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

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.