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

Friday, June 24, 2011


Recently a friend of mine had to put to sleep a very dear pet dog.  She was visibly upset at having had to do such a thing as she and her family were very attached to this little dog.  It brought back memories of my own from some years ago now when I faced a similar situation.  The only difference was my little dog graced our home for only three days...but those three days were as trying as any I've ever had to face.  Here is the story I wrote shortly after having to endure a very difficult situation.


I must be getting softhearted in my old age, because what transpired over that Labor Day weekend stirred emotions I thought long ago dormant. It was a tough lesson to endure, but one learned only by gazing through sorrowful windows into the lives of the most innocent.

I named him Buster, a fine looking Brittany pup, with his floppy ears and freckles across his muzzle. He was plump and fuzzy, bright-eyed and clumsy like most puppies with paws too large for his body. My wife and kids fell in love with him right away. Complete with hunting genetics, the odds were excellent he would become a fine birddog and hunting companion.

I picked him up in Tulsa on Saturday, the first day of Labor Day weekend. He appeared unsure of himself on the two hour drive to my home in Edmond, Oklahoma. By the time we arrived, his puppy nature took over and he started to survey his new surroundings. 

Our other dog Sadie, a mixed breed of gentle temperament, wasn’t quite sure what to make of this intruder, but she quickly adjusted and accepted Buster as a new playmate.

The next morning was opening day of dove season. My brother Ken, and long time hunting partner Rocky, made the drive over and were eager to try out my new dove location. That evening as they admired the new pup, I beamed with pride like a new dad.

We left early the next morning figuring we would return well before noon, so I didn’t worry too much about Buster having run of the house. My wife, who was still in Tulsa, was not happy about that after she found out Buster had left a few calling cards...oops.

Not long after returning from our morning hunt, I realized Buster wasn’t showing the spunk of the day before. I thought it was just a reaction to the vaccinations. I tried calling our veterinarian, but getting hold of him was difficult on a holiday weekend. I wasn’t all that worried and by that evening he was acting like most puppies, romping and stomping and playing with the kids. We had a little fun that evening after I discovered one of the doves taken that afternoon was still alive, so I hid it in the flower garden and called Buster over. His hunting instinct kicked in and he became extremely birdie with his stubby tail buzzing with excitement as he worked his head from side to side trying to lock in on the scent.

He slept without a peep that night on an old pair of my pajama bottoms he took a liking to, and when I awoke the next morning he was sitting beside my bed looking up at me floppy-eared and wide-eyed. We made a quick run outside and he did his business. He was obviously a fast learner. By mid-morning things began to change. He started to vomit and his diarrhea became more pronounced. I noticed some blood in his stool and immediately called our veterinarian. He told me to give him Pedialyte every hour or so in small amounts and not to feed him anything, then bring him in the next morning.

It was a long, difficult night. I slept beside him, so I could monitor his activities was my excuse, when in reality I was worried about the little feller. Hour by hour his symptoms worsened and by the time the veterinarian saw him, Buster was seriously ill. It didn’t take long for a diagnosis. Parvovirus; a serious infection that attacks the lining of the intestines. Buster had more than likely contracted the virus the week before I picked him up, but the symptoms only became prevalent a day or so later, but he was not yet in critical condition, so there was a chance, slim as it was, that he would recover. After an I/V of glucose and a shot of penicillin to combat secondary infections, we took him home with the hope he would show some improvement by morning.

That evening as I lay beside him and stroked his neck and shoulder, my heart ached each time his emaciated sides would heave. He was so helpless and so frail and was so sick. I wanted to make it all go away, but could do nothing except give him fluids a tablespoon at a time and gently pet his now painfully thin shoulders. As he lay on that old pair of pajamas, I extended my arm along his side. He lifted his head and placed it across my hand as though he found comfort in knowing I was there. By 4:00 AM he took a turn for the worse and began to vomit more regularly and his stools became a stream of blood. My heartache turned into heartbreak. We rushed him to the veterinarian the next morning and right away he said it did not look good. Further treatment would only prolong his suffering, and as difficult as it was, we all knew what had to be done.

As the veterinarian shaved a patch on Buster’s forearm to expose a blood vessel for the injection that would end his suffering, Buster lifted his head one final time and looked at us with hollow, but trusting eyes, not comprehending what was about to happen. I gently stroked his back and scratched his ears just before his last breath left him. It was a hard moment. My wife sobbed out loud as we left the room, and I discovered that growing softhearted in my old age is not such a bad thing, and I unashamedly broke down, fighting back the lump in my throat and wiping blurry images from my eyes.

That nine week old runt of a puppy captured my heart like nothing else could, and to watch him suffer stabbed at my emotions exposing a softness and compassion I never knew existed. Maybe it was because he was a puppy with that unbridled exuberance found only in innocence, or maybe it happened during those few hours before he fell ill when he pounced and romped, and stole forever any ability to look upon him as anything but a family member.

Our life together could be measured in hours, but what I learned from him will influence the rest of my life. Through all of his suffering, he never once whimpered. Through all of the discomfort, he took it in stride and demonstrated through hurting eyes that he still trusted us. Maybe it was because he did trust us that somehow we felt in our hearts that we failed him. Many things in life are difficult to deal with, but such a thought adds additional weight to painful memories that even time will find difficult to remove.

I left his tiny body in a grave surrounded by late summer wildflowers that were caressed by a gentle breeze rolling across the Oklahoma prairie. It was a quiet, peaceful place where we would have hunted had he lived.

Through his courage, I learned a great deal about myself. Through his suffering, I understand, more clearly now, about the bond between a hunter and his dog, a bond forged by adversity and tempered with grief. My two sons learned a valuable lesson as well, one about trust, loyalty and compassion, and that some lessons in life are difficult. 

Another bird dog will come my way someday, and with him, a lifetime of memories, but only one little pup named Buster will retain that special memory. As difficult as some memories are, good things often come from them, like rekindling dormant emotions and growing softhearted in the face of misfortune. By experiencing such things, I am no longer an ordinary person poor of spirit, but a transformed individual rich in understanding.

Keith R. Bridgman 

My Top Three Favorite Photoshoots

Photography lends itself well to a wide variety of activities.  Most of us will over time migrate our photography toward the things we enjoy doing...I'm no different.  I've tried a lot of different kinds of photography but tend to focus in on nature photography as it more closely follows the kinds of things I enjoy doing anyway and so it became a natural extension of those activities.  Even so, I can name three distinct photo shoots that I probably enjoyed the most...and all three of them were different.

Number three on my most favorite photo shoots list involved oddly enough photographing a local event...Bowling Green's International Festival that occurs late in the summer every year down on the circus square area.  It's a great venue with all kinds of people and performances...and a target rich environment photographically speaking.  There is a lot of energy, lots of color, tremendous variety, and actually a lot of talent...some of which is quite unique.  Take for instance the belly dancers.  Yeah...yeah...I know what you're thinking and it ain't so...but I did find the performance quite entertaining and very tastefully done.  The young ladies were very talented and very expressive...and that made for an interesting photo shoot.  But, the festival involved more than belly dancers...there were the Flamenco talk about intense energy...the Chinese dancers...bands of all kinds...Indonesian dancers...even a Native American dancer...a lots more.  I have really enjoyed the festival for the last three years.

Number two on my list is the Tallgrass Prairie of Oklahoma.  This involves a series of shoots really, not just one shoot as you could never fully capture this place on just one visit.  Just thumb through my blog long enough and you will find several articles relating to this location.  It is perhaps the most underutilized resource photographically that I am aware of...and that suits me just fine.  It is an amazing location with a rich and diverse history...the largest protected area of original Tallgrass Prairie that remain in North America.  I have hiked dozens of miles across it rolling landscape...dodged angry buffalo (American Bison to be more precise), got caught in thunder storms, and photographed it from sunup to sundown...and I've still only touched a small portion of what it has to offer.  There have been days I believe I may have been the only person on the 38,000 acres except maybe the caretaker staff.  It's a big place with a big sky and amazing landscapes.  I love this place and will continue to revisit it again and again.

My number one favorite photo shoot of all time though was a shoot one of the members of our local photography club organized which involved several models.  I had never done that kind of shooting before.  Michael was his name, and he is an amazing photographer in his own right and does a lot of model shooting both location and studio.  He was able to convince two of his regular models to join several of us from the club so we could get some practice doing some location shooting.  It was amazing...the young ladies were amazingly delightful...Michael was amazing at how he easily directed and interacted with them.  Two other young ladies also joined us that day and they also did a remarkable job and added a lot to the days events.  I've never had so much actual fun while on a photo shoot.  I learned a great deal about location shooting. It was by far the number one most enjoyable photo shoot I've ever had the pleasure of being a part of.

Honorable mention Second team members on this list include a return trip to my old Coast Guard unit in Oregon a few years ago and the annual Balloons and Tunes in Bowling Green.  Another third team member would be the local Civil War re-enactment down at Lost River Cave. there you have top three favorite photo shoots of all time plus a couple of honorable mentions thrown extra charge.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

What camera took what Photo?

Here's a little game for you.  Four photo's...each taken with a different kind of camera.  One was taken with a modern era digital SLR camera, one was taken with a late model SLR film camera with average electronics, one was taken with a 35 to 40 year old mechanical film camera that included a type of first generation exposure metering, and one was taken with a $5.00 plastic disposable film camera.  Can you tell me which one was taken with what camera?

I won't tell and no pixel peeking...You gotta guess.

June 22...Okay..give up?  The top photo was taken with the late model film camera, the second picture was taken with the $5.00 plastic disposable camera, the third picture was taken with a modern era digital camera, and the bottom picture was taken with the 35 year old vintage film camera....Kind of hard to tell isn't it.  Just goes to show that it matter less about what camera you use and more about how you understand the capabilities of the camera and how it will react to the lighting conditions.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Summer Skies

I love the smell of a summer rain shower.  On those occasions when the Kentucky skies darken and the rumble of thunder growls in the distance, I will often make my way to the front porch and sit in the rocking chair and wait for the spell of stormy weather to arrive.  When it does, the muggy air and hot nature of a summer day will suddenly be transformed by wind and rain blessed by cooler air and a fragrance like no other.

Seems like this season we've so far been blessed with a number of those moments and I am grateful to be able to enjoy one of natures great programs.  Another program I enjoy is to capture the first light of a summer morning. The haze in the sky at that time will often turn the rising sun into a subtle pink or pale orange.  Add an old barn or some farm equipment and throw in some tall weeds for atmosphere and with a bit of luck and timing, some of the best photo moments will often appear.

Recently I had one such experience.  I've been in somewhat of a dry spell photographically speaking and was anticipating a good morning.  I set the alarm for 30 minutes before sunrise and headed out the door to a location just a few miles down the road where an old windmill still pulls water from the ground.  There was some fog drifting in the lower areas and around the structure and the morning light created a rustic atmosphere. After firing off a few shots I headed back down the road to another location. where an old barn sat higher on a shallow hill and the summer sunrise always lines up across from it.  When I got there the sun was not yet above the horizon, so I fired off a few quick shots of the farm equipment sitting out in the field.  A few minutes later the sun began to burn through the low morning haze and I realized if I changed my position slightly I could catch the sun behind the equipment.

I'm always amazed at just how fast the sun moves once it breaks free of the horizon, and I almost missed the best shots of the day as it hovered in front of the barn.  The morning haze generated a nice warm glow in the sky and I felt good at having taken the moment to be there when the moment occurred.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Mechanically Good or Artistically Expressive

Your average photographer is often caught between understanding the high tech gadgetry built into their high dollar digital cameras and desiring to emulate the fine art photography they see being published today.  The good thing is the more they explore this, the more open they become to applying artistic concepts and techniques to their photography.

Photography is less about what the camera can mechanically do by itself, and more about understanding how you the photographer can use the camera as an artistic tool.  Compared to just a few years ago, the technology available today is indeed staggering and is constantly improving.  But, this fact alone cannot make those awe inspiring shots.  It still takes the photographer's skill and eye.

Great photographers are not unlike great musicians in that where great musicians go well beyond the simple mechanical reproduction of the notes and impart emotion and feeling into their music, great photographers go well beyond simply playing the photographic notes and are able to impart emotion and feeling into their much so, that when someone sees their work, they are able to project themselves into the moment and understand why that moment was so important to the photographer.

Modern digital cameras are powerful tools that allow you to generate a great deal of flexibility, creativity, and artistic expression into your vision of the world.  'Your vision'...those are the operative words.  Understanding the difference between how the camera sees light verse how we perceive light visually will transform your whole perspective about photography as a visual art.  Being able to do so requires a blending of technical savvy with artistic expression on your part...not necessarily simply depending on the technical ability of the camera to mechanically play the photographic notes.

Graduating from the realm of mechanical photographs, toward pursuing photography based on the dynamics of light requires a blending of the technical with the aesthetic...mechanical with the break away from simply always playing the photographic notes the way the camera tells you to...verses playing those notes based on your own vision and interpretation of the light's music.

Mechanically Good...

or...Artistically Expressive.

  Which one would you prefer?

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The Story Photo - Fallen Heroes

Tucked into one corner of a local cemetery in Bowling Green is a memorial dedicated to fallen veterans.  It covers maybe an acre or two and is surrounded by trees which bloom in the spring and blaze with color in the fall. Spread across these special grounds are row after row of small white headstones each marking the final resting place of a Kentucky veteran.  The oldest marker dates back to the Spanish American War, others range from World War I through Vietnam...a few from more recent times.  I've always felt there was a story single story that speaks of a greater collective sacrifice shared by all of the men interred within these grounds.  Capturing this story photograph turned out to be more difficult than I imagined.

At first glance one might think it would be easy...just point and shoot...and you've got the picture story.  In fact I'm not so sure there is a definitive process one can use to consistently capture a story like this with a camera.  It takes the right kind of shot...the perfect light that expresses, character...emotion...drama...sacrifice...gratitude...all traits not easily captured digitally in a single image.

During my walks through this quiet place, I always sense a feeling of that speaks that asks, "What visual image can one find to say thank you to these men..."  Simply photographing what I saw fell well shy of what I felt.  Photo opportunities were all around...colors and light that reflected the serenity of this memorial...but, capturing the emotion of the moment seemed to always elude me.  By chance, on one hazy bright morning, when the first light of day filtered through the trees, the one story I wanted to capture appeared among the shadows.  It lasted but a brief moment as I walked along the path that curved around the compound.

The hazy sky cleared briefly, and one beam of light suddenly illuminated a single headstone where a small American flag leaned.  Across the top of the headstone lay some foliage and the base was stained with a reddish brown with streaks of dirt stretching upward from the ground toward the name carved into the stone. The flag cast a shadow across the lower outside corner, beyond and across the background other scattered markers lay darkened in the subdued light of the shadows.

Something wonderful happened at that moment...this was the time to think it just looked right.  With tripod level with the name on the headstone, I knelt a few yards away, obliquely to one side...framed the imaged...and released the shutter.  A few seconds later the light faded once again into the morning haze.

Later, after loading the days work into my computer, I began to sort through the images and came to this one shot.  From first glance this single photograph stood out as it captured the emotion of the moment more deeply than all the others.

The flag that leaned against the headstone, along with its shadow that caressed the stained surface, appeared as though it were gently embracing a fallen hero.  The reddish brown stain across the bottom appeared as old battle wounds that had long ago left their mark...and the splashes of dirt that stretched upward from the ground reminds one of stained tears from battle weary eyes.  Surrounding this scene in the shadows stood other markers as reminders of the cost of our freedom and the debt that we can never fully repay.

Here at last was that one special photographic moment that told the full story of this serene place...the greater collective story...captured in a way that honored these fallen heroes...their sacrifice and service to their us all...not forgotten.