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

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Dynamic Mood

What makes the photographs produced by the pro’s different…what sets them apart from everyone else?  Over the years as I have attempted to elevate my photography to new levels, those are questions I have continually asked myself.  What is it about their photograph’s that makes them better than mine?  At first thought the answer to that question might seem obvious…well, maybe not so much.  There has to be a reason(s). 

Overall, you can discount things like subject matter or equipment…although those are important elements they are more objective in nature and tend to be dictated by the photographer’s interest and pocketbook. What I’m looking for are the things that separate amazing from ordinary…one that elicits a second and third look from an image you normally would pass by.  What is it that catches you the viewer’s eye when a photograph catches your imagination?

Volumes could be written about that concept, but when all the rhetoric has cleared, the one thing that remains, and consistently separates the amazing from the ordinary, is how the photographer uses light.  Think about some of those amazing images you’ve seen in magazines or on websites and ask yourself…what was it that caught my attention?  I’d bet most of the time it was what I like to call ‘Dynamic Mood’

Dynamic Mood is difficult to define…what it is not, most of the time… is big and bright…bold and powerful…although not always just limited to those.  Certainly a bold and bright image will catch your attention and can provide Dynamic Mood, the trick is to create one in an unusual way that doesn’t resemble the thousands of other big and bold images you’ve already seen…in other words…avoid the cliché.

Dynamic Mood means to present the familiar in unfamiliar ways…something that subtly looks like what you’ve seen before, but doesn’t mimic or copy what has already been done.  This offers wide variations of interpretation and is open to the photographer’s intuition.  The key ingredient in an image that demonstrates Dynamic Mood is how light is used to emphasize what is important.  Secondarily, composition also comes into play…both light and composition work together to introduce the viewer to a dynamic portrayal of what the photographer saw.  In some cases it can be quite realistic…in other cases it may have a very abstract nature about it.  Both are equally effective.

So how do we accomplish this?  Sometimes luck plays a roll…most of the time it is the photographer’s ability to recognize the potential of any given lighting condition and then arrange the composition by effective placement of the camera and lens selection.  Exposure is critical, as is effective post processing, to bring out the potential of what the photographer saw.  Being able to see photographically extends the photographer’s mind past the realm of seeing the obvious and into the realm of seeing and recognizing the extraordinary.  It is a learning process that has no ultimate end…you never fully arrive at a graduation day where you can say…I’ve got it…it’s more of a curve that continues upward but with each degree of climb, the more comfortable you become in understanding how to recognize then capture the content.

It’s looking beyond the obvious, and effectively using the qualities of the equipment you possess.  It is understanding that all lighting conditions are subject to Dynamic Mood. It’s just that certain types of light more readily define the concept.  Dark moody light, soft subtle light, direct warm light, hard cool light, light that flows thru and not on, light that blends shadows, light that defines direction, light that pushes the senses, light that stirs the emotions…these are all effective Dynamic Mood generators.

So , next time you are thumbing through a nature magazine and come across an image that causes you to pause for a second look…instead of simply looking at it…try to define in your mind what the photographer saw and how he captured the image.  Ask yourself, why was this moment important enough for the photographer to capture its flavor?

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Color May be In...but Black and White is Where its At

Many years ago my first attempts at photography involved using an old box camera that my grandparents had…an old No 1 Kodak Brownie model with the additional optical view finder that added .25 cents to the original $2.00 price tag.  It used 117 or 120 2 1/4 inch black and white roll film and you know it actually took very good pictures. Many of their old photo’s can be dated back to the early 1910’s and still hold up today almost 100 years later.  They used that old camera for many years eventually storing it in a drawer where I happened to find it one day some years later after they had graduated to a more modern camera.

With that old camera I took my earliest pictures…none of which survive today that I am aware of…I was fascinated with the fact that I could insert a roll of film, turn a knob until number 1 appeared, look thru the tiny view finder and push a silver lever to release the shutter, repeat that process until all the film was used up…then after a day or two at the drug store receive back all the pictures I had taken.They were black and white but full of rich tones and character…the composition of the shots left something to be desired…but, it was a beginning.

By the time I was in my early teens I had graduated to the point I was able to do my own B&W processing in a make shift photo lab I set up inside a cramped closet.  I didn’t have much money to spend so I ended up making my own enlarger out of old Quaker Oats boxes.  It actually worked better than you might think…I used a large light bulb with the guts removed and filled with water as the condenser to diffuse the light…a regular 40 watt light bulb as a light source which was connected to an old fan timer as an on/off switch (I simply counted the exposure seconds), a lens from an old bb-gun rifle scope, and a red Christmas tree light for a safety light.  It lay on its side, for construction simplicity, and projected on the wall and the negative was inserted into an easel made out of old shoebox cardboard.  Another shoebox easel was attached to the wall that would hold the print paper which was inserted after all the focusing was done…which by the way was accomplished by simply sliding a smaller oat mill box, with the lens attached on the closed end, back and forth inside a slightly larger oat mill box. If I needed a larger image I simply moved the whole contraption back a few inches. Hey, when your allowance was a dollar a week, you made do with what you could…so we learned to innovate.

The pinnacle of those photo processing days came when I was able to attach an Estes Camroc camera to the top of a model rocket that snapped a single image at the apex of the flight…which would reach upwards to 1000 feet depending on which rocket engine was used.  I would manage to make two or three launches and then rush home to process the negatives…wow…pictures of ponds and cows from the air…even aircraft on the ground as we often would launch on one end of the local airport…with permission of course. Great fun.

Today with the advent of digital photography…man how the world has changed since then…but you know, color digital photography may be in, but Black and White is still where it’s at.  Only today it is so much easier to create great B&W images…and only slightly less fun than watching with anticipation those images appear in the chemical trays. 

I recently acquired some B&W conversion software called Silver Efex Pro by Nik Software…all I can say is I never realized how great digital B&W could be until I started using this software. I’m not trying to promote or market a software package, but what I’m attempting to do is speak about the nature of B&W and the visual impact it can have. Just think about it for a moment…who hasn’t seen the greatest movie of all time ‘Casablanca’…talk about the power of black and white…it was never more effectively used that in that movie.  Only black and white can give an image the kind of strength and graphic expression that captures all of the viewer’s senses and imagination.  It is a powerful form of photography that too many people tend to discount…myself included until lately.

Although I will continue with the color variety of images…you will begin to see more black and white on this blog as it allows one the opportunity to explore photography in its truest form of expression.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Days Like These

We've all had them...Those black and white days...days like these...where circumstances seem to bleach the color from your efforts and the saturation of events tends to de-saturate everything around you...nothing seems to go right and no matter what you do it just doesn't work.  Yeah, we've all had them...I've had my share of them lately that's for sure...days like these.

Then there are the really bad know the ones...when co-workers are let go in these hard economic times...for who knows why...and uncertainty creeps in...yeah, we've had them...days like these...not fun...sort of takes the wind out of your sails.

Then there are the times when you've been waiting and hoping for that perfect could be anything, in my case more often than not a photo op...great light, up and about at the right time...knew where to go and what photograph to capture...but this thing called making a living interferes (after a day like today...I'm thankful I can still make a living) and...oh know what I'm saying...days like these...days that tend to void your emotional warranty, and make your life feel rather bland and uncertain.

Anyway...for those of us who have experienced far too many days like these's something to cheer you up...oddly's called..."Days Like These" composed and performed by my oldest son Tim...something simple and easy to listen to...on the bright take a day like today, and make it seem okay.


Elevating Your Photography

I really enjoy exploring other photographers work, especially the real pro’s who seem to know how to capture a scene in not just amazing detail, but who are capable of capturing the emotion of the moment.  You can learn a lot by studying the pro’s work…technique, composition, story, use of color, but most importantly it is their ability to make you feel like you are actually there…make you understand why that moment was important to them as a photographer, that sets them apart.

AS we progress with our photographic endeavors, we eventually reach a point where the technical aspects of the art become second nature…in other words we are no longer trying to remember how we setup the camera that part eventually becomes instinctive.  Instead we spend less time fumbling around with the settings, and more time observing and evaluating what it is we want to accomplish photographically.  It is at that point the process evolves from work into something that is truly fun and rewarding.

Recently, I took some time to scan through some pro websites mostly to see what they have done, but secondly to make a conscious effort to compare the results I get with the results of the guys who actually make a living at this.  It’s quite humbling to do such a thing because in most cases I realize I still have a lot to learn yet.  I asked myself…what is it they are doing that I am not.  Discounting the quality of the equipment involved…I’ve never believed that the cost of equipment is the most important element…I looked at the emotional impact of the images…did it really catch my attention…did I feel like I was there…did it draw me into the story…tweak my imagination?  Then I began to compare similar images that I have made with those I discovered.  I did previously say it is a humbling experience.  In most cases something was missing in mine as compared to theirs.  Just exactly what is not easy to discern.

The conclusions I came up with was simply this:  They have a greater ability to see photographically…to identify that photographic moment and then apply their technical understanding of how to capture it.  They fully understand the importance of how light, composition, and content work together to generate those great images.  Even so, what I realized was that although I have yet to reach the pinnacle they have, I am at least on the right track, as I have often preached the same concepts in workshops and on this blog.  What is required to rise up to their level is to have an unrelenting discernment about what, when, where, and how to photograph something.  I too often settle for mediocre moments with mediocre light, hoping I can ‘correct’ it in Photoshop later…that method unfortunately often results in mediocre images.  To create great pro level images requires a professional mindset to see with greater clarity, and to not settle for the ordinary.

So how do we do that?  If I knew that magic formula I probably could retire…but, that question seems to have about as many answers as there are people asking it.  I will say one thing that I do believe helps…and that is to create for yourself, a photographic project where you attempt to capture a theme over an extended period of time.  While working on this project, think in terms of how do I capture the absolute best images I can imagine…and make sure you are there when the light is right, never settling for common, ordinary situations, instead, looking for the extraordinary moments.  If they do not exist…be willing to come back another time…again and again… when the potential finally does exist.