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

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Nature's Favorable Way; On the Upper Colorado River

I stopped momentarily on the side of the road high above the valley below. The blue ribbon that was the upper Colorado River fluttered across the landscape cutting through the valley and disappearing around the far bend several miles away. A light breeze cut through the altitude with a warm embrace. Rugged hills, sparsely covered in pine, broke the skyline into sections of blue which in turn were broken by white clouds hovering in the morning light. The sleepiness that had prevailed across my eyes during the morning drive vanished as I surveyed the scene for I knew this day was the beginning of a new adventure . . . an adventure I had dreamed about for many years. It was September, 1995.

It is good do such things . . . visit nature at its core . . . for it opens the heart to what it desires most. What my heart desired was to spend time alone fishing and observing a part of creation that offered a respite from the stressful nature of making a living. All I had was one single day, but it was to be a day filled with new wonders that calmed the heart and reclaimed the soul.

I completed the drive into the valley and found an access and near that access was a trail that wound its way along the river for some distance. For the next several hours I hiked and fished, then hiked some more spending more time seeing than fishing. The fall colors were just beginning their transformation with splashes of yellow interspersed among the green. A perfectly brilliant day carried me on its wings of warmth, color, and clarity. I saw only one other fisherman standing waist deep in the clear moving water of the Colorado. Beyond him the hills rolled toward the sky and the brilliance of the sun caused the landscape to glow with a fresh flavor.

Through the day I would sit in a shade and simply absorb the moments of stillness. There was a cleanness here that prevailed as far as one dared to see and I dared to see as far as my heart would allow me. Within all of us resides a need to connect with nature. That is why we feel so refreshed after spending time within its realm. Too quickly we lose that connection. Work, family, trials, events, conspire to prevent us from living out those desires.

Eventually I settled along the bank where a set of rapids emptied into a wider deeper pool tucked against a steep bank on the far side. With almost every cast I felt a hit . . . no takers . . . and with each hit my anticipation multiplied. Then as a dory guide boat drifted into view with three people on board, I made one long cast into the stiff water and a twelve inch rainbow trout tided into the small spinner. He immediately leaped and spun and tugged against the current causing my lightweight fishing rod to bend favorably against his fighting nature. The dory crew dropped anchor and began to froth the waters across the deeper end of the pool.

My rainbow cast a myriad of colors in the back light as he continued to fly from the waters embrace and when finally he lay exhausted on the bank, I lifted him in triumph displaying my trophy to the three in the dory. They waved their approval and weighed anchor and continued on their journey. Gently, I lay that noble fish with its fighting spirit back into the current allowing him to regain some strength . . . in a flash he was gone.

In all too short of time, the day drifted away and I began my return drive back to Denver . . . back to the society I sought refuge from. As the last vestiges of light cast its beams across that valley. I stopped once again and bid farewell to a most remarkable day. Surely, nature was favorable to me.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Jumping Light

One day late in the summer, I was hoping to capture one of those amazing Kentucky sundown moments, but luck was not with me that day. There were plenty of clouds, just not where the sun was going down. They were all behind me to the east and overhead. I stood watching in vain for quite a while and as the sun inched closer to the horizon I realized the sundown was going to be pretty much a non-event. And then something told me…”Look behind you.”

When I turned around I noticed the patterns of clouds were lining up in such a way as to create a wonderful low angle of light patchwork across the sky. There was enough open sky showing to provide a sense of space, but the cloud cover was just thick enough to offer some interesting textures.

With the low angle of the sun, a lot of shadows filled the creases between the layers of clouds and the outer edges were tinged with slight yellowish fringes. I lined up a wide angle composition and fired off a few quick shots, but when I looked at the image on the back of the camera, I realized it just was not what I imagined it could be. Instinctively I knew that in the next few minutes the angles, the type of light, the structure of the clouds all were going to line up, and I was going to miss a great opportunity to capture it if I simply let the camera do what it wanted to do.

I tried to influence the image by adjusting the exposure compensation +/- up and down, but the overall effect remained ordinary. Then, a moment of revelation slapped me in the face.  It was a moment that changed the course of that evening shoot, maybe even how I go about taking photographs as a whole. I thought, what would happen if I pushed the white balance all the way out to 9900 from its standard setting of 5500.

I had little time before the sun dropped too low, so I quickly thumbed to the manual white balance screen and reset the value to 9900…as high as it would go. After reframing the composition, I fired off a shot and what appeared on my viewing screen caused a great deal of excitement. The average colors and temperature of the previous images suddenly exploded with vibrant color. The clouds became bolder, the fringes became stronger. The overall color scheme shifted toward an amazing light value that I knew would render the image from being average to one that excelled, almost HDR-like in appearance. What was exciting is that it all looked natural and not over cooked, unlike what some HDR images can render.

It was like the light jumped a full degree in intensity.  Jumping Light is an appropriate name for a technique that can often change the power and intensity of a certain kind of image. Since that time I have tried that technique several times just to retest the theory. It so far has proven to work for each situation.

·         Look for a big sky opportunity – use a wide angle lens – not limited to sky shots.  Early light and late light tend to work best but it is not limited to just those times.  Avoid the cliché sunrise or sunset composition. Instead, use the light from those moments to look around and see how it influences the mood of the landscape, then, photograph that.  Capture the emotion of the moment…not what you see physically…try to visualize what you want the image to become then make adjustments to capture that vision.

The idea is to get you to thinking differently about what you are doing. Don’t simply always accept what the camera wants to offer as an exposure. Use the light to your advantage by telling the camera what you want. The most powerful images are often images that are captured not as an exact duplication of what you see, but as a rendering of what you experience and visualize. 

Extra stuff…The Reason Why the White Balance Shift did what it did
Some of you may be wondering why shifting the white balance the way I did had the dramatic effect it had. Some of you may not understand what white balance is. I don’t have room to explain it in detail here, but White Balance simply put:  There are different kinds of light and each kind of light has different temperature values that are classified as a numeric value using the Kelvin Temperature scale.

Warm light actually has a lower temperature… cool light has a higher temperature. Blue Sky middle of the day daylight falls around 5200 to 5500 degrees K.  The auto white balance on your camera will function pretty well within a range that falls between 3000 and 8000 degrees K, but does tend to default toward a blue cast in certain conditions. If your light source falls outside of that 3000 to 8000 range, it can cause the color balance to be shifted either toward the blue or the orange. Most cameras will default to the 5500 degree setting which in most circumstances works pretty well. By setting your white balance to more closely match the actual kind of light you are photographing, you can tell the camera to shift the center point more toward where it should be. This can be accomplished several ways…either manually setting the white balance, or using one of the preset options on your camera like Shade, or Cloudy, or Tungsten…and so forth.

So…the lighting conditions in the direction of the sky (east) I was photographing, because it was so late in the day, had shifted toward a bluer or cooler temperature…probably up around that 8000 to 9000 K mark. Since my default WB was set at 5500…and 9000 was way up the scale, it caused the camera to capture the image a bit too much toward the blue shade. By manually telling the camera to use 9900, it shifted the center point high enough to cause it to capture a deeper and richer tone value across the entire spectrum of the available light. Was that the way it actually looked...not really…but it was the way I visualized how I wanted it to look.