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.