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

Monday, July 25, 2016

Creating Extraordinary Visions

Recently I was asked to give a condensed version of a photography workshop (How to See Photographically) I presented several times a few years ago. The new version turned out to be  a new presentation reworked from the original and was called Creating Extraordinary Visions. Its focus was to simply touch on the concept of what it takes to consistently create extraordinary photographs. It was more inspirational than instructional in nature although a few ideas did find their way into the program. Over the next several blog posts in a multi-part presentation I want to share bits and pieces about Creating Extraordinary Visions with you the readers. Hopefully, you will find some inspiration along the way.

It All Begins With Light

Creating extraordinary visions begins with light, for you see Light in all of its moods is what transforms the ordinary into the extraordinary. As photographers, that is what we do...We Transform Light! We also see what others do not see. We develop an uncanny ability to look beyond what is visually in front of us and see into the potential of the moment, because photography is indeed 90% seeing and 10% photographing. 

The 10% is important no doubt. It is the instinctive part of photography where we grasp the difference between what makes a great exposure and simply capturing a visual xerox image of what we see. It is where we understand all of the mechanics of photography; shutter speed, aperture, ISO, White Balance, depth of field, composition, and so on...and the relationships between all of those components. It is where we understand how the camera is going to react to a given lighting condition and then have the ability to use that understanding to capture a scene the way we want it to look as opposed to always simply capturing what we see. But, photography is 90% seeing and this is one of the most difficult aspects of the art for most to fully grasp.

The art of seeing begins with light. Some years ago I read a statement by a world class photographer, Jack Dykinga, that altered my understanding of who I was as a photographer. What he said was, "Cameras and lenses are simply tools we use to capture our unique vision....Concentrate on equipment, and you will take technically good photographs. But, concentrate on seeing lights magic colors and your images will stir the soul."

Think about those words for a moment. Lights magic colors....Images that stir the soul....Unique vision. After reading Jacks statement all those years ago, I for the first time began to realize what photography was all about. It isn't about the object or the equipment...It is about creating a vision based on light. What you photograph is less important than how you photograph it. When you look at the potential photographic solution from the context of light, your whole perspective of what you do is changed. Light then becomes the driving force behind all of your images. From the dynamic grandeur of the Grand Canyon to the simple beauty of a single blade of grass...light is what defines how the image is received visually and the way you approach taking the image is dictated by the quality of the light.

There will come a point in time if you continue to pursue photography toward a high level of accomplishment, you will need to ask yourself two questions.

1.  Am I a picture taker of things?
2.  Do I consider myself to be an artist?

You see, the Picture Taker captures images believing it is the camera and/or the object itself being photographed that creates the great image. Rarely does the picture taker take into consideration the quality of the light and is usually satisfied with a photo as long as it is technically good. His motto is; I have a good camera therefore I take good pictures.

On the other hand, The Artist uses Light to bring his images to life and approaches his craft from the context
of light from the very beginning. He can take the most simple of objects using basic equipment and turn it into a work of art that will indeed stir the soul. He spends less time trying to define the object as he visually sees it, and instead attempts to create a feeling or mood. He begins the process by visualizing what the end result will be before he ever points the camera.

Creating Extraordinary Visions begins with understanding this basic concept about photography. 

Monday, July 18, 2016

Point of Greatest Potential

Some years ago I heard Dewitt Jones, a former National Geographic photographer say something that proved to become a life altering moment for me as a photographer. He simply said, " willing to place yourself at that point of greatest potential..." What he meant was, as a photographer in order to capture those iconic moments, you must be willing to do what you must do to place yourself in the best possible position to capture the most meaningful moments of light. We do not always know when those iconic moments will occur. We can only make a guess and see what happens, like what happened during this seasons wheat harvest.

Not a cloud broke the pale blue hue of the June sky. For a photographer, not so good. The sky needs clouds to add texture and interest. I kept hoping some would develop come sundown to create one of those legendary Kentucky sunsets, but as luck would have it what greated me was a bright, pale, flat pallet.

I had connected once again with my farmer friends James and Mark to photograph the wheat harvest. The idea was to shoot late in the day and into the early evening hoping to frame against the sunset the giant mechanical wonder they used to harvest the wheat. It was a large field and as the monster combine growled across the field clouds of dust and chaff filled the space behind it. As the sun settled behind the tree line I tried to make something happened, but there just wasn't any texture to the sky, just a bright glow that made it difficult to capture anything that looked interesting. Did manage to catch a few interesting shots with their running lights on, but what I wanted most just did not happen.

I have learned over the years that sometimes you need to turn around and look the other direction, just to see what is behind you. Doing so will often reveal an entirely new perspective. As luck would have it, from instinct I did turn around for a moment and noticed that a magnificent full moon was about to drift clear of the horizon. It was the first day of summer, and as I discovered later, this was to be the last full moon in our lifetime to occur on this day. No sunset worth capturing, so I adapted and began shooting in the other direction and concentrated on framing their operation against this amazing natural moment. It proved more difficult than I expected.

First of all I knew if I exposed for the combine and their lights, the moon would become a bright spot in the sky showing no texture at all, but if I exposed for the moon, the combine and fields would turn into a dark mass indistinguishable from the background. What I had to do was take two shots. The first was to capture the working equipment as it passed in front of the moon while it hovered low in the sky. The second was to expose for the moon. This second moon exposure was then cut and superimposed over the blown out moon from the first shot. Adding a bit of guasian blur to just the moon helped to blend it more evenly into the dark blue of the evening sky. Simple enough one might think, but it turned out to be an iconic photograph that could only occur on this first day of summer where the harvest coincided with the full moon.

Being there at that moment meant I was able to capture something that will not happen again in my lifetime.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Blending Two to Make One

I rarely use Photoshop Layers when I work up an image. On occasion I have, but most of the time the layers used were just a part of a plug-in software process that used them behind the scenes. However there is a simple way to use layers to create a new image from two separate images. The image shown below was made using this method.

First of all you need two images; the main background image, and the layered image that will be placed on top of the background image. In my example the background image is the wheat harvest farm equipment and the overlay image is the flag.

Using Photoshop Elements; First step is to open both the background image and the overlay image, then return to the background image.

Then, drag the overlay image, in this case the flag, into the background image. This will create a new PassThrough layer.

 Next grab the corners of the overlay image and expand it out to completely cover the background image and position the image the way you want it to line up.

Then using the Opacity slider, reduce the opacity of the layer down to something like 20% to 25% or to whatever looks good to you. Last step is to flatten the layer and save the new image.

It is that simple. This kind of operation can be used for a multitude of effects using a variety of image types.