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

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Sometimes...You Just Get it Right!

I'm not a perfectionist, on the contrary I tend to believe tiny imperfections found in any form of art is what makes that art...well, perfect. Even so,  I sometimes find myself fretting over a photograph I've taken saying to myself, "Aaahh...I should have done this or that" or "If only I had tried something else." A few months later I will return to that same photo and for some unexplainable reason, it seems to have improved a great deal from when I first took it.

Then there are those times when you simply guess right, and an image just falls into place almost by itself. The expression is right, the exposure is off just enough to make it interesting, the angle guides the view, and the light creates the perfect moment. A couple years ago, I had one such moment when one such photograph came out of an imperfect moment. I still believe it to be one of the best portraits I've ever taken.

She, along with her parents, were my subjects for an outdoor photo shoot that day. She was maybe five years old at the time, very bright, amazingly alert to what was going on, and quick to see through the corny jokes I used to entice her to laugh. She informed me that dog's do not go 'meow' and cats do not bark. After two or three such feeble attempts at my humor she looked at her dad and said, "Dad...make him stop." After I stopped laughing and regained my composure from being put in my place by a five year old, I quit with the jokes.

Her mom was a few weeks away from giving birth to her brother-to-be. Most of the shoot went pretty much the way most standard shoots go, pretty good for the most part, with some good keepers and a few culls. Even though I struggled at times to come up with a combination of moment and light, there was one instant of inspiration that created the shot of the day.

Mom was wearing a floppy, white button up shirt and the young girl was also wearing a simple, white top.  I positioned a single light and softbox to within a few feet of mom lowering it so it projected its light almost straight into her from the side. Then the moment of inspiration occurred. I asked the five year old to place her ear on mommies tummy. She gently cradled her head against the top of the tummy and her eyes gained a far away look as if she was listening for something. Not sure if she felt her soon-to-be born brother move, or maybe she heard the heart beating, but something caused her expression to shift from 'when are we going to be done?' to one of amazement. At that moment when her eyes lit up and a special smile filled her expression, I fired the shot.

Whether accidentally or on purpose, the image was slightly overexposed, but it created a wonderfully soft high-key look that absolutely was perfect for the moment. With a little help in post processing, it became one of my all time favorite portraits. Sometimes, you just get it right.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

A Time To Escape - A Moment of Extremes

Life has a way of creating Moments of Extremes. All of us face them, some more than others, but all of us must deal with challenges that catch up with where we are in life to hover over us like some kind of haunting apparition. The unique thing about such moments is they tend to create a need for an escape, a way to block out the difficult moments even for just a little while. Like the variety of extremes we all face from time to time, the way we escape from them comes in many forms. I use several, anywhere from wading a favorite fishing creek, to sitting atop a grassy knoll overlooking an ancient prairie, or taking a hike to a local farm pond, to standing alone on a warm, clear, summer night gazing up at the heavens. Whatever the form of escape, I will most often carry a camera along with me to capture the unique flavor of the moment. Doing so tends to reinforce the recuperative effects by allowing me to share the experience with others.

Living away from the city surrounded by corn and wheat fields and relatively dark skies, I am privileged to experience some of the best moments of escape by simply stepping outside. This summer, as I prepare to host a summer session of a night sky photography workshop, I find myself drawn once again to the almost supernatural healing effects of standing alone on a dark clear evening, pointing my camera toward the sky. By using its light gathering ability, hidden wonders that lie just out of sight, almost within reach, come to life. As I do so, the extreme moments filled with trials, fade away, replaced by a sense of wonder and amazement.

I ask myself, "I wonder what is hidden...there, next to that single star." Then I point the camera locked onto a tripod, and make an exposure. That single star, a blessing really, shining there just waiting for me to see it, is suddenly surrounded by countless others that lie hidden just out of sight where our eyes were unable to discern them because, well...we simply failed to look. They each have a name, the Bible says of the stars. In my newly found extreme moment of escape, I deeply wonder who they are.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Pleiades - Viewing the Seven Sisters Cluster

There they were, a bright little cluster of stars hovering high in the night sky; Alcyone, Asterope, Celeano, Electra, Maia, Merope, and Taygeta. Names from mythology of seven sisters, the seven daughters of Atlas and Pleione, floating and seemingly spinning across a cosmic ballroom with their lightly veiled gowns slowly whisping as they turn. We know them as The Pleiades Star Cluster, one of the brightest and easiest clusters to see in the night sky.

The cluster actually consists of hundreds of stars and is easily descerned with a pair of binoculars and just as easily photographed. They are one of the highlights of the late winter and early spring sky events. They float just out of reach, taunting and teasing Orion, The Hunter Constellation now brilliantly hovering in the southwestern sky. They are beautiful stars, bright with a crystal glow against an ebony sky their names forever etched into mythological stories and legends.

With my camera firmly attachd to the sky tracker, I made a few final tracker adjustments and test captures to verify the alignment, then I rotated the camera and pointed toward the Seven Sisters. With its characteristic buzzing, the little 1 RPM motor began its slow rotation to offset the relative movement of the stars caused by the spin of the earth. After a few seconds to allow the tracker to settle any vibrations, I pressed the remote shutter release and simply counted; 30 seconds, then 45, then finally 60 before releasing and closing the shutter. In an instant the image popped across the view screen and the Pleiades Seven Sisters Star Cluster offered a pleasant refresh of the day. My enchantment of their beauty continues.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

DIY Solar Filter for Your Camera Lens

August 21, 2017 is a red letter day for much of North America including Kentucky. On that date we will enjoy a total eclipse of the sun. In fact, one ofthe best locations to view the eclipse is in Hopkinsville, KY, less than an hours drive from Bowling Green. Bowling Green will be located right on the northern edge of the eclipse path and will be able to see the totality, but a few miles south and west will provide much better viewing.

Some of you out there are probably wondering about how to photograph this event without damaging your camera or your eyes. There are a number of commercially available filters you can buy that attach to your camera lens that will do a nice job, but they tend to be rather expensive. So, I'm going to show you how to build a Do It Yourself version of a solar filter that works quite well. It cancels out 99.999% of the light along with all the UV and other bad light and allows for direct viewing and photographing of the sun.

First of all, this version was made to fit my 50mm - 500mm Sigma Lens. The concepts shown here can be used to build a filter for any size of lens, its just a matter of scaling down the size of the main tube that is used to fit your lens. Also, use only solar filter material that is designed for solar viewing. Do Not compromise on this, your eyes will not appreciate the cheaper materials and they can be damaged.

Here is the parts list:  1 - 4 inch Cardboard shipping tube...about $6.00. (Use tube size that will fit your lens)
                                 1 - 8x8 inch Black Polymer Solar Filter Sheet - about $18.00 (one sheet will make
                                       several filters) Amazon Link is attached to bottom of this article
                                 Some double stick tape
                                 A small piece of thin cardboard

Step One: Cut a 5 inch section off the end of the shipping tube. Use a Hacksaw to make a smooth cut.

Step Two: Remove the plastic end piece and cut out the center of the cap leaving about 1/4 inch all the way around the edge along the bottom. In this case just follow the ridge that outlines the center of the plastic cap. This creates the hole through which the filter material will be applied.

Step Three: From the 8x8 inch sheet of black polymer filter material cut a square section large enough to cover the end piece. In this case about a 4x4 inch piece worked just fine. While cutting the filter leave the filter material inside its cardboard holder and cut across/thru the cardboard. Do not try to remove the filter material and cut it separately as it is too flimsy and awkward to cut that way.

Step Four:  Take small strips of double stick tape and cover the bottom inside flat 1/4 inch wide portion of the end piece. After covering the end piece with tape, trim the tape so none of it extends over the cutout section. Tape should only be applied to the flat piece along the bottom.

Attach Polymer to bottom of the cut out plastic cap sealing along the double sided tape.

Make sure the Silver side is facing forward. The end result should look like this.

Step Five: Carefully place the Black Polymer material onto the back of the plastic cap. Be sure the shiny silver side is facing forward or looking thru the hole toward where the sun will be. The black side should end up on the inside of the tube. Gently, but firmly press the material onto the sticky tape and make sure it is sealed all the way around. It's okay if the material has some crinkled edges. It will not affect the performance. Try not to scratch the material though. Just make sure the entire bottom surface of the plastic cap is covered so that no light can penetrate through.

Step Six:  Gently press the plastic cap back into the cardboard tube.

  Step Seven: Depending on if the cardboard tube is larger in diameter than your lens, you may need to shim
                    up the inside of the tube for a tighter fit. To do so, simply cut another section of the tube, about                     3 or 4 inches is enough, then cut a 3/4 inch slice out of it. Pinch the ends together and slide into
                    filter tube. Additional shimming can be applied once the filter is slipped over the end of the lens.
                    Just use a 3 or 4 inch piece of thin cardboard folded over so it can slip into the gap between the
                    lens and the filter holder.

Additional piece of tubing with a small slice cut out of it, pinched together and then inserted into the maintube. This provides a bit of shimming to create a tighter seal around the lens.

Here is the finished product:

Notice the folded thin piece of cardboard wedged between the filter tube and the lens. This keeps the Filter tube tight so it does not wobble around or fall off.

...and here is the results. Now its just a matter of having clear skies for the eclipse and/or some interesting sunspots to appear.  Exposure on this one: Manually set f/8.0  1/500th sec  ISO 100  500mm (cropped).

Amazon Link for filter material:

Sunday, March 5, 2017

The Photographer's View of the World

Yellow wild flowers, with a hint of mustard and green, spread like a blanket across the small pasture which
was surrounded by trees on three sides and wooden fence row along the road. Being late in the afternoon the low angle of the sun richoched off and through the flowers causing them to vibrate with a brillant flavor almost glowing from within. It was Kentucky at its best with warm spring temperatures and a clear sky filled with an ocean-like blue. I pulled well off the road and stepped and with camera in hand began to photograph this wonderful little patch of color from the edge of the fence. Within a few minutes I heard a voice from across the road shout, "Can I help you with something?" I turned to find a middle aged lady standing on her porch directly across from where I was standing. I thought maybe she might have owned this little pasture at first, but discovered later she was just a neighbor. Our conversation continued something like this.

"No, I'm just taking some pictures."

"What are you taking pictures of?"

"This little field here with all the yellow flowers."

"You mean all those weeds. Why would you want to take pictures of weeds for?"

I smiled and made one final comment, "I'll be moving along here in a moment. Sorry if I disturbed you."

This encounter was not the first time I had been asked what I was doing while I was taking pictures. Seems more and more I am confronted by people for no particular reason while photographing an interesting place. The interesting thing about this particular conversation was the different points of view the two of us had about the field. The person asking me saw only a field of weeds with no real value to it. I saw a magical moment of light filled with possibilities.

The Photographers view of the world is certainly different than the average persons view. Most anyone can stand on the edge of the Grand Canyon and marvel at the beauty, but photographers have an uncanny ability to see beauty in ordinary things like a field full of weeds. Not sure exactly where it comes from, the ability to see beauty in ordinary things, but I suspect the initial stirring to life that feeling of 'something wonderful is here' must first come from the heart where our creative instincts seem to reside.

As an artist who uses the camera to capture a vision, I've grown accustomed to looking for what others do not always see. Often times, I'll see it well before I can capture it, but what I am actually seeing is not always how I want to capture it. The camera gives us the ability to translate light into the form we desire. Like an artist, the ability to do such things become instinctive, you just see it first in your heart and then in your mind as the form of the composition begins to take shape. Understanding how the camera captures light is an important technical element to have not unlike a painter knowing how to use the brushes and pigments of his craft. It comes with practice.

To view the world as a photographer requires one to see the world from the perspective of light as opposed to an object. Objects can distract us from the real potential of the moment. Looking beyond the object and seeing how it may appear when bathed in golden light elevates the photographer toward viewing the world as an artist would see it. When doing so, even a field full of weeds becomes a magical moment of light.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

The Photographer's Home Territory

Some years ago we moved to Kentucky from Oklahoma. Oklahoma as my ancestral home will always retain a special warmth for me, but we've been in Kentucky now for 13 years and it has for many good reasons become our home. It did not take long to recognize the scenic beauty that surrounds where we live and before long I began to explore the nooks and cranny's that define this part of Kentucky. As a result I created, several years ago, an on going project called 'The Alvaton Collection' which consists of photographs taken in and around the Alvaton area in south central Kentucky, most of them within a few miles of where we live.

As a photographer I am always envious of the ability of many of my photographer friends who travel across this great land and even the world for some of them, to photograph the scenic wonders waiting for them. They come up with some amazing photographs of wonderfully exotic locations. I've never been able to do such traveling for various reasons, so instead I simply focus on my Home Territory and discover great images just waiting for capture outside my front door.

The photographers home territory is the most important location to shoot for many reasons, the most obvious being the convenience of it. Most photographers probably do spend a lot of time shooting in their respective locations, but I'm not so sure many of them focus on just one geographic locality; that is to stay within a few miles of their home and capture its flavor and appeal through all seasons, lighting conditions, and scenic structure. The Photographers Home Territory can provide a tremendous amount of photographic rewards and what is so appealing about it is, because of its closeness, you can capture it year round in every kind of lighting conditions.

The idea is to look beyond what you see everyday and start looking at it with a photographers eye. That old dilapidated barn you pass by every day and hardly pay attention to while driving to work can become a mysterious symbol of days gone by when captured on a foggy moggy morning at first light. That ordinary cornfield takes on a nostalgic glow when the first light of morning filters through its stalks.

Just about any farm pond can become a magical wonderland on a cold freezing morning.

Even if you live in the city, capturing the essence of your home can become a tremendous adventure when looking at the streets and buildings in different light through a photographers eye.

The idea here is to get started. Create a project, call it whatever you want to, but concentrate on your home territory and over time as you build the portfolio, you will gain a new respect for the scenic value of where you live. It is a great way to develop your photographic skills and to improve your ability to see photographically.