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

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Late Start

Saturday morning I slept in longer than I had planned...when I finally did crawl out of bed the sun had already broke free bright and clear and was climbing higher in the sky rapidly leaving behind the best light of the day.  A quick glance out the window and I realized I had made a big mistake.  The remnants of the first heavy frost still clung to the grass and fields and the warming rays of the sun was beginning to melt it off. With that melting a misty haze hovered over the fields.  I grabbed my tripod and camera stuff and headed out the door without even brushing my teeth.

As I headed over to an area that I thought might provide for some nice morning fall images, I began to realize that I had allowed too much daylight to buffer my intent from what I was going to be able to actually accomplish.  A couple of quick shots later I abandoned the notion of achieving anything of quality from that location and began to think of how I might be able to salvage the morning with the later start and brighter harsher light.  As I was driving down a back road I passed by a fence row that caused me to slam on my brakes and turn around.  A beautifully back lit maple tree was overhanging a fence and in the background stood a barn situated slightly below a roll in the terrain.  Even with the bright sky, there was enough haze and color to create a very nice composition.  The trick was to eliminate the harsh 'white sky' or as much of it as I could and still capture the essence of the moment.  Using the over hanging tree I moved to the left enough to allow the overhang to cover most of the sky...bent little lower to position the barn and snapped the shot.

A little later I was driving along Old Scottsville road...a familiar scenic avenue not far from my house...and remembered a location I had photographed previously with similar lighting.  What I discovered was a perfect blend of color, composition, and atmosphere and spent the next 15 maybe 20 minutes there shooting the scene.

That got me to thinking about how a person can use harsh light to their advantage...what are some of the techniques a person could use to take advantage of less than perfect light.  One thing I always preach in any kind of photographic techniques workshop I may be involved in is to avoid the 'White Sky' syndrome.  A white sky in and of itself is generally less appealing than one of those blue bird skies with fluffy white clouds floating across it.  White skies are caused by several things...primarily hazy conditions or very thin clouds that are enough to obscure the blue, but not enough to filter the harshness of the light.  The angle of the sun also comes into play.  White skies can really create havoc in a photograph...but all is not lost if one simply takes notice of the situation and uses it to their advantage.

On this particular day, what I had working for me was the rising mist generated by the evaporating frost.  As the morning began to warm up, the mist lifted higher and began to filter through the trees. But the mist also contributed to the white sky effect. One technique I use on white sky days is to eliminate as much of the sky as I can and still retain a sense of mood.  Take the fence row shot for example.  By using the overhanging limbs and positioning myself where I was facing toward the light, the bright light actually illuminated the translucent nature of the fall leaves...and I was able to hide most of the sky.  It's not imperative to hide all of the white sky...just most of it so that the brightness of the sky doesn't overwhelm the shot...but adds to the mood and flavor of the composition.

Later, as the sun actually rose way higher than what generally creates good light...I used the same technique to capture the moment.  The location provided for the rising mist and also provided enough cover to almost completely hide the sky...but the brightness of the sky also back lit the scene in such a way as to generate not only amazing color, but infiltrating rays of light that highlighted the mist.  The combination provided for an amazing opportunity...all I had to do was get into the right position and frame the right composition.

Getting a later start can often present challenging lighting conditions.  Understanding what those conditions are and then looking for ways to use them to your advantage can have amazing's just a matter recognizing what makes for a great photograph.


Thursday, October 27, 2011

True Temper

Last time I was there, there wasn't much left of the old part of town.  What wasn't boarded up was bulldozed down or burned into rubble.  A few cars from time to time did trickled through carrying their occupants to some other location.  Most were probably oblivious to the history here and rarely noticed the weathered and mostly faded advertisement for 'Big Chief' writing tablets on the side of one of the still standing old red brick buildings.  The rusted Judy's Drug Store sign still hung above the now boarded entrance and swung with an irritating screech in the hot summer breeze.  About the only businesses still operating were the bank and post office...the latter appearing almost new compared to the other redbrick shells.  Even so, it was at least 40 years old itself.  The former still operated from the same location on the corner for more than 80 years now I'd guess.  Somehow, they had managed to keep the doors open in spite of the economic situation.

Once a thriving but small community, its heyday peaked during the 1950's after the war.  Then the first flood came...actually the second flood...the first having occurred well back in the late 1920's.  A few businesses precariously clung to life after that, and the heart of the small town eventually began to recover, but the unmistakable signs of old age and downward trends had already infiltrated into the community...few saw or understood what was happening.  The flood of '61  shoved the little town toward its deathbed, but somehow it survived...and began to recover...until the flood of '66 gave it massive heart failure.  The high water mark eight feet high is still visible on some of the older buildings.

A year or so later, a new highway extension diverted what traffic came through town to bypass it on the north side.  Many of the remaining businesses simply closed...a few moved to a location along the new section of highway.  In a way the new highway gave the town a second chance and a new heart...but it wasn't the same town...nor the same heart.  It was never the same after the last flood.  The Mayberry like charm that was Wister, Oklahoma washed away with the brown receding waters that took it's soul.

The summer of 1963 was the last summer of what I remember as the old Wister...a Wister that retained its connection to the simpler days of the past, yet was faced with changing times in a modern era.  It was one where the recovery from the '61 flood was almost complete and a normal life was once again beginning to stir.  It was the summer I remember the most...the last real summer of my youth where the essence of what this little community was...still least in my heart.  It was the summer where my grandparents business...a dry goods store...came back to life and began to function again as it had in the past.

It was the summer I received my first real fishing rod and reel...a True Temper blue fiberglass rod with a True Temper bait casting reel attached complete with a few dozen yards of braided fishing line.  With that rod and reel combo, I began to truly explore for the first time, the intrinsic values only discovered in the sport of fishing.

My friend Geary, the grandson of my grandmother's neighbor Ruth, would also spend a lot of time during the summer in Wister.  More often than not we'd get into some kind of mischief that would cause both our grandmothers to grimace in disbelief and often sternly declare..."...Lands sake...what were you two boys thinking?"

I suppose we heard those words more often than we should have...usually during the times his or my grandmother would be applying a paste of baking soda to the multiple bee stings we had received after attacking a wasp nest with squirt guns and fly swatters.  I'm not so sure why we ever did such fool things...but it seemed like a good idea at the time. began to have a greater appeal...certainly less painful appeal anyway..and we'd ride our bikes up to Hammond's pond and use the old row boat to get out to the middle...where the big ones were...or we'd head over to Caston Creek and turn rocks to find crawdads or set out minnow traps for bait.  His grandfather kept a compost pile behind his house and we'd dig around in it and find a can full of worms for bait...threw a couple of bobbers along with a few hooks and split shot in a sack...and head out.  It was great fun and we actually caught a few fish.  My old Uncle Manly, my grandmothers brother-in-law who was well into his 70's at the time, would take us out to another pond and let us do some crappie fishing.

It was that season we purchased our first 'bass plugs'...mine was a black and white Lazy Ike.  I kept the plug for many years and caught many fish on it too...then retired it for fear of losing it.  Made a mistake a few years back and used it on a float trip only to lose it when the line snapped after hooking a nice smallmouth bass.

One time we hounded his grandmother to take out to the spillway below Wister Lake dam.  She did...dropped us off and left us there pretty much all day.  Our tackle box consisted of that same old paper sack with a few hooks and sinkers.  He brought along a homemade dip net he had made out of an old screen door.  With that net we'd lower in into the shallows and wait for bait fish to swim back in then slowly raise it trapping a few each time.  Before long we had a dozen or so bait fish we had tossed in the old beat up minnow bucket his grandfather let us use.

They were not running too much water that day through the gates, so there was a narrow long island that jutted above the water.  Out in front of it was good fast moving water.  Near one end was some older man fishing.  He had a big tackle box and a couple rods and reels and look the part of a real fisherman.  We felt almost silly with our paper sack and cheap equipment.  Even so, I tied on a large hook and attached a large sinker a couple feet above the hook.  Grabbed one of minnows, and hooked him in the tail and heaved that old True Temper as hard as I could.  The line landed near the middle of the current and the sinker began to bounce and roll across the bottom.  Not sure how long it took or how many tries it took, but I do know we caught several large Buffalo, or Drum...not sure which...standing on that strip of gravel and shale.  My first one was the largest single fish I have ever caught.  Considered trash fish...but man did they ever fight.

The line bounced around and then appeared to get hung.  I gave it a couple of hard jerks and the rod bent almost double.  Geary asked if I had one on...I said no...I'm hung...but my rod kept bouncing and jerking.  After a moment or two I realized I wasn't hung, I had hooked a big one...and man was it ever a fight.  That old True Temper reel didn't have a strong enough drag and that large fish in that strong current simple spun almost all of my line out.  I literally could not pull that fish in.  Geary ended up grabbing the fishing line and pulled it in by hand as I took up the slack...he then simply drug it up onto the bank.  That older man just down from us couldn't believe his eyes...the best I can remember, I don't recall he ever caught anything as we caught several through the afternoon.

And such was the summer of '63.  As time went on, we spent less and less time during the summer there as my family moved around and settled in another community.  During that time, that old True Temper rod and reel provided a young boy with a tool that all but changed the way he viewed the world.  Where once play was the main emphasis of my day...the opening up of the world of fishing through that rod and reel refocused my thoughts and began a life long love affair with a grand adventure.

Although I was unaware of it at the time...over the years I've been able to more clearly grasp the significance of those years.  When I am drifting in my canoe during the pre-dawn light...casting a line toward imagined encounters with a rising fish...when I reflect on the moment seeking to discover deeper meaning from why I enjoy such is not the older man I have become that does these things, it is the young boy who spent those days exploring the world in and around that little Oklahoma town...building confidence...developing strength of character through trial and error...that does those things.

Experiences such as those generate unspoken words that attache themselves to our young minds as we grow older...words that echo across time attached to is those words that still encourage me...words that carry with them reminders of how those years provided a True Tempering in my youth that only now is becoming evident.  Oddly enough, I hear them more clearly today...silent words that only a young boy hears...words that allow one to laugh a misadventures...wonder about grand adventures...and grasp the significance of events long faded from most memories, but words that still reside fresh in the recesses of my heart.

My grandparents retired shortly after the flood of '66...their long run of operating a business that over time saw fewer and fewer returns eventually gave way to the inevitable.  They are now long ago gone and missed and over the years...their stately old house where my grandmother lived for close to 70 years was sold. I lost contact with my summertime friend...even so, I thank God for having experienced such things in my life...simple things, like an old True Temper fishing rod and reel.

The old town of Wister has, in recent times, seen a small resurgence of sorts, as its larger neighbor Poteau, a few miles up the road has grown and many people have moved to Wister as part of that growth. A new generation with new ideas and trials now occupy the community...a new business started up in the same building my grandparents used all those years...the owner somehow contacted me a couple years ago and asked for some old photos of those years...I sent him several copies. The years and summers I spent growing up in that little town became the most important years of my life.  That old town in its own right has earned the right to say with a degree of pride that it has endured difficult times and shown a level of True Temper...the memories of those days certainly prove so anyway.


Saturday, October 22, 2011

To be Alone with Nature

A cloudless sky greeted me that morning...there was a chill in the air though, but no wind so the surface of Shanty Hollow Lake was mirror smooth...once again.  I arrived well before sunrise just in time to witness the first glow that indicated a new day was soon to arrive.  A near full moon hovered in the west an hour or so from setting...its reflection shimmering on the calm waters.  The west bank began to show signs of color as the morning light slowly progressed...illuminating the tree line against the still dark ebony sky.  I pulled off on the opposite bank and setup my tripod and spent the next thirty minutes photographing the morning from a different perspective than I normally do.  Some of the best images I've ever taken resulted.  (Sorry...saving their debut to coincide with the debut of the Shanty Hollow year long project next summer).

My story is less about photography than about spending time alone with nature.  Collectively over the years I've managed to spend many hours afield away from work...away from the routine.  In recent years, I've been unable to do as I relish more those few times I do find.  Oddly enough it seems I relish them more once I returned home and begin to relive the day in my thoughts.

As the morning progressed, a front blew in shifting the day from gentle light breezes into a hard blow.  By mid-morning I pulled out and spent the next several hours simply hiking around and enjoying the blustery day.  A few clouds blew in with the front, but for the most part the sun was bright and caused the early fall colors to glow in its presence. Eventually, I found a large flat rock that was surrounded by yellow leaves set ablaze by sunbeams that filtered through the trees.  Listening to the sounds of the wind as it caused the leaves to shimmer and quake...well, it was quite relaxing.  Too often I get in a hurry and think I must move to take...something new to see...when in reality, just sitting there in one spot for a while may be the best thing to do.

Finding time alone in nature helps to purge the soul of the anxieties of life.  Time spent doing so is well served as I am always more relaxed once I do return home.  I love to hear the sound of the wind rustling the leaves...observe the glow of the colors...feel the warmth of the sun on a fall day.  The area around Shanty Hollow lake is like a large arena surrounded by moss covered escarpments, filled with tall trees, divided by clear creeks, softened by a marvelous body of water, and anchored by ancient rock outcroppings that line the hills. Accented by a variety of wildlife still wild...still true to their instincts...the area is complete and purposeful for time discovered alone with nature.


Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Old Halfway Bridge

I have for many years been fascinated with old bridges.  They have a kind of rustic charm combined with a graphic strength that give them an element of enduring artistic nature.  Most of the old bridges were way over engineered and were built to withstand far greater stress loads than they probably needed...that alone provides a degree of rustic charm that places them within a time frame where one can almost identify the era in which the bridge was built...not unlike a classic car.

There is an old bridge I found several years ago that spans Trammel Creek...I call it 'The Halfway Bridge' because it is located near the end of Halfway Road.  No longer able to withstand traffic, it was closed off many years ago, but it is possible to walk across it and get a feel of days past.  It is narrow...only one lane and it offers a splendid view of Trammel Creek.  Surrounding it are the wooded banks of the creek that have grown up  and encroached across both ends...even moss now grows on the crumbling asphalt surface.

Although I have photographed this bridge during all four seasons, the best time of year is in the fall when the trees begin to turn.  Around here in south central Kentucky, the fall colors seem to be coming early this season...I bet a good 10 days earlier than what is routine.  In the 8 years I've lived around here, I've seen the colors start to change anywhere between mid-October and the first week of November...peaking somewhere around the end of October through the second week of November.

I took a few days off this week...and spent a few hours around mid-day on this overcast day re-shooting the old bridge again.  It's a fun place to visit...Here is a link to see more.   Old Halfway Bridge

Monday, October 10, 2011

Create a Keeper from a Cull - Opening a Jpeg image in Raw

First of all let me explain that I am not a guru on Photoshop in any of its configurations whether it be Elements or CS3, 4, 5...or whatever the latest version is.  My philosophy when taking photos is to get it as close to being right in the camera so that when I do download it, any post processing will be minimal.

None the less...having said that...there are times when a little bit of post processing is desirable.  Here is a case in point.  The photo above was taken of my neighbor's cat as it played in and around an old chair in our garden.  (All together now...1, 2, 3...Ahhhh!)  It was late in the afternoon and the old chair was in the shadows.  I shot the image with in camera settings of jpeg, Standard, Daylight, ISO 200, f/5.6 @ 1/60th with +/- 0 compensation.  Nothing fancy...nothing tricky about it.  The results as you can see was an image with a bit of a blue and somewhat dull cast to it.  The reason was because I did not push the White Balance into the Shade range and the 0 compensation caused the exposure to move toward the mid-range tonal values.

This particular kind of image can be salvaged with a bit of a tweak using Photoshop.  At the moment I use Elements 6...I know there are newer versions out there, but this one seems to work quite well for what I, I'm going to save the one hundred bucks or so it would cost to upgrade and use those funds for gas money so I can go out and take more pictures.

An easy way to fix this image is to open it in Camera Raw format using Elements.  With Elements 6 open, click on the File option and select Open As and select as the format Camera Raw.  Even though this is a jpeg image, it can still be opened using the Raw formatting just don't have quite as much digital information to work with.  The image will appear looking like the top image with the adjustment sliders on the right.

To correct the bluish tint use the Temperature slider and slide it a few points to the right to warm up the image.

To give the image a bit more pop...slide the Exposure slider to the right just a little to push a bit of power into the image...not too much...just enough to remove some of the dullness.

Move the Blacks slider a point or two to the right to give the image a little more strength.

Add a little Contrast and Brightness if you want a point or three of Clarity and Saturation...

Then press the Save Image option on the bottom left.  Wait a few seconds for it to finish saving , then press Open Image on the bottom right.  This reopens the image as a jpeg.  From here I normally add a bit of sharpening then save the image again as a jpeg.  These simple corrections can take a dull, somewhat improperly exposed image and turn it into a keeper.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Writing and Photography...

There is a quiet nature that fills the air just before dawn...during those moments as the sky grows brighter little by little.  The softness speaks to those who take time to listen...what is said during those times often lingers long after the darkness has faded.  As with most days we soon are caught up in activities that rush about and distract us...but those silent moments...those times when it is most quiet...we always seem to remember with fond reserve.  Words found to describe such times are rare...yet the memories capture the heart of one who has discovered the rarity of those encounters.

I rediscovered such rarity one morning as I drifted across silent waters enjoying a brief and long anticipated escape canoeing the haunts of Shanty Hollow Lake.  It's an odd sensation floating on calm waters in the real sense of movement.  A hundred or so yards out I coasted to a stop and allowed my gaze to lift upward towards a sky filled with the light of countless stars.  The silence of that moment filled my soul.  For timeless minutes I simply sounds...just the first light of morning to break the darkness.

As I moved on toward that morning rendezvous the stars slowly, one by one, twinkled one last time and faded away.  There was no way to capture the first part of that morning except in words...and in searching for those words I am reminded of the similarities between writing and photography.  Where in writing one seeks to stir the imagination by painting word pictures in the mind of the uses light to build an image that expresses emotional visual stories the viewer interprets in their mind.  The thought processes are often the find the right combination of words...or define the subject in such a way that the reader or viewer understands the importance of what you were trying to express.  Writing helps one to become a better photographer because it serves to develop that creative side of the mind...and that in time will lend itself well served.