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

Sunday, November 27, 2016

What I learned about photography during 2016

Every year I learn something new about photography. Sometimes what I learn is simple and sometimes what I learn really opens my eyes. What is most important is to keep learning. So here's a list of insights about photography I gained this past year.

1.  Old lenses are just as good as new ones...they're just cheaper to buy.

2.  It is good to look through your old photographs to see how far you have come...and to verify how far you still need to go.

3.  Stick to what you know to perfect it, but do not be afraid to branch out and try new things.

4.  Focusing on a project regardless of its scope is more efficient than taking random pictures and relying on random chance.

5.  Take notes and write about your experiences in the field. Keep them in some kind of journal or blog, then take time to read back through them from time to time.

5a. Don't worry about your writing skills, just write...your skills will improve over time as will your understanding of photographic principles. The writing helps you understand what is happening.

6.  There is a difference between being 'Well Dreamnt' and creating experiences by following your dreams.

7.  Photographing in the middle of the day in bright sun is actually okay provided you do it wisely and understand how to use the sun to your advantage.

8.  Even small weddings are hard to photograph effectively by yourself...but they are also very rewarding to do.

9.  Backup everything right away...and keep extra SD cards available...they can fail on you.

10. Share you work with others and always be open to critical review...others see your work differently and can provide insightful criticism.

11. Spend lots of time admiring other photographers work, but review it from the persepctive of 'How did they do that'...and then see if you can duplicate the technique.

12. Not all photography has to be a work of art. Snapshots are important family history pictures.

13. When photographing a group of teenagers...feed off their energy and use their energy to generate those magical moments.

14. Teenagers are great!

15. Shooting with off camera speed-lights doubles your potential as a photographer. Use them creatively and avoid the cliche.

16. Big skies are amazing but sometimes difficult to find in Kentucky.

17. Photograph everything...don't just always shoot the ordinary subjects. Look at the world with a creative eye and even a static display can become a work of art.

18. Harvest time can provide some fantastic photo ops.

19. Not everyone is as enthusiastic about photography as you are...but that is okay.

20. and finally....Find some time to just have fun with it and don't worry about always having to create a great image. The great moments will come...but when they don't, just have fun.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Indian Summer

Fall..a time for change...a season of transition, possibly my favorite time of year for many reasons. No other time does the array of colors adorn the landscape. Reds, greens, yellows, orange, and brown all provided in vaious shades and intensities. The same can be said about the weather, cool crisp evenings, blustery days, blue skies and clear vistas are just some of what is instore, but no other time does Indian Summer wrap itself around us with a cloak of warmth and color.

When the fall colors arrive, I believe they were created to allow the sun an opportunity to vibrate with excitement, to show us another side of life where brilliance and tone become the standard. As a photographer, one simply has to take advantage of the moment, for the moment will not last. Before long Indian Summer fades into a slumber, not to be stirred from its sleep until the next fall season.

My favorite time of year, well more often than not, it is the one I find myself in at any given moment, yet today served itself well as I discovered myself absorbing the soothing fragrance that is Indian Summer, allowing its warmth to cleanse what ailes me, to suspend me above old wounds, to slow down for a while and remember what is good about life.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Nbr 6 - What I like About This Shot - Super Moon Above the Corvette Museum

Seems to me we've had several Super Moon events in recent times. Seems like each time they say we won't see this again for X nbr of years...then before long another one appears. Doesn't make much difference in the scheme of things except to provide a photographer an excuse to get out and take some interesting shots.

I've photographed the moon dozens of times, mostly when it is not full because the shadows of a partially lit moon bring out a more interesting array of features. Full moons however, have an almost mystic complexity to them. It is the kind of complexity where one is drawn into its mystery. It is not difficult to photograph the moon as long as you approach it with the right set of exposure values. What is more difficult is to place the moon inside an interesting composition, one where its mystery, its history, its magical properties are all inner woven into the fabric of the composition.

This image was taken during the latest and greatest 2016 super moon event. To be honest, I wasn't even contemplating getting out to photograph it until a friend called me and asked if I would join him and another person at the Corvette Museum to photograph the event. It turned out to be a good decision. For several months, years really, I've wanted to photograph the Sky Dome and pinnacle portion of the museum as it is a unique archetechural design, just never made time to do so. The Sky Dome, if you recall, is where the sinkhole opened up and dumped 8 beautifully restored Corvettes into the abys. Five of those cars were completely destroyed with no hope of being re-restored. The standing water sits in the bottom of another ancient sinkhole and there are several other ones nearby. So there is a bit of historical and geological significance with this location.

I must admit something here, well two somethings really. First of all, yes the moon did appear above the museum and it was magnificent. wasn't exactly in this location. It was close, just a bit further to the right off the frame from this angle. Also, the Sky Dome image was taken before the moon appeared, to take advantage of the twilight sky and reflection in the water pool. I also used a one-stop graduated neutral density filter to bring the sky and its reflection into exposure sync . A separate shot of the moon was captured with a longer focal length lense and superimposed it into this composition slightly to the left of where it actually would have been. Had you been standing at a slightly different angle a few yards to the left, the moon rise looked very much like this but would not have been reflected in the water. I simply took my artist perogative and moved it slightly to create a more interesting composition. Some purist will frown at me for having done this. Frankly, I'm not concerned about it. The technique is nothing new or unethical and the end result speaks for itself and reflects the true nature of this magical moment.

So having clarified the situation...What do I like about this image? Compositonally it is very strong. The color contrasts between the Sky Dome and the sky create a vibration of opposing colors. The moon simply places the composition into a unique moment in time and adds a spectacular element of interest...and yes, it really did look like this for the most part, and that is what makes it a fun image.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Nbr 5 - What I like about this Shot - Moon Snow

Winter is one of the most demanding of times to photograph. It can also be one of the most amazing. Skies can turn crystal clear or they can turn ominous and dark. You will discover a fresh crispness not found any other time of year. Winter also presents itself as daily new photographic opportunities, and when the day turns white the opportunity becomes magical. During the winter of '15 - '16 Kentucky was turned into a brilliant world of white experiencing one of the heaviest snowfalls on record. It was a photo opportunity the likes of which I have rarely been accustomed to.

As a photographer I often either plan my outings or at least have an idea of what I want to accomplish. Sometimes, things just happen and I get lucky. Moon Snow is one such image. The sun was still fifteen or twenty minutes from rising and the moon was about the same amount of time from setting. During this time one can experience one of the most interesting astronomical phenomenons. Just before the sun rises and because of the curvature of the earth the sun rays will often penetrate through the upper layers of the atmosphere and cause two things to happen. One, to the west, the earth will cast its shadow into the lower levels of the atmosphere and the sun's rays will cause the upper layers to glow pink. These can be easily seen on clear mornings. On this morning, there was a near full moon about to set and because the sky was clear, the shadow and pink glow are readily visible in this image. Just above ground level there is a dark band...this is the earths shadow being cast into the atmosphere. Above the shadow is the pink glow...caused by the suns rays penetrating through the atmosphere, and to the left of the old shed sits the moon.

Why do I like this shot? It captures this lighting phenomenon as well as any I've ever made and the image retains that still, penetrating coldness that is so much a part of what capturing  the flavor of winter is all about.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Nbr 4 - What I Like About This Shot - At the Spillway

There is nothing striking about it, nothing that stands apart from any other ordinary snapshot. In deed, that is exactly what it is, an ordinary snapshot. The person in the image always liked to clown around, he pulled such antics going back to his early years, and true to his nature, he just had to get animated for this one. It was a fun day that day, one we can remember with fondness.

Why I like this picture? Well, because snapshots are some of the most endearing and enduring pictures we can take because they capture life as we see it, as we live it. Snapshots reveal to us who we were. They capture our past, our families in candid moments, and they capture moments in the unique timeline history that leads to us now, at this very moment.

Sure I could have setup a speedlight and framed the image to produce a nice well lit portrait. But I didn't...I simply did what most people do, just took the shot because it was there to take. I have boxes of family snapshots, and you know I probably get more enjoyment thumbing through them than all the time I spend sifting through my so called Good Pictures.

Why do I like this picture? Well, it just so happens this is the very last photo ever taken of my dad. He was just shy of turning 91 and we were back in Oklahoma visiting for some much needed vacation time off. A few days later we returned home to Kentucky...barely a week after that...he died.

I like this picture for many reason, most which I cannot effectively translate into words. When I see this picture my heart is saddened for I can never again call to talk about the OU football game. We can no longer have those political discussions, and this election year would have been filled with all sorts of comments. A deluge of memories floods my thoughts, for all of the family I grew up with are now gone. I am the only one left, and this is the last reminder I have.

My dad was proud World War II veteran having served and fought on Leyte and Okinawa. With Veterans Day almost upon us, he still serves as a great example of one of the Greatest Generation. The hat he is wearing is a WWII Veteran hat. I have it now in my curio cabinet.

Often, memories are rekindled by thumbing through collections of snapshots. That is why snapshots are the best way to communicate your life to family members not yet born, so...take plenty of them not worrying about how good they are. It's not the quality of the pictures that counts, it is the quality of the memories they capture that counts.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Nbr 3 - What I like About This Shot - Canoe on Shanty Hollow

Canoe On Shanty Hollow

There are ordinary days, ordinary moments, and ordinary endeavors. Our lives are filled with them most of the time. Even photographers tend to find themselves, in spite of out best efforts, sometimes trapped within a bubble of mediocrity creating ordinary images...until, as if guided by an invisible hand, we stumble onto a magical uplifting moment, one where all the instincts within us surface to create something extraordinary.

One of the concepts I try to promote is the idea of how to jump start creative photographic instincts. An easy way to do so is to begin a long term project and then focus your efforts toward fulfilling its purpose. Several years ago I started one of the most ambitious photographic projects I ever attempted. I wanted to capture a single location spread out over a full year. Doing so would allow me to fully explore all the aesthetic beauty found within its boundaries. The project I started was to photograph a nearby lake, Shanty Hollow, and attempt to capture its flavor in as many ways as I could. Some of the best images I've ever taken happened as a result of that year long effort. It was a challenge, yet it was also one of the most rewarding challenges. This image, Canoe On Shanty Hollow, was one of the best from that series and one of my all time favorites.

Shanty Hollow is a perfect lake for canoeing or kayaking. It's relatively small yet large enough one can spend an entire morning, afternoon, or a full day exploring is numerous coves, scenic beauty, and wildlife. There are hiking trails, a waterfall, and yes of course the lake itself. It offered an almost endless array of opportunity.

It was August 2011 and the long muggy summer was starting to wind toward the early days of fall. The days were still summer hot, but the mornings were cool and that almost always generated a layer of fog across the surface of the lake. Perfect for photography. On this day, I struggled to crawl out of bed well before sun up so I could make the 40 minute drive and have time to unload the canoe then paddle to the upper end of the lake so I could catch the sun as it started to rise behind the rolling tree covered hills that outlined the backside.

As I expected a layer of fog drifted across the surface as not a breath of air stirred a single ripple. As the sky began to grow lighter I positioned the front of the canoe to face the sun, waited for the water stirred by the paddle to calm, and began to snap images. The fog lifted a few yards into the air and hovered over the edge of the ridge. Behind the ridge, the sun was trying to climb but remained obscured. In its obscurity a perfect scene came to life as the fog began to glow and reflect off the perfectly calm water. I lined up this shot and when I released the shutter, I knew I had captured a winner.

Why I like this image...Well, not sure I have room here to fully convey its impact. The technical aspects of the image are pleasing...the symmetry, the lighting, the overall flavor of the image by themselves make this an easy image to like. But there is more to this picture than the visual elements. I like this image mostly because of the peaceful story it conveys. When viewing it, one understands why this moment was important, indeed, it is the sort of image that portrays the meaning of place and time. You can hear the silence, feel the peace, breathe the freshness, and sense the restorative powers of being alone with nature. There is no finer moment than greeting an extraordinary day while riding suspended above haunting waters.