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

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.