Beyond The Campfire was created to encourage readers to explore the great outdoors and to look at it more closely. 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 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 Pilot

The Pilot
The Pilot

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 ones...you 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.

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