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

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.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Using Light as the Narrator of Your Image Story

Well, after a long absence I am back. I’ve missed the blogging world sharing photography and outdoor experiences, and I am looking forward to adding to the 200+ stories already posted.

 During my absence I was able to explore more closely certain elements about photography requiring improvement on my part. I watched numerous videos and acquired some extra gear to fill in some of those equipment gaps that constantly haunted my efforts. Also, well I found myself sort of forced into early retirement, well semi-retirement anyway. It’s not such a bad thing.

I discovered again how light in all of its forms is what makes photography fun. Telling a story using light as the narrator became a stronger element. Often stumbling into discoveries like this is like working a crossword puzzle. A word here and one there provides enough hints to help you fill in the gaps. A photo here, a combination of lighting events there, and suddenly you begin to recognize a pattern. Once you see the pattern, compositional gaps are more easily filled.

Take the example image above. It was mostly an overcast morning, but the clouds were breaking apart just enough to allow momentary beams of light to flow across the landscape. The low angle of the sun perfectly filled the image story with beams of light that illuminated the tall grasses in the foreground and lifted the trees in the background toward a separation of contrasts against the sky. The story is one of a country road. The narrator was light who spoke in a soothing language to perfectly express the moment and carried the image beyond the ordinary to become a story with meaning and purpose.

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. This applies to all forms of photography, and over the next few weeks we will explore more deeply the significance of this concept.