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, September 24, 2011

Big Sky and Getting in Close - Use a Wide Angle Lens

Seems like this summer I have used a wide angle lens more than I have in the past and I have discovered the versatility of its usefulness.  The most obvious use for a wide angle lens is of course taking big sky photo's.  Taking big sky pictures in Kentucky is a bit of a challenge simple because of the rolling terrain and tall trees that hide the horizon.  But with a bit of looking around, places can be discovered that offer some great sky shots.

Another thing that I discovered when using a wide angle lens is that you can get in real close to your subject and have the background spread out behind it.  This works well with wildflowers.  I must admit that most of my wildflower photos are taken with a telephoto lens where I zoom in real tight and isolate the flower against a darker background.  But, that technique only provides one avenue of expression.  In recent attempts to photograph some wildflowers I purposely moved in as close as I could to the flower...literally just inches away...and used a very small f/stop...f/ extend the depth of field from just in front of the lens all the way out to the background.

This often requires one to get down on the ground and sit at awkward angles to compose the shot.  The point of focus seems to best fall on the closest flower to the lens...but you can also find a focus point a few feet out and still get good results with the small aperture.

When taking big sky pictures using a wide angle there are two basic techniques to over water and one over land.  Over water, the idea is to capture that mirror image reflection so the horizon needs to be close to the center of the of the few examples of when this is desirable.  Also a polarizer filter can be quite useful in reducing glare and enhancing colors...especially blue...but a polarizer is really only effective when used within a 45 degree ark from the main source of this case the sun.

Keep in mind that the water reflection is usually at least one full stop darker than the sky so a 1 stop graduated neutral density filter helps to bring the sky and reflection more in balance with each other. This also applies to shooting over land as the sky will often be several stops brighter than the land and graduated filter will also help with keeping the exposure in balance.  When shooting over land, the idea is to emphasize the the horizon should remain as a narrow strip along the bottom...just how narrow depends on the circumstances.

Big sky pictures almost always require clouds to add interest and definition to the image and clouds are at their best early and late or just before or just after a storm.  The trick is to use an exposure that prevents one part of the sky from being blown out...or so bright there is no detail that can be seen...I think it best to slightly underexpose the image so the sky will retain lots of character and let the landscape fall where it may.

Although I do not own a high quality wide angle lens, the one I do have (Sony 18 - 80 f/3.5) is adequate for most of the shots I attempt.  Who knows...maybe someday I'll breakdown and get one of those 14-40 f/2.0 wide angle lens.  Until then I'll continue to pay for college and use the adequate one that I do have.


Saturday, September 17, 2011

A Shanty Hollow Morning Greeting

Fall seemed to greet Kentucky early this least the weather seems to have shifted in that direction as soon as September rolled past day one.  Reluctance greeted me this morning when the alarm sounded off at 4:15am.  When I stepped out of the garage into the morning air, the chill that greeted me then removed most of the sleep still lingering around my eyes.

An hour later I was on Shanty Hollow for some down time and fishing...and of course some photo taking.  The dark-thirty overcast skies greeted the Old Town canoe and I as I shoved away from the bank.  It's a strange sensation paddling a canoe in near total loses that sense of motion and movement.  Fifteen minutes later I rounded the bend that arched around toward the earthen dam.  It was still dark...the clouds obscuring most of the ambient light except just on the horizon above the treeline.  Time to cast a line before the light grew bright enough for picture taking. Three casts along the rip-rap than lined the dam and I hooked the first bass of the day...a little guy...10 maybe 11 inches long...still counts as one.  

I'm always amazed at just how quickly the morning changes from dark to light...even on an overcast morning. One moment you can barely see what's in front of you...the next, everything suddenly becomes visible.  I beached the canoe...slipped on the muddy rocks as I climbed out and nearly fell in...then carried the camera box to the top of the dam and more toward the middle area.  I setup the small tripod and attached the HD video camera...set it to 1 frame per second...adjusted a few more settings and pointed it toward where the sun was suppose to rise.  Wasn't sure if it actually would on this morning with all the clouds... 
waited a few minutes to make sure all systems were functioning then returned to my fishing duties.

Over the next 35 to 40 minutes I continued fishing and took a few morning shots with the still camera...right up until the unexpected rain shower hit.  Fearing the unprotected video camera would not function well if it got too wet...I pulled over and clamored across and up the slope of the dam and shut it down.  

Over the next few hours I fished and took pictures...fished some more and eventually just paddled around.  As I was moving from one location toward another I noticed some bait fish wildly jumping with two or three larger splashes right behind...I tossed my minnow imitating lure into the middle of the slight twitch...a single crank...boom!  Bass number two was added to my days count.

By late morning the sky was beginning to clear...and so I headed back to the Jeep...took my need to hurry.  Met a young kid at the ramp who asked if I had a slip sinker I could spare...tossed him two.  I suppose it was a good way to end the day.

When I downloaded the time lapse video footage from the morning...I was not disappointed.  The first 30 seconds or so were a bit too grainy because it was still quite dark when I started filming...a quick edit fixed that.  A Shanty Hollow Morning greeted me today...I'd like to share it with you...(and yes...that was me..:])

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Just me and the don't get much better than that.

One of the first things I learned about Kentucky when I moved here eight years ago was...when it's nice here, it's really, really nice!  One of those nice attributes are the skies.  I've lived in a lot of different places and photographed a lot of different locations...what I've discovered is that Kentucky has some of the best natural photographic light found anywhere.  I've not found a wider variety and more dramatic combination of light than can be found in this part of the country.  Not sure why that is...could be the patterns...or maybe just the right combination of location and terrain. Regardless of why...I am continually amazed at the variety and power of the light in the Kentucky skies.

A few weeks ago on one foggy morning, I stumbled across a large pond early one morning just before sunup and photographed it during the course of predawn through first light and for the first fifteen or twenty minutes after (Photographing Changing Light). During that forty-five minutes or so I witnessed more different variations of light than I've ever seen before.  All very subtle ranging from soft pastels to bold golden browns. It was a lot of fun to observe and capture.

One of my favorite locations to photograph and a location I recently began a year long photo project...Shanty Hollow Lake...has rarely failed to generate some amazing skies...and it seems like no two are ever the same...the variations just keep on amazing me.

One of my favorite times is on a Saturday morning just before sunup during the summer and into fall.  That's when I climb into the hammock and wait for the morning to develop.  The air is cool...the skies are...well amazing...and the sounds of the country certainly help to dissolve the aggravations and anxieties of the work week away.  I often will just lay there swinging gently and absorb the sounds, sights, and flavors of the music...just me and the morning.  I must just don't get much better than that.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

For Having Done So - More to Photography Than Taking Pictures

As I have grown older through the years spending time afield fishing, I’ve learned to adhere to a wise old axiom:  There is more to fishing than catching fish.  One could read a lot into that statement or even look right past it.  But, if you were to truly read between the lines I’m sure most people would understand that the act of fishing is more important than the act of catching fish.  I suppose a tournament fisherman might argue otherwise…but, for most of us who do not rely on the sport of fishing to earn our keep, I suppose it makes more sense.

I went fishing once with a guy some years ago who for the most part just held the front end of my canoe down and grumbled the whole day about how bad the fishing was. By the time we pulled out…early I might add…his attitude was one of a wasted day and effort.  Between the two of us I don’t recollect that we caught a single fish…oddly enough, we came away from the trip with two different perspectives;  I loved just getting out…he complained about not catching anything and considered the time a waste.  Seems he missed the point completely and allowed a narrow perspective to ruin what could have otherwise been a great day.  Can’t rightly say that I ever went fishing with that guy again after that…it’s been a long time ago, even so, I’d venture a guess there was a good reason for not having done so.

In recent weeks as I’ve spent time canoe fishing and taking a few photos along the way, I began to reflect on that axiom again…seems my ability to catch fish hasn’t improved much over the years, so I tend to reflect more on the aesthetic values of fishing while casting a line.   Certainly catching a bass or two on any given trip adds to the flavor of the moment, but what’s more important is simply the journey…a journey that really has no end point, just a continuous reaffirmation of the emotional connection to what really matters in life.

One recent Saturday morning, I managed to climb out of bed early and make it over to my fishing spot before the sun came up.  As I paddled across the mirror smooth lake, I spent most of the first hour or so just taking pictures in the soft pre-dawn light.  It was an amazing morning in many ways and when I arrived I had some hopes that the light, and fishing, would be great...but mostly I just wanted to reconnect with one of my favorite pastimes.  As the morning progressed, the light changed with every tick of the clock, and I kept framing photo after photo and between shots simply sat and enjoyed the morning show.  As soon as I would think the best light had come and gone…the light would change again and an entirely new moment would appear.  The colors spanned a range from pale blues and lavenders to bold reds and oranges…thru subtle wispy fog…across bold apparitions and silhouettes…through perfect lake reflections as the sun broke free of the ridge. 

I ended up with some decent images having worked the camera pretty hard during that golden stretch of early light.  When it was finally over, I sat the camera aside and started fishing in earnest again…By then my visions were not so much of catching big bass, they were of remarkable moments of having experienced a special part of God’s world at a time when 
most people are still fast asleep.

Photographs capture a single moment in time…being there at those remarkable times to experience a new day from its first moments of life generates a prolonged feeling that lingers well past the actual event. Every similar outing provides for a new experience…a new understanding of what is important. Being able to capture a few moments afield  photographically…well, it’s sort of like catching a bass while and rewarding, yet, that’s not the main reason why I traveled that’s simply the bonus for having done so.