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

Saturday, July 30, 2011

One of Kind

One of my favorite photographs is one I took a number of years ago while I was still shooting with film...slide film actually.  It is one I have featured a time or two already...maybe you've seen it...It is a photo of a common Queen Annes Lace silhouetted against a setting sun.  It is a very striking image primarily because of its simplicity and I have used it to illustrate that concept numerous times.

Oddly enough, I've never been able to duplicate that photo with my digital me I have tried.  That fact proves a number of in particular being that each photograph we take is a unique capture of time and place.  Odds are I will never be able to duplicate that shot exactly primarily because digital images tend to be a bit different in their technical merits than images taken with transparency film.  Slide film has a different richness and depth to it that digital just can't quite catch up to.  I'll probably never go back to shooting film because of the cost factor more than anything and because digital images provide so many advantages over film that the slight technical differences between them is not enough to warrant that kind of retrograde switch.  Even so, I have often felt that shooting transparency film will make a better photographer out of someone than digital.

There is a story to how I captured that one image, a story that illustrates the need to understand how to see photographically and how as a photographer you do what you have to do to get the shot.  It was a typical late summer day in Kentucky and I found myself driving over to an area I had visited several times.  In this area one can find multitudes of photo opportunities all within a compact area.  There are fence rows, high vantage points, a small creek, rolling hills, and country flavor all around.  On that day I had been shooting for several hours late in the afternoon and was reaching the end of my film stock.  It was late in evening and the sun was a few minutes from dropping behind the ridge that stretched across the west end of a pasture that spread out across a shallow valley.  Along the old road and fence were hundreds of Queen Annes swaying in the gentle breeze.

I stopped along a wide spot in the road hoping to capture one of those amazing Kentucky sunsets, but the sky was very hazy and the conditions just were not going to develop the way I hoped for.  I was down to my last shot on that roll when I noticed a single Queen Anne standing straight and tall on the other side of the barbed wire fence.  I bent low to take a look and realized that if I could get into the right position I could line up the flower head against the glowing disk of the sun as it hovered above the ridge...but I'd have hurry to catch it just right.  I only had the one shot left, so I made a quick evaluation of what I needed in exposure value and bumped the compensation factor up by somewhere around a +1.0.

I'm always amazed at just how fast the sun sets when it gets close to the horizon and I really only had at best less than a minute to get the shot lined up.  Problem was I couldn't get into position quickly enough without crossing the fence and by the time I might have tried I would have missed the opportunity.  So, I quickly disconnected the camera from the tripod and leaned through the barbed wire fence and stretched as far as I could to line up the shot.  It turned out I just could not quite lean far enough to center the flower head on the suns disk.  I was straining so hard to maintain my balance I was about to fall and or get a I lined it up as best as I could and fired off the shot.

A few days later after I picked up the processed slides, I thumbed through all 36 exposures and frowned at most of the results...then I came to the very last Queen Anne shot...and I knew at first glance that my days work had not been in vain.  It was the only image from the batch I did anything with.  After scanning it I placed into Photoshop...made a few minor tweaks...and the rest is history.

Close...but not the same.
Seems the fact that I was unable to center the flower on the sun proved to be a blessing disguise as the actual image proved to be much more dramatic being offset the way it was.  Over the years, it has become one of my favorite shots of all time.

As I mentioned previously, I've tried to duplicate that shot with my digital no avail...but in doing so I have come to the realization that sometimes we just get lucky.  That one quick shot proved to be one of a kind and any attempts to duplicate it could never really surpass the effects of the original.  Maybe someday if the right combination of circumstances presents itself, I just might be able to come close...but until then, I'll just enjoy the original.


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Thru the Lens - A Life Lesson II

Over the years I've discovered that photography often lends itself well to teaching life lessons.  Most of the time they may seem simple on the surface, but when you begin to look more deeply into the possibilities, then it actually makes a lot of sense.

One thing I preach when it comes to photography is that 'Quality of Light' is much more important than Quantity of Light.  Being able to recognize the difference comes with experience and more importantly, is more often found by simply slowing down.  But, the term Quality of Light also carries with it other connotations.

Living in the country, Kris and I love to sit on the porch in the rocking chairs on a summer evening when the heat of the day is beginning subside and the air becomes cooler.  We enjoy listening to the sounds of the evening as the night critters begin their symphony.  Across and up the road a little ways is a small pond that is filled with pea-frogs who with their high pitched chirping fills the evening with their song.  As the glow from the day fades into night, so fades our stress levels and a calming, peaceful feeling begins to prevail.

From my own experience and talking with friends we hear how chaotic lives become.  Although all of us experience chaos from time to time, my wife and I have come to realize that you just have to make time to slow down.  If not by choice, then sooner or later circumstances or health will slow you down...usually when you least want it to.  Case in point being my coming down with shingles a few weeks ago...still fighting some of the effects of that even now.  Guess I just let things chew at me inside longer than I should have and my body said it's time for a rest...if you're not going to do it yourself, then I'm going to force you to...and it did.

From our dining room a large window opens outward to the front porch and we often turn on the light in that room then dim it to a soft light so it will cast a warm glow into the night as we sit outside.  It's just enough light to break the darkness without creating much of a glare.  it provides a soft, calming atmosphere to our evening.  It is also what I call 'Quality Light'.

If we were to turn on the porch lights we'd have plenty of extra light that would flood the area...but we'd also have an excess of glare.  Within a few minutes hundreds of flying bugs and other critters would invade the area and before long what started out as a quiet evening would become an annoyance.

Life I suppose is a lot like that.  More than likely because of 'Glare' we allow into our lives, we miss out on opportunities to enjoy the stillness that we need.  The more 'Glare' we allow to flood our lives...often mistakenly believing we need it...the more 'Life Bugs' tend to come around and mess things up.

I think it is much better to tone it down...use the soft subtle light that God's presence in our lives gives to us that glows from within to light your way. There would be much less glare, more than enough light, and a lot more peace and quiet.  When the warm glow from inside the house casts its light across our porch all things benefit.  We are able to not only see more clearly the things near us, but it adds to the peaceful atmosphere of the moment.  When we allow God's love into our lives, that warm glow begins to shine from within and spills over to the world around us.  It does so softly, without unnecessary glare and by doing so calms not only our lives, but the lives of those who are near to us.

Taking a photograph during the middle of a bright day will generate a well lit snapshot...but will rarely create a photograph with artistic appeal.  Running around looking for something to photograph will more often than not result in not much return for the effort.  But, sit still for a while...just wait and watch until the light is low and soft...that is when the mood changes...the scene transforms into a image that presents itself from the realm of perfection.  'Be still...and know that I am God...'words that will serve us well if we only take time to apply them to not only our photography...but to our lives.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Just sit'n 'n Look'n

There are times I often just sit with my camera in hand and not move from one location.  Sometimes it's on my front porch...sometimes the swing in the back...other times I may be off someplace.  The reason I do this is to help hone my photographic eye.   When you sit in one place long enough, and start looking for something to photograph just from where you are at that moment, then it forces you to look for subtle details and focus in on simple things that you might otherwise overlook.

Photography is, after all, 90% seeing (or looking).  Many novice photographers will often neglect to look for smaller, more subtle things to photograph and instead concentrate on the big obvious things.  Certainly, big obvious things can make for some dramatic photographs, but my take on it is all those things are made up of a series of smaller things...which in many cases are actually more interesting and more importantly, more simple.

The most effective photographs are the one that retain that element of simplicity...not so much lack of complex details...but a simplicity that defines the most important elements that caught your attention to begin with.  Instead of the big complex sunset...photograph the effects of the soft warm light of a setting sun on objects around you.  Look for shape, form, and texture...and the interplay of light and shadows...color and contrast...line and angles.

It sounds simple and that's because...well it is.  You might be surprised at what subject matter will catch your attention and just how something that you might otherwise never give a second thought just might provide a really great photo op...


Friday, July 8, 2011

Above and Beyond the Call of Duty

Seagulls are about the most irritating birds known to mankind.

Back in the mid-1970's I spent four years in U.S. Coast Guard...most of that time was spent doing search and rescue stuff at the Umpqua River Lifeboat Station out of Winchester Bay, Oregon.  Two and half years into that mission an opportunity arose where I could become part of the very first ANT Team...(Aides to Navigation Team)...operating out of Charleston, Oregon.  After some pondering, in 1976 I decided to take the offer and within a few weeks I mustered away from Winchester Bay and settled into my new job of helping build and establish this new concept of an aides to navigation team.  As best as I can make out, I may have been the very first person selected for this team...or at the very least one of first two...We eventually ended up with a crew of about six.

ANT Coos Bay Station
This new ANT team was responsible for all the navigational aides for over a 200 mile stretch along the Oregon coast from Depoe Bay to Brookings and included maintenance of an array of lights, ranges, buoys, beacons, small boat warning indicators, and most fun of all...three lighthouses.  It required a lot of travel and I even spent two weeks at Governors Island in New York City at the CG Training center for some in depth technical training on exactly how to maintain all that high tech gadgetry.  Unfortunately, one thing they did not train us for was how to deal with seagulls.

There was this time we had to change out the batteries for a channel marker light/beacon in the middle of, if I remember correctly, the Newport estuary about a hundred miles or so up the coast from Charleston.  This was no easy task as this particular light was located well out into the channel atop a 40 foot tall flat bed tower.  These batteries were about the same size and weight as a large car battery but only produced 1.5 volts as opposed to 12 volts.  Because of their size and low voltage, they retained a long service life, but had to be hooked up in a series so as generate enough voltage to the work the beacon light.  Each light as I remember took around 8 or 9 of these batteries.

Well, we had to haul all that stuff up the coast along with our Monarch service boat, then load it all, and motor a couple miles out to the tower.  There were three of us assigned to this particular task on that day.  Our plan was for two of us, me and one of the other guys, to climb to the platform 40 feet above the water and lower a rope.  The third member was to then tie off each battery, one at a time, and we would then pull them up by hand.  They were quite heavy by the way and it was a difficult chore to do this eight or nine times.

Well, as we began our climb to the top we noticed an unusually large number of seagulls gathering around us...circling and squawking.  When we reached the top we discovered a pair of juvenile gulls sitting on a nest atop the battery box.  I never thought about it before then, but I guess I never knew seagulls built nests like that...even so, it was quite large as were the juvenile gulls.  They were about the goofiest looking things I've ever seen...all fluffed up and dirty gray in color.

Apparently momma gull and poppa gull didn't take kindly to us being there and they began to dive bomb us with very menacing swoops coming quite close to our heads.  It sounds funny, but it was actually quite dangerous being so high up on a small platform one could easily lose balance and take a tumble, plus once we started hauling those heavy batteries up, we could not let go of the rope without placing our partner below in jeopardy.  When we got too close to the nest, they would attack us even more...and the hundreds of other gulls swarming around us made for one very loud and precarious situation.

The only way we could haul the batteries up was for one guy to stand guard and wave his coat at the attacking seagulls to keep them at bay.  In time we finally did get all the batteries up to the platform...only now we had to replace the old ones.  No easy task as the nest was on top of the box...and the two juvenile gulls got rather agitated once we approached them and began to strike out at us if we got to close and momma and poppa got even more agitated.

Apparently gulls are protected by some federal law or something for some reason...I can't imagine why...there are millions of them...about half of which by then were swarming around us...and they were not to be injured or molested...but we had to change out those batteries or this rather important navigational aide would go dead in a matter of days.  We radioed the Newport Coast Guard station and informed them of our situation.

After the laughter at the Newport Station died down, we were told to move the nest without disturbing the juvenile gulls as best as we could.  Now we were laughing as they clearly didn't understand the situation as we were experiencing it.  Oh well...not for us to wonder why...but for us to do or die...or some cliche-ish thing like that anyway.

By this time our third crew member had climbed up to see what all the fuss was about.  And being the highly trained Coast Guard sailors we were, we formulated a plan.  While one stood guard and waved a coat at any attacking gulls from the air, the other two were to slowing slide the nest off the did not go well.

Mom and pop gull got really agitated which only further agitated the little gulls in the nest and they began to strike out at us...they got sharp little beaks...and they started to flap around like the devil was after them.  Both fell off the nest, one flopping around so violently, he fell off the platform and landed in the water 40 feet much for the not to be molested thing.  The other ended up sulking in a corner...which suited us just fine.

We hurriedly disconnected the old batteries...reconnected the new set and tested the hook up...all the while being protected by the flailing coat overhead.  With that completed...our third member climbed back down to the boat, and we by one...the old batteries.  We replaced the nest and captured the one remaining juvenile gull by throwing the coat over him and replaced him back in the nest.  Then came the scariest part of the ordeal...we had to climb back down that tower all the while having hundreds of gulls swarming and diving at us. Having successfully completed that maneuver, we made a hasty retreat.

I've always thought we should have been rewarded some kind of medal or something for performance under fire above and beyond the call of duty for what we went least some kind of commendation for valor.  Alas, all we got were mere chuckles, chortles, and down right laughter once we returned to home base and relived the events of the day with the rest of our crew....Oh...and by the way...that one juvenile who fell off the platform...he was last seen swimming away none the worse for the wear...I'm sure he fathered many dozens of other obnoxious seagulls in his days...telling them all about the time he had to fight off those two legged intruders who threatened his home...I bet he even got a medal for it.


Saturday, July 2, 2011

When You Can't Get Out

Just finished up a photography workshop a couple weeks ago and it went pretty well with some help from our local photography club.  Had about 25 people participate plus 5 or six from the club who helped out with some technical support...much appreciated as well.

Similar to what I am suffering thru.  Mine are more Prevalent along the side and ribs
A few days later I noticed some pain in my felt like I had either strained something or had been kicked in the ribs...neither of which had any basis for having occurred.  The pain progressively grew worse over the next few days and by the next Monday morning I was hurting pretty badly.  By that evening I noticed a rash developing along my ribs and middle part of the left side on the back.  Shingles...that was my first assumption which was verified the next morning at the clinic. Shingles are caused by the chicken pox virus that most of us get when we are kids.  It lies dormant in the nerve cells for decades sometimes and then get trigger when your immune system gets compromised for some reason.  When they surface the rash or blisters follow the nerve lines that radiate from the spine and wrap around to the front.  The result is  a very painful experience with not only the burning from the blisters and rash, but severe pain deeper down in the tissue and nerve paths.  This causes that kicked in the ribs feeling. Shingles can cause a lot of problems if not care for properly, plus you can pass chicken pox to anyone who has not had them, which would not be a good thing. For the rest of the week they grew progressively worse and more much so I had to stay home and try to work from was a hopeless cause.

In order to control the pain I had to take some powerful medication which produced numerous side effects like dizziness, wooziness, sleepiness, and assorted other complications too numerous to list.  It was bad enough to suffer through the effects of the ailment, but what really hurt was seeing these amazing mornings go to waste because I just was unable to get out.  Some of the best morning light yet for the season with fog and hazy mist hanging in the air and the first light of day being filtered through this mixture.  Man it really hurt in more ways than one.

But, I suppose that is the way life win some and you lose some.  This week I lost, but there will but there will be other morning like these to come and I hope to make up for lost time.  I am still hurting from this out break, but they are starting to subside some now and hopefully in another week or so I'll be well enough to get out and enjoy these marvelous Kentucky mornings.