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.

The Jeep

The Jeep
The Jeep

Friday, June 29, 2012

Turning 60....

A few days ago I had the pleasure of photographing four very delightful and very youthful models during a location shoot.  My self, along with several other photographers, spent the morning framing shot after shot and observing the energetic glow that flowed outwardly from our models...to say they were delightful, I mean that in the nicest possible way I can express, for they were absolutely delightful young ladies...and for a brief few moments, I seemed to regain a measure of my own long lost youthfulness...and felt young again.

The previous day I had turned 60...seems I'm beginning to understand that this age thing is creeping up on me more and more.  Although I've tried to remain active over the years, my tolerance for vigorous activity seems to have faded with time.  Oddly enough, I can still do a lot of the things that I could do twenty...even thirty years ago...just that my ability to recover from it takes longer...and that is where I sometimes tend to over do it.

In my mind I still see that 17 year old 4 minute and 40 second mile runner from high school days...that 20 something who performed search and rescue operations off the Oregon coast...that 27 year old that first fell in love with a wonderful young lady...who has been my soul mate for 31 years now, and who has been my strength ever since.  In my heart I'm still that proud new daddy who held for the first time his first born son...then again a few years later when number two came along...I relished watching them grow up.

When I see the old bicycle hanging in the garage, I remember being that 30 something eager rider who would regularly bike 40...50...even 60 miles....just for fun...and who canoed and hiked his way through wilderness adventures.  When I turned 40...the world did not end like I thought it might...but my positive attitude took a hit and I went through an early...some would say...mild-case, middle-age crisis and jumped into the Triathlon craze that swept the country...back then.

When the 50's arrived...seems the time thing reversed itself...I slowed down, but time sped up and that decade passed far more quickly than the others...yet, somehow I rolled through them relatively unscathed. During that decade, career issues and broken or malfunctioning body parts caused me to slow down and I saw a lot of physical changes...my hair turned white, my waist grew softer and larger, my once better than 20/20 vision got blurrier, my mind's ability to absorb details rebelled and refused to do so at the same pace, aches and pains infiltrated into parts of my body I didn't realize could have aches and pains.  Yet somehow...way back in the recesses of my mind...that young, vibrant, youthful person I once was lingered still and called to me at times.  I tended to ignore those calls most of the time...but occasionally mustered enough energy to swim a few more laps, take another hike, hit the gym circuit for another round...and then spend a few extra days recovering from it.


Well, now I am finally 60...and my mind today says that it's okay...but, when I reflect back across time at all those missed opportunities and too many wasted efforts, my heart says...well...maybe that should be left unsaid...it really wouldn't change anything.  Even so, for a brief few moments that Saturday morning, those four delightful young ladies spurred within me an ability to revisit once again...at least in my mind...what it was like to be young and strong and full of energy.  Yeah...they were delightful alright, in the best way a young person can demonstrate.

Before the morning ended, I told one of the girls as I struggled to rise from sitting on the ground , "Value your youth...for it will quickly fade before you realize its gone"...Yeah, I really enjoyed that morning of experiencing their energy and youthful exuberance...it certainly made turning 60 less of a disappointment...and you know it helped me to place a few things into their correct perspective...turning 60 ain't so bad...when it's all said and done...it's more like an earned accomplishment.

Keith

Sunday, June 24, 2012

How vs Why

In recent years I've taught a few photography workshops and invariably the single most asked question is..How do I make my camera work?  As novice photographers, we all go through that phase of How.  It's an important aspect and basic to all good photography.  Unfortunately, many photographers never really climb out of that mode of asking How.  They are continually seeking how to take a certain kind of picture or how to use a particular camera feature.

The fundamentals of photography are actually quite straight forward...its all based on aperture control, shutter speed, ISO, and in the digital world...White Balance.  It's the combination(s) of these four elements that dictate the final exposure value.  Learning how to frame or compose an image is also based on basic elements and those fundamentals can be learned with some practice.

So why then do many want-a-be photographers never really seem to progress in the quality of their images?  Part of the answer I've already stated...they continually stay in the How phase of photography...but the most important element that prevents someone from advancing is that they fail to understand or grasp the concept of Why.  I could teach someone all the basics...send them to a favorite location where many great photographs have been taken and have them shoot a series of images...and their images will often look rather ordinary.  The reason for this is because most photographers approach their photography like this:

         How do I capture this scene?  How do I setup my camera?   I'll just let the camera decide what works best.

The result can be quite predictable...ordinary snapshot images.

I need to qualify a few things before I continue.  First of all, I still continue to learn new things about photography almost everyday and I am continually amazed at some of the amazing images others take...but when someone asks me...How did you take that image...the answer is not some much how...but Why.

You see, almost anyone can learn the fundamentals and know all the technical elements they need to know to make great photographs.  Where they fall short is that they fail to ask themselves why should I take one shot or another.

When I am asked a question like the one above, my answer usually focuses more on why I took the shot...the  light, the angles, the structure, the textures, the mood, the mystery....these are all why reasons to take photographs.  Most photographers stop short of asking themselves these kinds of questions...actually it's not so much asking a question as it is simply recognizing when all of the elements exist.

 A photograph you take is as much a part of you as the words you use to describe the image.  Always remember to look for those elements that answer the question why in your photography.  When you do that...then your photographs take on a whole new context and dimension.

When someone sees an image I've taken I always want them to visually understand why that moment was important to me...why did I take that shot...because it spoke to an emotional part of who I am.

Keith

Saturday, June 16, 2012

She was beautiful that's for sure.  Great lines...wonderful build...graceful in movement.  I couldn't keep my eyes off her...absolutely stunning she was.  She came to life back in 1968...rolled out of the factory with her candy apple red coat and through the years was owned by several loving owners...they must have taken very good care of her for today she was as beautiful as she was on the showroom floor...Probably the most aesthetically pleasing vehicle ever designed...The Chevy Super Sport SS.

On this day, this wonderfully restored classic car was one of hundreds that cruised up and down the main drag in Bowling Green, Ky and eventually came to rest together with most of the others later that evening.  As I strolled around the parking lot affectionately admiring all the classic cars...I couldn't help but remember back to the days of my youth when Friday night was cruis'n night and many of the same kinds of vehicles that now graced this parking area rolled through the night...American Graffiti style.

Gasoline was maybe 34 cents a gallon back then, even less at the then new self service stations...you could cruise all night on $5.00 of it.  What a time it was...spur of the moment drag races...smoking tires...classic hot rod songs playing on the radio...best girl by your side sitting at the local drive-in watching a movie...well...there was a movie playing anyway...how much got watched is probably open for interpretation.

I loved those classic cars...that was a time when you could easily identify a vehicle at first glance...'55 Chevy...'67 Super Sport...GTO...Roadrunner (beep beep)...Shoot, today's cars all look alike where function dictates style...not so back then...style was everything...and man did they ever have lots of it.  Open the hood and all you'd see was a big ole engine with lots of space around it where you could for the most part easily get to all the parts for repairs.  Open the hood today and what you see is one big mess of hoses, cables, wires, and black boxes that who knows what they do.  Drop a tool inside the old classics engine compartment and it would fall all the way to the ground...do so with today's cars and it simply disappears never to be seen again.

Yeah those were the days alright...seeing these old cars again...so many of them...reaffirms the special nature of not only those vehicles, but what they meant to a generation...the two were certainly joined at the hip by time and circumstance, and even though time has separated us from those moments, the connection and love affair we had with those old cars will never fade.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

You Had to be There...

CG44331 on BAR patrol - circa 1975
Umpqua River Lifeboat Station
Over the years as I’ve adventured, fished, canoed, and photographed in various places, I’ve run across some interesting characters and down-right funny experiences.  For most of those humorous situations…well they seemed a lot more humorous at the time than the retelling of the story could possibly portray…sort of one of those…you had to be there…moments.  Well…anyway…here’s one of the funnier ones.

Back in the mid-1970’s I woke up one day and decided I wanted to join the U.S. Coast Guard.  Sounded like a great idea as at the time I had not a clue as to what I really wanted to do with my life and with three years of college behind me and one year of college left before I would have to eventually face that fact for real, I deemed it a great adventure to do something exciting for a few years.  It turned out to be a great experience, but with a lot of mundane work occasionally broken by other situations such as capsizing, boat fires, heart attacks, storms, thick fog, trailer sailor foolish antics, and more routine mechanical break downs…it was those other situations that became rather interesting and added a bit of spice to one’s life as a member of a search and rescue team.  Even with all the mundane stuff that took up most of our time, there were moments of levity. 

One of the newer 47 footers
 that replaced the old 44's
Most of my four year CG career spanned a timeframe of about two and half years serving at the Umpqua River Lifeboat Station at Winchester Bay, Oregon (sort of like a firehouse setup)…with the remainder of the next year and half spent on what is call an Ant Team, or Aides to Navigation Team, and a River Buoy Tender…in Oklahoma of all places.  I must admit…my time at Umpqua River was quite an adventure as we averaged something over 400 SAR’s…(search and rescues)…a year back then, most of them were routine and most occurred between May 31 and September 1…on one occasion we set a record at the time of something like 27 SAR’s in one day.  We operated two of those fabulous 44 foot motor lifeboats…CG44303 and CG44331 along with a couple other smaller rigs.

During the winter months, any SAR’s we had tended to be a bit more non-routine simply because the weather was nastier, but most of the time the boats were tied up inside our boathouse and we were constantly working on them.  Being that I was part of the deck crew, we spent most of the working day outside exposed to the cold and wind…even inside the boathouse.  Now the engineering crews…Snipes we called them…got to spend most of their day sitting inside a nice warm engine room pretending to actually be working on something.  We knew better as they had this habit of goofing off more than working…and took advantage of the warm environment.

Well…one particularly cold day, several of the snipes huddled in the warm engine room and as always we were freezing topside.  One additional snipe made his way past us, down into the forward compartment, then into the engine room and it was the last straw…one of the deck guys had had about enough of it and blurted out…”By gosh…(or something a bit more colorful to that effect) I’ve had enough of their slacker ways…I’m going to do something about it…follow me and just watch.”

Well, 3 or 4 of us followed him down into the forward compartment and watched him open the hatch to the engine room.  Sure enough about 5 or 6 snipes were huddled in there doing nothing.  The engine room of a 44 is rather small and can at best hold 5 or 6 people…
Web photo - Typical 44 / Chopper action
 He said..”Wait here”. …and stepped inside closing the hatch behind him.  We had no clue what he was up to.  Over the next few minutes we could hear everyone 
inside laughing and having a good ole time after which our deck friend opened the hatch, step out, then closed it and dogged down the handle leaning on it so it would be virtually impossible to open.

He said…”They’ll be wanting out of there in just a few seconds…just watch.”

Sure enough, within a few seconds we begin to hear all kinds of cursing and various sailor language explicative’s being verbally thrown around inside and several of them tried to open the hatch…which our friend would not allow to happen as he leaned heavily on the dogging handle.  They started pounding on the window and the verbal abuse increased in intensity.

We were laughing…but still didn’t know why…until our friend let us in on the deal….Seems he had released a rather long but silent fart of a highly toxic nature inside the engine room and then slipped out before anyone noticed.  Within the confines of that cramped, warm engine room the air became barely breathable…we laughed so hard that tears were streaming down our faces…it was one of the best payback moments of all time…oh…yeah…he finally  did let them out, but not until they had absorbed most of the obnoxious fumes into their lungs...anyway...you had to be there.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

First Light

The rocky outcropping that stood sentinel-like overlooking the prairie arroyo by now was a familiar location and with each return visit, I sometimes just sit and allow the prairie moment to engulf my world.  Over time it has become the first location I normally hike into when I visit the Tallgrass Prairie.  Surrounding it late in spring are various prairie flowers and grasses that sway in the ever present wind.  It's the wind that seems to remind us of those special moments standing on the prairie.  With its fragrant aroma it stimulates that sense of connection to a place.  With its gentle caress one begins to feel less like a visitor and more like a part of the complexity that is the prairie.  Just before dawn, the prairie begins to come alive with the songs of birds, the wisp of the wind, the warmth and fragrance of the air, but it is first light that one remembers the most.

First Light on the prairie...few events are more magical as the big ebony star filled sky begins to glow first with a subtle hue and then gradually grows bolder.  It is that transitional moment when the world changes from darkness to light, when what was obscure gray begins to take on color...when the color takes shape and form...shape and form become life.  My favorite moments on the prairie have all coincided with first light...each time something new generated an amazing event and with each passing moment, the light changes and blends with the colors of the new day.

Too often I allow myself to neurotically rush around checking camera settings...composition...angles and position to reflect long enough on simply being there...to allow the moment to simply fill the void that seems to always take up way too much space inside my emotional reservoir.  Even so, one cannot help but become overwhelmed by the moment.  A simple photograph of first light on the prairie is more than a picture...it captures a unique moment in time not just visually, but emotionally.  It is an opportunity for reflection...a stimulus for return...a memory that becomes part of your soul.