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.

Prairie Sunrise

Prairie Sunrise
Prairie Sunrise

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Same Flower - Three Looks: The Difference Between Ordinary, Pretty Good, and Extraordinary

It became one of my favorite images, but almost did not happen. Back in the day when I was still shooting film, transparency film to be more specific, I happened across a situation where I had one image left on the roll with a potentially great shot developing. In front of me alongside a country road stretched a long row of Queenannes Lace blooms. In the distance a low rolling horizon rose up to meet the setting sun which hovered just above the ridge. Subdued by a thick hazy layer the sun turned into a orange ball. My thought was to zoom in tight on the bloom and center it against that orange ball. I could only visualize the final image, but knew what I wanted and set the exposure to what I believed would produce the expected results. Problem was, I could not easily line up the shot because of a barbed wire fence. I stooped low through the wire, stretched as far as I could but just could not get the alignment I wanted without falling. I leaned a few inches more and rotated the camera but could only partially align the bloom against the setting sun which was rapidly about to dip too low. I fired off the shot hoping for the best. The final results turned out far better than I imagined.

This image became a good example of what I mean when I explain to novice photographers 'never settle for the ordinary'. Often they become fixated on the object thinking that the object by itself is what creates the great image. Too often they neglect to think in terms of photographing light. There is a difference between ordinary, pretty good, and extraordinary, and as photographers we should always pursue the extraordinary.

Ordinary, when it comes to nature photography, tends to have that fundamental look about it. It may very well be a good technical image and capture the basic appearance of the object, but, more often than not it looks like something that would be used in a Text Book, a documentary image of sorts, where the light falls upon the image.

Pretty Good
Pretty Good is a step in the right direction where light has been used to enhance the basic beauty of the object. It certainly provides a more interesting viewpoint, but there is more available to capture. As a photographer, if I stopped at Pretty Good, I would have left myself short realizing that anyone, even a novice can capture Pretty Good. There is always another look, another example, another opportunity to use light in an artistic manner, and that is what we seek to discover.

To capture the Extraordinary, one must look well beyond the obvious and visualize the potential of what is there. Even simple objects in ordinary circumstances can become extraordinary images with a bit of creative vision. One must also understand how the camera captures light, knowing why that white field of snow looks gray in your image, or why that deep blue sky looks pale and washed out. This idea takes you deeper, it stretches your thought process broader into the realm of becoming an artist, someone who has a command of the tools they use, someone with a vision vs simply being a photographer of things. It takes practice and a willingness to try something new, something different. It may require you to learn more about how your camera actually does what it does and why it does so, instead of just accepting what the out of box configuration gives you.

Same flower, three perspectives. The difference between Ordinary, Pretty Good, and Extraordinary is often just a few inches away, a different angle of light, another perspective, or coming back a second or third time to discover the right combination of light, object, and circumstance. What you will find is that even though Extraordinary seems hard and difficult to master, the potential for doing so is endless.

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