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, May 25, 2013

AstroPhotography - Capturing the Night Sky

5 minute Exposure Looking North East - Photographed using Manually
Operated Barn Door Tracker
Constellations: Corona Boreals - Hurcules - Bootes - Part of Draco
Many years ago for Christmas I received a small dime-store variety telescope. It was one of the reflecting types using a smallish 2 1/2 maybe 3 inch mirror and a single low power eyepiece. With that simple device another dimension of the night sky opened. I was able to easily see craters on the moon and when pointed to a dark patch of sky, new stars became visible. The moons of Jupiter spread like shining diamonds shifting their position each evening. On one evening, a particularly bright object caught my attention and I pointed the telescope toward it. After a few moments of searching trying to center the object in the narrow field of view, a small, somewhat fuzzy object appeared. To either side looped what appeared to be handles. I withdrew my eye from the viewer...then looked again. Saturn!...the ringed planet. There was no doubt what it was even to my limited knowledge.

I've never owned a quality telescope...just too expensive, but I've always wanted to own one. Oddly enough the last couple of years I've started exploring another aspect of photography I never realized was so relatively easy to do; AstroPhotography.

Photographing the night sky does not require a lot of special equipment. Almost any lense from 50mm on down to 16mm will work. A tripod is a must and for the most part a remote shutter release is all but required. What is most important is a dark sky and that requires getting away from the light pollution of the city. The darker the better. Photographing the moon is less of an issue because it is so bright, but to capture the night sky...constellations and even the Milky Way haze...the sky must be a moonless, dark night with clear skies.

500mm - Tightly Cropped
This type of photography can be as complicated or simple as you want to make it. One easy way is to mount your camera on a tripod...set the exposure to manual / Bulb using manual focus set to infinity, and an ISO of 800 to 1600. The aperture should be opened to the maximum your lense will allow (f3.5 / f/4.0 is common)...attach the remote release...point the camera toward a patch of clear and hold the release and count to thirty. You will be surprised at what you will see. Using up to a 50mm for thirty and even 45 seconds will not produce any noticeable 'star trailing' caused by the rotation of the earth. For longer exposures, you will need some kind of tracking device.

Shanty Hollow - Includes Part of
the Milky Way near the top

Tracking devices are contraptions that allow the photographer to rotate the camera on the same plane as the stars to follow the stars across the sky for an extended period of time. Of course you can purchase expensive computerized equipment to do this, or you can build one that will work remarkably well. They are called 'Barn Door Sky Trackers' and there are numerous designs ranging from simple hinge types to more sophisticated contraptions that rival professional quality equipment. Some of these are motor driver, but many of the simpler ones are driven by hand.

I recently built one and spent some time trying to make it work...with mixed results...more because of the operator than the design. I discovered that the key ingredient to make for proper tracking is an accurate has to be oriented to the Pole Star to allow for correct tracking. What started as a simple design has evolved into a system with fine tuning dials and spotter scope pole star orientation...I'm still trying to find the right combination.

AstroPhotography is a fascinating way to explore the night sky and provides another avenue of artistic expression. This summer I hope to explore this method in more detail.


Monday, May 13, 2013

Kentucky Morning Series - Farm Country Sunrise

Not far from my house sits a typical Kentucky farm on rolling country. A old gray barn sits midway on the rim of a pond. Behind the barn a pasture rolls gently toward a line of trees that ride against the morning sky. Fog often drifts across the low lying area of the pond and as the summer progresses, the sun eventully rises behind that line of trees.

The air is usually calm at daybreak allowing the barn to cast a reflection on the surface of the pond. The silence will allow the sounds of the country to fill the morning with its song. Birds aplenty, grazing cattle bellowing a greating, and even a rooster sounding off it morning wakeup call.

One morning a few years ago I happened upon this scene just as the sun was peaking over the edge of the tree line. A hurried series of shots captured the moment. This location has become one of my favorite locations as it portrays the way a Kentucky morning should be remembered.

A few months ago after a prolonged period of rain, a sinkhole opened in the bottom of the pond and all of the water drained away underground. Sinkholes are common in this area, but to have one drain a pond is not. I am releaved I captured this location when I did. Without the pond, it's just not the same.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Kentucky Morning Series - Wrong Turn

I took a wrong turn that morning, but it was a turn that ultimately proved itself as a fortunate mistake. When I backed out of my driveway a light fog drifted across the pasture across the road. The air was cooler at this time of day so I hoped fog would fill the lower parts of the Shanty Hollow lake area. Twenty minutes later as I approached the ‘Y’ in the road that would ultimately take me toward Shanty Hollow, the fog became quite thick and instead of angling to the left, I drove straight somehow missing the turn.

About a half mile later I realized my mistake, but decided to continue on down this less traveled road when I came across a medium sized pond that was covered with a light blanket of fog. The sun was still several minutes from rising so I turned around and pulled off on a side road and walked around to the side of the pond. The air was perfectly still and what ambient light there was began to glow with a solid aura that filled the sky and area with its color.
Over the next twenty minutes, this aura changed in texture and color from deep lavender to pale blue then back to a soft sunrise orange. The colors were perfectly captured on the surface of the pond. 

This wrong turn proved itself a fortunate mistake that offered an amazing moment of light that stood apart as one of the most unique I’ve ever experienced. Once again a moment displayed itself with the flavor and melody that so typifies what a Kentucky Morning can offer.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Kentucky Morning Series - Fourth of July

Nature provided the fireworks on this 4th of July morning. I was up before dawn and out the door specifically heading over to a pond I last visited maybe two years before. What greeted me that morning was another marvelous example of a Kentucky morning.

When I first arrived at the location, the sun was still several minutes from breaking free of the horizon, which allowed me some time to get setup and plan my morning shoot. Sometimes, I only have an idea of what I want to do and often wait until the specific moment before deciding what will work and what will not. To capture a sunrise effectively, you must work at a neurotic pace because once the sun pops above the horizon, it travels rather quickly. Within a few minutes it will climb too high in the sky.

One element I love about Kentucky are the calm winds. Coming from Oklahoma, wind was simply a way of life and you just dealt with it. Here in Kentucky, the wind is much less of a factor and there are times when the air is completely still. That is what greeted me that morning.

I set my exposure to take advantage of the moment using a mid-range aperture, along with an almost negative two stop exposure compensation value. This proved a winning combination as it allowed the camera to capture what I was feeling...not so much what I was seeing. The effect I wanted was to lean toward an exotic, one color look. With the sun reflecting on the water and what haziness there was created a morning glow...the exposure values generated a darker and bolder look than what was physically being displayed.

That is a mistake I see many photographers make...they think they must capture the scene the way it appears visually when in reality, in many cases you can capture the emotion of the moment more effectively.

This 4th of July, the fireworks that nature displayed proved far superior to any of the man made attempts that came later in the day.