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

Thursday, June 27, 2013

A look At Life - A Thru The Lens Moment

The past month or two I've been too busy to place much effort into keeping up with the Blog...sorry, but, it seems I tend to allow events and circumstances interfere with the rest of my life from time to time. 

This is a repost of a blog entry I made a couple years ago...seems rather fitting now that I've read thru it again...

Over the years I've discovered that photography often lends itself well to teaching life lessons.  Most of the time they may seem simple on the surface, but when you begin to look more deeply into the possibilities, then it actually makes a lot of sense.

One thing I preach when it comes to photography is that 'Quality of Light' is much more important than Quantity of Light.  Being able to recognize the difference comes with experience and more importantly, is more often found by simply slowing down.  But, the term Quality of Light also carries with it other connotations.

Living in the country, Kris and I love to sit on the porch in the rocking chairs on a summer evening when the heat of the day is beginning subside and the air becomes cooler.  We enjoy listening to the sounds of the evening as the night critters begin their symphony.  Across and up the road a little ways is a small pond that is filled with pea-frogs who with their high pitched chirping fills the evening with their song.  As the glow from the day fades into night, so fades our stress levels and a calming, peaceful feeling begins to prevail.

From my own experience and talking with friends we hear how chaotic lives become.  Although all of us experience chaos from time to time, my wife and I have come to realize that you just have to make time to slow down.  If not by choice, then sooner or later circumstances or health will slow you down...usually when you least want it to.  Case in point being my coming down with shingles a few weeks ago...still fighting some of the effects of that even now.  Guess I just let things chew at me inside longer than I should have and my body said it's time for a rest...if you're not going to do it yourself, then I'm going to force you to...and it did.

From our dining room a large window opens outward to the front porch and we often turn on the light in that room then dim it to a soft light so it will cast a warm glow into the night as we sit outside.  It's just enough light to break the darkness without creating much of a glare.  it provides a soft, calming atmosphere to our evening.  It is also what I call 'Quality Light'.

If we were to turn on the porch lights we'd have plenty of extra light that would flood the area...but we'd also have an excess of glare.  Within a few minutes hundreds of flying bugs and other critters would invade the area and before long what started out as a quiet evening would become an annoyance.

Life I suppose is a lot like that.  More than likely because of 'Glare' we allow into our lives, we miss out on opportunities to enjoy the stillness that we need.  The more 'Glare' we allow to flood our lives...often mistakenly believing we need it...the more 'Life Bugs' tend to come around and mess things up.

I think it is much better to tone it down...use the soft subtle light that God's presence in our lives gives to us that glows from within to light your way. There would be much less glare, more than enough light, and a lot more peace and quiet.  When the warm glow from inside the house casts its light across our porch all things benefit.  We are able to not only see more clearly the things near us, but it adds to the peaceful atmosphere of the moment.  When we allow God's love into our lives, that warm glow begins to shine from within and spills over to the world around us.  It does so softly, without unnecessary glare and by doing so calms not only our lives, but the lives of those who are near to us.

Taking a photograph during the middle of a bright day will generate a well lit snapshot...but will rarely create a photograph with artistic appeal.  Running around looking for something to photograph will more often than not result in not much return for the effort.  But, sit still for a while...just wait and watch until the light is low and soft...that is when the mood changes...the scene transforms into a image that presents itself from the realm of perfection.  'Be still...and know that I am God...'words that will serve us well if we only take time to apply them to not only our photography...but to our lives.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

To Heaven and Back

I could see to Heaven and back as I gazed into one of the darkest night skies I've seen in this part of Kentucky. Arching overhead the Milky Way haze spanned its silvery ribbon from horizon to horizon and the stars lit the night with a million beacons. Hovering just above the western horizon the crescent moon glowed with a golden flavor just before it disappeared leaving the realm of the night to the subtle glow of stars. For the next couple of hours I pointed my camera skyward and tracked the stars across the heavens capturing what I knew was there, all but invisible to the eye.

I've have for many years been fascinated with the universe and all of its magical glory. Until recently I had to settle spending time gazing at those wonders using photographs taken by professional astronomers. They are indeed amazing images. As a photographer, it was only natural that I migrated toward trying to capture the night sky myself. Surprisingly, I discovered just how relatively simple it is. Even so, it does require a bit of simple mechanical assistance to make those long exposures that are critical to capturing the subtle nature of the night sky.

In a previous post I wrote about building a crude sky tracker. As a first attempt, it did prove crude, but oddly enough it worked. In time I've been able to improved the design and have learned more about how to align it properly. The results have been far greater than I could have imagined.

What I was lacking more than anything was a very dark and clear night free from light pollution. This part of Kentucky can never be completely free of light pollution, but there are pockets of relatively dark locations even near where I live that offer at least a measure of opportunity. I discovered a place about three miles from my home that offered some potential. After a quick visit to a neighboring home to ask permission and to inform them that I was going be out and about in that area late at night, I arrived near midnight and was greeted with an amazing sky.

As my eyes grew more accustomed to the dark, more and more stars became apparent. The Milky Way haze as it rotated higher into the sky took on the appearance of a silvery ribbon. It was an amazing couple of hours whose silence was broken only by the subtle beeping of my shutter release timer. Fifteen seconds, a quarter turn of the tracker drive, thirty seconds, another quarter turn, one minute , two, then three. When that first image appeared I leaped into the air with a fist pump and a silent 'Yes...!' It was all finally coming together. The sleepiness I normally would have at that time of night was all but non-existent. I pointed the camera to different parts of the sky...tried different exposure lengths...different focal lengths. Several times I managed to kick the leg of my tripod knocking the tracker alignment off kelter...reset...I continued into the evening. Two A.M. came and went...I could have stayed all night...but knew it must end soon.

Astrophotography has proven itself as a challenge and fascinating form of the art of photography. There are those who do not share that same enthusiasm and I completely understand. Not everyone will carry the same levels of interest. I would suspect because of the nature of the requirements...being out late at night...would have something to do with that.

I've been wanting to start a new long term project but wanted it to be something new and different. I believe the opportunity has presented itself.


Thursday, June 6, 2013


One definition of Impression is: A strong effect produced on the intellect, feelings, conscience...the first and immediate affect of an experience or perception on the mind.

Photography is heavily influenced by impression.  In essence virtually every photograph is an impression of a single moment of light. Impression in return is heavily influenced by shape, form, color, and texture. With this being the case…just how can we effectively use the idea of Impression to create interesting photographs?

In a photograph, impression implies something that looks familiar but is somehow different. When we see an impressionistic photograph…what we’re looking at is exactly that…something that is oddly familiar…but it just doesn’t quite fit that normal state of structure we demand in our lives. Our brain wants to perceive the image in one way and yet interpret it another way.

Let me show you an example.

In this photograph we see an impressionistic view of a group of trees. What we see looks familiar, yet the way we perceive it visually tends to affect our view as though it is a series of lights and darks, vertical and angled lines that flow across a dark background. Why it appears this way is because of the isolation achieved by using a telephoto lens. Visually, if we were standing in this location what we would see is a wide angle view of the entire spectrum of the scene…it would…well look like what we would expect a wooded area to look like. When we tighten the view…isolate a smaller section of the larger view…we can achieve this impresionistic capture of a group of trees.

Here is another example.

Reflections on water are in essence all about impression. Water will impart a softer feel to a reflected image…factor in a few light ripples and the light is broken into a myriad of shapes and textures. We know it is a reflection…we sense that the reflected light involves some fall-like colors…yet visually we cannot ascertain the exact nature of what is being reflected. In this case…it’s all about light, shape, and color.

When I seem to grow stale in my photography, I often fall back on the idea of capturing impressions as opposed to capturing physical likeness. By doing so, it allows my seeing to shift from what it wants to naturally lock onto, and forces it to think in terms of artistic flavors. It changes the way your mind perceives the world and allows it to isolate visual cues and shape them into a form and composition that becomes a refreshing perspective. This approach will improve your ability to see physical likeness from a more artistic point of view.