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

Friday, February 26, 2016

A Season for Every Color - A Season for Black and White

Every season of the year provides its own unique combination of light and scenic value and all seasons carry their own color value forward into the next one. There is one season where black and white is king. That would be winter when light values shift between contrast and brightness.

The stark nature of winter lends itself well to black and white imagery. Trees are bare, reflections are crisp, skies can be clean and clear or filled with texture. Clouds draw wispy lines at high altitudes, or cover everything in a heavy blanket of rolling overcast.

When I am out searching for a dymanic scene to photograph, I will often attempt to see in black and white, or rather, I try to look beyond the distraction of color and visualize the scene as combination of contrasts and textures filled with varying degrees of brightness. It is not unusual for me to take a photo fully expecting to convert it into black and white. It is not always an easy process to accomplish, but with enough practice, one begins to see beyond the ordinary and extract visual clues from the environment that can be enhanced as a black and white.

Some of this process goes way back to my early days of photography when I would process film and develop B&W prints inside my closet darkroom simple images made from a vintage box camera and roll film. Those days turned out to be invaluable to my learning to see photographically. Doing so with black and white in mind helps to train your eye to see through the clutter and distractions and concentrate on what is truly important...shape, form, contrast, composition.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Listen With Your Eyes, Visualize with Your Heart

Not so long ago I had to endure countless hours sitting in dull, inspiration choking meetings. I won't hold back on how much I hated sitting there. Almost always the meeting would evolve into a Whaa Waahhaa Waaah, please, just shoot me now situation. I was hearing the words, but was not listening to what was being times to my chagrin when I was asked to speak my insights on the discussion at hand...of which I had no clue of what had just been discussed.

Sometimes photography can be like that as well. There are days I hear with my eyes, but I am not listening, or seeing what is really there. I try to take a photo, but it is like I am clueless as to what I am seeing, what I am trying to accomplish.

The trick is to not allow yourself to fall into that state of mind where you hear, but do not listen, where you see, but do not visualize. Some of my best images have been random moments I stumble into. Those are rare. What I have discovered over the years is I can create more consistent quality images if I allow myself to listen with my eyes while I am visualizing with my heart.

The two work together. Using one or the other by itself will often fall short. If I listen with my eyes, but fail to visualize beyond what I am seeing, or if I try to visualize an image, but fail to observe, or listen to what I am seeing, the results are often sub-par.

In all honesty, I am not so sure I can fully explain this concept in such a way as to make it clear. The best way I suppose is to provide an example. Take the image shown above. The creek was running high and flowing over the top of the low water bridge. There was motion, there was the rushing sound of the water as it fell over the edge, there was the light, the reflections, the lines. It was the kind of scene one could easily miss because of the complexity of the visual references being presented.

As a photographer, my purpose is to find order amongst the chaos. In this instance I used a small zoom lense to tighten the visual look. I angled the camera to position the movement into an array of lines and angles. I let the light play across the textures of the flowing water and used a fast shutter to capture the moment. I listened with my eyes to what was being played out in front of me, and before I snapped the image, I saw the finsihed product as black and white in my heart.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Foreground: Establishing A Sense of Place

Landscape photography is all about creating a sense of place, a connection to home, to now. Oddly enough I bet I have hundreds of landscape shots whose images stretch to the far off horizon. More often than not, that is about all you see in those images...the horizon, which in and of itself does little to register a sense of place. What really creates a great landscape photograph is one that incorporates three basic elements: A Foreground; A Middle Ground; and a Background. All three are important, but it is the foreground that establishes that sense of home, of being there.

Establishing Place begins with the foreground elements. These closeup items help the viewer to ascertain what it was like to be standing in that location when the image was taken. An effectly composed foreground ties the viewer to the scene and can provide not only important visual clues, but can jump stir other sense stimulating elements into life, such as aroma, sound, and touch.

Take the image shown above. One can almost smell the damp prairie grass, hear the prairie wind, and feel the roughness of the rocky outcropping. It draws the eye into the image where it drifts across the rolling terrain to land on the horizon. Visually, you are there seeing, hearing, and feeling the same things the photographer saw and felt at the time.

When wanting to capture an effective landscape image, always begin with light, but anchor it with a strong foreground.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Snap Shots...They Really are Okay

Back almost 25 years ago a few buddies and I took a long multi-day float trip down the Buffalo River, one of many over the years, in Northwestern Arkansas. I guess we floated and camped for 3 or 4 nights and traveled 50 miles or so. Great fun we had getting away from work and enjoying doing what we enjoyed most and floating. While temporarily stopped beneath a place called The Nar's, a unique landmark about midway down the rivers route, I managed to catch the largest smallmouth bass I've ever caught. Man what a fight it was trying to muscle that fish out of a deep hole with a strong current swirling around. Once I lifted it clear of the water, I held it high to show it off with a giant grin on my younger face.

My buddy lifted his disposable 35mm camera and snapped a couple of snap shots to capture the moment. What he captured was more than a picture of a big fish, he spontaneously captured a great deal of emotional satisfaction.

All through this blog I write about how to take better pictures hoping that maybe someone might actually improve on their technique and discover the joys of creating amazing photographic art. In the process, sometimes I come across a bit critical of the Snap Shot. So, this blog post will sing the praises of such photographs, because...well, I have way more snap shots laying around than I do works of art, and you know what, I wouldn't trade them for anything.

You see, snap shots are just that; a quickly captured spur-of-the-moment moment. They have an uncanny ability to capture the thrill of the moment, the excitement of the catch, the surprise of it all. No posed or thought out image could ever capture the spontaneity of the snap shot.

Some years ago Kodak and Polaroid and maybe other camera/film producers marketed a whole series of quick use instant cameras. They were extremely popular and for good reason; you got to see your images within a minute or two. Teens loved them, they were great party cameras. Most important was the fact that millions of spontaneous photos were taken, just for fun, and they were amazing.

Today I will look back on all the snap shots I took and can in an instant recapture the moment. I remember places, names, events, and most of the dates when each of those images were created. I have stacked on a bookshelf a dozen or more photo albums, some I call Brag'n Books, stuffed with hundreds and hundreds of mostly snap shots. Oddly enough, I don't have more than maybe a half dozen individual 'Art Works' photos displayed anywhere. And, you know what...the snap shot images are a lot more fun to browse through.

So, if you ever read anything of mine where it sounds like I am being critical of the snap shot, think of it only as a basis of comparison when trying to discuss how to take fine art images. I love snap shots, probably more now than I ever did back when I originally took them. They really are Okay..:)