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, 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.