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, January 29, 2017

Old Days and Places...Old Beggs

A New Series is coming; Old Days and Places, where I relive older days and adventures from times past mostly just looking back thru fond memories. Although this blog is mostly a photography blog, it is also an outdoor adventure blog, so I hope to take time to relive some of the old times...maybe by doing so, I'll get more motivated to get out and create some new ones and remember why the other times were so important.


The ebony of the night sky still retained a few points of light winking back at the world that morning. The sun was not yet far enough along its rising schedule to turn out those last few blinking lights, yet low on the horizon one could see its effects as a faint glow embraced the pre-dawn hour.  Mid-March in Oklahoma is a time of transition where winter struggles to let go of its grip and spring struggles to take hold. So it was on this morning, March 12th, 1978, a Red-Letter day for me, one I will never forget.

I stood briefly beside my old venerable 1974 Pinto Station fishing rig...well, my do everything rig at the time. We both were well acquainted with this small lake about 30 miles south of Tulsa; Old Beggs Lake, as we had spent many hours fishing it from one end to the other. On top of my fishing rig rested my equally venerable old Coleman canoe. Beat up and showing signs of wear and tear, the better years of both were long gone. A strong tug and I felt the weight of the canoe on my shoulders, a short walk to the waters edge then a heave and a hoe and a plop as I half tossed and half placed the canoe onto the edge of the lake. A few moments later after loading my fishing gear, a short kick and step I hopped into the canoe to begin a morning of canoe fishing.

The constant Oklahoma wind had yet to kick off this morning and the lake remained calm and smooth. For the next half hour or so I made a cast here and there once along side the newly forming lilly pads, another next to some tall grass along the bank. I love the sound of fishing line twirling off a spinning reel followed by a sensible plop when the lure finds its place. A click of the bale, a low pitch whir and the line is retrieved with each deliberate crank of the fishing season was just beginning. The previous winter had been long and cold and snowy that season, so this welcome change as a warm spell hovered across the landscape offered a nice change of pace.

Eventually, I drifted around the bend and sighted where a large limb had broken off a tree and fell into the water. It's many branches protruding here and there. I was casting a small spinner bait with a black and yellow skirt and the tail end of a blue twister-tail worm attached to the hook. I tossed toward the branches and allowed it to sink for a few seconds before starting the retrieve. Three or maybe four cranks later my line suddenly felt heavy..."Blast...I'm hung up on one of those limbs." I thought..that is until the line started pulling back. My lightweight fishing rod suddenly bent double and it was about all I could do to hang on. Using only six pound line I was concerned that whatever was on the other end would break it off. There was a jump, a splash, and for the first time I saw what was on the other end; a rather large bass with a fat belly full of eggs. For several minutes I hung on retrieving line an inch or two at a time until finally my bass lay spent alongside the canoe. I reached and grabbed its wide open jaw. Weighed in at just over 4.5 pounds. A good start to fishing season.

A few minutes later I drifted to the other side of the downed branch and saw some tall grass along the bank where I knew the water was three or four feet deep. The spinner bait plopped right where I wanted it and a few cranks later my fishing rod was almost pulled from my grasp by a mighty strike. Another few minutes of playing another large bass resulted in another catch weighing in at just over 5 pounds. Two, back to back...a really good start to the fishing season.

I remember those days as though they were just last week. Even though I have experienced many great fishing moments over the years, but none came close to equalling those few. Sometimes I wonder what has happened to my adventuresome self. Seems I just don't get out as much anymore. Life and circumstances I suppose will interfere with our best of plans and desires. I am beginning to understand more now than ever why It is important to never forget those special days afield and take time to share with others memories such as these.

Winter in Kentucky this season has settled in and spring is still a ways off. Even so, I am beginning to look forward to warmer days. I can still feel the weight of that old canoe on my shoulders, whiff the aroma of that old lake, and feel the fighting spirit of those fish from all those years ago. I miss those days and that old lake where great memories were made with good friends. I miss those good friends where time and distance has separated us and few are the days now where we can share new moments afield.

Three of them are gone, Ralph, Neuman, and my brother. Curt, Rocky, and me are the only ones left from that group and, even though I have discovered new places here in Kentucky, sometimes I feel isolated and alone living so far away from those old days and places. Fishing Old Beggs Lake, quail and dove hunting out at Morris and down at Hitchita, float camping the Buffalo, deer camping at Honobia, duck and goose hunting at Sequoyah, all name places that hold dear to my past. That is what memories are made for, to fill the voids we all at one time or another will or have experienced, to remind us who we are so we can rediscover our identity. Memories such as these should never be allowed to simply drift away, so that is why I will write about them so I can relive not only the moments, but the reasons why I did them in the first place.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Photography is All About....

Photography is all about....I took fifteen minutes to list as many things as I could think of that define what Photography is all about...I'm sure there are more...but here's my list.

Light - in All of Its Forms
Looking Beyond the Obvious
Looking for the Unseen
Being There
Placing Yourself at the Point of Greatest Potential

Trying New Things
Understanding What and Why Your Camera does what it does
Creative Angles
Capturing Images That Stir the Soul
Searching for that One Great Image
Stretching Your Imagination

Problem Solving
Essence of the Moment
Sculpting with Light
Never Giving Up
Reaching for Excellance
Defining Moments

Isolating What is Important
Visual Dialog
How vs Why
Photographic Attitude
Small Pleasures
Order vs Chaos

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Paint Your Imagination With Light

Joe McNally is perhaps the greatest lighting technician in photography today. His videos are not only helpful 'how to' programs about applying artificial light to photography, they serve to inspire those of us looking to elevate our photography to another level. He has an uncanny ability to take an ordinary location with marginal light and layer it with his own vision of how the light should work. Not even close describes my own ability to mimic or to even understand how he does what he does, yet I have learned a great deal by simply watching and observing his technique. What I've gained the most is to not be afraid to employ imagination when trying new ways to capture images.

Single Studio light with softbox and homemade Grid - Image shot under an old bridge.
I have discovered that understanding principles of application is important, but, sometimes a significant gap separates us between simple understanding and applying that knowledge in the field. I recently watched one of Joe's new videos, The Garage Guys, one of the few I had not seen before, where he stepped into a mechanics garage with horrible florescent lights hanging from the ceiling and by strategically placing a few speedlights around the inside he transformed the scene into an exciting and transfixing photograph. His final image(s) left little doubt about the importance of using imaginative thought when creating a photograph. Check out his video.

Speedlights will increase your effectiveness as a photographer and using them opens up new potential for creative photography, but, like so many others, I have a tendency to fall into a cliche trap where I often fail to look beyond the potential of the visual elements in front of me. That is where using light to paint your imagination will often bring to life ordinary situations and become one of the most exciting photographic adventures you can travel through. The trick is to seek out opportunities to put the potential into play. This can be using very simple fill light as seen in the picture below, or more complex applications of multiple lights. It is to generate a balance between what is there with the full potential of what the image can become.
Single Sony Speedlight fired remotely using Camera popup flash as the trigger - Overcast day
Of course Joe McNally pretty much has unlimited resources when it comes to equipment and it is not unusual for him to use 6, 7, or even more than 10 speedlights with an array of available light modifiers in one shot. Most of us can't imagine owning that many lights much less using that many especially name brand lights like Nikon, Canon, or Sony.  However, available today are much less expensive models that do a wonderful job when used within their capabilities. (Yongnuo, and Godox are two of the more proven ones available and they cost a fraction of the name brand versions).

Single speedlight thru large window. Dark overcast day - Used a bed sheet to cover the large window and then fired the flash thru the bedsheet. Created a soft warm light which also cast interesting shadows across the wall in the background.
Even using a single speedlight will open up your creative instincts far more than simply always relying on available light. Combining the two becomes an imagination enhancing project.

Two Godox speedlights - One bare, one with orange gel. Additional available light in the form of incandescant street lights.
Photographers paint with light. When you begin to paint your imagination along with it, the limits of what can be accomplished photographically become almost infinite. Painting your imagination with light will in itself elevate your photography to a level well above what the ordinary photographer will normally accomplish. The trick is to not limit your imagination by being afraid to expand beyond your comfort zones. learn by doing, so get out there and start doing.

Two Godox Speedlights fired remotely.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

On the Hunt: Searching for that One Great Photograph

I am always on the find that one great photograph. I have not found it yet, but I am never deterred toward that endeavor. Searching for that one great photograph is an obsession where one seeks perfection as invisioned within the heart.

I try to see, I attempt to capture the world from the perspective of the camera. Even when I take time to study another photograph created by another photographer I find myself examining the image from the perspective of how did the photographer manage to capture such a fascinating print. I am always searching for ways to create an edge, to elevate what I see with my eyes into something that becomes a visually stunning image. It matters little what the subject might be, when the subject is illuminated by amazing light, even a single blade of grass can become a great photograph.

When a photographer begins to visualize the finished image before he ever releases the shutter, it is to step into a visual world filled with possibilities. It becomes an instinctive place where the mind begins to connect with and to think like a camera. To do so one must let go of preconceived prejudices and let your heart take control and allow your emotional self to lead you through what is there. Seeing the image means to look deeper, to look beyond the ordinary. It is to build the image from your imagination by collecting the visual components required for the composition and assembling them one piece at a time until nothing else is required.

Searching for that one great photograph becomes the driving force behind all great photographers. They develop an uncanny ability to see beyond the obvious to find the true deeper visual story in everything they attempt to capture photographically.

To become a photographic hunter, a searcher of great photographs, one must often experience discomfort and disappointment. But, like a hunter, the greater reward is not so much the final harvest, it is the process of persevering through the uncomfortable, to eventually reach a moment when the harvest stands presented in front of you ready for the taking, and you recognize something unique and exciting is about to happen.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

A Simple Lighting Setup

The weather in early May in Kentucky can be quite unpredictable. However, the sun shined bright and clear
for Prom date day this past season. A bright sunny afternoon is not always conducive to great photographic conditions as the harsh light creates harsh shadows and blown out highlights on almost any subject. Capturing prom dates under bright conditions like this can become a challenge, but using a simple lighting setup can often save the day and allow you to blend the natural light with artificial light.

In recent years I have become very fond of using off camera speedlights (flash). The creative opportunities they inspire become almost limitless. I have become so fond of using them that I rarely shoot a portrait using just natural light anymore. Speedlights provide the photographer a greater dimension and range of capabilities. Even with a simple one light setup, your outdoor portraits can be transformed into natural looking, well lit creations. The trick is to make it look like you're not using a light. The best fill light usage is where you can only tell it is there if you remove it. The biggest advantage I see to using speedlights in they open up the eyes bringing life to the windows to the soul of the person. Without that extra bit of illumination, eyes will often look dark and lifeless.

All the prom dates arrived, on time and excited about their special day, at the shoot location. I was there simply to help out another photographer friend. I used a simple light setup to take the photos; a single speedlight with a small softbox attached. This provided mobility and plenty of fill light and it also allowed me to take advantage of the natural sunlight filtering thru the trees.

The basic setup is quite simple: The subjects were placed in a shaded area with the sun behind them and the filtered sunlight was allowed to provide a nice backlight across the hair. This served to help separate them from the background. The softbox was postioned about four feet away from the subject at about a 45 degree angle with the top of the box slightly higher than the subject. The softbox diffused the light spreading it evenly across the subject(s), gently wrapping the light around them. It also provided a nice catch light in their eyes. I used a long lense which helped to blur the background providing an even greater amount of separation.

The type of speedlight I used happened to be Godox brand units. They are rather inexpensive units but very reliable and come with their own remote transmitter / receiver units thus allowing for easy off camera use.

The basic exposure was set to capture the background, and by adding the light, my subjects were properly lit. The light was of course fired remotely with the tripod mounted camera set on manual using ISO 100, 1/80th shutter @ 200mm and f/5.6 aperture. The speedlight power setting was place between 1/4 and 1/2 power which gave me the f/5.6 aperture. The power output of the lights can be remotely changed from the camera making exposure adjustments quick and easy.

What resulted turned out to be rather nice, natural looking images using a quick and simple lighting setup. Without the speedlight, the exposure setup would have been much more difficult to control inside the shaded area especially with the bright sunlight filtering through the trees.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Have You Ever?

Have you ever seen a prairie sunrise?

Have you ever felt the prairie wind or heard it sing with a soft voice?

Have you ever stood alone atop a prairie knoll and lifted your eyes toward a sky filled with blue so deep you want to pull it close with your embrace? Have you ever felt truly alone with nature in a place where even when spinning slowly you see nothing man made?

Have you ever stood fully exposed in the face of a prairie storm?

Have you ever sat motionless on the downward roll of a prairie arroyo as the day fell toward a new slumber wishing it would never end?

Have you ever cast your hopes toward the heavens riding on the wings of prairie birds?

Have you ever truly let go and felt at one with creation?

There is a place where all of your have-you-ever's can be discovered then locked away inside the memory of your soul...Have you ever tried to find it?