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

Monday, December 24, 2012

For the Fun of It

Here's another repost of an old blog from a while back...

I take my photography way too seriously at times...concentrating so much on what I'm doing, that I don't always simply enjoy being there.  It's a bad habit to fall into.  Looking back over the tens of thousands of images I've captured over the years, the ones that hold the most importance are the ones I took when I was simply having fun doing what I was doing.

I've had a number of occasions over the years to talk about photography to not only groups of people but individuals.  One question that comes up quite often is...'How many good ones do you normally get on a photo shoot?'  At one time I tried to come up with some kind of profound words of wisdom on the subject and most of the time tended to say all the wrong things..."10 out of a hundred maybe...2 or 3 normally...depends on how many shots I take..." when in reality the way I should answer is like this..."It really doesn't matter as long as I get the shot or shots I wanted and had fun doing it."

Photography should be exactly that...a way to have fun and express that creative instinct we all have.  I've often had the desire to actually make a living at photography. Many people have indicated that might be a good idea and that I should pursue it.  But, when I think about it, trying to make a living at it just might be the wrong way to go about it, for then it becomes a job filled with all the job-like responsibilities and problems.  I'd think that would remove all the fun out of it.  I'd rather keep on doing what I'm doing...earning a little here and there...but having fun at it and taking joy and excitement in seeing for the first time that new amazing moment of light come to life as captured through the lens.

I suppose if I were to provide a bit of insight for new photographers on how to improve their photography...the best advise I could offer is to simply encourage them to approach their photography from the concept of simply having fun with it.  Not to get all caught up in the whistles and bells and technical jargon that goes along with it.  All that stuff will come in time if one continues to read and learn about the craft...but, it is far more important to begin at the beginning...and simply have fun learning about a fascinating hobby.  You might be amazed at just how amazing your pictures will turnout.  Always remember...there is no such thing as a bad photograph as long as you like enjoy!


Thursday, December 20, 2012

A Thru the Lens Look at Life....

I'll be taking a break until after the first of the new year. Until then I'll share a few re-posts from the past...Here's one from a couple years ago...Merry Christmas!


Christmas used to be my favorite time of year...oh it still is in many regards...but it's different now.  My perspective has changed a lot over the years.  I do miss the days when my boys were little and the excitement in their eyes on Christmas Eve was always fun to watch.  They could hardly stand it and would barely sleep that night.  We missed a lot sleep as a result too with them getting up way too early on Christmas Day.  Some of the most memorable photos we have were taken on Christmas morning...most of them with a simple disposable camera.  Oddly enough, those little cameras were a great learning tool.

About the only thing you can control on one of those things is the composition.  For many years that was the only kind of camera I could afford to shoot.  As a result I learned a great deal about how to compose a picture.  My zoom lens were my perspectives included just about everything I could see...the results were far better than such an inexpensive devise should create.  By waiting for the right moment it was amazing how through the simple lens of those little box camera's memories were made and captured.

I suppose there is a lesson somewhere in there...probably many of them...but the one lesson that comes to mind revolves around Christmas and the simplicity of those little cameras.  Now days, we too often rely on and believe in the big expensive cameras and tech gear...when more often than not...we can learn more from the simple application of the basics.  That  is what Christmas is all about...the simple basics...when Jesus came as a baby in simple surroundings and lived a simple life...but, through that simple life, the world was changed.  Today, I can't imagine Christmas being anything more than that.  How often do we get caught up in the glitter and tinsel of the season and forget about what its all about. We always tried to incorporate into Christmas the simple true story and meaning of the season when our boys were little...and oddly enough, I think those memories may be the most vivid of all those seasons.

Maybe we should go back to the basics more often..we might be surprised what we could learn...and the results would far outweigh anything we could conjure up on our own.  Christ's life in us is a lot like using those simple cameras.  It's all a matter of looking for the light, then letting his simple message create something wonderful in us. As simple as those cameras were, they captured unforgettable moments.  As simple as the Christmas story's meaning and impact should always provide an unforgettable measure of life to all of us.

That is this weeks Thru the Lens life lesson.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

If it Don't Belong...Get Rid of It

Photography and writing are so similar sometimes it is difficult to separate the two conceptually. Just like brevity in writing, simplicity in a photograph is preferable. I struggle with both at times....I tend to use way more words than is necessary to get the point across, and just as often, I fail to remove all the clutter from my photographs. Both will reduce the effectiveness of each.

Let me give you an example how clutter can ruin an image, and how removing that clutter can improve the composition.

This first image is not a bad image...some might even suggest it's a decent image. When I took this shot, I asked myself...what else is here...what is it that is really catching my attention? When I looked more closely, I realized that what was actually capturing my eye was how the tree limb was angling across the slanted edge of the barn's roof. Everything else was just clutter and really didn't add anything to the photograph.

 When I allowed myself to let the rest of the image go and focused in on what was really important, the composition and the image became much simpler and stronger. Sometimes we want to hold on to something because its there...that's what we see across our field of view when in reality, we need to learn how to eliminate what is not important, and look for those patterns and compositions that truly capture what we're feeling.

Here's another example of the same thing...just a different look at the same problem.

Composition in photography is such a subjective concept it is difficult to compare one person's capture against another persons capture even of the same subject. What one person sees, another may see it in an entirely different way. That problem is more than likely based on personal experience and how each of us view the world. What we must do is to develop a willingness to let go of stuff simply because it is there and look for those combinations of things that truly define what we're trying to accomplish.


Saturday, December 8, 2012

Faceless Portraits

One area of photography that I have been trying to explore in more depth is portrait photography. Not so much the studio style, but more the location kind. Our local club will from time to time sponsor a location portrait shoot which allows the members to get some experience and offer prospective models a chance to build upon their portfolio. They can be quite fun to do as the young ladies are very delightful to work with and to learn from someone with a lot of experience can be quite rewarding. But, there are other kinds of portraits that can be just as rewarding and possibly more revealing...I call them Faceless Portraits.

Over the past three or four years my wife Kris and I along with some other friends have worked with homeless individuals in our community primarily through her Blankets for the Homeless ministry. It has been quite a journey opening our eyes to another world most of us never realize even exists the way it does. As part of this ministry, opportunities to photograph these people have presented itself, but that can be a sensitive subject. Many of them, probably even most of them, do not want their photo taken for various reasons, and we've learned to honor that . . . always asking permission to do so. In some cases they don't want their faces photographed but are open to have their hands or feet . . . or maybe a tattoo photographed.

This kind of portrait can be extremely powerful if done correctly and with some sensitive thought. One of the more interesting homeless people we befriended was a woman named Melonnie. Always friendly, always willing to talk with us, but never allowed us to photograph her face. One of the most powerful images I've ever taken of homelessness is her hand portrait.

What makes it so powerful is the story behind the photo. You see, all of her fingers had been broken by her father when she was younger, and over the years of abuse and living off the streets, her hands had suffered greatly. The day I took this photo was a cold and wet winter day, and she was huddled under a bridge with tarps draped around to create an enclosure of sort to keep the wind out. Inside that confined enclosure was a small fire she kept burning for warmth. Her hands, and face were covered in soot, and her clothes were dirty and grungy. Even so, she invited us into her . . . home, offered to share what little food she had, even started to pour us a cup of coffee from the coffee pot we had given to her a few months before.

It was dark inside that enclosure with very little light except a small amount of ambient light from the flames of the fire and a little filtering in through a small opening near the top of the enclosing tarp. As she sat stirring the fire, I noticed her weathered and worn hands and asked if I could take a photo of them. She seemed somewhat amazed why I would want to do such a thing, they were after all rather dirty and her nails were broken and cracked. I said that would do just fine, so she sat the fire stir stick down and crossed them into an area where just a small amount of light reflected off the back.

The low light required a long exposure value and I had no tripod . . . there was no room for one anyway. So I bumped the ISO as high as I could realizing that there would be a lot of grain to the image, but that is what I wanted.  I held the camera as firmly as I could and fired off several shots. This one was the best.

Faceless Portraits can tell a deeper story than an ordinary portrait. They are faceless only in the sense that they do not capture the features of a person's expression, but, in this case, the face of homelessness could not have been more dramatically exposed.