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.

Backroads

Backroads
Kentucky Backroads Wheat Stubble

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 camera...trust me I have tried.  That fact proves a number of points...one 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 cramp...so 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 one...my 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 camera...to 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.

Keith

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