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

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Embracing Simplicity

There is a photographic concept known as Simplicity of Purpose that I beleive is the heart and soul of what makes a great photograph. What it means is this: Everything in the photo is there for a reason with nothing being there that distracts from the intended story. In other words, keep your composition simple.

A painter starts with a blank canvas and adds the elements he desires to create the composition. A photographer on the other hand starts with a full visual canvas and must remove all the distracting elements so that only what is important is captured. This may be one of the most difficult things for a novice photographer to grasp. It sounds simple enough, but executing the technique requires the ability and experience to see beyond what is obvious, to comprehend visually what is necessary to create the image story.

Keeping your composition simple does not mean it lacks for a measure of complexity. Even a simple composition can be quite complex. What matters is that all of the corresponding complexity works together with no element(s) working against what you are trying to accomplish. The best compositions are the simplest ones. Part of your thought process when photographing must be to think in terms of simplifying your composition. There are simple ways of doing this.

One of the most effective ways is to use a zoom or telephoto lense. This kind of lense helps to isolate your main subject and also improves what is called depth of field...where the subject is in focus but the background is out of focus. A blurred background helps to simply your composition by eliminating distractions.

Try not to fixate on your subject to the point you are unaware of your surroundings. Always take notice of what is behind, and to either side and above. Situational awareness of whats happening within your field of view is a key mental process that is developed over time. By fixating on the subject and ignoring the surroundings, it is easy to not see distracting elements.

Placing your subject in front of a dark or light background is a great way to simplify your image. This can be done several ways including changing the angle of the shot or simply moving a step or two to one side. Again this is part of being aware of your surroundings approach to taking photos.

Use leading lines to take the viewer into the image. By itself, this technique will visually help to eliminate elements you may not be able to easily bypass in your composition.

On a more advanced note, when photographing a model an effective way to bring attention to your subject is to use a speedlight(s). By using a fast shutter that still syncs with your flash you can darken the background, and by using a more open aperture, you can use the light off the flash to highlight your subject.

Three words resound in my mind no matter what I am photographing; simplify, simplify, simplify. It is a vital and effect approach to creating amazing images that stand apart from the ordinary.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

When It All Clicks Into Place

Not unlike writing when blocks of time drag on and the words simply do not come to life, photography can provide blocks of time when the pictures simply do not appear. I get discouraged at times when I am unable to see past the end of my lense. I tend to make excuses like the light is bad, or the composition is uninteresting. When that happens my motivation seems to wavier. I have stored my camera away for long periods of time because it just wasn't working. Even so, there resides within all artists, and photographers are indeed artists, the desire to create, and to create means to visualize what is not seen, to work past the blocks, and to achieve a level of accomplishment that is satisfying and rewarding. Those moments are the times when it all clicks into place and you know something magical just happened.

Making it all click into place takes a measure of effort not often realized by those who simply approach photography from a casual perspective. Such efforts are both rewarding and frustrating at the same time. Knowing what you want to create but being unable to do so plays on your confidense. So many times I find myself shaking my head knowing I am just not seeing it and the results prove it. Then there are those moments of insight when you see beyond the ordinary, when the light falls just right, when you create the moment with a vision that transcends what your senses simply see. That is when you rediscover why you do what you do.

You are the creator of the artistic vision that resides within. You are the one who must put all the pieces together to make it happen. Others can help you learn technique, but you create your own style and it is your style that brings your vision to life.  
You are a painter of light. You see what others do not, and you capture what others never pursue. You endure freezing weather, torrid heat, wind and rain. You climb high to place yourself in the best possible location, you lose sleep to be there at the best possible gathering of light. You make the difficult look easy, yet you are never satisfied continually seeking perfection. Somewhere deep inside, you understand what is required to capture that special moment...a moment when it all clicks into place.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Looking at the Problem With an Uncommon Approach

Not much more than two years ago I was afraid to use a speedlight...most people call them Flash, but after seeing hundreds of amazing images others made with their use I decided I would learn the hows and whys of their magic. Probably next to graduating into the digital world, it was one of the best decisions I've ever made as a photographer.

There are countless videos and articles explaining the in's and out's of the technical aspects of their use, so we won't go there in this article. Instead I'd like to briefly explore how using speedlights can help us to look upon an ordinary subject matter from another perspective, or use an uncommon approach to capturing a common object.

Ever since I was just a young lad I've been fascinated with airplanes of all kinds; jets, propeller types, small ones, large ones, helicopters, old ones, new ones, high tech name it and I've read about it. I love their history and the pioneers who broke new ground in their development. So, recently I asked myself why haven't I tried to photograph them more than I have. When I thought about it I realized just how rarely I had even made attempts to do such a thing and the few I did try turned out to be rather ordinary and clicheish with no artistic merit to them at all.

Not far from my house is a public park and in the park is a very nicely conceived and constructed Aviation Heritage Display where several historical war planes from the past are on display. I've visited it several time over the last few years and even snapped a few photos...they are buried some place deep inside my photographs folder.

One day recently I made plans to be on location just before dusk to try out an idea on capturing some unique images of these amazing aircraft. The problem that interfered with capturing good photos of the aircraft was how the background seemed to create a negative blend of distractions that would interfere with making a good photo.

My thought was to use speedlights as the main source of light and allow the background ambient light to dim down so those distractions would not be seen. I only had two flash units I could fire remotely, but figured they would do the job so I began to strategically place them around the old F9F Panther fighter jet of the Korean War era.

The idea here was to use the speedlights to create a unique set of artifical lighting conditions where I could control the angle, direction, and intensity of the light. It took several tries to find the right combinations, but the results proved interesting.

Afterward I moved over to the F111 Fighter/Bomber of Vietnam War vintage and performed much the same kind of experimenting. It being a larger aircraft reqired a different approach, but eventually I stumbled onto a combination that seemed to work.

I was encouraged by the results and the exercise proved again just how valuable trying something new can be. To capture these two aircraft the way I wanted to required that I look at the problem with an uncommon approach. What I learned is; even with the limited light from two remotely fired speedlights, one can generate an artistic piece of work from ordinary subjects. I also learned that three or four lights would have given me even more control and power over the moment. Now I'll have to find an uncommon approach to finance the purchase of the additional two lights.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Photographing Gentle Silence

In recent weeks I've been able to observe from time to time a couple of college students interacting with their friends. The interacting is not so unusual except virtually all of the interaction was done using text messaging. What struck me as odd was the amount of time these two spent with their eyes glued to their phone working those electronic keyboards. My thoughts were one of amazement and sorrow. It seemed these two were so fixated on their high tech gadgets, they failed to grasp just how much of their life was passing away. I once watched for over a half hour as this one person never once lifted an eye from that tiny glowing screen. Even more disconserting was that it continued way longer than the half hour I happened to watch.

I suppose one could compare it to someone who has to have some kind of music...noise really...playing around them all the time. Silence makes them feel uncomfortable. One might also interject that spending hours on end sending and receiving text messages is a kind of silent noise, not unlike the audible noise so many feel they must have in their life. It is like their minds are in a constant state of flux where it dare not slow down for fear of being left out.

Maybe I am unusual or maybe it is a bi-product of my generation, but I seem to crave silence more than noise. Could be too that is why I spend a lot of time in pursuit of captuing photographic art. Most visual arts including photography is a silent art. Once the image is captured and placed on display, it makes no audible sound, yet in many ways a photograph can interject a sense of noise through its interpretation of the visual composition. A good photograph will by its nature pull the viewer into the moment. By doing so the viewer will often hear what the visual effect is trying to portray.

One of my favorite things to do is to sit atop a high prairie knoll and simply allow the gentle part of the moment to fill my heart. The prairie is not silent, nor is it noisy. There is the subtle whisper of the wind as it swirls through the tops of the tall grasses. There are the prairie birds singing to the wind. There are sounds found there one cannot find elsewhere, yet they are so subtle, so soothing, they become a gentle silence.

I love photographing gentle silence.