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

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Kentucky Morning Series - Back Road Drama

A few years ago I spent some time exploring a new area looking for potential photo opportunities. I happened across a back road that grew progressively narrower and eventually came to a dead end atop a shallow rise. It was midsummer in the early afternoon and at the time the light was rather harsh and the scenery was somewhat ordinary. But, as I stepped out of my Jeep and took a look around I began to see the potential that was actually there. Dropping off to the south were two pastures that were partially split by a spit of trees. On the far side of the fields rose a tall ridge with the Barren River flowing across the base.

Maybe twenty minutes passed as I meandered down the road taking in the sites and breathing in the fresh country air. A few cows greeted me with their mournful bellows. To the east several layers of tree lines arched along the lay of the land and somewhere between them flowed the Barren River. Everything was green and the air was summertime hot, but I knew if I could only return when the conditions were better, that maybe, just maybe something magical would happen.

I did return, several times, the first few times not much of consequence materialized, but on the third trip over there I arrived well before daylight and I discovered a bit of fog drifting down in the fields. The photo's I made that morning were so-so, but that fog encouraged me to return again. Late September, I did return, twice and both times I was greeted by an amazing display of what a Kentucky Morning is all about.

The photo shown here was captured shortly after the sun broke free of the ridge and began to burn off the heavy layer of fog that engulfed the valley below. In an instant, the top layer of fog evaporated leaving the lower layers still clinging to the folding landscape. A moment later, a brilliant sun broke through the haze and the top of the foggy ridges were set alight by the radiant glow. I fired off several shots over the span of a few moments, then, just as rapidly as it had developed, it was all over.

Finding moments such as these become the jewels that adorn a portfolio. They also do not come easy. Relying on random chance would have resulted in never producing such a photographic moment. Looking beyond the obvious and seeing the potential of a location is a skill I rely on more than I realize. Those skills become instinctive with time and experience. Most importantly, I never gave up on the potential of this location. That perseverance paid off handsomely with a display of Back Road Drama the likes of which I never encountered before or since.

Next in the line of this series...another dramatic Kentucky Morning photo from this same location...


Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Kentucky Morning Series...Summer Sunrise

Sleep  barely washed from my eyes, I climbed into the Jeep and headed out for a morning shoot. I didn't know for sure what to expect on this summer morning. When I came to the intersection that connected with the main road, I paused for a moment in the dull light of pre-dawn, looked left then right, took a breath, and said "that way".

Two miles down the road out of the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse of farm I passed all the time and rarely took notice of it. The sun had climbed a few degrees above the horizon and the sky was set aglow by its warmth. At each corner of the entrance into the farm two lamps were still lit and the white fence arched around the pasture. It took a few dozen yards for the my Jeep to come to a complete stop and then a few seconds to backup far enough so I could easily jump out.

I crossed the road, set up my tripod and made a quick test shot and after a few adjustments, two or three more. Then went on my way.  The rest of the morning proved uneventful and sometime later after I downloaded the images, this first quick set turned out to be the best of the day.

I can't count how many times I've made quick shots like this that turn out to be the best shots of the day. Usually that is not the case, but every so often, light, time, and place converge to allow for such things to happen.

This particular image has become one of my favorite summer morning images over the years. It possesses a symmetry and balance not easily obtained with quick shots. Light as always is what makes any image work, and for this particular one, it actually became the main ingredient.

Summer is one of my favorite times to photograph early in the day. So many things happen during that first half hour of the morning. On that day, it proved its worth once again.


Friday, April 5, 2013

Kentucky Morning Series - Coming Soon

Kentucky Morning . . . a time of renewal, a time of awakening, the freshes part of the day. As I sat this evening reviewing some older images taken during those morning moments I realized how incredibly amazing the first light of day is in Kentucky. I've written about it from time to time, shared a few images along the way, but I've never attempted to compile those moments into a series.

Always looking for additional material for this blog, it dawned on me that Kentucky had already provided an array of untapped story opportunities. Coming in the near future, I'll be including a string of articles chronicling some of those Kentucky Morning moments and share how those images were captured.

So join me in a few we explore what Kentucky's first light has to offer. I'm looking forward to it.


Monday, April 1, 2013

The Winter Woods - Light and Texture

A few years ago I took a hike along one of the Mammoth Cave trails. The winter chill had yet to subside and the spring bloom was still several weeks away. My tripod rested across my shoulder adding to the tug caused by the weight of my camera pack. I came across an overlook that afforded a mostly unobstructed view of the Green River and much of the valley. Along its banks tall river birch trees stretched their branches toward the sky, their white bark contrasting sharply with the dull gray of the winter woods.

The sky that was overcast started to break apart and random beams of light floated across the valley illuminating the textures in the trees. I placed my 50-500mm lens on the tripod and attached the camera. Using its magnifying strength, I scanned the tree line along the river bank and discovered a remarkable visual array of textures and contrast. As a beam of light scanned across the scene I fired off several shots before moving on.

I love photographing the winter landscape because of the abundance of textures and shadows. Few of my photo opportunities are random in nature. A good percentage are planned well ahead of time waiting for the right conditions to develop, but.the results of that  one chance encounter far out weighed the normal results from most random opportunities.

 Later, when I loaded the images from that day's shoot, all the others images were rather ordinary, but that series of images across the Green River Valley stood apart because of their textures and light.

Light and texture work together to provide contrast, shape, and form, through the generation of shadow and highlights. Without the beam of light providing highlights, the photograph would have been less dramatic. Some of the best times to capture light and texture in nature is in winter when light has an opportunity to penetrate through the canopy. When trees are full of leaves, light will not penetrate as well and the leaves tend to hide any unusual shapes and forms. Trees like river birch with their white bark create a wonderful contrast against a shadowed background. Throw in some fog and you add the element of mystery to the photo equation.

Snow here in south central Kentucky is not all that common, but we do from time to time manage to receive some most winters. The magical white that filters down provides another element of texture to the winter woods. When caught in a heavy fall, the density of the falling snow provides a fog-like atmosphere and can transform a winter scene. I often look more for the effects of the snow on the textures of the woods than I do the ground cover it can provide. Snow clinging to trees adds a tremendous amount of contrast and enhances the flavor of the moment. If lucky enough to receive a late winter snow when the spring is trying to appear, the contrast-of-wills from the two events provide a wonderful vision of winters magical moments.