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 26, 2014

Your Best Lenses are Your Eyes – Your Best Filter is Your Imagination

Well...I've come to a milestone and made a decision. After much thought and the better part of five years and 230 posts, this will be my last Blog Post on Beyond The Campfire. It's been quite a challenge and a wonderful journey one I have both appreciated and have been encouraged by the response and feedback. I hope the few words I've shared about photography and about getting outdoors...beyond the campfire...has encouraged and challenged you the readers and followers. Thanx for all the support. It's been fun, but time to move on. I will from time to time provide a post on the Nightscapes portion of the Blog, but for now, I close the book on Beyond the Campfire and leave you with this one final post.


My worst habit is I tend to photograph the same subject matter all the time. Not sure how many images I have snapped of that old downed tree with the snarled overhanging branches being reflected on the surface of the pond behind my house. For some reason I keep taking that same old shot over and over. I suppose thinking that one day I will actually come up with a shot of some merit using that subject. So far it hasn’t happened. Sometimes we get tunnel vision and only see what is obvious when more often than not, what is not obvious provides the greatest potential for a great photograph. What happens is that we rely too much on mechanical devices to do the work for us and fail to use our greatest assets; our eyes and our imaginations.

Your eyes are your best lens. It is thru these lenses you build the composition. Learning how to see photographically is the key. Your best filter is your imagination because employing that aspect of the photographic process is what opens your mind to all the possibilities. It is being able to see beauty amongst the ordinary and then developing the technical skills to capture it, that separates the great photographer from the average one.
Using your eyes means to see beyond what is simply visible and using your imagination resolves 

being able to recognize how different light and a changing atmosphere will affect the scene. What is most important is being willing to be there when those times exist. Two favorite examples of mine are the first two images included with this post. Both were taken at the same location, a place I found several years ago in the middle of an ordinary day in the middle of the summer. On that ordinary summer day, the ordinary nature of this little valley would have been easy to overlook. But, as I gazed across the valley from my high vantage point I recognized the potential of the place. Arching behind the tree line along the bluff flowed Barren River. I knew Kentucky was a great place for foggy mornings. I also knew that in a few months when cooler weather arrived that fog could potentially provide a wonderful photo op.
Using my eyes, seeing what wasn’t there…yet…I was able to visualize something extraordinary evolving from this ordinary location. It took several pre-dawn attempts to catch the right moment, but when it happened, I was there. The moment would not have happened had I not used my most valuable lens; being able to see past the ordinary.
The last image is one I took a good number of years ago using slide transparency film. It was almost by accident how everything lined up, but what I saw visually was not what I created photographically. That came from looking beyond the ordinary, beyond what was visible, to see what was possible. It became one of the most iconic images I have ever taken and have never duplicated.
With this being the last post, I want to leave you with one final word of encouragement. The world is full of amazing opportunities, so do not settle for the simple, the ordinary. Seek out the extraordinary and use your imagination to create your own amazing images.
Thanx for following...


Saturday, June 7, 2014

Moving the Baseline - Bridging the Creative Gap with Streams of Light

What is this photograph about? This is a question I have asked myself countless times, and just as often, I struggle to find the answer, yet I keep asking it, seeking how to bridge the gap between what is ordinary and what is extraordinary. Sometimes the answer comes unexpectedly, illuminated by streams – streams of light.

Recently I began photographing the night, not just the night sky which in its own right requires a unique set of techniques and conditions. Photographing meaningful images and creating imaginative compositions when light is concentrated in short bursts or by streams of illumination, requires a different kind of visualization than photographing in daylight. Even at first light or dusk it requires being able to see how light affects the dark. This kind of photography explodes with drama and drama is what closes the gap between routine and exceptional.

The night creates an all-encompassing shadow that covers the subject matter with an absence of light. It is this absence of light that defines the baseline of what your night photograph is all about. Add a thin stream of light from a faint source and the shadow is pierced and the baseline moves. Change the angle of your perspective and the stream of that light changes the drama, and the baseline move a little more. Look from a lower or from a higher vantage point, and the composition evolves toward the answer you are seeking for what the photograph is about. Sometimes it happens on the first try, usually it requires many trials and experiments with light at different vectors to discover what is there. You have to keep moving the baseline, shift it and mold it until it gives in to succumb to your creative desire.

The trick is to keep asking yourself, “What is this photograph about?” The gap that separates you from finding the answer is most certainly a product of your own persistence. Too little and the answer becomes weak, but stay with it, keep looking, keep experimenting, and the gap narrows with each attempt. The odd discovery you will eventually realize is there is no single best answer for any given situation. You may discover the answer was already there before you began, it was in your heart. You just needed to find how to release it.


Thursday, May 22, 2014

Young At Heart

I’ve often agreed with the axiom that youth is wasted on the young.  As I have grown older I have noticed a slowing down of sorts. Oh, I still have moments where I can recall, when required, the energy reserves which lie dormant most of the time. And I still find it hard to recognize the old guy I see in the mirror every morning. Locked deep within the recesses of my memories resides the young man who was energetic and full of adventure…way back when. He’s still there, sort of mostly, just suppressed and not allowed to surface as often as he would like. Although my physical youth left me many years ago, my emotional youth is still alive and for some strange reason I believe I am still that young guy from years ago. Those thoughts often get me into trouble when I tempt fate believing I can still do the things I once could do.  So when an opportunity presents itself to rekindle that dormant youthful spirit, I will occasionally allow myself to pursue the moment.

Two or three times a year our photography group will do a model shoot where we offer a few young folks the opportunity to get some free location portraits made. All they have to do is use their energetic youthful spirit and allow us older geriatric types, an opportunity to use our photographic skills. All of us have a great time with it and the models are always delightful and full of energy. By the end of the shoot, we the photographers are worn out, but the young folks, well, they are off and running toward some other adventure and never seem to skip a beat. If I think back real hard, I can almost remember being that way myself at one time.

On a recent Saturday one of those amazing spring days greeted us. With temperatures in the upper 70’s and a nice breeze stirring through the shady trees, a group of us met on the Western Kentucky University campus for our first model shoot of the year. On a normal model shoot we usually have two or three maybe four models at best, but on this day we ended up with ten…we only had seven photographers, so there were plenty to go around. I invited two young ladies I know to join us, both of whom are delightful and lovely.

Over the course of three hours they proved to us again just how energetic they are and hundreds of images were taken. It is interesting to see the different photographic styles employed. Those with a studio background reflect that thought process in their photographs. Those of us with a nature background, tend to employ more nature elements to our portraits. One of the photographers leans toward an edgy fashion style and his photos certainly reflect it in the poses and angles he uses. I tend to use a more informal style and allow the models to perform in their natural manner giving direction only to change the mood or energy "…look over this way, your right shoulder…no, your other right…tilt your head this way…big smile…soft smile…think about your first kiss…look up…look down…close your eyes". It’s a lot of fun to see them respond and begin to have fun with it. When they are having fun, they loosen up and look more natural and that makes our job as photographers much easier, but it fun to inneract with them. "…wow…what a shot!...that was a great one, but I missed it…so let’s try it again…got it…!" 

With ten models and only three hours, there was no way to effectively shoot all ten of them, but we did the best we could and all of them were able to get some very nice images. By midday we the photographers were worn out. All of us had so much fun, I almost forgot how old I was. Being around those energetic young folks transported me back to another day and time and I saw myself reflected in their lives. They were great sports, polite, and genuinely enjoyed what they were doing. Although I stay in reasonably good shape physically, there are other kinds of exercise required to remain young at heart. That would be to exercise your sense of perspective and place into context all the years of experience it took to get where you are now. 
To get this far one requires a bit of a youthful attitude and it helps to have a cheerful one along the way. These young folks with their energy and adventurous spirit, without even knowing it, helped to cheer up and encourage an older generation of photographers simply by reminding us about our own youthful past. They were grateful to get a few photos. We were grateful to share in a few moments of their youthful energy.


Saturday, May 10, 2014

A Walk About

Sometimes I will take an hour or so and do a walk about in the fields and around the pond behind my house. I have photographed that area dozens of times and usually tend to capture the same kinds of photos each time I head out. Sometimes, I will stumble onto something that stands apart from everything else and when that happens, this rather ordinary location can produce some amazing photographic moments.

The other evening I managed to head out that way and came across a dragon fly that must have just hatched for he was still clinging to a blade of grass suspended above a large pool of dark water left over from a previous rain. I was using an old 75-300 Minolta lens on my Sony A65...its not a great lens but sometimes its size and ease of use is preferable to my larger 50-500 Sigma lens.

I zoomed in and fired off a few quick shots. When I took a closer look at them on the back of the camera I realized first of all the auto focus just was not locking in like it should. Secondly, I was metering using the evaluative mode and the dark background really thru off the exposure. Lucky for me, the dragon fly was not yet ready to start flitting about like they do and he stayed put while I adjusted the camera. First, I shifted the exposure compensation to -1.3 to allow for the dark background. Secondly, I turned off the auto focus and switch over to manual.

The A65 has an extremely cool manual focusing system where whatever you are focusing on will be highlited by a color you this case it was red. That feature visually helps when trying to focus thru a lot of stuff that might otherwise fool the auto focus. I took another aim at the dragon fly and manually turned the focus dial until he was highlited in red and fired the shot. Closer examination revealed a crisp and clean shot properly exposed that clearly showed the blood being pumped into his newly inflated wings.

As I continued my walk about, the sun settled closer to the horizon and started filtering thru trees and other cover. Some of that light backlit a small branch where new leaves were beginning to form. I have taken backlit shots like this hundreds of times...this one appeared no different than all the others and I almost passed up on the opportunity. Sometimes though the camera will see things we cannot, and it will capture a moment in ways we cannot visually see I made a quick frame and fired off a couple quick shots. What was captured was an exquiste example of how light reveals details thru the lens of the camera. What set it apart was how the background served to frame the backlit leaves against a natural dark green matting.

Walk abouts are easy to do and many times they will offer up an opportunity that defies the simplicity of the moment. Maybe it is because of that simplicty those kinds of opportunities can be so productive.


Saturday, April 26, 2014

A New Blog Site: Beyond The Campfire: NightScapes

AS if I didn't have enough to do to keep up with one blog site...I've started another one with a different twist to it. Check it out and join me on a facinating journey of discovery.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

A Great Photo Adventure Program

I don't often promote programs on this blog, but there is one program worth promoting I'd like to introduce you to. It's called Wild Photo Adventures with Doug Gardner.

There is also a Facebook page:!/pages/Wild-Photo-Adventures/163178650411777

This is a wonderful program now in its fith season where the team travels around the country on photographic adventures. What is so great about it is that the adventures are of the type where anyone can do them. I've enjoyed watching the programs online and have learned a great deal about adventure photography.

Some of the best programs are the behind the scenes programs where they give the viewer a glimpse of how they make the shows. Doug Gardner is a world class professional nature photographer who demonstrates the principles of nature photography in an easy to understand way. Even experienced photographers can learn from this series.

Check out the shows online and if you can try to catch them on the television.

Please enjoy!


Monday, April 7, 2014

Capturing Ghost Light

I will at times fall into in a slump. This past winter was a rather cold and dreary winter and for whatever reasons I failed to get out very much. That along with work related pressures took a toll and what I enjoy doing most suffered the most as a result. Even though those elements do carry a lot of blame, to be truthful, I have no one to blame except myself. I just did not take the time to get out when I had it, and my inspiration suffered.

Photography is not unlike writing in that we as photographers often stumble along with Photographers Block trying to reignite those creative elements that drew us to photography in the first place. As I reflect on the slump. . . again . . . and as I examine the quality of what I've recently created, I am not very pleased with what I discover. Usually, in time, I will happen upon the work of another and find inspiration from it. With any luck at all, it will trigger a string of ideas that leads to an exciting revelation.

One such event took place recently from an Arkansas photographer, Tim Ernst, whose work I have often used as inspiration. It is no coincidence that his style of photography and mine have some similarities. In recent months he has been exploring low light / night photography of waterfalls and other places of interest around his home range. His work is amazing. As a result I realized that I have been neglecting a wonderful opportunity to capture similar images, and so this spring I have started a new project called - Capturing Ghost Light. It just might prove the cure to my slump ailment.

Light possesses so many qualities it becomes difficult to attach meaning and purpose to the variety of ways it impacts a photograph. Low light, or what I call Ghost Light, imparts a magical softness to the scene. It works in almost all situations, but is especially effective with moving water, and works wonders with waterfalls.

So what exactly is Ghost Light? It is mostly the use of ambient light that softly glows in the sky after sundown. That glow will remain for quite sometime after, but it does fade quickly. Even after it fades, Ghost Light still provides a unique atmosphere. Another form of Ghost Light is the moon. Moon light is basically reflected daylight...just softer and less intense. A very bright moon will cast shadows, and it imparts a soft even light across the scene. But, the Ghost Light I prefer is when there is a redish, or pinkish, glow in the sky. That particular glow generates some amazing light reflections off water or wet surfaces and is usually present right up until it gets too dark to see.

Another form of Ghost Light comes from the night sky itself. It is full of stars, and during the summer, the band of the Milky Way arches across a clear dark sky like a silver ribbon and provides a wonderful subject when combined with proper technique. One of the best captures of Ghost Light is to combine moving water / waterfalls with the night sky. That is an area I will explore more as the season progresses.

Capturing Ghost Light is actually pretty easy. You will need a sturdy tripod as the exposures are long, upwards to 30 seconds or longer. A cable release is recommended, but not required. A wide angle lens tends to work best, anything from 10mm upwards to 35mm will do a good just depends on the composition you want to create.

Camera setup is pretty much the same as any daylight situation, although you may want to experiment with a few things like White Balance, and Color saturation. For moving water, I will use a f/stop somewhere between f/16 and f/22 to be able to capture foreground to background sharpness...f/22 seems to work best. I will place the camera very low to the ground and make sure there is something in the foreground even if you have to reposition an old tree limb or large rock to do so. Even scattering a few leaves around will help. I usually shoot with Aperture Priority and focus about 1/3 to 1/2 of the way into the scene (with f/22). Auto focus may fail you during those low light times because there is not enough light contrast for it to work, so switch to manual focus. As mentioned previously, the White Balance is usually set to daylight or (5500k), but you can adjust up or down depending on the effect you want to are the decide that...not the camera!

Ghost Light begins just after sundown. The soft ambient light eminating from the sky will fill shadowed areas with a faint even light. As the light grows dimmer, the only thing that changes is the length of your exposures. Even light where it is almost too dark to see will provide enough light to capture an amazing image.

I am growing more excited about this new project. Capturing Ghost Light is just another way to explore this amazing science called photography. It is also a great way to explore your own creative instincts.


Monday, March 31, 2014

Hunting Without a Season

It is amazing how five hours sitting in a hunting blind goes by so much more quickly than five hours sittings in an office. It's a whole lot more fun too. Today was no exception. The real turkey gun season does not begin for another couple of weeks, but I spent this beautiful early spring day sitting in the corner of a wheat field hoping the turkey's I had been seeing would again make an appearance. I was hunting, but not with a gun this time. I was hunting with a camera.

See the blind in the background?  Blends in well doesn't it!

You can hunt with a camera year round without a license and there are no seasons that apply. Seems to me there are numerous advantages to doing that, not the least of which is that the critter you hunting gets off unscathed, and you can go pretty much whenever you want to. All the techniques are the same as used in hunting and in some ways they more difficult with a camera because not only do you have to get the critter in reasonably close, you also have to consider the direction of the light and time of all that other camera/photography/composition stuff.

For the past couple of months I have been seeing anywhere between 25 and 75 turkeys using the same corner of that wheat field I spent five hours in. Almost everyday, they were there between 4:30 and 5:00 pm and many times they were also there early just at daybreak. I set up the blind in a perfect location about 30 yards into the wheat field next to a large tree with an old GMC 4x4 sitting under it. The three yards of dark brown burlap I had painted up blended perfectly with the backdrop and provided a great hiding place. I setup two hen decoys about 20 yards out. It was great fun whating them spin and tip up and down in the breeze. They sure provided a lot of eye catching movement and looked pretty real to boot.

She knew I was there...but couldn't see me

But, alas wildlife does not always cooperate even for a photographer, and today proved that rule true. Not a single sighting of a turkey where for weeks they have been. That is the luck of a wildlife photographer...or at least someone aspiring to become one.

I did see a few deer and managed a few long range photos. I also managed to develop a few cramps in my legs, back, neck, and rearend sitting there for so long, but it was fun none the less. It was good to get outdoors after the long hard winter and feel the sun on my back and breathe some good clean country air. Think I will do it again soon. Maybe next time the turkey's will show up.


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The One Defining Moment

Here is a repost from a couple years ago. Sometimes I go back thru some of the blog posts for no other reason than to hopefully regain a bit of inspiration and to remind myself why I am doing this. This one I think is a good reminder....


I've missed more great photographs than I've ever come close to making. Maybe one percent of what I take could be considered pretty good...the other 99 percent was practice. Even so, I am always on the look out for that one defining shot...the single moment in time where everything falls into place...when location, light, preparation, and opportunity all come together and I succeed in capturing that one defining moment. It hasn't happened yet...but I keep trying...keep looking.

Many years ago I witnessed such a moment...all the elements were there...except I wasn't prepared. On this occasion I was driving south along Oklahoma's I-75 and was a few miles south of Henryetta. A big spring storm was brewing...dark clouds...distant thunder. It was late in the afternoon not far from sundown. The dark cloud spread out above me and was threatening the entire region, but off to the west there was a break in the clouds low on the horizon.

There was plenty of lightning, but not the normal cloud to ground type...the lighting was spreading out across the sky from cloud to cloud in a web-like manner like electric fingers extending in all directions. There was very little flashing...just a slow expansion of electric tentacles that moved across the sky. As I topped a hill the view changed to where I could see a valley off to the west and at the same time the sun popped below that break in the clouds. Everything lit up in an expanding warm light...yet the lightning continued to flash across the clouds. For a few moments...that may have been one of the most remarkable sights I've ever witnessed....and I had not a camera of any type with me. That may have been the first time I've ever wished I had a quality camera and knew how to use it...but it wasn't to be. I've never seen anything that remotely came close to that moment.

Another time probably around summer, 1975, I found myself visiting Crater Lake National Park in Oregon. An absolutely remarkable place. I spent pretty much the entire day there making a couple loops around the rim drive, photographing ever nook and corner of the view I could find. I've never seen such blue water or blue sky. As I was leaving it was right at sundown and the entire region was enveloped in a red glow. The surrounding mountains were layered in purple and the sky was on fire and spread out from horizon to horizon. I was at the right place, at the right time, under the right circumstances...but I had no film left in my camera. All I could do was stop..get out of my vehicle...and watch one of the most spectacular endings to a day I've ever seen...and was unable to take a single photograph of the moment. All that remains of both of these moments are the memories stored in my mind.

That one defining moment is an elusive dream that maybe someday I'll be able to capture. My eye is always on that search...and as I mentioned before I still continue to miss great photo ops simply because of a lack of readiness. One of my favorite locations to photograph is Oklahoma's Tallgrass Prairie. If there is any location that will offer such a defining moment that is unique to photography, it must be this place. I can visualize what it must look like...that one moment...but time and circumstance has yet to provide it.

That one defining moment may never happen...but I'll continue to search for it and even though I'd rather be good than lucky...maybe a little luck will come my way and I'll stumble onto a magical moment of light and actually have my camera in hand.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Natural Still Life

I found myself one day sitting on the trunk of a blown down tree that had fallen along the edge of a creek I was hiking around. I wasn't doing much of anything other than sitting and enjoying some much needed nature time. A few birds flittered in and out but I was unable to capture any meaningful images. Mostly I just sat there...being still.

Afer a short time I began to see photo opportunities around me that I did not see before. To my right a part of the old tree roots stuck out. I pointed my camera in that direction and zoomed in to tighten the frame. As I shifted the frame around a natural still life came into view and I fired off several quick images. Of all the images I took that day, that particular unexpected event produced the most pleasing of the batch.

Sometimes you just gotta be still to be able to see a Natural Still Life. I like most neurotic photographers tend to move to quickly and fail to see what is really there. I want to jump around looking for the Big Picture...the big landscape...big sky shots, when often it is the small more subtle opportunities that provide us with the best shots.

There are times I go through dry spells where I seem to have lost my edge and my work tends to look clicheish and ordinary. When that happens, I will often purposely find a location and sit still and allow the opportunity come to me. Eventually, I will see's just a matter of remaining still long enough to let it happen.


Sunday, March 9, 2014

Camp Cooking with Mosquitos and Grasshoppers or Building Self Asteem Through Trial and Error

I got to looking at an old book the other day called Roughing It Easy. It's all about how to camp cook in style and has all kinds of recipes and outdoor cooking ideas to make your life afield more enjoyable. Well, I got to laughing to myself as I remembered a number of camp cooking learning experiences I was able to endure over the years and so having nothing else to write about at the moment I thought I'd share one of the most memorable ones with you.

My camp cooking career began many years ago oddly enough in my grandparents backyard. The year was probably around 1960 or 1961. My dad had purchased an old canvas army surplus pup tent. It was a drab army green and had that old musty smell like it had been stored away wet since 1942. It was summer and as was typical of that era, I spent a good part of my time outdoors running around barefoot and looking for something to do when I came up with the brilliant idea of camping the backyard...but, regardless it was a real genuine campout for a nine year old.

The tent was setup in a strategic location; far enough away from the house so it would feel like being out in the wilderness, but close enough so if too many creepy crawlies creeped and crawled too close I could easily make a dash back to the house. The old army cot was wedged inside the tent with more blankets than the one hundred degree plus temps required piled on top.

There were numerous broken limbs lying around the yard and I gathered everyone of them I could find and built a small fire late that evening. That time of year in that part of the country it doesn't get dark until well after 9:00pm, and I couldn't wait to sit up at night around my campfire. What I didn't realize was just how much firewood would be required to last until then. For the next several hours as my campfire continued to burn down I would run around in the ever widening circles in ever increasing darkness looking for something to burn. My intent of course was to cook my supper over the fire after it got dark, but by that time, it was too dark to find any more wood to burn and my grandmother had fixed fried chicken whose aroma kept drifting across my campsite, so I ate inside that first night. But, I was determined to fix my own breakfast the next morning.

Morning was long in coming. Army cots are not the most comfortable of devises to sleep on and it was hot and the mosquitos swarmed inside my open ended tent. I'd pull the covers over my head to protect me from their blood sucking bites until I would get too hot and then have to come up for air. I've often wondered what it is about the inside of your ears that is such an attractant for mosquitos. They were constantly buzzing and dive bombing around my head and wanted to burrow deep into my ear cavities. The grasshoppers were thick that year and a number of them along with daddy longleg spiders turned the inside of my tent into a residence. It was a regular commune of mixed species trying to co-exist. That pretty much was the pattern all night. Somewhere between one of the coming-up-for-air bouts and the hoot owls and whippowills seranade I fell asleep.

By the next morning I was skeeter bit from top to bottom. But, I jumped out scattering grasshoppers as I tossed the blanket aside. I quickly gathered another arm full of firewood searching high and low for the fuel...rekindled the fire and ran to the refrigerator and extracted a couple of eggs and several strips of bacon. Using my old army surplus spit kit I commenced to burning the bacon and destroying the eggs. What I ended up with was part burnt bacon bits blended with rubbery eggs and egg shells pieces and probably a hapless grasshopper or two that managed to find their way into the mix when I wasn't looking...which by the way probably considerably improved the taste and texture of the meal. I loved it. I was now a genuine fully fledged camp cook.

Over the years just how much my camp cooking skills improved could be debated long into the
summer night. Although I've managed to graduate to a more modern approach to camp cookery, those first feeble attempts proved much more valuable in the long run. What has improved is my appreciation for having done those things. As simple and comical as those trials-by-error events were, they were none the less great learning tools for those time when a good sense of self became important. I guess my parents and my grandparents instinctively understood things like that. They allowed me to build my own self asteem through trial and error, mostly through error. It is amazing just how effective cooking burnt bacon and eggs over your very own campfire...and throw in a grasshopper or two...can be when it comes to building such things.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

On Any Given Day - Rural Kentucky - The Pond

Sometimes we pass by locations and never give them a second look. That is unfortunate because many of those places often provide great photo opportunities if we just take the time to see it. One such place is where a pond and barn are located just off the road on my way to work. I drive by it almost everyday, early in the morning and then again in the afternoon. I've seen it through various seasons and it changes its personality with each of those seasons and time of day. I've grown to like this location because by itself it defines the best of rural Kentucky and it has become one of my favorite photo op locations. I'd be willing to bet that most people drive by it and never see it.

Seeing is what separates a photographer from a snapshot shooter. Snapshot shooters tend to take random pictures of things rarely giving any thought to the lighting or composition. Every once and a while they will take a pretty good picture, usually more because of the high scenic value of the location that even a snapshot shoot couldn't foul up.

Although it is not always practical to do so, being able to photograph one location during different lighting events is a big time advantage. It gives you a sense of location and a feel for photographic value. That is why I encourage photographers to know their home range, to look for those iconic locations that define where they live and take advantage of being able to be there on any given day.

Oddly enough, this particular pond is no longer there. The year 2013 there was lots of rain and we live in cave country and that mean lots of sinkholes. One day I was drivng home from work and cast a quick glance at the pond as I passed by. The next morning as I passed by heading to work I through another quick glance and had to slow down to take a second look...the pond was gone and a large hole had opened up in the bottom near the outer edge and drained every last drop out of it.

It's still a scenic location, just the pond will no longer be a part of that scene. You neve know what might happen on any given day, so if you find a great location take advantage of it and capture its morning flavor and its evening taste through all the seasons. It may not be there one day.


Thursday, February 20, 2014

What I see

Discovering a new way to observe the beauty that surrounds us can be an amazing revelation. Learning how to capture it photographically can be a challenge. Sharing it with others is the reward. This past summer I rediscovered the night sky and spent a great deal of time and energy learning how to not only observe it, but to capture it. It was a challenge that evolved into something much more than an exercise in technique or skill. It became a revelation of seeing.

I've often written about how photography is mostly about seeing light. But it is more than that really. It's about understanding what it is you see. There was a time I saw mechanically meaning I recognized the intrinsic value of what I was photographing, but failed to see beyond the superficial and cliche. Seeing photographically means to see through the superficial to find the solution.

More than likely last summer the efforts I placed on photographing the night sky may have seemed a bit over the top to most of my photography friends. A few of them gave it a try and then went on to other things that interested them more...and rightly so for them. Recently, I began to wonder why I was so captivated by that exercise. Night after night I would stand in some open field staring up at the night sky and painstakingly adjusting the homemade tracking devise I used to follow the stars across the field of view. Then later, after downloading the images and searching through the better ones I would spend time bringing out the best of what they were. Most of those images no one other than myself saw them, but that was okay. Because I wasn't taking them for someone else. I was taking them for myself.

You see what I saw was not just a night sky filled with stars and subtle colors of glowing dust along with nebula's filled with radiant gases. I saw a part of myself. In order to bring out the subtle nature of those glowing nebula's and radiant gases,  a long exposure was required along with patient and attentive tracking. When it all fell into place and that one moving image out of dozens materialized, well, a sense of satisfaction filled my heart.

As a result I began to understand how that experience revealed a great deal about life. Everyone has subtle light in their lives that requires a long personal exposure along with careful and attentive tracking to see. With the right amount of effort and understanding, the light in their lives regardless of how faint, will over time begin to glow with it own unique radiance. When I smile as an image of the night sky begins to form, I am smiling because what I see is so much more than stars floating in the sky . . I see lives beginning to shine.


Friday, February 14, 2014


There is a Moment of Light at dawn whose glow is far too brief…Whose age of radiance hovers in silence, yet whose adornment is ageless.

There is a Moment in Time when one should walk amongst the reflections and perceive with the Heart what Nature gives so freely.
Light has many qualities, few finer than when it interacts with nature. 


Light abruptly comes and goes. Clouds separate and golden beams race across the rolling hill of Kentucky. There is a moment of brilliant reflection…then it is gone.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Selected Excerpts...

Recently I spent some time browsing through the collection of blog posts that have accumlated since 2010. I did not realize just how many there were. As I skimmed over some of them, certain quotes stood apart and seemed to define what the essense of this Blog is all about...I'd like to share some of them from across the past four years.


The diversity of nature may surprise us if we stop and observe closely enough. Photography presents us with opportunities to witness more closely subtle events that we more often than not simply overlook. Things we take for granted take on a new life when viewed from the perspective of a photographers eye. (Take a Closer Look - Dec 2010)

That one defining moment may never happen...but I'll continue to search for it and even though I'd rather be good than lucky...maybe a little luck will come my way and I'll stumble onto a magical moment of light and actually have my camera in hand. (That One Defining Moment - Dec 2010)

Never again would a sunrise simply be a sunrise. It would be a unique moment of time and place forever bound and tested against that morning...forever etched as a defining principle of what a relationship with God is all about. Few images can stir the soul like witnessing God's creative hand as it unfolds across his natural palette. Every morning...every new a unique creation there for the taking...there for all to share. It;s just a matter being still long enough to not just view it...but to experience it. (When Nature Wins - Dec 2010)

I've heard it said that an artist begins with a blank canvas and adds the elements required to create his vision. A photographer on the other hand, begins with a full canvas, and must remove those elements that interfere with the vision he has...(Imagine the Extraordinary - April 2011)

Photographs capture a single moment in time…being there at those remarkable times to experience a new day from its first moments of life generates a prolonged feeling that lingers well past the actual event. Every similar outing provides for a new experience…a new understanding of what is important. Being able to capture a few moments afield photographically…well, it’s sort of like catching a bass while and rewarding, yet, that’s not the main reason why I traveled that’s simply the bonus for having done so. (For Having Done So - More To Photography Than Taking Picutres - Sept 2011)

Experiences such as those generate unspoken words that attach themselves to our young minds as we grow older...words that echo across time attached to is those words that still encourage me...words that carry with them reminders of how those years provided a True Tempering in my youth that only now is becoming evident.  (True Temper - Oct 2011)

That day would have been just another ordinary day in the lives of two rather ordinary 13 year old boys…had we not had the run in with those mean cows and the evil intimidation of all those snakes. As it turned out…well, seems we’re still talking about it forty seven years later, so we must have enjoyed the day…at least part of it…anyway. (At Least Part of It...Anyway - Jan 2012)

Creating an image with impact involves blending composition with light…and using light to generate mood…using mood to influence purpose…using purpose to dictate timing…using timing to generate drama…and using drama to tell the story. (Creating Images With Impact - May 2012)

There are country sounds, feelings, and aromas that only summer can generate…farmers working their fields, hay being cut, and that warm breeze that makes the trees shake with life...and experiencing its warm embrace while sitting under a shade…I love sitting on the front porch listening to and feeling the spray from a summer rain shower…oh those summer rain showers that fill the air with their moisture laden aroma. It’s a great time of year for photographers as well. (Visual Sounds of Summer - July 2012)

No camera could have captured nature’s poetry spoken that morning...but, the images, sounds, and power of those visual verses that were performed then, have stood the test of time…for all other mornings have been tested against that single poetic example. (Poetry of Morning Light - Oct 2012)

Moments of the Heart are what I call them - moments of time and place blended in such a way as to carve new meaning into a faded identity. (Moments of the Heart - Sept 2013)

Echoes through the hills are made only from living forward, yet there will come a time when those harbingers from the past catch up to us, to reveal new meaningful purpose to why those adventures were important. By living forward each day, new meaningful echoes will follow you into your future.  (Echo's Through the Hills - Nov 2013)

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Cameras Do...Photographers Dream

The sophistication built into cameras today is quite phenomenal when compared to what was available even just a few years ago. But cameras by themselves do not take photographs they simply do as they are told. It is the visual dreams of the photographer that creates the magic of a great photograph.

I’ve been asked a few times more often than not, questions focused around learning the technical aspects of how to use the camera. Understanding the technical elements is important, but it is not all important. As in most things, you can teach technique, but you cannot teach someone how to dream.
When I speak of visual dreams I am referencing how the photographer imagines the world. It is more emotional than technical. When photographer’s tap into what stirs their imagination and then applies that emotional connection to the world around them, their photographic artistry is magically influenced by those visions.
Seeing the world from an emotional point of view can alter your visual perspective about photography. If all you ever achieve is capturing images of things, then you tend to rely on the intrinsic values of the thing to create your photograph. But when you rely on visualizing the world based on what stirs your emotions, your photography elevates to a higher plane of understanding.
Mechanics can only take you so far, but creative dreams are endless. It is the photographer who taps into that creative desire, who allows himself to focus emotional energy, that will capture amazing images of ordinary things. If all we do is look at objects and photograph objects, we limit ourselves to settle for what that object represents. But when we look beyond the object and see it within the context of our desires to create something beautiful, then something beautiful happens.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Emotional Impact of Working with the Homeless

There was prolonged silence after my wife Kris finished praying for a homeless man she had just met. His worn down physical appearance belied his true age and his hollow eyes betrayed the emotional scars that resided inside. She respectfully waited for her new friend to raise his head and open his eyes.  With a downward gaze he slowly tilted his bearded face toward her and she saw tears hover and pool above his sunburned cheeks. In spite of his tattered and unkempt appearance, she put her arm around his shoulder and asked if he was okay. He let out a soft breath and with a tension releasing sigh his shoulders relaxed. He couldn’t remember how long it had been since someone had physically touched him in a gentle way. With a broken, barely audible voice he whispered, “Thank you for not treating me like trash.”
With all of its trappings and causes, homelessness is one of the most demeaning of human tragedies, a tragedy that all too often remains lost in the vacuum of the back corners of a community.
When working with the homeless one must be willing to cross many poignant emotional bridges.  Along the way, we discover that by doing so an emotional cost is extracted for that right-of-passage. It is a cost most people would find too high a price to pay. 
Working with the homeless is not a feel good adventure. It will challenge the most enthusiastic of volunteers. We have seen well intentioned wonderful people with good hearts succumb to the realities of this denigrating environment and quickly drop away retreating to a safer emotional haven. Having made a nobel attempt to help someone in need, they purhaps experience for the first time just how difficult it is to confront this tragic loss of human potential. This is not intended as a general endictment of those who find themselves unable to connect emotionally, because all of us are in many ways guilty of this same reaction.
More often than not, a homeless person will be handicapped by some kind of physical, emotional, or circumstantial issue, sometimes all three. There are times a well meaning person can do all the right things, say all the right words, have all the right intentions, only to experience dejection when the hopefully expectant response does not materialize. This is a normal human reaction to such a delicate situation and it contributes a great deal to the reluctance of people to follow through with their good intentions.

If care is not observed with our personal emotions, one can grow frustrated if not callous and indifferent. It takes a great deal of perseverance and a thick skin to work with the homeless. More often than not, even after repeated attempts to positively connect and to encourage them to make life altering changes to their situation, they continually fall back into their old ways. As bad as those ways can be, they are a familiar comfort zone for them and when you live on the streets comfort zones also become escape zones. It would be easier in many ways to simply walk away and leave them to their often self inflicted miseries. Yet, solving the disaster that is homelessness requires more. It requires that we look upon those trapped within its grasp through the filter of a Christ-like heart.
Our emotions are tested beyond what we as ordinary people might otherwise be willing to endure. Our emotions though, are not strengthened by our own abilities. They are emboldened when we begin to understand the homeless as Christ would understand them.
All homeless have a back story. Somewhere in their past something happened that triggered a downward spiral that eventually landed them on the streets alone and with no means to recover. Those back stories can be tragic, they can be improbable, they can be circumstantial, but most importantly they belong to the individual. One revealing observation that holds true to almost all of the homeless people we have encountered is this; they will speak about their now, they will speak about their past, but they rarely speak about their future.

Their now consists of continuous trials of surviving day to day, often struggling with alcohol abuse or emotional turmoil. Their past is often filled with tragic events, but almost always there is one good thing from an earlier happier time they cling to as a life preserver, as a way to say, ‘You see…I do have value’. Their situation often circumvents any thoughts of a new future. The future to them is too far away, too distant a hill to climb and one that is too steep. Alcohol, drugs, and just as importantly, a lost sense of who they are keep them locked inside a prison of emotional stagnation. They have lost the ability to give, lost the ability to care, and lost the desire to try. In short they have lost their identity.
Working with the homeless is not pretty. It is an emotional rollercoaster filled with dashed hopes, crumbled expectations, and broken dreams. But all it takes is one miracle moment where the spark of life returns to eyes that were once hollow and a flash of warmth returns to a heart that was cold for far too long, to realize that in spite of the emotional drain, this is the right thing to do. Like when the man said in the opening statement, “Thank you for not treating me like trash,” those are the moments when you know it is all worth it and realize that lives are changed one heart at a time. What we should understand is that the first hearts that require changing are often our own.
Our homeless friend Greg would say, “Ya got that right…Ya know what I’m say’n”.



My amazing wife Kris began a journey in 2009 to connect with the homeless in our community. She started with a simple objective; to provide blankets for those who live on the streets. Through those blankets she met those who were silently suffering from untold hurts. Through those blankets she was able to share her love for Christ and by doing so was often able to plant a seed of redemption into their hearts. 

Along the way she met a homeless man named Greg and through his tragic life, her life working with the homeless became an adventure filled with challenges she never expected.

As she listened to the heart wrenching stories shared by the homeless, they filled her heart with compassion. Feeling led by God she began to write about her encounters, to give the homeless a voice. Those writings became the foundation for a unique book, a story that allows the reader to understand firsthand what it is like to live on the streets. It is a book about lost dreams, empty hopes, and lives searching for significance and meaning. It is about how simple acts of kindness can generate a positive moment of reflection in a homeless peerson's life. It is about how the world of the homeless changed her life. You will find it a revealing, intimate, and emotional look at what it means to be homeless.

The book is appropriately called "Ya Know What I'm Say'n" and will be released soon through Christian Publishing House...and available on,, Kobo Books, and other outlets.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Creative Angles

I stood on the far side of a narrow street next to a set of railroad tracks and tried to frame a three-story, old red brick building in my view finder. The pictures I was capturing did not carry much punch and I could not figure out why. The old building was a beautiful example of turn of the century architecture with an amazing rustic look with the word HOTEL embossed in a lighter shade of brick across one corner, but my shots were ordinary. I knew something was there photographically, I just was not seeing it. Then I tried a different techique; I rotated the camera to about a 30- 35 degree angle and lined up the word HOTEL so it appeared almost horizontal and placed it in the upper left corner of the composition with the windows angling across the frame instead of vertical. What appeared became the striking image I knew was there.

Creative angles in a photograph can stir things up to where what might might otherwise be ordinary becomes distinctive and eye catching. It is a great technique to use to create images that surpass what we see everyday and expand those visualizations into something that is at once recognizable yet extraordinarily different.

Using straight leading lines combined with offset vertical lines will break up the image to generate visual interest. Take the image above. Railroad tracks are often used as examples of leading lines, but notice the straight vertical lines of the old smoke tower on the left and the horizonal lines of the yellow school bus on the right and the level lines of the horizon in the distance at the end of the tracks. Combine all of those elements with the stark gray nature of the overall image and you have a striking example of how creative angles and lines can define an image.

Creative angles can be generated by the photographer as in the first example, or they can be used by the photographer as found in the composition. The image below is good example of using creative angles that were a part of the scene being photographed. Do you see them?

Curves make for great creative angles. They add a graceful element to any composition and when combined with powerful lighting effects, they become a powerfully creative, eye catching style. Here's an image where the gentle curve of the long leaf and the gentle arch of the background foliage was used to great effect in great light.


There are many subtle ways to improve your compositions photographically. Thinking in terms of creative angles will add a dynamic to your images that will separate them from ordinary snapshots. Creative photography is exactly that...that is to think creatively. Simply photographing objects alone will often create cliche looking photographs, but adding simple elements of design such as angles or curves changes the dynamics of the ordinary into something much more asthetically pleasing. By doing so it not only adds a unique flavor and style to your images, it will stimulate your own creative instincts.