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, December 28, 2013

The Winter Woods

I am often struck by the seasonal colors that nature chooses to share with our senses. No single season is better than another in that regard, just different. Some may prefer the colors of summer, or spring, and of course fall, but for some reason the colors of winter tend to get overlooked.  

I enjoy hiking in the winter woods and I am fortunate to have several locations nearby where I can do so. Each location retains its own flavor and atmosphere but it is the season itself that imparts that special feeling one experiences when exploring this moment of nature.

The colors are soft, often a blend of gray and shades of brown. Light from an overcast sky filters through the canopy of trees filling the woods with a soft glow that appears to engulf everything with a constant all encompassing light. There are virtually no shadows, just subtle variations in textures and tones. Light from a blue sky day on the other hand penetrates at sharp angles deeply into the woods and creates an atmosphere of harsh and brilliant colors. 
 I much prefer to hike through the woods on an overcast day. The color of the woods is transformed into a single hue that appears as a homogenized brown where greens, grays and pale yellows provide highlights and accents. The song of a small creek performs a constant symphony as it adds sparkle and life to an otherwise silent woods. Depending on the weather, across the ground dried leaves crunch and crackle, or are soft and silent, and the aroma of fresh earth fills the air. Throw in a blanket of snow and the woods takes on an entirely different feel and look.


The winter woods can provides a welcome relief from the pressures of life and soothes the soul so completely that all the anxiety and stress we force ourselves to endure seem ever more insignificant. The colors of winter are soft and reflective like the soothing words of a poetic lullaby. We only have to find time to seek out their curative words.



Friday, December 27, 2013

Capturing Rural Kentucky

Rural Kentucky just may be one of the most enduring charms that reflect the nature of this state. There are so many variations on that theme a photographer could spend a lifetime chasing all them. Travel down almost any back road and before long one of those iconic scenes rolls into view. Time it with the best light or seasonal conditions and a wonderful opportunity to capture something amazing will make your time out and about well worth the effort. 

About a month ago I managed to rediscover an area located just a few minutes drive from my home. How and why I managed to pass up this location over the years I can only wonder, but it did not take long to see the merits of the scenic value that presented itself. 

Capturing Rural Kentucky requires a rustic artist mentality. The photo mechanics are the same, but visualizing the shot first is most important. Oddly enough, I tend to look at rural Kentucky from a black and white perspective. The captured images may be in color and have their own strengths and impact, to truly capture that nostalgic sense of what the area holds, you have to look beyond the distraction of color, and see it as a black and white image. 

The sky is most important and in most cases needs some kind of texture and of course clouds are what provide that texture. A flat gray sky by itself is rather…well flat and gray and provides little impact to the scene in most instances. That can be overcome by using the values of other elements in the scene to fill in the sky. By changing your camera angle to fill the sky with a tree or a grain silo or something different can break up the bland nature of a gray sky. Another trick is to keep the sky element to a minimum by cropping the shot to create a suedo-panaramic effect. This technique can produce a wonderfully nostalgic look to you shots.   

If by chance you have clouds…and almost any kind of clouds with texture will work…you now have an opportunity to include the sky as part of the rustic scene. By using a polarizer filter you not only reduce glare, but darken the sky to add a dramatic look that can enhance the effect of the shot.  

When thinking in black and white, I often think in terms of sepia tone or at least something in that regard to give the image an old time look. Often what appears like an ordinary rural scene that we simply ignore most of the time can be transformed into a throw back rustic style image that carries an amazing amount of charm. 

Rural Kentucky is one of those almost never ending supply of photo opportunity that those of us living here should take more advantage of. With a simple change of light, season, time of day, or camera angle, one location can be captured in multiple ways…all of them exhibiting a unique flavor of Kentucky. 


Thursday, December 19, 2013

Cleaning Out the Tackle Box

About this time of year cabin fever noticeably sets in. Here in Kentucky anyway winters tend to be rather gloomy and overcast much of the time and this season has certainly lived up to those expectations. Got to watching a fishing show over the weekend and that prompted me to want to clean out my tackle box which over the years has become an annual event whether it needs it or not. Doing so brings back many memories as I elevate each lure out of its holding slot.
Last season I did very little fishing. Seemed circumstances and other priorities interfered with my ability to get out much. About the only outing I made was a five day float fishing trip down Arkansas’ Buffalo River. During that adventure I managed to lose my favorite fishing rod and ruin a camera after taking an unexpected spill…but that’s another story. Oddly enough, that spill came back to haunt me as I started to clean out my tackle box the other night.
Guess I forgot to dump all of the water out the box after that spill and many of my old time favorite lures succumb to the effect of being submerged for an extended time. Paint peeled off…hooks rusted and corroded. Man it was a mess. As much as I hated to do it I had to throw out six or seven of my favorite lures, but did manage to salvage two or three others by replacing their corroded hooks. I also pricked my fingers several times during the process…hope my tetanus shots are up to date.
For many years I've understood that there is more to fishing than catching fish. Usually, I will only fish once with someone who does not understand that age old axiom. Once is all it takes to realize that someone doesn’t understand what that means. There was a time some years ago when I went fishing with a co-worker. He complained the whole time about how slow it was catching fish. Gripe, gripe, gripe…for four or five hours that’s about all I heard. He was constantly snagging his lure on something and that would initiate another tyrade of complaints and gripes. I must say I've had better company fishing alone than on that trip. To me, it was a glorious day just getting away and enjoying being out. I never went fishing with that guy again. Cleaning out the tackle box involves more than simply rearranging the lures…sometimes you have to rearrange your priorities and maybe even who you spend fishing time with.
There is a new movie about to open soon about my old pal Walter Mitty. He and I have a lot in common actually...well...maybe not a lot but certainly his and my tendencies to day dream are rather similar. I found myself daydreaming the other night as I cleaned out that old tacklebox. It's funny how an old stinky and beatup lure can transport one back to another place and time. Guess maybe that is why I spend time sorting and resorting old wornout fishing's good therapy for the soul, only now I must again find time to generate new memories...there have been too few of them as of late.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Red Letter Days - Time Capsules

Deep into the winter, teaser days always arrive to announce the approach of spring. Every season I anticipated its coming as I understood that upon its arrival, warm days of fishing awaited. I can remember almost every day I have spent casting a line. They became time capsules stored safely inside a vaulted memory waiting for an appointed moment to be reopened and examined for their contents.  

That first day of the season was treated with deliberate fanfare. The night before was the best as time was spent sorting through the cluttered tackle box arranging and re-arranging the lures according to size, then color, then back to size and color. New line spooled onto the fishing reel and a fresh drop of oil and reel grease was applied to the gears then worked in with a few spins of the handle. A few days before, another coat of varnish was applied to the wooden paddles and the canoe was staged ready to be loaded.

Sleep became a rare commodity leading up to that first outing of the season and when that first morning finally arrived I was up earlier than anticipated loading the canoe…testing the tie downs for tightness. Fishing rod and tackle box along with paddles and a snack were stowed.

The air is always better early before the sun comes up. On that first outing the cool air of late winter still lingered across morning, but early on the Oklahoma wind would remain subdued. Off loading the canoe retained its own sound and if I listen long enough today I can still hear its rumble as it slid off the canoe rack. That first moment when the paddle met the water marked the event as having finally arrived.

A few moments later, the bale of the spinning reel was opened with its distinctive clinck and that first cast was made with rusty technique…another clinck and the slow retrieval produced the most anticipated moment of the day. Sometimes that first cast would produce a strike and how fun that was to experience, but it didn’t matter if one the first cast or twenty or thirty later, for just being there is what counted most.

Many fishing trips began in such a way, all were unique and generated their own sense of moment, but a few stood out as true red-letter days. One such day occurred as Ralph and I managed to find time away from work on the same day and made the thirty minute drive to Old Beggs Lake. It was a bit later in the season well into the spring and the trees were by this time full with healthy green leaves and the air was warm but not hot. The Oklahoma wind more often than not would blow you off the water in a canoe, but on this morning it remained just gentle enough to cause a steady ripple to ride across the surface.

As we drifted along a grassy lined bank I tied on a yellow and green Rebel Minnow and started catching and releasing bass from ten to twelve inches long on a regular basis mixed with an occasional larger one. Ralph, a few weeks before had found hung in a tree limb a similar lure with the same color pattern and switched over. In short order we both began to get regular hits. We would drift to the end of the bank then paddle back up wind and start the process over and with each pass the bass would attack our lures. On one occasion Ralph cast a few inches too far and hung his lure on the edge of the grass at which he began to flip his rod trying to pull it loose. If I had not seen it happen I would not have believed it, but just as his lure came loose a good sized bass leaped out of the water and grabbed it in mid-air a few inches about the surface. Those are what time capsule moments are made of.

It was the best day for bass I’ve ever experienced. What made it even better is that it became one of those time capsule entries that defined a single day in an iconic way of life.

Time Capsule entries are more often than not, simple events that by themselves carry little significant impact at the time they happened. Collectively, they combine to become a greater measure of a person’s life. These are entries that often remain dormant for many years until something triggers their memory back to life.  I am continually amazed at how often the least significant of events grow in their importance through time…an annuity of memories in a way…one that compounds in value the longer they remain stored. They only become a reality if one chooses to pursue them in the first place as an often repeated word…an action…an aroma or sound…the feel of the wind, whatever their significance, they become automatically data-banked in the capsules of time.



Sunday, December 1, 2013

Echo's Thru the Hills - Part 2

The legacy of a life is best measured by the impact it has on those who knew that life. My brother Ken passed away almost two weeks ago now and a few days later as his family and friends paid tribute, the echo's from his life became evident by the number of people who were there.

As difficult as it is to know that he is no longer with us, we can find comfort in understanding that the echo's from his life are the kind that do not fade, but are carried forward with us through our lives. We can clearly hear them when we gaze upon the lives of those who were the most important to him; his family.

We see them in the life of Brian his son who learned how to persevere through difficult challenges through his example. We see them in his daughter Michelle who blossomed into a beautiful young lady and who carries a quiet confidence as a testament to his gentle nature. We see them when we look into the eyes of Logan his grandson, for through those windows we can see the legacy of a life that is now entrusted within him, and we see them in the ball of energy that is Makenzie, his granddaughter who expresses a radiance of life that reflects all the goodness that was his.

We see the evidence of them by the number of friends and coworkers who came to honor this family.

Most of all we see them in Jennifer, his beloved wife who faced down life challenges standing by his side. She knows first hand the quiet strength that was his, and it is this strength that will sustain her through these first days of grief.

You see, even though he is no longer physically with us, if we listen through the silence we will hear his voice of encouragement, for he is all around us because of the shared lives of those he knew. Goodness always trumps sadness, and as for me, I chose to remember the goodness that was my brother and refuse to allow the sadness of his passing to burden my soul. For those who knew him, we all know that he is certainly in a better place and as long as we cling to that knowledge we will find the comfort he would wish for us.

The last day before returning to Kentucky, I made time to visit again the rolling prairies of the Tallgrass Region. It is a good place to reflect. A beautiful cobalt blue sky broken by wispy winter clouds encapsulated the now winter brown landscape. As I sat atop a grassy knoll and listened to the Oklahoma wind as it swept through the grass...I heard an echo that reverberated through my memories as a reminder of what once was, what is now, and what will be someday. It was an echo from my brother's gentle nature that said all is well and that he is doing just fine now. These are echo's from his life that will not just follow us, but that will walk ahead of us...we harbor them in our hearts and in our memories where they are safely kept for when we need them.