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

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

At Least Part Of It…Anyway

Many years ago, when I was 13 or so, my long time hunting and fishing partner Rocky and I decided it was time for us to become great outdoorsmen and so we deemed it appropriate that we go on a great fishing adventure.  What we ended up doing evolved into somewhat less than that, but still served its purpose as that day became one of the most iconic days of our youth.

The best I can remember it was late in the winter, probably March, before the spring bloom took hold, but the cold days of January and February were behind us.  The fields were still brown and the trees not yet coming out of their dormant state, but the weather was warm and the sun was out.  Rocky’s mom, and I can’t remember the exact relationship, knew someone who lived on a farm out north of Okmulgee Lake, and on that farm was a pond that was stocked with catfish and perch.

Grand enough for two 13 year old boys, so we talked her into taking us out there and leaving us all day.  We had visions of sitting under a shade tree Huckleberry Finn style, wasting the day away around the edge of clean and clear pond, freshly caught fat catfish and perch cooking over a campfire.  What actually occurred were encounters with more snakes than I have ever seen in one place before or since, mean gangs of cows, thirst, hunger, and very few fish on our stringer…two to be exact.

I’m still not so sure which one had more color to it, the water in the pond or the red dirt that covers that part of Oklahoma, the two were pretty much indistinguishable.  Snakes were everywhere…big snakes…ugly snakes…nasty long evil snakes fresh from a winters slumber, slithered into the water all around us or were curled up sunning themselves in the dried grass around the perimeter.  A herd of mean cows roamed in gangs all around us, trading insults with the snakes and threatening to beat us up at the first provocation.  Come around 10:00 a.m. our breakfast had worn off and the baloney sandwiches we brought didn’t look all that appetizing…(we eventually used some of it as bait)…nor did we have anywhere near enough water to drink.
Oddly enough I remember making my first cast out to the middle of the pond and within a few seconds my bobber was pulled under and I landed the first catch of the day…a stunted little catfish not much bigger than the worm I had attached to the hook.  Throughout the course of the day the fishing progressively deteriorated from there with one of us eventually landing another single perch…I don’t rightly remember which one of us.

Those gangs of mean cows stood around smoking cigarettes acting all tough and everything and eventually got bored waiting for us to do something to give them an excuse to beat us up, so one gang turned on another one, I’m sure instigated by the evil manipulations of a snake… and the rumble was on…rather the rumble we heard was the stampede that started as a result…whoa…it got a bit exciting there for a while as the thick red dust mixed with the slobber dripping from the mean cows muzzles as they ran toward us.  Not knowing exactly what else to do, and never having dealt with mean gangs of cows before…we ran for our lives trying to distract them by running out in front of the stampede until they tired of the chase and stopped eventually sauntering back to their cigarette smoking and throwing intimidating moos and dirty looks our way.  We, not wanting to appear timid, sauntered back to our fishing and keeping company with the snakes…but kept a close eye on the, at least for the moment, the less docile gang members.

Love those high water pants
We spent the day pretty much doing nothing except keeping watch for snakes and hoping to see some kind movement from the bobbers sitting on the muddy water. By later in the afternoon, our ride home returned and we reluctantly gathered our gear together…what little we had…I with my paper sack of fishing bobbers and assorted hooks, Rocky with his high tech blue metal tackle box with a single tray that lifted up when you opened it.  

My fishing rod was my old venerable True Temper casting rod and reel combo...(…can’t remember what fishing rod and reel he used but I’m sure it was something very similar.  My dad tagged along for the ride out to pick us up and managed to snap a single picture of the day…this one iconic image showing us proudly displaying our two stunted fish…

As challenging as that day became, it set in motion a lifetime friendship of hunting and fishing…canoeing and hiking…camping and backpacking.  That day would have been just another ordinary day in the lives of two rather ordinary 13 year old boys…had we not had the run in with those mean cows and the evil intimidation of all those snakes.  As it turned out…well, seems we’re still talking about it forty seven years later, so we must have enjoyed the day…at least part of it…anyway.


Saturday, January 21, 2012

Homestead Meadows - A Look Back

First view of Homestead Meadows
The hiking mileage was only 3 to 4 miles, but it was rather steep in places...very scenic...and on my first attempt to explore this intriguing location called Homestead Meadows not far from Estes Park, Colorado I discovered one of the jewels of Colorado.

Big rock on the right became my resting place
Seems like such a long time ago, fifteen years now, I found myself working in Denver Colorado on a contract programming job.  In order to divert my attention from being away from home and family, who were still in Oklahoma, I set about exploring the Rocky Mountains almost any time I was off.  Hiking became one of the primary weapons I used often driving up to Rocky Mountain National Park, or over to the northern reaches of the Colorado River for some fishing, and even a backpacking trip to the heights of the Rawah Wilderness area.  But, one of my favorite places to explore was this location called Homestead Meadows.

Just off the main highway leading up to Estes Park, I kept noticing a sign with Lion Gulch - Homestead Meadows markings across it.  One day, I decided to find out what it was all about.  Turns out back in the late 1800's and early 1900's, that area was open to homesteaders and a number of families and individuals took advantage of the opportunity and settled in to what is now called Homestead Meadows.  A number of homesteaders worked the area up until the 1950's and included a sawmill and cattle ranches.  Sometime I believe in the late 1950's or early 1960's a primitive hunting lodge was built in the area but eventually closed up.  Not sure when it occurred but eventually the U.S. Forest Service took over the property...probably in the late 1960's.

The old Hunting Lodge

The meadows area was 3 to 4 miles from the start of the trail and climbed from around 6000 feet to something under 8000 feet if I remember correctly.  The trail is steep in places and washed out in others and can be a difficult hike simply because of the ruts and rocks...but most of it is generally easily traversed.

I can remember my first hike into that area.  It was one of those gorgeous Rocky Mountain summer days with the fresh scent of pine in the air, warm but not hot sun gleaming in a cobalt blue sky.  The 3 or 4 mile hike seemed longer than that...but eventually it flattened out some and as I approached what appeared to be a wide area in the trail, the scene gradually opened up to reveal a most wonderful little meadow valley surrounded by peaks at both ends.

Scattered across the landscape were the remains of a couple of old cabins and upon further investigation I discovered that other remains were located in the area.  I spent the better part of the day hiking around and checking out the old cabins and eventually sat down on the top of a large rock to eat lunch and survey the scene in front of me.  It was everything I ever thought the Rocky Mountains were suppose to be.  As the day progressed, the air turned cooler and storm clouds began to brew...reluctantly, I made my way back down the trail not wanting to get caught in a mountain storm. 

I returned to this hidden meadow numerous times and even backpacked into there once for a weekend trip.  On that trip I ran across an elk hunter who was also camping in the meadows about 300 yards from where I was set up.  We had a good conversation and I learned a lot from him about the area as he had hunted and camped in there numerous times over the years.

My last trip into that meadow area came near the end of my tenure in was a day hike much like the first trip...and it was every bit as intriguing and enjoyable as the others.  What I gleaned from the experiences hiking into this area was a wonderment about how life has changed since those first homesteaders worked the land.  In our time we see the opportunity as their time it was their life where they worked hard to make a living.  What they saw as obstacles, we see as scenic beauty...when they experienced hardship from the hardness of the landscape, we see it as a way to revert let go of modern society at least for a while, and maybe not experience life as it once was so much, but at least ponder on the lives of those people and how they faced the world...a much different world from what we face today.

Of all the places I visited in Colorado, Homestead Meadows became my favorite.  As I would often do, that same big rock I sat on during my first visit, became a place of rest, a place to think about and take in the beauty of this simple lost little meadow landscape...I have never let go of those moments.


p.s. - Photo's were taken with one of those wonderful Kodak 35mm disposable cameras...thank you Kodak for providing a way for hikers to take great photos with a simple and inexpensive camera...

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Bonus Moment

I took a hike this morning...along a ridge and through ice storm the top of a waterfall...because I had never been there before, at least not up that high and just wanted to see what the photo potential was from up there.  Turned out to be rather interesting and hopefully, on one of those later winter early spring foggy mornings, before all the foliage obscures everything, I can return to those heights and catch the shot I really wanted to catch.

Today's photo shoot was highlighted not so much by the attempted top of the falls shots, but by the bonus shots that presented themselves before I even headed down the trail.  Just one of those moments where timing was everything, and had I arrived even just a few minutes before or a few minutes later than I did...I would not have seen what was developing.  When I arrived, the sun was still fifteen or so minutes from official sunrise...the cold air had prevented the previous days snow from melting...and the overcast was at that moment beginning to break apart. I love it when overcast breaks apart especially early or late in the day as that transitional moment offers some of the finest examples of classic photographers light.

When I arrive and started to gather my gear...all I had on my mind was the hike to the top of the falls and exactly how I might accomplish that as I had not done so previously.  All my previous shots were from the base.  I noticed a slight pinkish glow in the clouds that hovered over the lake...there was no the glow began to reflect off the surface...I was intrigued, so I walked a few yards to a better vantage point just to see what it looked like.  By the time I had was clear that the morning light was rapidly evolving into what could be a special moment.

I grabbed the tripod and swapped the lens to a wide angle...setup and waited watching the dim glow in the sky as it progressed.  Within a few minutes, that dim glow became much brighter and filled the area with a lavender hue.  I fired off a number of shots...and then the show subsided as the sun rose a bit higher and the clouds thickened and softened the light.

It was a bonus moment for sure...wasn't planned...but instinct told me that something was about to happen and I adapted my morning to fit the circumstance...and oh yeah...I did make it to the top of the waterfall and captured some pretty good planned shots too...its just that the bonus shots added a unique flavor to the morning...I won't include those shot just yet as they will be used in a video presentation coming up in June...can't give away what might spoil the moment...but I've include a few other bonus shots...just to have something for you to see...


Thursday, January 5, 2012

Creating Photographs From the Heart

A number of years had passed since I last watched that movie, but recently I sat through another viewing and remembered it being as entertaining and revealing as the first time.  Some of you may have seen it...Mr. Holland's Opus...a story about a musician who temporarily falls back on his teaching degree until he can start composing his great American Symphony full time.  He ends up teaching for 30 years and during that time is transformed and changes the lives of hundreds of students.  One of those students was a young lady who struggled  with learning how to play the clarinet...hard as she tried...she just could not grasp what it took to master that instrument.  Then one day Mr. Holland asked her what she liked best about herself when she looked into a mirror...her answer was her bright red hair as it reminded her dad of the sunset.  Mr. Holland then told her to play the sunset...and removed the sheet music that had become the crutch that held her back.  Within moments, her playing was transformed into something that can only come from the heart.

Too often I fail to capture the photographs I feel in my heart...probably because I too rely too much on crutches that actually hold me back more than help.  Oddly enough, I discovered almost by accident what makes a great photo...and it's probably not what you might think.  The crutches we use result from too much worrying about the mechanics of the camera and not thinking enough about why we are there...what are we looking for...what is that inside of us that we know is there...but struggle to give it give it a voice.

You see, photography is so much like music, that we too often fail to recognize it.  Photograph the music in your heart...might be somewhat of an unorthodox way of approaching the craft...but thinking in those terms just might be the catalyst that propels your photography to a new level.  Light is the mood generating notes of photography...but music becomes the melody of that light...and all photographic moments carry with it a silent musical score that photographers can feel from within.

Each photographic moment carries with it a different melody...unique in strength and power.  You know it when you see it...because you don't really see it experience it internally.  A photographic moment that sings or fills the air with symphonic crescendo's...will  in due course generate a photograph that carries a sense of orchestration...that is where the mood and atmosphere comes from.

Photography, if you stop and think about it, does closely parallel the mood generating effects of a great musical score.  Tapping into that power and searching for light that is filled with a great'll know it when it just have to give that silent music from within a visual voice.