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, September 26, 2016

The One Day Adventure Shoot

Walter Mitty and I are closely related. You remember Walter. He's that cartoon character from many years
ago who in real life is rather timid and meek, but in his daydreams he is this swashbuckling adventuresome heroic character. Well, maybe we're not all that closely related, but I can certainly relate to the character.

Too often I tend to approach my photography with a timid approach, more like the real Walter Mitty style, and fail to live up to the adventuresome daydreaming character approach. I suppose there are moments when I've been a bit more aggressive chasing down a photographic moment to subdue it with a feeble attempt to be...should I say heroic? Most of us find it difficult to merge time and resources at the same moment to pursue those adventure outings. Sure I'd love to hike the Grand Canyon from Rim to Rim, or spend a week or two paddling the Boundary Waters area. I'd even settle to travel around to some of the other national parks and take snap shots. Problem is, when I have the time to do such things, I rarely have the resources, and when I do have the resources I inevitably do not have the time or even worse, those resources must be resourced toward something more urgent like paying the mortgage. Well, that is where the One Day Adventure idea comes into play. Most of us can find one single day every now and then to pursue an adventure.

The trick is to recognize where the opportunities lie near your home and then plan ahead to take advantage of the limited available time. I live in Kentucky and fortunately there are a lot of One Day Adventure opportunities nearby. Within an hour maybe two, I can drive to multiple locations and spend an entire day adventuring and photographing. I tend to do this quite a lot, sometimes more successfully than others.

There are extended times when I find myself locked in and unable to get out much. When the confinment continues on for an extended length of time I feel like I start to lose my identity and those old desires to be adventurous start to wither. What is bad is I often do not even realize how withered they have become until I happen to watch a program or read about another person's adventure. Sometimes jsut sitting on the porch in a rocking chair watching the summer rain will trigger some distant memory and I will once again begin to long to feel the wind and see the sky. That is when the old Walter Mitty in me begins to kick in.  Eventually, those daydreams stir me to action and I will rediscover who I am by getting out and about.

You know, ole Walter has been a good friend in a way. Without his influence I dare say my life would be rather mundane and dull. Those Walter Mitty-like daydreams can often become a reality even if just for a single day, and that sure beats sitting around listening to the pee frogs chirp.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Mid-Day Blues - Think Classic Black and White

Trying to create a great photograph in the middle of the day with a bright blue sky and lots of sun is often like trying to drink from a firehose, too much of a potentially good thing. This is especially true for color photographs. The harsh light and shadows creates strong contrasts that are just not condusive to asthetically pleasing photographs. Color images require moody light which most often occurs early and late in the day. But, all is not hopeless for shooting in the middle of the day...if you think in Black and White.

Black and white photography is all about contrast, shape, and form. A blue sky day with bright sun is the perfect setting for black and white. Throw in some of those white puffy summer clouds and you have an Ansel Adams formula for great artistic expression.

There are many times I will shoot scenics in the middle of the day and when I do I am almost always thinking in terms of Black and White. I have in my book collection several Ansel Adams books and I am regularly browsing through them. Not only are his photographs incredible works of art, they are great instructional resources as well. A high percentage of his photographs were taken in the middle of the day. Most of them include those dramtic cloud formations against a black or almost black sky. I often wondered how he achieved that black sky look. Of course he accomplished this by using filters and various kinds of films and print paper along with darkroom techniques that enhanced that look. However, I discovered how relatively easy it is to duplicate this look in the modern digital world.

When shooting those big sky scenics I almost always use a polarizer filter. By itself it will reduce glare and darken a blue sky. When converting the image to black and white ( I use Silver Effects ) that blue sky will become very dark and when adding a bit of red filter processing and toning the blue values down, the sky begins to look a lot like Ansel's creations.

Point is, do not dispair about having to shoot in the middle of a bright blue day. Begin to think in terms of black and white and you will discover that you can shoot all day long and achieve amazing results along the way.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Creating Extraordinary Visions Part 6 - Photographing People

Photographing people is probably one of the best ways to boost your overall photographic abilities. The main reason for this is because it teaches you as a photographer to use Light and Exposure in every way you can imagine.

Photographing people can be one of the most enjoyable and yet difficult forms of photography to get right. There are so many variations to it one can get lost in all of confusion. Yet because there are so many variations is one of the reason it is such a powerful teaching tool. When you first try to capture people it becomes quite obvious right away just how difficult it is because not only are you dealing with the mechanics of exposure and light, you are dealing with a personality and character. To capture them successfully there must be a blending of both in such a way as to create that special moment.

One concept that helps is called Dynamic Engagement (DE). Simply stated this is finding a balance between your subject's character, personality, mannerisms, available / artificial light, and environmental conditions. DE is not a built in function for most people. It is developed over time. It is where you learn to engage with your subject in such a way they feel relaxed and natural. By doing so the capture process takes care of itself.

Although posing your subject is a viable way to photograph them, doing it in such a way that it does not look posed is difficult. Allowing your subject to be themselves sometimes is much easier because they will feel more at ease with just a little instruction so they know the angle you are trying to capture and then let them place their own flare to it. When doing this it is important to anticipate the defining moment. That is the moment in every photograph where action and light come together to create that perfect blend.

Not enough room inside this post to fully cover such a complex and varied form of photography so the idea I want to portray is to remember that photographing people requires as much or more thought process as any form of photography especially how to use light. Light is more important with people photography than with any other type. Without the proper mood being generated, your people photos will more often than not begin to look rather clicheish and ordinary. What is so exciting about capturing people is that ther are so many ways to do it and the opportunity to get creative is so great and that is why it is such a great teaching tool..


This will be the last installment of the Creating Extraordinary Visions series. I've enjoyed putting it together for you. We've talked generally about a variety of subjects. The purpose of this series was to be less instructional and more inspirational where I hope you will take the ideas and encouragment to try new things. You are only limited by your imagination in what you can accomplish and it is entirely up to you how far you want to go.

Always remember, the most important thing about creating extraordinary visions is to always be willing to place yourself at that point of greatest petential. This is a concept I learned a number of years ago and has remained a constant encourager to me to always push myself to greater heights and to never be satisfied with the ordinary. Remember too, to never give up on Light, for Light is the driving force behind every great photograph.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Creating Extraordinary Visions Part 5 - Xross Training

In part 5 of our series we will take a look at how you can generate an overall improvement in your photography by Xross Training.

Xross Training (Cross Training) is a technique used by athletes to enhance their overall performance. Athletes have learned that by getting involved in various kinds of fitness activities their baseline fitness level is elevated over time. It also helps to prevent burnout and plateauing where your body no longer responds to the demands placed upon it. It can even prevent becoming stale and bored. Photographers are subject to the same kind of issues and can find benefit by Photographic xross training.

I tend to do a lot of different types of photography. During any given period of time I may concentrate more on one type than another, but overall the variety of photography challenges I've carried over the years has greatly improved my understanding of the photographic process. Whether it be landscape, wildlife, or nature, or portrait in a studio or location shooting, macro, night sky, low light, and yes even timelapse photography, I find a great deal of pleasure in pursueing all types.

At first I simply wanted to do something different so I began looking at other ways to use my camera. But, over time I began to realize the benefits of having done this. For example, shooting the night sky requires you to understand the exposure process in more detail and forces you to shoot in manual mode. It teaches you about the light gathering ability of the digital camera which can be applied to other forms of photography.

Shooting the night sky forces you to look at the exposure from a different perspective. Low Light photography does a similar thing by forcing you to look at how your camera reacts to the different light tempertures, or white balance.

One of the best ways to cross train your photography is to photograph people in general or more specifically to get involved in location portrait shooting.

The reason for this is because when photographing people you are constantly looking at every form of light; soft light, harsh light, directional light, backlight, filtered light, colored light and how to apply white balance effectively, artificial light and all the possibilities it opens. You also look at expression and how light captures mood. You learn to work through the exposure process to capture challenging moments (we'll talk more about photographing people in part 6). And, those are just a few of the examples.

It is easy to fall into a photographic rut often caused by doing the same ole thing the same ole way all the time. By Xross Training you break up the monotony, you challenge yourself in new ways, new opportunites suddenly appear and old opportunites become fresh and exciting again.

The bottom line is this. Don't be afraid to try something new even if you have no clue how to do it. You might be surprised at what you can learn and discover about yourself. Let me give you an example of how trying something new literally changed the direction of my photography.

About three years ago or so I knew literally nothing about how to use a speed light or flash. My point of reference about using them went way back to the old flash cube days with their harsh light and red eye effects. I owned a single flash back then but rarely used it because in reality I was afraid to. I didn't want to look foolish because of my ignorance of how to use them. I just kept saying, "I prefer to shoot portraits in natural light." But, I kept seeing all of these amazing images others were making using speed lights and I knew I was missing something. There was more to this form of photography than I understood, so I began to read and watch YouTube videos by Joe McNally, Joe Brady, and others. One day while watching one such video Joe Brady explained in very simple terms the relationship between the flash and the camera and all of a sudden that little light bulb went off in my mind and I said, " that's the way it works. Now I understand...this is actually quite simple."

The concept was simple, putting it into practice required, well, a lot of practice. But that is exactly what I did
and today I absolutley love using them for location portrait shoots. I am still learning how to put them into play, but each time I do a shoot, I learn something else. Three years ago I had no clue what I was doing, yet today because I tried something new, some of the most compelling portraits I've ever made were created using off camera flash. That is the kind of lesson one learns from Xross Training and not being afraid to try something new.

From location portraits I've learned the importance of expression, light, and timing. Landscapes and scenics have taught me about how to identify what is really important. From nature and wildlife I've learned to be more patient and exacting. Night photography has helped me read drama and story into a composition. From astrophotography I've learned to anticipate the extraordinary and to look for what is not always seen. From working events I've learned how to operate at a fast pace and make quick instinctive adjustments. Black and white has shown me the importance of shape, form, and texture. Floral's have helped me discover subtle details and how to apply light to enhance those details. Video has taught me about angles, steadiness of hand, and continuity. Xross training your photography will in time generate a stronger overall performance that will show up in all forms of your photographic pursuits.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Creating Extraordinary Visions - Part 4 - Simplicity of Purpose

In part 4 of this series let's look at a concept that is so obvious, we sometimes completely overlook it: Simplicity of Purpose (SoP). Simply stated SoP means that everything in the photograph is there for a reason. Nothing is there that detracts from the story the image is trying to portray. It follows the old adage, keep it simple.

The most compelling images are almost always the ones with the simplest composition. Understand please that an image can contain a great deal of complexity to it. However, the images creating the most impact are the ones where the general theme of the message is carried all the way through. In other words, a great photograph almost always tells a single story. If you have multiple stories going on in your image they tend to confuse the viewer making it difficult for them to lock in on what you were attempting to show. Some examples of this include things like having a cluttered background, or powerlines showing up that are not needed, or no real theme to your image...what Ansel Adams called 'Confused Seeing'.

When trying to simplify your conpositions look for those slivers of visual opportunity. You may indeed be looking at a grand vista, but look at the vista and identify what is actually capturing your imagination. Is it the clouds, how the shadows flow across the landscape, or, what about the barn or the random rolls of hay scattered across the field? Maybe it is none of those. Maybe it is something smaller, more subtle like how the barn is reflected in the pond. Focus in on what is most important to your story and capture those moments.

Closely related to SoP is a concept known as Finding Order Amongst the Chaos (FOAC). Sometimes I will be at a location and I know there is something there working toward a great photo, but, my images just do not seem to capture the mood. They just seem cluttered and confused. What I do then is to narrow down the options...look for the order, or that one thing that stands apart from the overall scene yet still defines the bigger story. Indeed, defining the bigger story by using the smaller portions is a fantastic way to create something extraordinary when nothing else seems to be working. FOAC is a great technique to help you create simplicity.

Simplicity of Purpose, Find Order Amongst the Chaos, two extremely useful ideas to help you discover the extraordinary images your heart knows is there.