Beyond The Campfire was created to encourage readers to explore the great outdoors and to look at it more closely. 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 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 Jeep

The Jeep
The Jeep

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”.

Keith

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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 Amazon.com, Barnesandnoble.com, 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.

Keith