Beyond The Campfire was created to encourage readers to explore the great outdoors and to look at it more closely. Get out and take a hike, go fishing or canoeing, or simply stretch out on a blanket under a summer sky...and take your camera along. We'll talk about combining outdoor activities with photography. We'll look at everything from improving your understanding of the basics to more advanced techniques including things like how to see photographically and capturing the light. We'll explore the night sky, location shoots, using off camera speedlights along with nature and landscape. Grab your camera...strap on your hiking boots...and join me. I think you will enjoy the adventure.

The Jeep

The Jeep
The Jeep

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 twice...in 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 still...it 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 ready...here 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 do...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.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Bucky...A Real Baseball Player

The old baseball glove lay hidden on a shelf in the garage for several years. A relic from years ago sports adventures, or mis-adventures in my case. Still the fresh aroma of worn leather filled my senses as I slipped it over my left hand. It felt stiff and dry having not been used in so long. I gripped the grass stained baseball I found still tucked inside the pocket, twirling its seams in my right hand until it lined up just right, then with a quick motion I heard the unmistakable and remarkably pleasing snap it made as the ball sunk deep into the pocket. I repeated the motion two, then three times and smiled as my thoughts were taken back to an early less complicated time when I was a nine or ten year old boy trying to figure out how to play baseball on a
real team.


Growing up in southeastern Oklahoma in the small Mayberry-like town of Wister during the 1950's and early 1960's provided a golden opportunity for me to experience possibly the most important life lessons I could have lived through. My grandparents lived their entire lives in this small little town. Neither of them were highly educated, but were filled with hard life-lesson wisdom and managed to secure a precarious yet comfortable existence running a business. My dad was born and raised there and grew up playing baseball during the golden era of the sport. From all accounts he was one fine ball player anchoring the infield as a shortstop and second base for the Wister Wildcats. Sometimes he would pitch a game or two. Back in the late 1930's and early 1940's before the war, that small team with barely twelve players on it managed to win their way all the way to the national regional finals in Oklahoma City, only to succumb to one of the big Oklahoma City schools on a fluke series of events which caused them to relinquish a three or four run lead late in the game. The team that beat them went on to the nationals and eventually lost to a team that won the championship. Yeah, he was one fine baseball player, and a pretty good basketball player as well. Seemed as I grew up I thought I'd be a great baseball player too. Why not, my dad was, so I was going to be one too. Didn't turn out that way and for a young boy to discover he wasn't as good as he thought he was, well, the disappointment hovered long and gray over my dreams.

By the time I was seven years old, my dad decided to seek out a better opportunity and moved us away, but each summer my brother and I would spend the entire summer with my grandparents. Of course I wanted to play summer baseball and Wister was so small they only could field one team and was happy to include me even though I was not very good. There was no such thing as T-Ball or coach pitch or machine pitch baseball back then. We just played baseball. There were no participation trophy's or snacks at the end of the game. We just had fun playing because we wanted to. The game was reward enough.

I can't remember the coaches name, but he was a good friend of my grandparents and so when I wanted to play on the team he would make sure there was a place for me. It was always a real treat when I received my uniform, all folded neat in a square. It was made from thick flannel material and in the 100+ temperatures of the Oklahoma summer heat, well, we got pretty hot during games. We also wore those long socks, blue ones for us, that wrapped around the instep and covered your leg almost to the knee. The funnest part was wearing the dark blue ball cap with the big white W ironed onto the front. Back then we would cup the top front of the cap into a ridge giving it a distinctive high brow look. I really felt like a big league player when I wore that uniform and cap, even though I never got to play much.

Although I knew most of the boys on the team, having moved away and only returning during the summer months, I at times felt like an outsider trying to make a new team. They were good kids though and accepted me with no reservations. I don't remember all their names but there was Gary and Kendle, two brothers who were pitcher and catcher for the team. Our shortstop was a big kid named Thad, who stood several inches taller and considerably heavier than the rest of us. He was a good one too with quick reflexes and a cannon of an arm. Gary Billings played first base and was a big ole boy who could rip the hide off the baseball with his bat often driving the ball off the fence, but he was so slow running that at times he would get thrown out at first base after having done so.

We were a hodge podge of kids with different backgrounds and skills and somehow we just seemed to fit together as a baseball team. We'd ride out bikes or walk to practice which seemed way longer than they needed to be. Playing baseball was a natural thing for us though. If we were not playing or practicing as a team, we would put together a woofle-ball game, or a 4 on 4 sandlot game in the vacant field next to my grandparents home. We used musty old burlap sacks for bases and a piece of plywood for a home base. Out of bounds was the ditch that ran along side the road behind right field and my grandparents neighbor's garden with standing corn along the edges in left field, and any balls hit beyond the far tree line was an automatic home run.

Most of the kids also chewed tobacco and I wanted to fit in so I thought I'd give it a try. I took a pinch and stuffed it inside my jaw and bit down. Oh my how it burned, burned something fierce, and try as I might to not show my discomfort and disgust for that nasty stuff, I spit and spit and spit some more as coolly as I could, but a good percent of it was inevitably swallowed. By the time I got home I was not feeling too well with my head spinning and my insides all woozy. My grandmother picked up on it rather quickly. With a scowl, she looked at my face, which was rather pale by this time, took her apron and wiped the residue off my chin and said, "You been chewing that nasty old tobacco haven't cha?" I nodded yes. Swallowed a bunch of it too didn't you. I nodded yes again. "I told you not to do that, serves you right, now maybe you might learn yur lesson." I rolled over onto the seat cushion of a chair face down and groaned, and said, "Yes ma am."

There were other kids on the team, I can't recall all of their names, and then there of course was me, who wasn't very good at any baseball skills..not for the lack of trying though. I was too skinny and not very strong, couldn't throw the ball very far, and struggled to get enough velocity on the bat to drive the ball past the pitchers mound, and that is if I made contact with it at all, which didn't happen very often. More often than not on the few times I actually got into a game I'd strike out and walk head down back to the dugout. But my biggest short coming was that I simply could not catch a well hit fly ball. It would either fly over my head or drop in front of me. I just could not get the hang of it, actually, I was afraid of it and would flinch my eyes and turn my head at the last moment before the ball arrived.

The coach had a couple of assistants who helped out, both high school players, one named Bucky Hunt. Bucky was I guess 16 or 17 years old and stood about 6 feet tall or so and weighed maybe 150 pounds. His hair was slicked back with a bit of a curl hanging across his forehead, a bit of a carryover from the 1950's. More often than not, on Sunday's you'd see him sitting on the back pew beside his girl friend at the First Baptist Church. I always knew who Bucky was from growing up around there and by watching him play ball when I was too young to play myself. He was a genuine hometown hero and had that natural Mickie Mantle talent. He could hit, and throw, and field, and run bases like a demon. I once saw him playing shortstop where a batter ripped a rocket ball that hit a rut and bounced off to one side. Bucky, although moving in the opposite direction, snapped his glove hand around effortlessly and snagged the arrant ball with out missing a beat...then turned it into a missile as he threw the runner out at first base. There was nothing he could not do as a baseball player and stood well apart from the everyday ball player. But, there was more to Bucky than his playing ability. He understood how to teach the game to younger players and always showed patience giving encouragement to those of us who struggled with the basics.

One day during a long practice session, another high school player assistant with considerably less patience than Bucky was hitting pop up fly balls to some of us, myself included. Every time, I'd flinch and the ball would fly over my head and I would have to chase it down. I wasn't strong enough to throw it all the way back, but I tried and every time that guy would yell at me and put me down. I would turn away and walk back into the field, head down, waiting for another failed attempt to catch the ball. When another one would sail over my head, I'd hang my head again, throw my glove in the dirt and take the long hike to retrieve the ball. About that time, Bucky must have recognized my situation and he trotted out to where I was.

"Having a tough day, huh."  I nodded yes. "You know why you're missing those catches don't you?" I nodded no. "Okay then. Let me tell you how to do it. You see you have to watch the ball while it's in the air. When the ball looks like it is still rising against the sky, it means it's going to go over your head. If it looks like it is falling against sky it's going to fall in front of you. When its rising, you have to step back a few steps, when its falling you have step forward a few steps until the ball looks like its not moving across the sky. When it does that, it means it coming right at you. But, you have to raise your glove up before it gets to you and watch it fall right into the glove. Don't be afraid of it, just use your glove to protect yourself."

I must have looked confused because he smiled and said, "Let's give it a try, I'll help you," and he waved at the other guy to hit another one toward us. There was a solid crack of the wooden bat and the ball started sailing toward us. "Watch it now...see it's rising against the sky to the right, step back, over a little...that's it...now its falling against the sky...one step up...here it comes...glove up..." a second later the ball smacked into the pocket of my glove just like it was suppose to. I stood there in disbelief that I had actually caught a fly ball.

"See there..easy...now keep on practicing until you get the hang of it." I did...still struggled at first, but I was at least catching a few from time to time, and each time Bucky would shout out his approval. That's the way Bucky was and it caused me to idolize him even more than I already did. When he wasn't playing in games himself, he spent a lot of time with the team. He'd joke around with us, and pat us on the back when we did something good. We thought the world of him and we were a better team because of him. There were times he would come sauntering down the road that ran next to my grandparents home and he'd wave to me if I was out. My grandmother's eyesight wasn't so good anymore and she' ask, "Who was that?" I'd say with a air of superiority, "That was Bucky Hunt", like it was a real special treat to be noticed by him, and it was.

The season progressed through the summer, we won most of our games, but lost a few, and eventually we were to play in a big tournament in Fort Smith against some really good teams from Arkansas and Oklahoma. We also got to play night games under the lights which was a real treat if for no other reason than to get out of the hot summer sun. We managed to win our first couple of games against some really good teams. I managed to not contribute to any of those wins because coach deemed it unwise to let me play during such important games. But that was okay. I still had fun just being there. Eventually, we managed to make it to the finals and late in the game if I recall correctly, we were nursing a one point lead. For some reason the coach must have realized I was the only one on the team who had not played so probably against his better judgment, he decided to put me in for a few innings. Wisely, he placed me in the safest place...way out in the dark right field where not much action happened.

I remember feeling almost disconnected with the game as the infield was lit up very bright from the lights but where I was it was dark...and lonesome. Not much came my way but at the bottom of the 6th inning...I think we played 7...they got a few hits and a couple of the ground balls trickled out toward where I was. I managed to scoop them up and toss them back in to limit the runners advance. There was only one out but they now had two runners on base. One on third and one on first. Things were getting rather critical.

Then the top of their batting order came up to bat. Gary made his windup, looked over to first to hold the runner, then let it fly. A swing and a miss. Strike one. Two balls thrown next, then another swing with a tip foul. Two strikes...two balls. The infield was chattering, "Hey batter batter batter..." I joined in but no one could hear me way out in right field. I stood with my hands on my knees watching as best as I could from where I was. Another windup and pitch, and with a big swing there was a loud crack. The ball rocketed into the dark sky...right toward me! There was a loud moan jump from the crowd as though they could see the game slipping away. My first thought was, "Oh no..." Then I remembered what Bucky had told me...the ball was climbing against the sky so I took a step or two back and it started coming right toward me...glove up...and to my surprise...I snow coned it, barely, in the top of my glove!


The hushed moan from the crowd erupted into a loud roar yelling at me to throw the ball in. I grabbed the ball and heaved it as far as I could toward home plate. The runner on third tagged up and started his run toward home plate bound on tying the score. I threw that ball farther than I had ever thrown a ball before as it arched from deep right field all the way to a yard or two from home plate down the third base line. Kendle, our catcher who also looked a lot like Yogi Berra, grabbed it off the first hop and blocked the runner, tagging him out...a double play and the threat was snuffed.

The crowd literally erupted into fantastic roar of approval. I hopped and jumped back to the dugout in time with the cheers of the crowd and the first person to meet me was, you guessed it, Bucky. He ran out of the dugout with the biggest grin and his athletic arms outstretched. He grabbed me around the waist and launched me high off the ground and spun me around. The rest of the team was jumping up and down all around and shouting. Bucky finally sat me back to my feet and said "I knew you could do it...great catch!"...and yes, we eventually won the game and the tournament. That one single catch was the highlight of my little league career. Knowing that Bucky was as excited as he was and when lifted me off the ground was the most thrilling of moments, the kind of moment that could never have been scripted, it just happened.

The summer ended along with baseball much too quickly and school was again about to kick off. My parents retrieved my brother and I and as we drove away to return to our other home, my grandmother with a tear in her eye waved goodbye to us from her carport. School started...the fall set in, then the winter chill, and finally spring once again lifted us from the grasp of cold air into a warming trend. It was baseball season again.

We had an old Philco black and white television complete with vacuum tubes, tuning dials, along with vertical and horizontal control knobs...and oh yes, rabbit ears from which we picked up three or four channels. One Saturday afternoon I sat in the living room watching a baseball game, not sure who was playing, probably the Yankees with Mickie Mantle and Roger Marris as they were my favorite pro players. I wore my old glove and baseball and my dark blue ball cap with the white W on the front crease. The telephone rang and my dad answered.

"Hi mom..." my grandmother was calling. "Just fine...what was that...yeah, he's here why." There was an unusually long pause as my dad listened. "Oh...I'm sorry to hear that," another long pause,"Okay...yes we'll let him know...thanks for calling."

I barely paid much attention to what was being said. He and my mom talked a few moments in the kitchen and then both of them stepped into the room. My dad turned the volume down on the television and said. "I'm afraid I have some difficult news to tell you, but your grandmother wanted you know."

I said, "What kind of news?" as I tried to glance around him to continue watching the baseball game.

"You remember Bucky Hunt?"

"Yeah...sure I do."

"Well, he was playing in a high school baseball game yesterday and the pitcher threw a wild pitch which hit him in the chest."

"Ouch...bet that hurt...so...did he get on base?"

"Well....as he trotted over to first base he stumbled, then collapsed. The hit on his chest shocked his heart and it stopped," my dad paused with a rather long face. "Bucky died before they could get him to the emergency room...I'm so sorry to have to tell you."

I don't remember what I said after that, but I recall curling up on the couch and watched some more of the ballgame, feeling numb and alone. My young heart and mind had a difficult time grasping the moment. I instinctively knew it was bad, but did not know how to respond. My mom gave my dad a long sad look, and they both walked away leaving me to my thoughts. Not much was ever said about it again.

I never again played little league baseball. Seems the circumstances just did not allow for it after that. The previous summer with Bucky's help I learned a lot about myself. Things like I could do more than I thought I could, or that it's okay to strike out at the plate, just keep trying. He also demonstrated a value I hopefully have applied to my life, the value of compassion, of being willing to help, to encourage others, and to believe you can do it, and to not be afraid.

I've often wondered what might have been had he not so tragically left us because of a freak accident. He really was a great baseball player who might have gone on to bigger and wonderful things in the sport. I have no way of knowing how his life influenced the other kids on that team...something tells me it did though. I do know Bucky, the baseball player, the timeless iconic hometown hero, and my friend, who taught me how to catch a fly ball, and who taught me to believe in myself, is someone I will never forget. He and baseball are one in the same to me.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Shooting With a Game Plan

On one of my first model location shoots I showed up at the location not having a clue of what I was going to do photographically. "I'll just wing it..." I told myself. The results were, well...predictable. The images looked rather ordinary and snapshotish at best. Winging it can at times produce some wonderful results, but that usually happens only after you apply lessons learned from previous shoots using a game plan. As I continued to develop my location shooting skills it became apparent how having a game plan of what I wanted to accomplish was an important element to help me focus my efforts on a particular theme.

A good photographer friend of mine seems to do this naturally without effort. At times it appears he is winging it, and maybe there is an element of that in his technique, but his approach is one of mentally breaking down the shoot into manageable photographic steps, tweaking the moment just enough until what he is visualizing suddenly appears in front of him and then he captures it. He has a knack for identifying the artistic elements of what is truly there and then being able to bring the moment to life. I've learned a great deal simply observing him as he works.

Shooting with a game plan involves several things. First of all, you must have an instinctive command of your equipment. Being able to know how your camera is going to react to a given lighting situation is key as it gives you the ability to make exposure adjustments on the fly without too much thinking about it. Understanding exposure in general is a must. Always shooting on program mode handicaps your ability to use creative instincts. Also, understanding exposure using artificial lighting...speedlights...is without a doubt one of the most important elements of your game plan. Speedlights give you the ability to control different planes of light at the same time. Understanding how to apply this gives you a powerful advantage. Also, test your equipment. I once did a shoot that required several speedlights where three of them were placed some distance from the camera transmitter. Turned out the transmitter would not reach that far and I struggled to get the shot, initially. However understanding how the lights worked, I was able shift them from being fired directly to being fired as slave units trigger by the flash of another another unit which solved my problem. So understanding your equipment and its limitations is an important aspect of implementing a game plan.


Secondly, having a game plan gives you a place to start. You know from the beginning what you want to accomplish even though the steps to get there may not be readily apparent. Every shoot is different in their dynamics. The lighting is different, the setting, the model, the angles, the energy, in short you the photographer must be able to adapt to your surroundings. Your game plan provides you with an idea, a direction in which to travel. It becomes your shooting roadmap without which it might become easy to get lost or sidetracked. Also, remember the best laid plans do not always go according to the plan, so be willing to adjust your game plan. Even though some of my most successful photographs are the result of having a plan in place, the idea did not always fit the actual live situation.


Thirdly, your game plan should include knowing the location. Ask yourself a few questions. What direction will the light be coming from at any given time of day? Are there shaded areas or high contrast areas? Are there background distractions? Will I need overcast skies or sunny skies? Will this be better late or early in the day? How easy is it to setup...is there a hike involved and if so how do I get my equipment in there? What equipment will I need? What is the most dramatic angle? And, most importantly, what am I trying to accomplish...what will my finished photograph become? I will spend a great deal of time simply searching for locations and then make mental and sometimes physical notes about the location and how it might be used in a shoot. One thing to keep in mind, a game plan will work regardless of the purpose be it a high school senior location shoot, a wedding, or a shoot focused on capturing a single specific type of look or photograph.

Shooting with a game plan helps you to become more efficient in the field. During many of my earliest attempts of shooting a model on location I struggled to find a focused effort and wasted a lot of time. In reality I did not know what I was doing and jumped around trying this and that and ended up with photographs that looked like this and that. During the times I have observed my friend during his shoots, it became apparent at just how efficient he was. Move here, move there, this angle, this lens, this light. He seemed so in command of what he was doing. It is a trait I wish to emulate. Many times I tend to attach a lens and stay with it throughout the shoot when I should have changed lenses a time or two to obtain a different look. Be willing to make strategic changes during your shoot if for no other reason just to see what happens. You can always go back to what you were doing.

A game plan can apply to other types of shooting. Take for instance this photo of a beautifully restored 1976 Corvette in front of the National Corvette Museum. Having a plan in place, knowing the location, using speedlights, then adapting to the situation allowed for a really fun shoot of an iconic car and location.


Lastly, stay within your style of shooting, but experiment with new techniques and styles. Avoid growing stale by not doing the same ole thing the same ole way all the time. All of us can learn from others, but all of us tend to migrate toward a comfortable style. It is perfectly normal to do so, but do not be afraid to try something new...step out on the edge every now and then and spread your photographic wings. That is the only way you will grow.


Having a game plan helps you in so many ways, getting started can often be the most difficult part of the process. To avoid always falling into the I'll wing it trap, start to develop your game plan by saying to yourself, "This is what I want to accomplish...now how do I get there?"...then, go out and do it.




Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Using Light as an Artistic Tool


All of us take light for granted. Even though it surrounds us and permeates our lives with a myriad of flavors
and colors, it seems so common, so ordinary and everyday, we simply choose to overlook its influence. In spite of it being such an important element in our lives, we often look past it simply because it is always there. However, as a photographer Light is the most important element in our craft. I am always conscious of the effects of light even when I am not carrying a camera. I not only see it, I observe it, I watch it closely, I recognize those special moments when by itself, it becomes the subject of what I am looking at. Over the years this awareness of light evolved into a conscious understanding of its nature and how its nature can be used as a photographic tool.

Many years ago I spent a good amount of time developing my artistic flair...I drew pictures of people and places. During that time I did a lot of reading about art and artists and before long it became evident how the great artists understood the use of light...and more importantly how they used the absence of light to create depth and character. In time as my artistic drive shifted more toward photography, this revelation about light has served me well. Light then simply became another tool of an artistic trade.

Light can be used as a tool in many ways; it can be directed, toned down, brightened, softened, blended, recolored, and used from different directions at the same time. It can create shadows to create character. It can be directed to fill in the small spaces where not enough light exists or it can be blocked to create a darker moodier tone. It can bring life to an otherwise dull composition. It can be accumulated or subtracted. In short, light is perhaps your most important and versatile photographic tool simply because it is so versatile.

Take this photograph I call The Pilot. Several phases and planes of light were used in creating this image. The ambient background light, all natural in its flavor, created the overall mood of the image. From that, I added some fill lights to illuminate the airplane hanger and the pilot.


All three of these light planes were of different intensities, yet when blended together the impression of the light creates an interesting result. Light then was used to sculpt the final image and bring to life three separate compositional elements; the hanger with the airplanes, the background sky setting, and the pilot. Light became the chisel used to carve out the depth and character of the portrait.

Light is unique in that it alone can create shadows or it can provide full illumination. By changing the angle and the direction of the light along with its intensity, you can create soft or harsh shadows or highlights. Depending on the mood of the image, light is used as element connectors to bring the composition together not unlike nails or screws are used to connect separate pieces of materials.

There are times we can take light and use it to create order within what might otherwise be an ordinary composition. Flat and dull light will often create a flat and dull image that exhibits no real quality, only a sense of chaotic jumbleness. But, throw on some extra light, change its angle, and alter its intensity above or below the ambient light, and you can isolate what is truly important and separate it from the chaos of what surrounds it.




When attempting to build an interesting composition, regardless of what it is, the first thing I evaluate is the light. Even if all the elements line up correctly but the light is wrong, it just will not work. But, when you approach your photography using the idea that light is another tool you can use to build your image, it changes how you visualize your final image. Light is a powerful tool and when used creatively helps you to build not only amazing images, but a powerful vision.