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, December 31, 2015

Ten Things I learned About Photography in 2015

1. You're never too old to learn something new in photography and there is more new in photography to
learn than I have years left to learn them.

2. Never give up on fading light...even after it appears to be virtually gone, what is still there will often produce unexpected results..

3. There is more to Light than meets the eye, and more ways to capture it than I realized.

4.  Light is not only visible, it speaks with a language all its own...but sometimes you have to be still to hear it.

5.  Kids and teenagers make wonderful models.

6.  Photographing teenagers can lift your spirit like nothing else can...they have an energy about them that can make a tired older photographer feel like being 40 again.

7.  On any given day something magical photographically can happen, on any given day I will miss a magical photographic moment.

8.  Sometimes I need to set the camera down and enjoy the moment just for myself.

9.  It is too easy to get caught up in photography and miss the rest of your life moments.

10. I can often see lives begin to shine in a different light when I see them through the lense.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Essence of the Moment

One of my favorite refuges is to stand alone on a high knoll inside the tallgrass prairie. One can discover moments of the heart while standing thereEmotional Images such as these are difficult to convey inside the visual elements of a photograph, but that is exactly what I always try to do...capture the Essence of the Moment.

You see photography is more than taking a picture of an object, it is about capturing moments of the heart. This may be one of the most difficult concepts for novice photographers to grasp, maybe even for a good number of advanced photographers as well. The Essence of the Moment is about capturing what you feel and less about what you see. One of the biggest mistakes novice photographers make is to think they have to capture a subject exactly the way they see it when in reality a photographic work of art rarely exhibits visual life as an exact capture of visual facts. Instead, a photograph should capture the emotion of the moment and become a visual point of reference as to why that moment was important. There is no single best way to accomplish this. Photographers must first understand what the concept means, be willing to alter or adapt their way of seeing, and then develop their own techniques that fulfill the desire.

A good writer is able to 'show' through words the emotion of the moment in his story. An inexperience writer tends to 'tell' his reader what is happening. The same holds true with photographers. The good ones instinctively understand how to 'show' what they are experiencing visually. There is a big difference between a photograph that 'tells' me about an object from one that 'shows' me why that object at that moment was important. The images that 'show' carry a hint of realism across a pallet of light filled with color, texture, contrast, vibration, and purposeful composition.

It has been said that all photographs contains two people in them. The first is You the photographer as it is a representation of not just your technical skill, but your emotional being. The second is the person who views the photograph, for they always project a part of themselves into the moment of the image. A photograph capable of pulling the viewer into it making them wish they were there or stirring an emotional response from them is a photograph that captures the Essence of the Moment.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Photography For The Birds

A calm demeanor floated above the small lake that morning creating a mirrored smooth surface from which the tall trees lining the edge reflected. The only ripples were those made by my paddle as I floated across the open waters in my Old Town canoe. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a somewhat large bird swoop across a cove and land next to the waters edge. A quick look through my long lens revealed it to be some kind of heron but it was too far away to make out exactly what kind. I turned my canoe toward where the bird had landed and paddled ever so slowly to close the distance. I fully expected whatever it was would fly away as I approached, but to my surprise it remained calm and focused on catching his meal. Amazingly, I drew within about twenty feet or so, and raised my 500mm lens and began to shoot. I was barely far enough away to stay outside the minimum focal distance for that lens. In my viewfinder I saw what appeared to be an immature Green Heron stalking the shallows amongst some tangle of vines and stems. I fired away with the shutter as he appeared totally oblivious to my presence. The results were amazing.

Wildlife photography can be one of the most rewarding and challenging types of photography a person can pursue. It requires not only a good command of your camera equipment, but an understanding of wildlife habits and environment. It requires a measure of patience, stealth, and determination. What I've discovered is that you have to want to do it to be successful at it. Although I do not spend a great deal of time in the field pursuing wildlife, when I have done so I have thoroughly enjoyed the process. It can provide a pleasant change of pace from the everyday photography I tend to do. There are days I come back without a single usable image and there are days I must cull many images just to reduce the numbers to a manageable level. There are also days when great opportunity presents itself and I am not ready, and days where I stumble into a great image without even trying. Wildlife photography is not for everyone, especially those who do not like being hot or cold or wet. However, there is a relatively easy way to break into the field; Photographing songbirds in your backyard.

This article is not intended to be a definitive dissertation on the techniques of birdwatching or bird photography. It is however intended to encourage the reader to give it a try. Equipment required is minimal, but there are certain requirements that will make your attempts more enjoyable and successful. First of all you will need a good zoom lens. It does not have to be some pro-grade f/2.8 500mm multi-thousand dollar engineering work of art. It does however need to have some reach to it. At a minimum, one of the standard 70 - 200mm zoom lenses will work. Something reaching out to 300mm is better. If you have a budget that allows for it and wish to purchase a good quality zoom then you might consider something in the range of 50 - 500mm. Good after-market used lenses in this range are very reasonably priced.

Another good piece of equipment is a sturdy tripod. Although not absolutely necessary, when using a long focal length lens, you will find your images will be much sharper if shot from a tripod. Other than that, what else you use in the field is up to you.

Attracting songbirds to your backyard is pretty easy. Using a general all purpose birdseed will attract a wide variety of subjects, plus any kind of suet or millworms or homemade food stuffs will work. What you should remember is when photographing songbirds, it is best to capture them in as natural an environment as you can, avoiding the cliche images of birds sitting on the edge of a feeder. In order to accomplish this, place your feeder near some overhanging limbs or even consider making your own by cutting a limb or two from that vacant lot down the street and placing them a few feet from your feeder. This will provide the birds a secure place to perch before they approach the feeder. Remember, the feeder is simply used to attract the birds, your pictures should focus on their natural behavior.

Another requirement is to position yourself close enough so you can fill the viewfinder with the subject. This is generally a lot closer than most people realize. Even with a 500mm lens with a lot of reach, you should be within about 20 feet or less to be able to capture those detail revealing images. Using a 300mm lens requires that you get within about 15 feet or so. So how do you do that without spooking the birds?

Well, there are several ways. One of the easiest is to shoot through an open window or door that opens onto a deck or patio. Just setup your feeder close by, hang the perching limbs a few feet from the feeder, sit and wait while you observe through the window. I do not recommend shooting through the glass as that will tend to distort the image and reduce the sharpness. Another way is to setup a blind. Something as simple as a few yards of old burlap, or cheap camo material stretched across a couple of poles will work. The idea is to reduce the visible physical movement which is what scares the birds. You can also purchase one of those pop up camo hunting tents which affords a good deal of portability. They not only protect you from the elements, but are very effective at concealing your movements.

The trick now is to capture the birds. It will usually take a day or two for the birds to find your feeder, but they will find it. Remember, fill your viewfinder with the subject, include some of the environment in the image, shoot using a large aperture as this will blur the background especially with a long focal length lens. Focus on the eyes and use a fast shutter.

Hope this encourages you to give it a try. There is a great deal of information available on the Internet about the subject, so get out there and enjoy.


Saturday, December 19, 2015

Make the Extra Step - Solving the Technical vs Artistic Equation

I am constantly looking for ways to improve my photography. One of the more productive ways is to simply observe what others do, examine how they solve the lighting problem, and watch how they interact with the environment and people they are photographing. One of the most important tips I've learned is to not settle for what you have, always seek to do more, to discover more, to take  an image idea and push it further, take it beyond what you might ordinarly accept and explore richer possibilities.

Many times when I setup an image there is something I have in mind as far as what I want the finished product to become. Sometimes...well, it does not work the way I hoped it would. However, when it does, I realize I made another step forward toward understanding how to solve the technical vs artistic equation. Sometimes this mean to try something new even if it falls way outside your current skill level.

For many years I never used a speedlight (flash) because I simply did not understand how to use one. My results always fell well short of what I knew others were able to obtain. So, I began to watch others, study videos, read about the techniques pros were using until one day it all clicked and that 'Light Bulb' came on in the part of my brain where all the dots were connected. Once I began to grasp the concepts, it was a matter of applying that newly obtained understanding with trial and error to perfect the technique. I am still trialing and erroring, but have moved a long way toward not only understanding the concepts of speelight photography, but being able to visualize the results before they happen.

Take your image deeper. Never settle for the ordinary nor the first option. Look past what the camera wants to give you and use it as a tool to create what your heart and creative instincts desire.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

More...Selected Blog Post Excerpts

End of 2015 is approaching. Here's some excerpts from previous Blog Posts you might find interesting.

******************************************************************** the moment I realize I can never truly lock a camera image in place, I will set the camera down and simply create an image of the heart, one that can never get lost, nor forgotten. I say to myself, "For now I will just sit...just enjoy...for no other time will I have this particular experience, and this moment is just for me".
(A Moment Just For Me - Novermber 18, 2015)

I do love the soft twirl made by line as it rolls off the spinning reel followed by a girgled ploop as the spinner
lure falls with a natural grace into the stream. When the bail closes with a soft clink joined in motion by the gentle whirl of the gears, memories return from times past, the kind that reminds me of what fishing is all about. (The Best Day Ever - There is More to Fishing than Catching Fish - Nov 6, 2015) favorite places to get lost is to simply find a creek where the clear waters roll and dance around softly rounded stones, over casual drops, to create an unending echo of natures music.....the visual effects will suspend one above the trials of the day. I suppose that is why God created these small creeks, to remind us to slow down, to reflect, to listen so we can hear him and know who he is. There is wisdom in those immortal words, "Be still..." (Be Still - Oct 26, 2015)

...the prairie can be cold, hot, wet, dry, windy, overcast, and bright sun, all in one day, but it can also be one of the most rewarding and challenging of photo adventures one can pursue. The key is get off the access road, shy away from the cliche, and seek out new potential by walking into the prairie. It is there you will discover its true identity and it will reveal itself to you. Take only its portrait, but leave a part of yourself blowing with the prairie wind...(Big Sky - Big Country - Sept 23, 2015)

...Using light as the narrator of your image story requires one to understand how a story flows. There is a beginning, middle, and an ending. Light, like words, illuminates each part in such a way as to bring importance to each one, but to also tie or bind together the loose ends. Without a good narrator used effectively, the story falls flat. Without effective use of light, your story image will become ordinary...(Using Light as the Narrator of Your Image Story - Sept 8, 2015)

...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...(Your Best Lense is your Eyes - Your best Filter is Your Imagination - 6/26/2014)

...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....(Young at Heart - May 22, 2014

...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... (What I See - Feb 20, 2014)

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. (The Winter Woods - Dec 28, 2013)

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. (Cleaning out the Tacklebox - Dec 19, 2013)


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)

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Are You a Lucy Photographer or a Schroeder Photographer?

I first watched the Charlie Brown Christmas program fifty years ago and I do not believe I have missed a single season since then. It certainly is one of the most endearing and heartwarming programs of all time with its simple message about the true meaning of Christmas.

There is one scene in the show I especially like. It is the scene where Schroeder is playing his piano making beautiful Christmas music. Lucy asks him to play Jingle Bells and of course he begins playing in a style that sounds like an organ playing. Lucy interupts him and say's 'No, know, Jingle Bells...' And Schroeder changes his tune to a more classic style. Of course Lucy interupts him again insisting that he play Jingle Bells the way she wants him to play it. He, somewhat disgusted with her by this time, pokes out with one finger the Jingle Bells tune...ding ding ding...ding ding ding...ding ding ding, da-ding...and she yells out 'That's It!'.

Even though I have watched that scene a hundred times, I still get a big kick out of it. The other day, I got to thinking. Seems like there is an interesting photography analogy hidng in there somewhere. I asked myself, "Am I a Lucy Photographer or a Schroeder Photographer?"

Think about that question for a minute. What does it actually mean? The way I see it is like this. A Lucy photographer is one who instinctively settles for the ordinary, making the same mistakes over and over, and rarely takes the time to learn how to create an extraordinary image, often snapping away in total bliss creating ordinary images and feeling good about it. They may not even be able to descern the difference. A Schroeder photographer is one who has advanced well beyond the ordinary and can instinctively create extraordinary images even from simple or ordinary situations. 

Oddly enough, there is nothing wrong with being either one. A Lucy photographer will most often be the happier of the two, while a Schroeder photographer often over complicates the process and stresses out way to much.

 In the early days of my photography, I was a Lucy, fumbling around thinking I was doing just fine, not understanding how Lucy-like I was...I was just happy to watch those imperfect black and white images magically appear in that tank of chemicals processed in my closet darkroom. Today, in the digital world, I tend to pursue perfection in my images and because I have never achieved said perfection, I find myself not so happy with the results most of the time. At times I find myself wishing I could rely more on my old Lucy instincts and less so on my Schroeder instincts.

Even so, a Schroeder can adapt his style, shift his focus, and create beautiful music. He can look beyond the obvious and visualize what is truly there. He may never truly achieve the desired results, but his understanding of what is possible drives him relentlesly forward. A Lucy, on the other hand, plows along doing the same ole thing all the time, never improving, never desiring to discover the nature of the creative process, settling instead on the imperfect bliss found in her results.

Photography is a lot like music in a way, where a delicate melody of light plays across a composition and color theme. I call it Visual Music, or Symphonic Melody. Sometimes understanding our Lucy mindset helps us to simplify what we are doing and enjoy the process more personally. It makes life appear as less complicated. Growing toward being a Schroeder can be a painful process, one that takes time. On those days when we almost arrive, almost create what our minds eye desires, an inner sense of satisfaction encourages us to keep trying.

Hopefully, we do not allow our Schroeder to become disgruntled with our Lucy. Keeping an open mind about what we are trying to accomplish as photographers is important. By blending our Lucy with our Schroeder we may discover the results of our efforts are far more satisfying and probably less...ding ding dingish.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Artificial Moody Light: A Simple But Effective Solution

As a photographer I like to control light, even natural light. Simply by its nature, natural light is more difficult
to control, but by incorporating diffusers, angles, reflectors and a myriad of other light altering solutions one can effectively control even the harshes of natural light. But what about artificial light? How do you control it? Well, this short article does not provide enough space to dwell on all the exposure variables for using studio or speedlights in the field. But, let us discuss a very simple solution to creating moody light when none is available naturally. What you need is a remotely fired speedlight (off camera flash), a bed sheet, and a large window.

First of all lets briefly discuss how cameras and speedlights work together. It is a common misconception that speedlights are simply used to throw light on your subject. I see this all the time. When you see a photo where the subject(s) appear to be standing in front of a spotlight, well, you get my drift. I have boxes full of them taken with one of those pocket cameras many years ago using the little rotating on camera square flashes...oh my, red eyes and everything. Not much mood inducing effect. Unfortuantely, many novice photographers still believe a high dollar flash unit is simply an expensive way of accomplishing the same thing as those square flash cubes from yester-year.'s not. Speedlights provide the photographer with one of the most powerful mood generating tools in his camera bag. The key is to use it off camera.

Using a speedlight also requires one to expand their understanding of exposure. Anyone who has used a DSLR for any length of time probably knows fundamentally that exposure is controlled by ISO sensitivity, Shutter Speed, and the light gathering Lens Aperture. Some combination of these three creates your image. Change one, and then one or both of the other two has to change to compensate. We'll just leave it at that for now. However, when using a speed light, you must slightly alter your exposure thought process.

All speedlights are designed to provide different Power Settings. But do not be mislead with that concept. First of all, a speedlight always fires at the same intensity on every shot. What changes its Power setting is the amount of time it is allowed to fire, and the actual flash happens very quickly...somewhere in the 1/2000th  to 1/3000th of a second range or possibly faster. For example, a full power flash could fire for 1/1000 of a second where a 1/2 power setting will fire for say 1/2000 of a second....these are just round figures and are intended to demonstrate the point, you get the idea. Now think about this. If your camera flash sync speed is say upwards to 1/200th of a second, well compared to 1/2000th of a second, that is pretty slow. What happens is, when your shutter opens the flash fires for that short 1/2000th of a second, and then the shutter closes. (It's more complicated for a high speed sync, slow sync, front/rear curtain sync, but again this is just an example). Your shutter stays open for a relatively long period of time when compared to the flash duration. Knowing this then helps us understand how to use that to our advantage.

In flash photography, the shutter speed controls the ambient light (background light) exposure, while the aperture controls the flash exposure. Uh...what? What this does is to allow the photographer to capture the background ambient light differently than for the light falling on the subject from the flash. If you want to darken the background exposure, set the sync speed to the highest setting your camera will allow. (High speed sync will allow you to fire at a very fast shutter speed and still sync with the camera flash.) Your aperture then is set to capture the light coming from the flash because it fires so quickly, it really doesn't matter so much what your shutter speed is as long as it syncs with the flash...Huh?

Okay...I said this was let me demonstrate using the sample photo. Notice how the background appears dark, but the subject appears correctly exposed in moody light. The room actually was filled with a good amount of ambient light flowing into it from a large window, but by setting the sync speed to its highest allowed setting (1/200th in this case), and using a low ISO setting (100) that ambient light exposure was subdued to the point the room appeared to be rather dimly lit, when in fact there was a good amount of ambient light flowing into it. The flash unit was set to 1/2 power and positioned about 2 feet away from the window, then fired thru window from the outside. The aperture was set I believe at f/5.6, to properly match the flash output exposure. What you end up with is a subject lit by moody side light against a dark background.

So, how did I get the moody light from this setup? Simple actually, I taped a bed sheet to the outside of the
window which diffused not only the ambient light, but the speedlight flash as well. It effectively became a very large softbox and spred the concentrated light from the flash to provide a very soft kiss of light that subtly wrapped around my subject who was positioned about 5 feet from the window. I set the camera to a Shady White Balance setting that pushed the white balance into a warmer tone. The result was a moody, warm toned, photograph using controlled light from a flash. This image was captured on one take, one shot.

Moody Light, it is as simple as understanding how your camera and an off camera speedlight work together, being a little creative, and combining the two into an effective solution.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Never Give Up on Light

All day for two days the rain fell intermittingly and the sky rolled as a guilded, dark gray, overcast. Not so good for your spirits, perfect if you are a photographer. I love to photograph on misty gray days. Not only is the light subdued with an even coat of texture it becomes moody and filled with mystery. Even more exciting is when the thick overcast moves out and behind it follows a line of clear air. When that moment coincides with sundown, oh my goodness, what results borders on the indescribable.

I managed a late start that afternoon. Only about an hour or so of daylight was left and what remained of it generated a dark mood. As I revisited some familiar locations hoping to capture some of that mysterious mood, I noticed way off toward the horizon what appeared to be a thin line of clearing skies. 

My plans changed and I hurried over to a location that would offer a decent view of when the sun dropped below the cloud line. For fifteen or twenty minutes as the evening sundown progressed I waited and shot, changing lenses and altering my location slightly trying to find the best angle. The results were encouraging, but average I thought even though the sky was spectacular. As bright and dramatic as it was for those few minutes, the drama began to fade toward a flatter outcome so I loaded up and started home.

About a half mile or so from home I passed near a country church location I see all the time. Having made numerous attempts to photograph it in vain, I almost drove on past. The sky was still vaguely under lit by the remnants of the setting sun, but just barely. Visually it appeared dull and flat, with a fading hint of highlight catching the lower parts of the remaining overcast. Within a few minutes it would fade into darkness. Being Wednesday night the church was lit up inside and out waiting for patrons to show up. Although, what little illumination remaining was faint, I decided to give it a try and pulled off the road, setup my tripod and fired off a quick shot. The light was so low the shutter hung open for close to two seconds. What appeared on my viewer took my breath away. That two second exposure allowed the camera to accumulate the dim light reflecting from the clouds and turned it into a spectacular red glow. The shot I had wanted from this location for the past 12 years finally became a reality. 

What I learned; as a photographer one should never give up on the light because what might appear flat and dull to your eye, the camera can capture as bold and beautiful. The general rule about the magic hour holds true; the last 30 minutes before sundown or sunrise, and the next 30 minutes after sundown or sunrise offers the best potential for amazing light. The sun had long since set and what remained was simply the afterglow, the last spark of daylight. This is the time that most photographers call it a day and turn loose of the opportunity. I wanted to see what would happen by not giving up on the light. On this day the results far exceeded the visual clues. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

A Moment Just For Me

A rolling creek composes its own kind of music. Sometimes it sings like a flute, other times it chatters like a snare drum, and still other times it chimes in softly like a clarinet. Their moods are as many as there are memories discovered along their banks.

Small creeks and streams are some of natures most enduring photo opportunities. At first I find myself drawn to them for the aesthetic beauty they offer. I will often sit in the shade of a tall tree and simply listen, shutting out the distractions life in general throws at us. Before long I notice a movement, a reflection, how the light filters across the water, or how a leaf spins and sails on the surface. A Kingfisher chatters and dives to retrieve a tasty meal, a squirrel barks after scampering along a low hanging limb, the breeze sings its cheerful song as it catches the trees. A soft blanket of green mossy growth covers the larger boulders and spreads across the bulk of a downed tree trunk. These are but a few of the obvious mysteries to greet anyone who takes the time to look for them.

I raise the camera and search through the lense, moving closer and then back, seeking how the light plays off background clutter. Early in the day mist or fog will often drift across the channel and the morning light cuts numerous transluscent paths through the haze. I search, I look, I stop and simply listen.

Sometimes, most times really, the picture simply does not capture the experience. At the moment I realize I can never truly lock a camera image in place, I will set the camera down and simply create an image of the heart, one that can never get lost, nor forgotten. I say to myself, "For now I will just sit...just enjoy...for no other time will I have this particular experience, and this moment is just for me".

Friday, November 6, 2015

Best Day Ever - There is More to Fishing Than Catching Fish

I do love the soft twirl made by line as it rolls off the spinning reel followed by a girgled ploop as the spinner
lure falls with a natural grace into the stream. When the bail closes with a soft clink joined in motion by the gentle whirl of the gears, memories return from times past, the kind that reminds me of what fishing is all about.

My how life can interfere with the most important of moments. The summer started and ended with all the desire to get out more, but like so many other times, the desire was greater than the ability to follow through with the action, and I managed only a time or two getting out. Before I knew it fall was upon us with winter hovering not far away. Maybe it was because of the fall that stiring to get out surfaced and I found myself once again feeling the cold waters of a clear stream swirling around my legs and feet.

A few turns of the crank resulted in the first fish of the day. A sharp rap, a sudden jerk, the line drawn taught, and the rod arched against the fighter on the other end. He darted left then right, tried to head for deeper water, then into the swifter current which added to the weight of the fight. A moment later a beautiful 12 inch Rainbow Trout I lifted from the water and gently released to slide back into his watery lair.

I could have stopped then and been satisfied on the day, but it was early so I repeated the process of casting across the current and the slow deliberate retrieve. Before long another trout hit the spinner, another release, then another and another. I moved down stream to another location, made a gentle cast into a beautiful blue hole below a rolling set of shoals. Clink...whirl....another hit. This was the best.

Before I called it a day 3 hours or so later, I probably caught and released close to 25 or more trout. Never before on a single outing in so short a time have ever caught so many fish. The moment demanded I stop briefly to survey the country. The sky was broken overcast with occasional beams of light splashing against a hillside still adorned with fall leaves. The lively current danced and tangoed with the gravel shoals keeping time with the light breeze that sang a natural song played amongst the dangle of leaves. I inhaled a deep breath of cool fall air. Yes, this was the best day ever and I am so grateful for the opportunity to enjoy such moments. I do so love the soft twirl made by line as it rolls off the spinning reel, but, there is more to fishing than catching fish. I love the memories made even more.

Monday, November 2, 2015

A Country Road Drive About - Just What the Doctor Ordered

A difficult week just transpired, one that fell in the middle of the peak fall color season here in Kentucky. During that week I was unable to get out spending most of my time at the Medical Center checking on Kris's mother's condition. By the time we got her home, wind and rain had knocked most of the color to the ground. As tired as I was, I needed to get away for a short time so I grabbed the camera bag and tripod to find what color remained.

On a spur of the moment idea I decided to travel down a country road I had neglected for several years. It's amazing how revisiting a old haunt after so long makes it seem like a new location.

My reward was to rediscover old bridges stoicly spanning clear running creeks, rustic weathered old barns and freshly painted bright red ones. Charming fields rolled beneath treelined ridges, and pockets of color continued to splash their brilliant flavors across the landscape. Crimson reds, golden yellows, rusty browns, and splashes of green greeted me a fair hello. It was just what the doctor ordered.

Monday, October 26, 2015

"Be Still..."

The fall season carries on its shoulders a melody of color, clear brisk evenings and a night sky filled with countless points of light. It is a time to refresh and recover before the cold months arrive. Here in Kentucky the fall colors tend to hesitate for weeks providing just a hint, just a tease of what is to come, waiting, waiting, then almost overnight the color explodes with a burst of energy that engulfs the visual senses.

During this time, it is easy to lose time when a gentle fall breeze sings to you as it searches through the tree tops. Maybe that is why fall is one of the favorite seasons, certainly it is mine. As much as I enjoy hearing the wind carried across the fields and thru the trees, nothing else soothes the soul quite like the serenade of a lively creek on refreshing fall afternoon where the dappled sun lays across the shadows and all the sounds and vibrations of the season bid an Indian Summer welcome. It is a time special made for photographers.

One of my favorite places to get lost is to simply find a creek where the clear waters roll and dance around softly rounded stones, over casual drops, to create an unending echo of natures music. When the fall colors turn in earnest, these small creeks reflect golden light to provide an art exhibit beyond compare. Combined with its musical concert, the visual effects will suspend one above the trials of the day. I suppose that is why God created these small creeks, to remind us to slow down, to reflect, to listen so we can hear him and know who he is. There is wisdom in those immortal words, "Be still..."

Monday, October 19, 2015

Old Trees, Shade, Backlight and Highlights

The tree once stood tall and straight with a broad base anchored along the ancient creek bank. For untold
years it helped to stablize the soil along the steep sides of the creek, but now all that remains is a toppled over trunk that is slowly being compromised by the elements of natural decay. It now serves a new purpose, one that adds to the aesthtic value of the scenic view, and one that provides a photographer with an amazing natural prop for a location shoot.

New trees have now sprouted and grown large enough to support the bank and provide a lot of dappled afternnon shade. My photographers eye locked onto the scene within the first few moments of my initial survey. This I knew would be a great place to photograph any model. Problem was the shade, which in many ways is beneficial, but at the same time can cause your images to appear flat and lifeless. What one needs is controled light to add vibrancy to the scene.

We arrived mid-afternoon on a bright and sunny day, however as was expected the tall trees prevented most of the suns rays from penetrating very deeply allowing only a few veins of dappled light. These rays came in handy as they added a measure of natural background light to scene. I setup one speedlight with a 24 x 30 softbox for my main light and one bare speedlight to use as a backlight. The key for the backlight was to generate a separation layer or halo while the main light provided a soft light that brought a flair to the eyes and provided just a kiss of fill light that brought life and vibrance to the face.

When shooting in a shaded area like this one, you really have to look for ways to highlight your model by using either natural beams of light that cause the hair to glow, or providing your own light to accomplish the same thing. The natural light provides a bit warmer and softer look while the speedlight provides a whiter brighter look. Some photographers prefer natural light exclusively which works well in certain situations, but you tend to have less control over intensity and direction. I've grown fond of using speedlights in the field as they provide a greater measure of control and you can dial up the intensity to fit your desires.

The main reason for a backlight is to separate your model from the background. I tend to dial up the intensity to really make it shine. What happens is you not only get that great hair glow, but it will also provide a subtle glow around the edges of your model to further separate her from the dark background. I don't get overly concerned about ratios between the two, I just go with what looks good to me at the time changing each light's power output according to the need at the moment. I will usually start with 1/4 power for both lights and change one or the other up or down depending on the circumstance. Sometimes I simply move the light closer or farther away to get the desired effect. Keep in mind by using a small softbox like the 24 x 30 one I was using you want to avoid the spotlight effect. Moving the light farther away makes the light source smaller so it tends to look more like a spot light as a result. Moving it in closer makes the relative size of the light larger so it provides a wider wrap around effect. Moving it closer usually requires you to dial the power down a notch or so to keep from blowing out your subject.

With a lovely model and a great location, combined with creative use of the light, well, I'll let the results speak for themselves.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Back To My Roots - Standing On Solid Ground

We walked along the old abandoned golf cart path that weaved over and around the remains of a golf course. Where greens once spread  their manicured surfaces, weeds now grew. Where sandtraps once glinced in the sun, they were now inundated with scraggly looking thorny growth. The bridge that arched across a large pond was still there, but its once glowing white paint was flaking off and it was in need of repairs. It was a shame in a way to see this once wonderfully scenic area crumbling from what was a pretty nice course. But, in a way it was a good thing because here nature was reclaiming its own, and that is good for a photographer. The scenic deposit discovered here only increased in value with its slow return to nature.

Early fall in Kentucky can be some of the best times to get out as a photographer. On this late afternoon the wind was not a factor and the sun began to slip below the openings in the thick cover of rolled clouds. A rich vibrance spread across the scene, one only nature can supply. At once I knew this was a special moment.

I enjoy all kinds of photography; nature, wildlife, scenic, portraits, astrophotography. My roots lie in landscapes and sometimes I tend to fall away from what I know best to explore other avenues of expression. Overall it is a good thing to branch out and try new things, but, it is good to return to those roots, for there is where my creative desires find solid ground.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Cross Training

I stood in the middle of the railroad tracks casting hurried glances towards the sky. Whenever I would look
away even for a short time and then gaze again toward the sky it seemed to have undergone a dramatic change. The thick overcast was beginning to split apart and the upper currents of air were pushing and forming the remnants into elongated rolled cylinders. What I hoped would happen was for the setting sun to fill those formations with a golden hue, but where the sun hovered the clouds were too thick for any such magic to happen. The beauty of digital cameras is that you can impart some magic of your own with a few simple tweaks and settings.

I call it 'Jumping Light'. It's not a term you will find in any photography text book, just something I made up a couple years ago while experimenting with the white balance settings. I do that a lot; try something just to see what happens. Pushing the WB toward the upper end of the Kelvin scale I artificially forced the sky and clouds to look as though a golden hue was indeed being cast across their rolling forms.

I do not always know what I will discover when I head out. No amount of planning ahead can always guarantee the results you hope for. More often than not, the light doesn't cooperate so I have to adapt. The important thing here is to get out and there are times regardless of the conditions that I just have to get out and try. I have discovered that by diversifying what I do photographically opens up a lot of opportunities that might otherwise not be fulfilled. I know a lot of good photographers. They are very good at what they do, but tend to shy away from photo opportunities that do not fall inside their comfort bubbles. Just like cross training in sports helps the athlete to achieve a higher standard of fitness, cross training in photography can achieve the same kind of results for the photographer.

From location portraits I've learned the importance of expression, light, and timing. Landscapes and scenics
have taught me about how to identify what is really important. From nature and wildlife I've learned to be more patient and exacting. Night photography has helped me read drama and story into a composition. From astrophotography I've learned to anticipate the extraordinary and to look for what is not always seen. From working events I've learned how to operate at a fast pace and make quick instinctive adjustments. Black and white has shown me the importance of shape, form, and texture. Floral's have helped me discover subtle details and how to apply light to enhance those details. Video has taught me about angles, steadiness of hand, and continuity. Cross training your photography will in time generate a stronger overall performance that will show up in all forms of your photographic pursuits.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Country Roads - A Great Place to Climb Out of a Rut

There are times when I find it difficult to discover something new locally to photograph. It  happens more

often than I would like, but it also serves a good purpose by forcing me to look beyond my normal range. It is easy to fall into a rut and become dissatisfied with my results, but again it also serves to as motivation to seek out something fresh and rewarding. Often it is simply a matter of waiting for good light or different light on old subject matter. Sometimes it requires me to find a new subject altogether. Once the need arises to seek out something new, one of the best places to find it is along a country road.

Country roads are one of my favorite photographic haunts. Kentucky is blessed with an abundance of winding and random flowing back roads with hundreds of old barns and ponds and other rural paraphernalia. Each of them adds a unique flavor to the landscape and how one observes this unique landscape is how one will photograph it.

Light is still the key ingredient so simply photographing what you see will only produce snap shots of the landscape. I often will spend the middle of the day driving along a new country road simply looking for potential locations taking note of where the sun will rise or set, are there any valley's or low areas where fog will collect, is there a clear view of the horizon or sky, what is actually important in what I am observing and how best can it be captured. This kind of approach helps to simplify your approach and narrow down the time and place to attempt a capture.

Country roads; and great place to climb out of a rut.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Now On Fine Art America

Just a quick plug. I am now on Fne Art America. Click on the link on the right side of this page to take you there.

Big Sky - Big Country

As first light brightened over the horizon I realized I was once again running about fifteen minutes late, so I hurried my pace across the rough terrain to close the gap between what I was seeing and arriving at the location to capture it. There was a cool breeze whispering over the top of the prairie and the bottoms of my pants grew damp from the morning dew. A few birds were already beginning their morning songs and I stopped for a moment to absorb the moment. Could not tary long for the sun would not wait and I hurried to setup my camera before the light changed.

Photographing Oklahoma's Tallgrass Prairie requires one to arrive early and stay late. Sometimes it is difficult to separate the task at hand from just simply enjoying the moment, so sooner than I wanted, I began to snap off images as the morning colors progressed across a palet as large as the prairie itself.

The Tallgrass Prairie is one of my favorite places. Browse through this blog and you will discover a number of articles that reflect my fondness of this location. It can be a challenge to photograph sometimes because the diversity that is the prairie makes it difficult to decide what is important to capture. I often find myself second guessing my choice of locations. Once I decide on place, I wonder if maybe I should have chosen the other location. What if? That is a question that plagues my thoughts as I wait for the light. What if I were here yesterday or wait until tomorrow, or should I have setup someplace else, but no, I'm here now so take advantage of what has been offered.

There are elements I look for, things like a compelling foreground to add interest and depth to the landscape. The angle of the light, the color and quality of the light are just a few. Sometimes elements just fall into place, other times I have to search for them, and sometimes it requires taking a hike just to see what lies over the hill. Most of my scouting is done during the middle of the day when the light is flat and harsh. While scouting I look for potential, then hope the light changes as anticipated.

Photographing the prairie can be cold, hot, wet, dry, windy, overcast, and bright sun, all in one day, but it can also be one of the most rewarding and challenging of photo adventures one can pursue. The key is get off the access road, shy away from the cliche, and seek out new potential by walking into the prairie. It is there you will discover its true identity and it will reveal itself to you. Take only its portrait, but leave a part of yourself blowing with the prairie wind.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Daytime Artifical Light to Create Dramatic Portraits

I especially enjoy location shoots. They provide an almost never ending array of backdrop and light, plus it allows one to get out of the house and enjoy being outside. We recently were involved in a shoot at a new location for me. It proved to be a spectacular day with a gentle breeze, fall-like temperatures, and lots of puffy clouds.

Here is one photograph from the shoot where a combination of using onsite speedlights, a stunning model, and some simple post processing created a dramatic portrait. The shooting conditions were somewhat difficult with broken clouds accented with a bright sun. Shooting in anything except a full shade was pretty much out of the question.

The setup for this image was rather simple. It was shot in the shade of porch area using two speedlights fired remotely. On the key light was attached a 24x30 softbox and it's power setting was reduced to about 1/4 power. It was placed about 4 feet from the model at somewhere between 90 and 60 degrees inline with the head and was adjusted to just above eye level. This allowed the softbox to extend slightly above and below the models head and shoulders and to also provide some soft wrap around light. Behind the model about 10 feet away another speedlight was setup dialed down to about 1/8th power. It was a bare light raised to about head level and pointed directly and the model.

It was shot on manual set at ISO 100 at f/9 at 1/200th with the lens zoomed out to 200mm.  This setting produced a well exposed portrait with a sharp drop off of contrast and some wrap around from the key light and nice separation highlights on the hair from the second light.

Post processing included convertion to black and white using a film noir process which generated a dramatic contrast without blowing out the highlights. The midtones were dropped to darken the background and the resulting image became a stunning example of how artificial light can be used to make a natural looking, yet powerful portrait...even in daylight.

Friday, September 11, 2015

V-Slats and Artificial Lighting

As I have stated numerous times photography is all about light. It doesn't matter the source of the light. It could be natural or artificial, how you employ the qualities of that light determines to a large degree the final value of the image. I recently started exploring in more detail the use of artificial lights both studio guns and smaller speedlights. Both have their advantages and disadvantages, but both can also provide a spectacular array of lighting potential. One technique I find intriguing is the use of what are known as V-Slats. They are most often employed in a studio environment and provide a wonderfully soft and compelling light.

First of all V-Slats are very simple to construct, there is nothing fancy about them. I used two sets of two 3x4 foam boards joined along one edge with tape to end up with two V-Slats. The idea is to bounce your light into the V of the folded slats facing away from your subject. The light is then bounced off a larger white wall a few feet behind them. The White wall in effect becomes your light source.

The light coming off the wall presents a huge flood of soft light that envelops your subject. Combine it with say 400 watts of constant lighting set behind and to one side, you end up with an interesting and dramatic soft light effect.

Playing with the exposure values also allows you to introduce motion into the equation without sacrificing the clarity and sharpness required for your subject.