Trammel Creek.  It was a good relaxing day.

On Friday, I loaded up the canoe, fishing gear, and packed a lunch, then headed over to Shanty Hollow Lake about a 30 minute drive north of Bowling Green.  It's a great little lake perfect for canoe fishing, but alas, the fishing turned out rather slow.  You know, I really didn't care...I just enjoyed getting out.

I spent most of the day there soaking up some sun, and exercising my canoeing and casting muscles.  I didn't even take the camera as I just wanted to unwind and not worry about anything interfering with that endeavor.

Although I enjoy photography and it has become a larger part of my life in recent years, I often feel like I've lost a part of my identity as the traditional activities like fishing and canoeing and even spending a day at a pond have succumb to the trials of making a living far more than I ever envisioned.  I realize circumstances change, our lives evolve as we get older, and often we allow complacency to fill the gaps that develop.  I suppose taking a couple of days to spend a day at a place like the pond, or to revisit those older passions, become more important the older you get.  I'm certainly grateful for having had the opportunity to do so.


Saturday, May 14, 2011

Kentucky Morning

A photographer longs for moments like the one that came to life above the Kentucky landscape on that day.  Too much time had filtered away since I last witnessed a morning like this one.  I suppose I needed to witness that exhibition of light as much as I've needed anything in recent years.  Hunting, fishing, canoeing...all historically important  elements in my life were fundamentally nonexistent that year, save for a few random outings.  Although I managed from time to time to break away from my doldrums with camera in hand, nothing of consequence resulted.  It had been a rather dry spell activity wise...what I needed was that one special day, that one defining moment where time, place, and light converged to create an extraordinary exhibit of radiance.

On a mid October dawn, the rustic natural beauty that is Kentucky displayed herself in front of my lens, and for a brief magnificent moment, I was granted the opportunity to witness part of creations most wonderful choreography.

A month before the hot dry remnant of the end of summer still permeated the region.  While driving the back roads of Barren County not far from my home, I turned down a narrow crumbling old road that eventually narrowed to a dead end at the top of a shallow rise.  I stopped for a while and meandered along the road simply enjoying being out and taking in the scenery, breathing the country air.  Falling away from the road to the south lay a quaint little farm with a cornfield growing in the bottoms separated from the rest of the land by a split of trees and a series of rolling pastures.  Cattle bellowed and song birds flittered here and there.  Beyond the cornfield stood a wooded strip backed by a sharply rising ridge.  Between the line of woods and the ridge ran Barren River.

Something spoke to me that day, bidding a return visit when the conditions were right...perhaps in another month as the fall colors started to appear.

That month passed...fall was stirring and the colors of the season were just beginning to adorn the hills.  I rose well before daylight one crisp Saturday morning and arrived at the top of the rise a few minutes before sunup.  The sky was already aglow and the sounds of country living were adding their music to the morning symphony.  A light fog drifted across the valley and hovered lightly above the now partially harvested cornfield.  The morning progressed rapidly toward daylight and I struggled to keep up...shooting photos in rapid succession needing to be in three places at once.  I rushed further up the rise and noticed how the first beams of the morning sun were just beginning to touch the tops of that spit of trees that separated the two fields.

Time passes quickly at first light, and I knew something special was about to happen, so I quickly setup my tripod and camera...checked the exposure...framed the shot...and waited for that defining moment I knew was sure to come.

As the sun climbed higher and peaked over the ridge to the east, a beam of light broke through and cast a radiance that burst into a flame of color as it was captured by the front edge of the trees.  The fog that drifted below began to lightly glow...I almost missed the moment as it lasted but a few seconds...but when I released the shutter, I knew that one of natures most cherished gifts...a brilliant new dawn...a new Kentucky Morning...was mine.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Photographers Block

Writers suffer through a phenomenon called 'writers block' where the words just don't come...nothing seems to be stimulating those creative juices.  Well...I've discovered that as a photographer...I suffer from 'photographers block' from time to time.  Nothing seems to be working on some days...every image is either a cliche' or worse.  What to do?

When this occurs two things tend to happen...I get discouraged and then I take a break from the routine.  Neither one of these two things serve a very good purpose although taking a break can actually prove beneficial in the short term.  Even so, there are a few things you can do to help get on track.

Change your Routine.  If you normally concentrate on landscapes, switch over to another aspect of photography..try people, sports, or local venues.  The idea is to do something different to jump start those creative juices.

Slow Down.  Take a hike without your camera...simply enjoy getting out for the sake of getting out.  Sometimes when you always lug the camera around, you tend to forget to enjoy simply being out. Refresh your thoughts and clear the mind.

Review your old photographs.  Go back as far as you can and thumb through some of the early days of your photographic attempts.  By doing so you just might realize just how much you've improved over the years.  Plus those old photos just might rekindle ideas.

Go someplace you've never been before.  Spend the entire day there. Many times just seeing something new will get you excited again.

Join a photography club.  I've never been very clubby over the years but a few years ago I joined a local photography club and have thoroughly enjoyed the interaction.  It's a great way to learn about other techniques and the fellowship it affords can often make the difference between becoming stale and staying fresh.

Keep on shooting anyway.  Most of the time the block is temporary and by simply working through it you will find your old creative self again.

Photographers block, like writers block can be discouraging...but always remember that in time you will get back to visualizing and photographing those wonderful moments.  Trying something different often helps...sort of writing this article...because I just could not think of anything else to write about this time...there you see...I feel better already.


Friday, May 6, 2011

Not Such a Bad Thing...

    Back in the days when I was a lot poorer than I am today, going on a camping or fishing trip was a true adventure.  Not so much because of the great outdoors, but more so because the vehicle’s I drove had questionable ability to get there and back.  I never knew what would happen on any given trip…and I pretty well saw it all…from bad fuel and water pumps, to bad ignition points and oil clogged spark plugs, to broken timing belts and burned out starters.

    One time my canoeing and fishing partners were anticipating a wonderful weekend floating the Mountain Fork River in southeastern Oklahoma some years ago now…a long time ago some years ago.  At the time I drove an old beat up white Ford Pinto station wagon with simulated wood paneling on the sides.  Don’t laugh…it actually was a pretty good fishing rig as it had plenty of room for fishing gear and with a little jury rigging it would haul a canoe on short trips just fine…short being the operative word here.  On this trip I attempted the near impossible for that old rig as we were to drive a considerably greater distance than our local fishing holes allowed for and I was hauling two canoes, camping, canoeing, and fishing gear for two people up and down those steep backcountry hills found in that part of the country.

    That old rig did just fine running down the highway from Tulsa sputtering only slightly on some of the steeper grades, but when we hit the mountains surrounding Talihina, pronounced Tal la hay Knee in Oklahomese, I thought we’d have to get out and push a couple times to make it over the top.  Even so, we finally made it to the rendezvous point and connected up with the other two from our party. That was the highlight of the trip as the rest of the trip turned out to be pretty much a bust after the first day.  That first evening the skies opened up and Mother Nature cut loose with a fury that seemed directed specifically toward us.  We’ve often wondered about going into the drought busting business because it seemed like every time we went out something like that happened.  It may not have rained for three months, but if we planned a fishing trip, rest assured it was probably going to rain.  

    Man did it ever rain…and rain…and storm…by the next day floating or fishing was pretty much out of the question, so we ended up driving around for while looking for other potential fishing opportunities.  Before long we decided to call it quits and head on home, but first we had to get back to the other vehicles and load up.  Seemed all of the creeks were flooding and most of the back roads were flooded as a result which slowed our progress.  Eventually we reached a place where we could drive no further.  We were still a mile or two from the campsite, so my fishing partner and I decided to hike on in by wading thru the high water then over the hill and down to where his truck and my Pinto was located.  Lightning was still splitting the sky and we were rather exposed during our hike in but managed to make it without getting electicated.  We grabbed and piled all the gear into his truck and my little old Pinto Station Wagon, which was crammed full and loaded to the gills everywhere except the gas tank.  I figured I’d just top it off on the way home.

    Unfortunately, we could not drive out the same way we came in because all the little creeks had continued to flood to where even a 4x4 would have had trouble getting through.  We caravanned around those ancient hills and crumbling dirt roads for what seemed like hours and my gas tank gauge  inched ever closer to the empty line.  Eventually, the gas gauge indicator parked on the big E and would not budge, and we still we’re not out of trouble.  I don’t know how that old fishing rig made it because we must have driven another 30 miles around those old roads after that, but somehow we ended up in some little no count town in Arkansas that had only one gas station.  I didn’t hesitate to fill her up.  That gas tank normally held 10 gallons.  Can’t remember the exact amount, but I believe I pumped somewhere around 10.2 gallons of gas into that tank.

    Oddly enough, that old station wagon ended up getting ruined in a giant flood in Tulsa a few years later.  We lived in an apartment just off the notorious for flooding Mingo Creek, and Tulsa received one of those 100 year rains where 12+ inches of rain dropped in one evening.  I awoke the next morning and looked out the balcony window of our apartment to see only the tops of cars in the parking lot.  My little Pinto took the brunt of the surge as it was the first car in the row and caught all the washed down debris plus the high water.

    In time I was able to replace the Pinto with a slightly newer and venerable Chevy Luv pickup truck and a new series of grand adventures began.  I drove that old truck everywhere and some places I should not have, and it proved itself up to the task…most of the time.  I drove that thing until it had around 150,000 miles on it and it pretty well just would not run any more.  So I parked it in the gravel parking lot in front of our little apartment in Harrison, Arkansas for a few months while I decided what to do with it.  After some research and not having anything else better to do, I decided I would rebuild the engine…new piston rings, get the valves ground…new bearings…full tune up…plus a few other assorted fixes.  It took me a couple weeks of working nights and weekends, but eventually got it all put back together, and I was more surprised than anyone that it actually started.  Other than a wiring issue that ruined a fishing trip shortly thereafter…I drove that old thing for another 100,000 plus miles before finally retiring it.  

   Before its retirement, that old Luv took me on numerous grand adventures…fishing and hunting and camping…caused me numerous aggravations when it broke down…had it towed several times and cursed it more times than I care to admit to.

    Even so, because of those two old Rigs I experienced things I would never have seen had I not dared to drive them.  I saw amazing sunrises while sitting in my canoe on the placid waters of a small lake.  I witnessed amazing sunsets while floating Arkansas’s Buffalo River.  I felt the sun and wind on my face and absorbed the aroma of nature’s best offerings.  I thrilled at the sight as a flight of mallards set their wings and drop into a spread of decoys and I’ve witnessed thousands of geese explode into the sky and fill the air with their honking calls.  I’ve been startled by the sudden jerk of a big ‘ole bass as it attacked my lure from the edge of submerged grass and I’ve heard the lonesome yelp of the coyote as I warmed my hands in front of the campfire.  I’ve hiked amongst the peaks of the Colorado Rockies, and waded through the cold waters of an Ozark stream.  I’ve sat in deer camp listening to and retelling old stories with friends from years gone by.  I’ve watched the fog lift from the valley at first light and gazed across an amazing meteor streaked night sky free from the haze of city lights.  I grew experienced from having to deal with difficulties and learned that grease stained hands and fingernails will eventually come clean with a bit scrubbing, and become a reward from the satisfaction gained by making the repairs myself.  Yeah, those old rigs caused me a lot of aggravation, but they also gave me so much more in return that far outweighed the frustration of dealing with them.

    Back in 1998 I purchased my first real dream rig…an almost new Jeep Wrangler Sahara.  I still drive it today...It still runs great…but only because I’ve often had greasy hands to keep it running.  Some thirteen years later…it’s just now beginning to take on that old rig look…but you know…that’s not such a bad thing.