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, December 24, 2017

The Story Behind the Photograph - The Spillway

A Photograph is a time machine for it can in an instant transport you back to a moment from long ago. Details about where and how and more importantly, why the photograph was taken, instantly come to mind. It is amazing when you think about it how such insignificant obscure details suddenly flood back into memory. The story leading up to the capture is often just as important as the image itself.

Continuing with the focus on The Story Behind the Photograph, we will take a look at the dramatic water flow falling over the old Okmulgee Lake spillway. What might otherwise appear as an ordinary photograph of a scenic location, tells a much more important personal story...a story reinforced by a personal loss. When I absorb the image of this torrent of water, a lifetime of memories flood my thoughts. This will be the last in the series and I hope those who may have read these stories were not only inspired, but stopped to take a closer look at the stories behind their own photographs.


My ancestral home is Oklahoma where the folks talk with their unique Okie drawl, and the landscape is as varied as almost any place around. There are prairies, pine covered rugged mountains, rolling mixed hardwood forests, muddy rivers and clear gravel bottom streams that meander across the state. Extremes of weather are the norm and Oklahoma experiences more tornado's per square mile than any place in the world. It's a distinction they would probably just as soon let some other place have for the most part, but the unpredictable and often destructive weather in the state is as much a part of life there as anything else.

Even though I now live in Kentucky and call it home, my life and times in Oklahoma still retains an important and powerful influence. Over the past fourteen years, as time allowed, my wife and I would return for a week or so almost every year to visit family and friends and of course I would pack my camera gear and spend as much time afield as I could. Places like the Tallgrass Prairie is a favorite location for photo adventures, but sometimes as is the nature of the Oklahoma weather, conditions would deteriorate to where making the drive up there is not practical. So it was on this occasion.

Oklahoma in general gets about 40 inches of rain per year across most of the eastern portion of the state and it progressively gets drier the further west you go. The problem with the rain is summed up by an old joke; yeah, we get 40 inches of rain every year, but it all comes in one night. Oddly enough, there is some truth to that old worn out joke. On this particular trip, Oklahoma was experiencing a rainy spell like I had never seen before. For days on end, it rained, hard at times. It seemed it just did not want to stop. So any trips to the Tallgrass Prairie were postponed as a result. Instead, I spent more time visiting my dad in the small town of Okmulgee, about 40 miles south of Tulsa. My mom had passed away a few years before and my brother had passed away about a year or so after that, so it was important I spent as much time as I could with him. He was 90 years old and pushing 91, but still got around pretty well.

Just west of town was the scenic Okmulgee Lake. Built during the depression, it has over the years developed a reputation of being a hidden jewel that few people know about except the locals. As a result of all the rain it was filled to capacity and the old rock spillway located at the northeastern end of the lake was putting on quite a show as tons of water flowed over its top. An artist must have designed the spillway because the way it was constructed, when there was a heavy water flow, there were protruding rocks and cracks and channels built into its face that forced the water into shoots and gaps creating a wonderful demonstration of a living and moving falling fountain.

One afternoon, I picked up my dad and took him out to see the spillway. Of course he had seen it many times before, but neither he nor I had ever seen it flowing with the power and energy it now showed. My dad was a photographer, in a way, with a long history of shooting film. He was pretty old school though, and digital cameras seemed a bit too complex for his 90 year old mind to grasp. But, he seemed fascinated with all the buttons and capabilities of my Sony A65 as I explained to him how it worked. When I would show him how I used Photoshop on my laptop, he was truly amazed. We had a good time standing in front of the spillway, but I could tell he was getting tired but I wanted to spend some time photographing this spillway moment.

It was a very dark, overcast day, but the low hanging clouds showed strong textures. It was still raining, hard at times, and the spillway flow seemed to just go on and on. I knew capturing this as a photograph would be a challenge because of the width of the structure was such, it was almost impossible to get all of it within the field of view of my 18mm lens, the widest angle lens I had. I moved around and backed up as far as I could without standing in the road. Being a dark overcast day worked in my favor as the shot required a long exposure which would give the flowing water a soft white appearance. I wanted to include part of the sky to capture the ominous feeling of the day,so I also used a 1 stop graduated neutral density filter to bring out more detail in the sky. Within a few minutes I had my shots, but before we left, I snapped a quick photo of him standing in front of the spillway. He always liked to clown around and on this occasion he struck an awkward pose and we both laughed at his silliness.

The Last Photo I took of my Dad
After we returned to his apartment, I downloaded the images onto my laptop and I showed him how I built the images from the raw digital files I had captured. He was again fascinated with the process, especially when I converted it into a black and white image, but he did not understand how any of it worked. His photography mindset was anchored in 1944 using an old 35mm Argus C3 rangefinder camera during the war. He still had one sitting in his closet, but never used it having graduated to a newer Minolta film camera a number of years ago. Even though he always retained a heart for adventure and the power taking pictures supplied to his life, he rarely took many photos any more.

We spent the afternoon talking about the spillway, the upcoming OU football season, his favorite television show, Bill Oreilly, and eventually headed out to get something to eat. We had a good day, but I had to return to Tulsa and connect again with my wife's family. A day later, on a finally bright and clear day, we made one more quick trip to Okmulgee and the spillway before we said good bye prior to returning to Kentucky.

He seemed frail and quiet while we walked along the front of the spillway and soon returned to the car as his legs were getting weak. After we dropped him off, he looked sad waving his thin arm at us as we pulled away from the parking area of his little apartment. It was like he sensed something, but I did not pick up on it at the time. Two weeks later, back in Kentucky, I received a call...he had passed away that morning, his heart simply gave out and stopped.

Most photographs I have captured generate a feeling of fun and excitement and so they should. When I take time to look at the spillway photo, my heart is always saddened for I know it was during that moment I was spending the last days with my dad. Today, I have his old Argus C3 and his Minolta film camera, they still work. They are precious tokens from his life.

All the family I grew up with are gone now, I'm the only one left, but I also have a time machine sitting inside several old large boxes. They are filled with a hundred years of photographs, and I can go back to visit the family captured on them anytime I desire simply by looking inside. I enjoy having a time machine.

Friday, December 22, 2017

The Story Behind the Photograph - The Nebula of Orion: Where Stars are Born

The beauty of photography is its ability to be expressed in so many ways. I have often promoted the idea of what I call Cross Training where as a photographer I want to pursue as many kinds of photography as I can. The reason being, by doing so you will strengthen your overall understanding of the photographic process. One of the most fascinating and challenging forms of photography is Astrophotography. It forces the photographer to look at the exposure process from a different perspective and at the same time offers up a fascinating opportunity to see a part of creation that is virtually invisible to the unaided eye. However, with the camera's ability to accumulate light, even what appears invisible can be captured by using a few relatively simple techniques. Photographing the night sky requires one to not only expand more deeply into the elements of photography, it also requires you to develop a basic understanding of the night sky itself. When both are combined, the results can be spectacular.

As part three of the 'Story Behind the Photograph' we will take a look at one of the most challenging photographs I've ever captured; The Nebula of Orion: Where Stars Are Born


The winter night sky and the summer night sky offer two differing vantage points for observing the heavens. The summer sky provides a fascinating view toward the center of our Milky Way Galaxy. Bracketed by the constellations of Sagitarius and Scorpius, our view toward the center of the galaxy is filled with bands of dust and gas and billions of stars. With just a simple wide angle lens, a tripod, and a dark sky, you can capture amazing images of our home galaxy as it arches above the southern horizon.

Fast forward to winter and the night sky changes and so does our view. Instead of looking inward toward the center of the galaxy, we are now looking away from the center toward the outer edges where wispy bands of stars orbit and we begin to look toward deep space. The constellations also change, and one of the most prominent is the constellation of Orion, the Hunter.

Orion forms a basic X in the southern winter night sky and consists of a variety of stars including four stars forming the corners, three bright stars forming his belt, and three stars below the belt forming his sword. One of the sword stars is actually a nebula, a place where stars are born, and it is one of the few nebula's of this type visible to the unaided eye appearing as a slight smudge forming the center star of the sword. This nebula when seen close up in all of its glory is one of the most beautiful in all of creation.

It is here dozens of new stars are being created within a gigantic fan of gas and dust consisting mostly of hydrogen , which also accounts for the reddish hue. It is also one of the easiest nebula's to capture using simple photographic equipment. But, to do so requires an understanding of basic celestial mechanics. You see, as the earth spins, the stars appear to move across the sky. This movement can be measured quite precisely and equals so many degrees per minute (I don't recall the exact number). To be able to photograph this relatively dim nebula, you must be able to do three things; use a long telephoto lens to make it large enough to see, use a relatively long exposure to accumulate the dim light, and because of the long exposure and long focal length lens, you must be able to track your camera across the sky at the same rate as the apparent movement created by the spin of the earth.

It sounds more complicated than it really is. Yes, you can purchase expensive camera or telescope tracker devises that work quite well, or, using a bit of ingenuity, you can build your own. The most common home built tracker is called a Barndoor Star Tracker. It is simply two pieces of wood with a hinge at one end and a drive mechanism located at the other end. There are some precise measurements required, but that falls outside the discussion scope of this story, but there are numerous examples available.

The drive mechanism must turn exactly at 1 rpm, or one full revolution per minute. It also requires that it be aligned rather precisely with the north star, actually just to one side of the north star. Once every thing is attached and aligned, and the drive mechanism is activated, this simple devise will quite accurately track deep sky objects for up to several minutes allowing your camera, which rides on top, to take clear and sharp long exposures bringing into view that which is not visible.

And so it was, one March evening in 2014, my Barndoor tracker devise was attached to a sturdy tripod and a small 1 rpm motor was attached to the drive mechanism. With some trial and error, the tracker was aligned with the north star, and using my 500mm lens, I zoomed in on the Orion Nebula. It took several attempts to get the exposure and focus correct and also a few slight tweaks of the north star alignment, but I eventually enjoyed what proved to be an amazing evening of shooting the night sky.

Standing outside on a cold winter evening under a clear sky is almost like viewing Heaven from afar. On this particular evening it seemed as though I could actually see to heaven and back as the night proved to be dark and clear, adorned with silver jewels. Hovering above the southern horizon, Orion the Hunter shimmered in all of his glory, bold and bright, unmistakable by its form, unbelievable in its clarity. It stood like a beacon as though its placement was purposeful and it shined as a visable symbol representing all the other hidden wonders residing just out of visual reach.

The tiny 1 rpm motor was activated and gently hummed as the connecting arm it turned rotated the drive shaft which slowly moved the barndoor tracker allowing it to counter act the rotation of the earth and stars. Using a remote shutter cable, I pressed the shutter release and counted from 1....18, 19, 20. A few seconds later, across the view screen appeared the reddish glow of the Orion Nebula. Using the viewer zoom, I took a closer look and realized my measurements and alignment on this occasion appeared to be dead on right. After a few more shots, I rushed inside to download them.

The image required some slight tweaking in Photoshop, brightness, contrast, color corrections, noise reduction, sharpening, all in small increments to enhance the elements already there...and a final crop to bring the nebula to its final appearance. Being my most vocal critic, I tend to find fault in almost all of my images, but even after close inspection, this capture exceeded every expectation.

Several previous attempts to photograph this same nebula had resulted in frustratingly blurred and imperfect images resulting from improper alignment of the tracker. But, when I took a close look at this one, the surrounding stars appeared as sharp pin points of light and the subtle delicate textures of the red, pink, and blue giant gas cloud floated across the darkness of space in a choreographed dance of color. Embedded within that cloud were the glowing beginnings of new stars having just formed not so long ago in celestial terms.

Orion Nebula - Where Stars are Born
All the hard work, the research, the trials and lots of errors, the endless nights standing in the cold air when the conditions were marginal, had finally paid off. With this single photo, my view of the heavens changed. The Nebula of Orion, where stars are born, became more than just a winter constellation, it became a photographic pathway to the hidden wonders of the heavens.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

The Story Behind The Photograph - Shanty Hollow Morning

Almost every photograph I share has a story behind it. When I take time to browse through them, the memories associated with the moments leading up to their capture often will refill my thoughts with pleasant apparitions. With few exceptions, those memories reflect a sense of nostalgia from times past when moment, preparation, and opportunity combine to create an extraordinary photographic event.

As the second installment of 'The Story Behind the Photograph', we will take a look at one of the most remarkable photo adventure events I've experienced in recent years. This one I call,  'Shanty Hollow Morning'.


The weight of my Old Town Camper canoe pressed heavy across my shoulders as, long before daylight, I slid it off the rack atop my Jeep to have it settle across my collar, balanced precariously between tipping and riding on an even keel. As I carried the canoe and slowly spun toward the water, the ambient light shimmered across the surface of the straight edge smooth lake and stars suspended themselves in a bowl-like ebony-laced arch high above in the clear morning air.

I always find it comforting in a way to hear again the familiar hollow sound a canoe makes when you lift it off your shoulders, gently flip it upright, and lay it on the water along the edge of a small lake. There is no other sound in nature, especially early of a morning, no other familiar movement that can compare. You feel blessed in a way, for this simple action generates a life long memory so ingrained into your mind it far exceeds the ordinary act used to create it. So it was, again, on this Kentucky morning filled with anticipation of what might come.

Even though summer was deep within its realm, the morning air was damp and unseasonably cool. Indeed, summer mornings in Kentucky offer a canoer/photographer some of the best conditions one can hope for with calm winds and layers of mood enhancing fog. As a photographer conditions like these provide excellent opportunities to capture exceptional moments. They also provide moments of soul heeling we sometimes require.

Leading up to this morning, I found myself caught in what seemed liked a perpetually high level of work related stress. A moment alone with nature was something my mind and body craved from within their deepest reserves for those reserves were depleted to the point of exhaustion. They required a day afield to replenish the low energy levels. As I stood next to the canoe in the pre-dawn light, the heeling process was already at work. Within a few moments, my gear was loaded, and I gently shoved away.

Paddling a canoe under a dark sky creates an odd sensation of movement without feeling like you are moving. The sky hovers motionless, the water appears black and seems to stand vacant and empty around you, yet you feel the canoe gently surge forward with each stroke of the paddle.

The ambient light was bright enough so the surrounding hills formed a strong silhouette against its glow and slowly with each movement of the paddle, those hills rolled behind me. It took about a half hour to reach the upper end of the lake where it arched east and west to form a hammer shaped head. I paddled a short distant to the west toward the dam, then spun the canoe around to face what would soon be a rising sun. 

I attached a wide angle lens, then made a preliminary adjustment of the field of view to include the front half of the canoe, then simply drifted for the next twenty minutes or so, making subtle adjustments with the paddle, absorbing the quiet, relaxing my inner self. In time the sky grew brighter and with the slow ascent of the still hidden sun, the thin blanket of fog began to stir, moving almost ghost-like across, then lift from the surface of the lake. I am always amazed at how nature creates its own path. The coolness of the air combined with the warmer water to generate a dancing fog so light, so airy, the slightest puff of air alters its course which catches the subtle rays of light in ever changing subtleties. As the fog rose higher, a larger cloud lifted above the tree line on the far side of the lake. 

The sun, trying now to find its path into daylight, cast a beam of light through the hovering form and set it aglow. This glow then reflected off the impossibly smooth surface of the lake now filled with uncountable fingers of mist shooting upward following invisible currents of air. Ever so slowly, I turned the canoe to align it with the glow of the morning light, waited for the ripples to settle, positioned the camera angle to just undercut the sky, and snapped the image.

When the image appeared on the view screen, I knew a moment of pure gold once again displayed across my visual imagination. My soul cried internally at the serenity and beauty displayed before me. I lowered the camera and simply watched the morning play, dance and spin in front of me. Later, as I paddled toward the lower end of the lake I felt replenished. Uplifted by the experience I rose above the moment to become suspended by a renewed strength, thankful for the moment God had once again revealed to my heart, reinforcing an understanding to my weakened soul of why I do such things. 

There is more to photography than taking pictures...the stories behind the photographs reveal more than the simple image alone can visually explain. Seeking out such revelations opens the heart of a photographer and fills it with a secreted form of art, one requiring only a moment such as this one to express openly what lay hidden deep within.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

The Story Behind The Photograph - Wild White Indigo Sunrise

Every photograph contains two stories. The first one being the visual message you the photographer are attempting to show. The other one being the story behind the image, or what it took to capture the photograph. In many ways the second story can often be the more intriguing of the two but because of its nature, it is almost always known only to the photographer.

Great photographs rarely happen because of random chance. Most are captured only through perseverance, planning, and vision.  Capturing something truly unique is as much about how you manage to place yourself at that point of best potential as it is understanding the fundamentals of photography. Sometimes luck does play a roll, yet simply being there requires a choice. Seeing the opportunity requires you look beyond the ordinary. Capturing it requires the ability to command the moment both technically and artistically.

Over the next several posts we will take a closer look at what it took to capture a specific image. Let's begin with one of my favorites; Wild White Indigo Sunrise.

The damp, prairie grass closely hugged the full length of my legs as I walked in the predawn light into this Oklahoma landscape. Even though it was late spring, the morning air was cooled by a whispering, but stiff breeze as it caressed the upper reaches of the blue stems and the myriad other prairie grasses. With each step I felt my soul move closer to heaven and at once I was transported to an ancient time long before white men trekked across the plains to settle new lands. My senses were filled with the sweet prairie aroma, familiar, yet somehow foreign to my civilized nature. I paused for a moment and cast a gaze toward the sky. Nothing but thick clouds stretching beyond the horizon threatened to circumvent an attempt to capture one of those legendary prairie sunrises.

When I reached a shallow high spot that fell away toward a long valley stretching to the horizon I stopped and placed the camera tripod onto the rocky ground, and extended its legs between the grasses to form a secure platform. My large camera backpack by this time felt heavier than I remember it being and I slipped the straps off my shoulders and gently placed it on the ground. There was just enough daylight forming to allow me to see. It wasn't the dramatic pre-sunrise light I hoped for, but a somber gray mood was cast across the prairie and with it most of my hopes of a great morning of shooting.

Around me prairie birds began to stir warming up their songs to announce the arrival of dawn. There were no other sounds but the breeze, the birds, and my labored breathing. The morning breeze rose toward a wind causing the loose material of my long sleeve cotton shirt to flap. I noticed the tops of the grasses were beginning to arch more and more, leaning over, then springing back in time with variances of the wind, and the morning progressed toward what would be sunrise, a hidden sunrise clouded behind that vail of overcast hugging close to the ground.

I locked the camera onto the tripod, installed my long 50 to 500 mm lens, a good one to start with just in case some bison appeared deeper across the valley. I had given up hope of catching the sunrise, but instead hoped to see something of the wildlife I knew roamed, or flew, or scurried across the prairie in this area.

Directly in front of me about 10 yards away the silhouette of a lone Wild White Indigo plant rocked back and forth with the wind and the day grew brighter, still gray, but light enough now to be able to see across the valley. The overcast too changed as more texture appeared across its subsurface area and the winds began to stir the clouds lifting them higher above the valley. I checked the time, the sun would be full up as sunrise was behind me now by a few moments. I again looked toward where I believed the sun was hidden behind the cloud cover, the sky grew a bit brighter and a pale cast of color appeared between a thinned layer of overcast.

Pointing my camera toward this pale color, I zoomed and focused, but it just did not look right, yet as I was looking through the view finder, the lone wild white indigo plant suddenly darted across my field of view. It was bouncing and rocking back and forth with the wind, and I tried to focus on it as best as I could. At the same time, that thin band of color, suddenly grew brighter as the clouds parted just enough to allow the sun to almost burn through. Across the field of view, a bulls eye apparition of gold, yellow, and orange mixed with the thinner blue-gray clouds and then without much warning, the hidden sun almost burned a hole in the clouds and created a brilliant spot across the dark overcast. The Indigo plant continued to sway in the wind and I knew this moment would not last long. I focused on the indigo plant to take a shot but the wind pushed it over...I waited...waited...waited...the brilliant color began to fade, then the wind calmed for a brief moment and the indigo plant lifted upright into my field of view. I snapped the shot. Not more than a few seconds later, the cloud cover once again engulfed the sun and it was gone.

Moments such as this one are rare encounters along the journey of a photographer. A degree of luck played out during this photo shoot, but had I not already scouted the area, rose well before sunrise, driven for an hour, then hiked in the darkness to be there, this encounter would never have happened. I love photographing Oklahoma's Tallgrass Prairie as it provides an array of opportunities found in no other location. It is truly a land of color, a world of adventure, an enchanted place where what once was...still is.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Five Most Important Photography Things I learned in 2017

Photography is a passion with an almost never ending array of new possibilities. Seems I am forever seeking to improve, to move forward, to continue to seek out that one perfect photograph. Along the way, every year I learn something new, and after every photo shoot I recognize areas needing improvement. There are times I fall into a state of complacency where instead of bringing visions to life, those visions seem to stagnate into the ordinary. Even though that one great photo I long for still seems far away, progressively, step by step, I do improve.

At the end of each year, to reinforce the learning process, I often take time to evaluate how that year progressed. Here then, is a short list of five things I learned about photography in 2017 and why they are important to me.

First of all it is important to not be so rigid but remain flexible. I've learned to tighten my photographic potential by focusing efforts toward a single type of photo shoot. This does not contradict my views on Cross Training where you pursue different kinds of photography. I still believe over the long haul, trying different kinds of photography is the best way to gain a balanced understanding of photographic techniques. What I mean by tightening your photographic potential is to expand how you approach any single type of photography. In my case, I began to focus portrait photography into a more tightly controlled event where the purpose was to create a single image with a specific look. Portrait photography is simply one type of photography I do as part of the cross training. By taking a tighter approach to it, I was forced to take a more creative look at lighting. Most location shoots can be done effectively using a single or maybe two speed lights and a simple light modifier, or even just natural light. But, focusing on a single look, requires you to evaluate not only the lighting on your subject, but how light can be used to add interest and depth to the background. It also rejuvenates your creative juices forcing you to think beyond the ordinary to create an interesting combination of subject vs location.

Secondly, it is important to photograph your life. Ask yourself, "What is really important to me right now?" and set about finding ways to document those things. It does not matter what it is. What matters is how you view those events and how you can capture them in such a way as to provide an interesting visual representation of what they are. As one example, this past year I realized my old Jeep was aging faster than I was and it was in need of a great deal of maintenance upgrades. After spending many hours working on it to bring it back to a point where its life could be extended, I realized how important that old vehicle has been to me over the past 20 years. Oddly enough, I almost never took any pictures of it, so I set out to do so...and will continue to do so in the future.

Thirdly, do it for yourself and don't worry about what others think or care about. If I have a fault photographically it is where I hope others would see the world the same as I do and they would also discover just how interesting and exciting some of the photographic challenges I've set for myself could become. For the most part, I was wrong to think that way and as a result I found myself being disappointed far more than I should have been. What I learned was that not everyone will have the same enthusiasm levels for what you are wanting to do and it is important to not allow yourself to become disappointed to the point you want to give up trying. The creative actions found in photography are directly associated to your own personal desires and dreams. All of us are different in that regard and we should encourage not only ourselves to follow our own dreams, but to encourage others to follow theirs, then cheer for them when they succeed.

Number four on the list revolves around the creative process and how it not only relates to the capture of photographs, but to building the tools we can use to do so. I work on a very limited budget and cannot simply go out and purchase new expensive tools when I need them. Sometimes, for a whole lot less expense, you can make them yourself. A DIY project can provide a great deal of joy and satisfaction, not to mention the practical benefits of using those tools. This past year I built two sets of Strip Lights based on original plans I found on the Internet. My versions were slightly modified from the original design, but it did not take long to discover just how useful they are, plus they provide a creative lighting edge you can not find using any other lighting source. Getting involved in projects like these simply adds to the fun of photography. I also took a long exciting look at post processing and began to experiment more with layering multiple zones of light to create a single image from several images. It did not take long to realize just powerful a technique this can become. With careful planning, creating dynamic portraits becomes a reality. It adds another dimension to the creative process and once you understand the principles, it is quite easy to do.

For number five I've learned to let go of preconceived notions about how to work with people in general. In a way this is related to number three. Working with people, even friends, can sometimes disappoint you if those people appear to let you down. As a general rule, eventually people will let you down. The trick is to not get too worked up about it. Three times this past year I had hopes of participating in some creative photo shoots I dreamt up. All three times, those hopes fell apart because people who seemed enthusiastic about participating seemed to always find excuses for not following through. My general rule of thumb is to give someone the benefit of the doubt two times, and then offer a third, after that I stop and move on. In spite of these setbacks, I also had several wonderful shoots where the moment was amazing and the results were wonderful because of the enthusiasm of the people involved. The joy and excitement from those shoots far outweighed the disappointments.

Photography requires a constant growth from those of us who pursue it. When we stop trying to learn, stop trying to discover new adventures, or settle for complacency, that is when we should consider placing the camera in the closet and doing something else. So far, even after decades of pursuing that one great photograph, I still find myself hungry for the adventure. I relearned how the process of discovery will help you retain a youthful vigor, and when you do discover something new, well...the long journey to get there turns out to be the most important part.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The Neurotic Photographer

I suppose it is our nature as photographers to act a bit neurotic when we are on a photo shoot.  Probably stems from trying to second guess the conditions wondering through all the what-if-scenarios…what if I were at the other location…what if I waited too long or left too soon…what if I used a different lens…what if I should be on top of the ridge instead of at the bottom…what if I had come the day before or waited until tomorrow…you get the idea.

A neurotic photographer always seems to be in a hurry and distracted, but somehow it works to our advantage. My thoughts are always working, my vision is always searching, and my creative instincts kick into automatic mode. As a result more often than not, some obscure frame of reference suddenly appears. It is less about finding an object to photograph. It is more about seeing it hidden amongst the chaos. I suppose it takes a chaotic mind to produce visions clear enough to find those hidden jewels.

I will often find myself skidding to a halt because something appeared out of the corner of my eye. Sometimes color is the trigger, other times it is a shape, and less often it is a combination or collection of signals that trigger the shutter in my neurotic mind. Out of the blue, my thoughts create an image out of the myriad of visual singles. What was obscure becomes defined. What was chaotic becomes clear. There is no way to quantify the process or even explain how it happens, it just does. What is most difficult is to find an ordinary photo opportunity, one that looks ordinary to the unaided eye, yet being able to see beyond the moment and create a visual image in your mind from the potential of what is there. Only truly neurotic photographers have this ability…or so it would seem.

The neurotic photographer does seem to focus more intently on the world around him. Where others might simply pass by, he sees potential. What others might consider mundane because they are only looking at the moment, he looks beyond the moment and sees it as it can be. The neurotic photographers mind will rapidly compute lighting angles, times of day, seasonal changes, weather conditions, and how all of them will positively affect what might actually be a mundane, ordinary view at the moment. Then he returns, multiple times if necessary until the lighting angle, time of day, season and weather coincide with the vision he created in his mind. Once there, an instinctual command of the mechanics of photography replaces all of the neurosis, and the creative process kicks in. 

Sometimes I wonder what would happen if I were no longer a neurotic photographer. I suppose I would become a mechanical photographer who takes pictures of things and relies on random chance as opposed to someone who visualizes, then captures all the glorious colors of light. The neurotic photographers mind is a colorful thing of beauty. I hope I never lose mine.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Dealing With People: The Hardest Part of Photography

The X's and O's of photography tend to become the easiest part of being a photographer. With a little ingenuity and thought most photographers can come up with creative ideas and exposure solutions to just about any kind of situation. It is simply a matter of understanding how the X's and O's apply to what you are wanting to accomplish. What is most difficult is actually dealing with people.

Most of my photographer friends probably understand what I mean. People can be frustrating and uncooperative, but they can also be charming and a delight to work with. Sometimes you get lucky and work with someone who is excited about the opportunity and just naturally flow through the shoot. They make your job very easy and fun. Then there are some who simply do not understand what you the artist is trying to accomplish. It's not so much they are uncooperative, they just do not possess much energy and it shows in the way they work through the shoot. Yes, it is your responsibility to create an environment where your client feels comfortable, and there are techniques you can use to put your client at ease. That alone can be a challenge especially if your own personality is rather reserved.

It has probably been the most difficult thing for me to overcome because I do tend to be rather reserved most of the time. When I first started photographing people, I concentrated so much on the X's and O's, I often lost connection with who I was shooting and the results were often subpar. However, I have learned a great deal by watching other photographer friends and how they seamlessly blend their shooting with their connection with the client. They make it look so easy and I often find myself envious of their smooth technique. But, this is a learnable skill, one that takes practice and observation along with an understanding of how people react. In short, a smile and some encouraging words go a long way to develop a good working relationship with someone.

By far the most difficult people to work with are those who simply will not follow through with you. You probably know the types. There are the ones who get all excited about doing a shoot with you, then as time goes by you try contacting them about times and locations, multiple times, but they simply will not respond. In some cases they might give you a 'let me get back with you,' routine, but they never do. I'll give almost everyone the benefit of doubt once or some cases maybe even three times. After that, I stop and go on to something else.

Then there are the ones who continually find another reason or excuse to not follow through. They will in time get back with you, but its always later than you need and usually with another reason why they cannot show up. Again, I give them the benefit of doubt a few times, but after three excuses it becomes clear the photo shoot opportunity is simply not a priority to them and its time to move on.

I suppose the worse ones are the ones who leave you hanging. They never respond to communication attempts, they don't do anything and simply leave you hanging out there wondering if they even got the message. Maybe I was raised differently, but where I come from that is considered rude. Oh, I'm sure they do not intentionally go out of their way to be rude, they just simply do not consider how their actions, or lack of action, comes across to others.

Dealing with people is the most difficult part of being a photographer, but that is part of the equation and one we must learn to work around and keep smiling. I try not to allow those kinds of things bother me, but would be nice if people instead of leading you on, leave you hanging, or ignoring you, would simply say, " I think I'll pass on this one...thanx for asking." That would be the polite thing to do...just say'n.

Monday, November 13, 2017

The Odds Are With You: Using Triangles and Odd Numbers Compositionally

Countless books, articles and videos have been produced about the importance of composition in photography. Trying to encompass all compositional features in a single article is virtually impossible because there are so many variations, however, there are a couple of simple to understand techniques that can be utilized that will improve your compositions; Using Triangles and Odd Numbers.

Triangles are exciting. They form an easy to follow and pleasing shape. In a photograph they can be applied in almost every aspect of composition. Triangles help to break up the image, yet create a closed circuit appeal. Keep in mind they do not need to be perfect in form. Just a hint of shape is often enough and when used in combinations with other shapes they work very well to close an image.

They are very effective when shooting a large group of people or a family. Take this image of a high school prom shoot. Notice how a triangle was used to add interest to the shot. Had the guys been lined up like ducks in a row, the impact would not have been as great. Also, shooting from a low angle gave the guys a bigger more dramatic look and accentuated the triangle.

Here's another triangle group pose used in conjunction with some creative lighting and background. Their shape appears to work well with the triangle form of the stained glass window in the background, plus the shadows, created by simply placing a speed light behind them, also creates a balancing triangle along the bottom portion of the image.

Triangles work well in almost any composition. Take this image of a barn reflected in a pond. Actually there are several triangles used here; the slanting roofs of both barns, the reflection, and the positioning of the barns and reflection create a subtle, odd number, triangle shape. Also, the shadow stretching across the bank of the pond creates a nice long triangle which works well with the smaller forms.

When shooting couples, think in triangles as well. Notice how triangles were used in this composition. By combining straight lines and angles, the image presents an overall triangle shape through the use of receding space. The same principles can be applied to family shoots as well.

Triangles also imply odd numbers as there are of course three sides to the form. Using odd numbers in a composition will generate a greater degree of interest and help the viewers eye follow the story. Take a look at this shot from the Tallgrass Prairie of three coneflowers.

Three flowers shown against a dramatic sundown carries a great deal more appeal than an even number of flowers. Do you also see the triangle created by the positioning of the flowers. Odd numbers used in conjunction with the triangle shape will produce a wonderfully pleasing effect simply because of the random variation it creates.

Triangles can also be shown when used with a large number of a subject. Here is an image of a group of Blackeyed Susans shot using a long exposure to capture the effects of the prairie wind. Without really looking, the eye will pick out the subtle triangle shapes and groupings plus by using a large number of the subject matter flowers, the concept of odd numbers becomes immaterial as it will automatically create a sense of random variations.

Using odd numbers in your composition will generate an easy to follow flow. This late evening snow scene used to great effect the concept of odd numbers plus there are subtle triangles here as well. In this case, the triangles are created by the placement of the objects in the picture. The pile of rocks, the lamp post, and the dock together create a type of triangle configuration...and oddly enough, an odd number.

Here is another odd number setup that works well, even though is uses an even number of flowers. The odd variation comes in the three rows with two at the bottom, three across the middle, and one at the top of the flower arrangement. So even when an even number of objects appear, the random nature of odds can be employed.

Okay, so here's a test. Do you see the triangles in this next image...what about the odd numbers?

Triangles and odd numbers are subtle yet important elements in a photograph that can improve your compositions. Sometimes we just do it without even thinking about it because in reality, using these types of shapes and configurations creates a natural appeal, the kind of appeal we are drawn not just to, but into.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The Concept Photo Shoot

Joe McNally, Joe Brady, Gavin Hoey are just a few of the pro level photographers who have positively influenced my photography in many ways. Not only are they inspirational in how they create amazing portraits, they are able to breakdown the photo process into simple to understand ways that instructs aspiring photographers on how to achieve a higher level of skill sets. One thing I noticed early on while watching their videos is their tendency to work toward creating a specific look. They start with an idea, a concept, and setup their shoot to capture that idea photographically. You can call their process many things, but I call it The Concept Photo Shoot.

The Concept Photo Shoot is pretty much exactly how it sounds. You begin with an idea or a vision of what you want to capture, then you work toward building the image, and then capturing it. The idea you start with can vary a great deal ranging from just a vague understanding of where you want to go, to a very specific concept and look you are wanting to create. Getting to the final image may require the taking of a good number of shots before you achieve success, but the idea is to build the shot one step at a time. It is unlike the random nature of a location shoot where you purposely take a large number of photos to come up with a final collection of images you provide to your client or model. Instead, you stay focused on one idea, one photo that captures the image you are trying to create.

The concept photo forces you the photographer to concentrate your efforts. It also encourages you to look at the photographic process from a more creative aspect. Posing someone next to a tree or fence and taking their picture is not a concept photo. The concept photo requires more from the photographer. It requires you think through what you are wanting to accomplish. Things like what angles to shoot, what kind of and how much lighting is required, what the background is going to be, how you want your model to look, the style of clothing, the time of day, exposure values, will it require a single shot or the blending of multi-shots, color or black and white, landscape or portrait format, how the weather will affect the look, sunset or foggy, bright or dark and ominous, have other photographers done similar things. These are just some of the things you have to evaluate before you create a concept photo.

I've used this photo several times as an example mainly because it is a good example of what I am writing about. The concept here was to capture a pilot and his airplane in a unique way. How this photo shoot developed followed many of the requirements listed above. First I started with an idea; Photograph a pilot and his airplane. Then I did some research and studied how other photographers had made similar images. It turned out not many examples existed, so I had to think through this to come up with a creative idea. At first I had no definate look I was locked into, just an idea or possibilites of how it might look. Those ideas evolved over time as I actually diagrammed on paper the image idea I wanted. By diagramming the look I wanted, I could identify the kind of and the placement of the required lighting. This helped me to focus in on things like the time of day, how many photos would be required to complete the image, the kind of weather I would need, the style of clothing and other shooting requirements. I also did some test shots because I knew the image I wanted would require three or four separately lit shots blended together. These test shots allowed to perfect the Photoshop technique that would be used to blend the images.

Even after all of this preparation, I still did not have a pilot or airplane, however as luck would have it another photographer friend of mine ran across a young pilot who had a small grass airfield and hanger with a couple of airplanes inside who would be willing to help me out. After several conversations, weather delays, and other unforeseen difficulties, we managed to meet up on an almost perfect setting for the shoot. Even so, my original concept idea had to be altered slightly upon arrival simply because the setting layout dictated a change, but it worked out rather well  regardless.

Another example I've used a few times is this shot of a 1976 Corvette in front of the National Corvette Museum. The idea started several months prior to capturing this image when a couple of photo friends of mine invited me to join them during a Super Moon photo shoot at the museum. After capturing several dramatically lit images I realized how by placing a Corvette in the forground might create a wonderful image. So I contacted the owner of the 1976 Corvette and setup a time for the shoot. 

The shoot started with an idea and evolved over time as details became more defined. During the shoot, we had to make several lighting adjustments and try a few different angles before we locked onto this composition. The trick with this image was that we had a very narrow window in which to shoot because the shot required the sky to have some color in it thus dictating we work just after dusk. We had to work quickly and make ajustments on the fly before we lost the ambient color in the sky. It turned out to be a wonderful example of how the concept photo can be put into play.

Individual portraits also lend themselves well to the concept photo shoot. At the top of the post is a concept portrait focused on a vintage look. The setting was the National Corvette Museum Cafe and our model was dressed in a 50's early 60's style. When shooting indoors like this, all of the same lighting considerations come into play. In this particular image the far corner of the cafe was rather dark but by placing a speedlight in that area and adding a warm gel to it, a wonderful splash of color helped to liven up that dark space. Angles are also important and became key elements in this shoot. The image at the top of the page was shot from a low angle and the one shown here was shot from a higher up angle. Both have pleaseing merits to them, but provide a different persepctive to the same idea. The low angle shot opens up the room more while the high angle shot employs a more graphic nature by using the checkerboard floor to great advantage. Regardless, all the concept shoot principles remain the same.

Here's one of my son Christopher. For this image I was going for one specific look and the lighting was critical. First of all this image was taken outdoors near dusk when there was still a good amount of ambient light filling in the background. Using an exposure technique that killed ambient light created a studio-like black background. Then, by applying speedlights and strip lights to illuminate my subject, a dramatic and rather cool looking portrait became possible. Again, I had a specific look in mind and worked the shoot toward that end. A good number of shots were made, but when it all came together, I knew I had accomplished what I set out to do.

I've always said one of the worst things a photographer can do is to always do the same ole thing the same ole way. Building a concept photo is an exciting and fun way to jump start your photography out of its doldrums.

Friday, November 3, 2017

The Holmes Rescue - January 20, 1974

Gone are the U.S. Coast Guard adventures of my youth, but not the memories. They live deep within me as real and dramatic as the days of action when they occurred. Before living out those adventures I naively carried fanciful ideas of what it might be like to become a part of this noble service. Oddly enough, those fanciful ideas fell well short of the actual adventures that played out during my time at the Umpqua River Lifeboat Station.

Located in a picturesque harbor community with the unlikely name of Winchester Bay, this seemingly insignificant Oregon coastal town became perhaps the most significant influence of my young adult life. It was here life-maturing adventures, some routine, some filled with deadly drama, unfolded around me. January 20, 1974, barely two months after my arrival, one of the most dramatic events to challenge our small crew exploded into life. It was an event that helped to define who we were as Wave Warriors. It was an event that very nearly cost the lives of three men and one that brought into focus just how quickly events could turn from routine, to life threatening.

I hovered between being alert and drifting off, hanging on as best as I could to what was happening around me as I struggled in a sleep deprived state. Having been awake since before 3:30 am, I struggled to remain awake on this dreary and rainy, but otherwise uneventful morning. My lookout tower watch relief arrived at 8:00 am snapping me back into a more awake mode. A few moments later my crew mate stepped through the back door and shook his arms and shoulders to release some of the accumulated rain from his coat.

"Nasty cold this morning." He murmured half aloud as he removed his olive green field jacket.

"Not much happening...looks like four trawlers several miles north of the bar working their way south. Probably the Midnight Sun, and maybe the Harmony...can't tell who the other two are. The bar is starting to close up, looks like ten to twelve foot breakers forming along the north spit, but the channel is still open." I said with a yawn.

He raised a pair of binoculars from the table and swung them toward the north. "Yeah, I see them. By the way, we need to swap out the small craft advisory flag to Gale warnings," he said as he handed me a Group Office weather notification. "Weather report says a big blow is coming this way. Probably end up running a storm warning flag up later today."

I reached into the bottom desk drawer and extracted another deep red, long, triangle flag. Its musty, damp aroma at once filled the room as it partially unrolled as I held it. Its tattered, pointed end touched the floor. A single triangle flag, which was already flying, indicated a small craft wind advisory, two flying in tandem was a Gale warning.

"I'll run this up on my way out."

The wind was already much stiffer and colder and bit into my face like stinging nettles. My eyes watered as I struggled to attach the new flag to the lanyard with numb, wet hands, but, I eventually secured it and ran the tandem signals to the top of the mast where they popped and snapped in a fast paced, wind stiffened dance. I stood for a moment and surveyed the scene stretched out in front of and below me. From my vantage point high on the ridge, for as far as I could see north or south the Oregon coast sand dunes rolled along the edge of the continent until they faded into the mist. Long rows of white breakers outlined the terminal edge and the ocean, accented in a sickly grey embrace spit and slapped with white caps churned by the northerly tempest. Although still rather inexperienced I sensed something ominous was in the air, I could feel it.

I tossed a quick wave toward the lookout building and climbed into my car. A few minutes later I was enjoying a breakfast of fresh eggs and toast back at the station before I had to turn to. Morning quarters was already over and everyone was starting their work assignments. Just coming off the morning watch, I could linger a bit longer eating my breakfast before joining them. The day seemed rather ordinary.

About mid-morning, Chief Whalen, our commanding officer, used the intercom.

"BM1 Bauer, Seaman Brazy, and EN McKean report to the outer office."

I just happened to be wandering through that area when the announcement came. Within a minute all three of them were standing inside the communications room. BM1 Wayne Bauer, who was a twelve year veteran and one of the best boat coxswains in the entire group Coos Bay, was talking to Chief Whalen. I stopped momentarily in the doorway to see what was going on.

Chief Whalen, using his deep voice and deeper scowl, told Wayne, "That storm is closing in pretty fast and it looks like the bar is turning ugly. Tower watch indicates 12 to 15 foot breakers across the entire bar, we can expect 20 footers when things get to blowing. Those trawlers out there are wanting to get inside before this storm really kicks off, but with the bar like it is, they are requesting we provide a stand-by escort inside the bar as they come across."

Wayne, without hesitation, motioned to Dan McKean to light off the 44331, one of our 44 foot motor lifeboats. He quickly trotted out of the room and across the connecting gangplank to the boathouse. A moment later the staccato rumble of the 331's powerful Cummins diesel engines came to life.

Wayne and Ed Brazy started to leave the office when a new friend of mine, David Mobley stepped into the room. David was new to the station and needed some experience on Bar Patrols. Wayne, always ready to give younger less experienced personnel some training time, motioned his arm toward David.

"Mobes...come on, you're with us on this one." The normal crew for a 44 was three, but sometimes four was used depending on the circumstances.

Chief Whalen waved me over. "As soon as the 331 one gets on station, grab a couple guys and take the station truck down to the first parking area. Take a radio and standby on the back of the jetty just in case we might need someone down there on the beach."

I grabbed a couple other crewman and asked them if they wanted to be part of the shore crew. "Hell yeah." they said in unison. "Okay, then, we shove off in maybe ten or fifteen minutes."

I grabbed a portable transceiver from its recharging station in the comm room and turned it on switching the frequency to monitor the ship to shore frequency used by the 331 to communicate with the station and the trawlers. Within a minute the 331 idled out of the boathouse. Once they were clear Wayne transmitted, "Station Umpqua River...331 underway," and he pressed the throttles forward. The 331 was a magnificent surf boat and she responded accordingly by digging her flanks deeper into the channel as she rounded the exist channel into the river.

A few moments later, "Station Umpqua River, Midnight Sun here...come back, Over."

The com-watch lifted the microphone and replied, "Ah roger Midnight Sun...Station Umpqua River."

"Yeah, looks like the bar is closed up. It's getting a bit rough out here and things will most likely get rougher trying to cross over. We have four vessels out here and we all want to get inside the bar while we still can. What's the status on the escort?"

Before the Com-watch could reply, Wayne from the 331 answered. "Midnight Sun, this is CG44331. We're underway at this time and will be on location in approximately ten minutes. We'll standby inside the main channel. Just let us know when you're ready to cross over."

A minute or two later myself and two other crewmen were speeding over to the jetty. We arrived just about the same time as the 331 arrived on station just inside the bar. We trudged across the sand dunes fighting the wind and the cold spitting rain to eventually stand atop the back end of the jetty. The large black rocks extended nearly a quarter mile out from the beach, but from our vantage point we could barely see the end of it in the wind generated mist blowing off the ocean.

"Midnight Sun...this is the 331. We're standing by about 75 yards inside the bar. The tower says the channel lays down for a minute or two after four or five breaker series. If you time it right you should make it across on those lay downs without any problems."

"331...Midnight Sun here. Yeah, we've been watching it. Standby. We're making our run after the next series."

One by one over the next thirty minutes or so each of the larger trawlers waited their turn to run across. The skippers of those trawlers were highly experienced and capable operators and knew what they were doing. As they crossed over and passed by the 331, they all gave a wave of thanks. The last trawler to come across was the Holmes, a small double-end trawler, about thirty feet long, with a crew of three on board; two older adults and a young teenage boy. By this time the breakers across the bar were beginning to grow in size and power. More importantly, they became less predicable.

The Holmes sat outside the bar waiting for the anticipated lay down and when the timing seemed right, she started her run. She was much smaller than and not nearly as fast as the other vessels and being heavy laden, could not accelerate very well. As she approached the most critical point in the crossing, a large swell rose up behind and overtook her causing the vessel to begin to broach to one side as the rear end started moving faster than the front end. The skipper skillfully compensated by throttling back allowing the swell to pass underneath them and the Holmes rolled softly into the trough behind the swell. As he worked the throttles forward again trying to ride the swell across the bar, a large breaker rose up and began to bear down on them. It all happened so quickly, there was nothing the skipper could do to avoid the collision, and the breaker, approximately 15 feet in height, crested over their stern and exploded with tons of force onto the deck.

The force of the collison caused her to broach to her port side and she almost rolled, but righted herself, however, tons of water flooded into the engine room causing the engine to stall. They lost all steering and power as the bar began to renew its strength and a new and deadly series of breakers began to crash down on them. The force of the northwesterly swells shoved them toward the south side of the jetty. Her screws and rudder were mangled as the vessel was lifted and slammed onto some of the submerged rocks that extended out from the end of the jetty. She spun out of control, rolling from side to side with her gunwales catching water with each roll. More water poured into her hull and she sank lower.

Wayne and his crew jumped into action and he threw the throttles of the 331 into gear causing the motor lifeboat to lunge forward toward the breaker line. I, and the other two shore crewman, started running down the jetty. It was long and difficult task as we had to leap from boulder to boulder, often slipping and falling on the wet surfaces. There really wasn't much we could do, but we needed to be as close to the action as we could just in case someone went into the water.

"Keep an eye them!" Wayne shouted as he approached the first breaker line. Within seconds the bow of the 331 rose across the face of a breaker and exploded into the air momentarily hanging suspended between sky and ocean. A second later the bow arched over and plunged into the trough sending a giant spray of foaming water to both sides. A second and third time the 331 powered its way through the layers of breakers. Wayne worked the wheel right then left, throttled back then applied full power to maneuver the 331 through a traitorous series of breakers. Finally, they broke free of the line. The Holmes by this time had drifted well to the south side of the jetty hovering ever closer to the dooming rocks. She was tossed like a twig, helpless and alone. Wayne and his crew, then had to circle back through the breakers to approach the Holmes. They reentered the break line using the throttles and rudder to ride over and across the breakers. More than once a breaker exploded over the stern shoving them onto a 90 degree roll nearly tipping them all the way over. The 44's were designed to take a 360 degree roll and keep going, but the idea was to avoid such a thing. Wayne performed brilliantly as he maintained control of the 44.

"We'll never get a line on her to tow her out, we'll have to get the crew off when I pull along side. One or two chances at best before she goes up on the rocks. Standby...stand we go."

Wayne powered the 331 across another break line toward the Holmes, riding high, then low, spinning the wheel and working the throttles to keep her under control. A few yards from the floundering vessel, he spun the bow and fishtailed the stern and starboard side of the 331 into the side of the Holmes exchanging paint for position. His crew standing in the lower well and along the side of the 331 shouted frantically motioning for the three men to abandon their vessel and jump over to the 331. The two adults made a quick decision to do so, and managed to leap across falling prostrate into the lower well deck where David helped secure them. The teenage boy started to follow them then panicked and hesitated.

Ed Brazy who was standing on the footing that ran along the rear compartment, held onto a handrail with one hand and waved for the teenager to come on with the other. By this time I was standing on the jetty directly across and above from where all the action was taking place and I watched in fascination as this dramatic event unfolded. My vantage point was probably no more than 50 feet from the Holmes. Large breakers were exploding all around us leaping into the air to throw white foaming spray into our faces, rolling up and along the jetty, slamming into the Holmes causing her to roll and sway dangerously port to starboard almost capsizing her as she took on more and more water.

I heard Wayne shout above the roar of the surf, "Breaker!" and he was forced to pull away from the Holmes. At the same time Ed managed to get the teenager to let go of his panicked grip and move toward him. When he saw that Wayne was going to pull away, he grabbed the kid with his free arm hauling him across the narrow gap between the boats and slammed him against the rear compartment pinning him down. Wayne pulled away just as another 15 maybe even 20 foot breaker slammed into them. The 331 was rocked by its power, rolled heavily to starboard, but she did what she was designed to do and plowed through the breaker. Wayne, then knowing that all three of the Holmes crew were now aboard, again forced the 331 back through the breakers and out to clear water.

Within a few seconds after Wayne pulled away, a giant swell lifted the Holmes and slammed her onto the rocks. Her wooden hull splintered and cracked with a sickening agony, and just as quickly, she melted into the surf a few yards from where I stood.

I hung there staring at the debris that continued to float near the jetty, awestruck by the dramatic events that played out in front of me. It all seemed to play out like the fog of battle. For the next thirty minutes I watched as the 331 circled around the jetty far enough out from the breaker line to avoid any trouble waiting for the main channel to lay down, then he shot the 331 across and headed in. All of us were exhausted.

As I made my way back toward the truck I contemplated what had just happened. These three men would have died that day had it not been for the skill and bravery of the crew on the CG44331. My roll in all of this was minimal, yet somehow I understood that by simply witnessing this event I had been changed. For the first time I realized that my service here at the Umpqua River Station had a deeper meaning and I was a part of something much larger than what I expected. I knew I must always be ready in the face of uncertainty and danger.

Wayne and his crew received commendations for their efforts rescuing the crew of the Holmes. The memory of this event became a part of my history, a part of who I was, and who I was to become.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

25 Easy Photo Tips That Can Make a Big Difference

Your digital camera is an amazing tool. However, there are no magic buttons on your camera that will suddenly turn it into an amazing picture making machine, no more so than all those fancy cooking utensils in your kitchen will by themselves create amazing meals. Both require the operator to impart a measure of skill to take advantage of the capabilities of those tools. To create great meals you must understand the basic principles of cooking. To create great photographs, you must understand the basic principles of photography. Here is a list of 25 simple to do tips that can help you take advantage of the capabilities of your camera.

1. When taking pictures of people, or just about anything, fill the frame with the subject image. This makes for a much more interesting composition as it allows the viewer to see more details of the subject.

2. When taking pictures of children, drop down to their eye level, and while you are at it, focus on their eyes. Always shooting from your own adult eye level will often distort how the children appear if you point the camera down.

3. When taking pictures of people pay attention to the background. You do not want a pole sticking out of your subjects head. Keep the background simple if possible and avoid distracting background artifacts that do not compliment your composition.

4. When taking scenic landscape shots, try to include something in the foreground like a clump of wild flowers, or a fence row, or a person. This will improve your overall composition. Also, shoot using a small aperture like f/11 or f/16 and focus some where roughly midway between in front of you and the far horizon.

5. When taking pictures of people, and the background is bright, use a little fill flash on your subject to bring out their features. A bright background will fool the camera exposure and cause your subject to be too dark.

6. When shooting landscapes remember to avoid placing the horizon line across the center of the image. Typically this is a less pleasing composition as it forces the viewer to wonder what the main subject is...The sky or the ground. Sometimes the sky is the most important element, as in a sunset, so drop the horizon low down on the frame. Sometimes the landscape is the most important, so raise the horizon higher on the frame.

7. Rotate your camera. Don't always shoot horizontally. Sometimes a vertical look can be the better composition.

8. Shoot candid photo's of children instead of posed pictures. Children rarely ever pose very well and usually look stiff and forced.

9. Give children something to focus on...then take photos of them while they are distracted.

10. There is one button on your camera that can transform your images. It is called the Exposure Compensation +/- button. What it does is to allow you to tell the camera to shoot an image lighter or darker than it wants to. Learn how to use it...then use it often. It is a very powerful tool found on your camera.

11. Spend some time learning about the relationships between aperture, shutter, f/stop, and ISO. These are the ingredients used for every photograph you take. Simple manipulations of these ingredients can drastically alter the look of you images.

12. Do not always shoot in a Program Mode. Program modes include full auto, shutter priority, and aperture priority. These can be a useful place to start, however they will rarely give you a creative edge if you simply allow the camera to do what it wants to do.

13. Remember that there is no such thing as a Correct Exposure. There are only Starting Exposure Values. You the photographer must learn how and why your camera does what it does, then learn how to compensate for its decisions. (see #10)

14. Creative photography begins with experimentation. Don't always assume your camera will give you the so called correct exposure. Correct Exposure is relative to what you are trying to accomplish. Once you understand how your camera reacts to a given lighting situation, you can then begin to override the camera and create exposure values that fullfill your creative instincts.

15. Use a long focal length lens and a large aperture to create that blurred background look. This is a very effective way to isolate your subject, especially people, against a soft background.

16. In cold weather, keep your spare batteries in a pocket underneath your outer coat. Cold weather will zap battery life. Keeping them warm will help prevent a loss of power. Also, chekc your batteries before you head out and make sure they are fully charged.

17. When shooting in low light, use a tripod. It is almost impossible to get a sharp photo in low light even with a higher ISO. A light weight yet sturdy tripod will steady your camera for those long exposure shots.

18. When shooting a night scene like a building with lights, if possible shoot just after dusk while there is still some ambient light in the sky. This will provide a dramatic dark blue tint to the sky which is usually more pleasing than a black sky.

19. When shooting Fall colors, you can change your white balance setting to Shady or Overcast, even on sunlit days. This will create a bolder, richer look to your colors.

20. When shooting an action scene, try panning your camera with the action. What happens is that your moving subject will look sharper while the background becomes blurred by the movement.

21. When shooting groups of people, think in terms of triangles and avoid having your group stand in straight lines. Turn some of the group in one direction and others in another direction. Place shorter people in front of taller ones, but create a series of random triangle looks between the people. Some can be sitting, while others are standing, however, avoid any large gaps between the height of the people. Spacing is important and remember those in front and closer to the camera will appear larger than those further back.

22. Shoot some large groups from an elevated location if possible. This will often place everyone pretty much along the same plane and might avoid front positioned people from appearing much larger than those inthe back.

23. Don't be afraid to use an off camera flash or speed light. To truly take advantage of the powerful effects a flash can provide, you must be able to shoot them remotely away from your camera. It is amazingly simple to do once you understand the basics of the process and it also will offer a tremendous advantage to creative people photography. So take some time to study about how to do this.

24. When shooting waterfalls, it is best to shoot them on an overcast day. Bright sunlight creates to much contrast between the lights and the darks. Overcast days offer a soft even light making it much easier to capture the true nature of the moving water.

25. And finally....don't be afraid to try something new. Never allow yourself to get locked into shooting the same old things the same old way. Ask yourself questions like.."I wonder what will happen if I do....this?" Then, try it and see what happens. The best way to grow photographically is allow yourself opportunities to use your camera in different ways even if you are not comfortable doing it. Cross training like this helps to avoid growing stale and one dimentional. Always be willing to place yourself at that point of greatest potential.