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

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

B-29 FIFI - A Portrait of a Legend

The B-29 bomber of World War II fame proved itself an iconic airplane both in design and function. It became the most expensive design project during the war exceeding even the development of the Atomic Bomb in cost. Almost 4,000 of them were built and two of them, the Enola Gay and Bocks Car dropped two atomic bombs on Japan ending the war.

When one of the few flying examples of the B-29, FIFI, came to Bowling Green, I had to take advantage of the opportunity to capture this beautiful airplane. What I wanted to do was photograph it at dusk using several speedlights along with some light painting, however, when I inquired about doing such a thing, the crew balked and it fell through. I was left with trying to capture the nostalgic nature of FIFI under less than ideal conditions. As a result, the images I took were made with the intent of creating black and white images. Black and white lends itself well to capturing dramatic skies when the lighting conditions are marginal. Converting to B&W allows one to take advantage of contrast which will offset the negative factors assiciated with middle of the day lighting. Another difficulty were the other people who had come to see the B-29. It was difficult to shoot around them and in some cases it became necessary to clone them out of the image in post processing, not always an easy task.

Fortunately, in spite of the tough conditions, the sky cooperated and I was presented with a blend of whispy clouds and blue skies, both of which contributed to exciting black and white conversions.

The idea behind the images was to recreate that 1940's look. The conversion process included using Nik software Silver Effects which allows for various black and white effects including simulating the use of different kinds of black and white papers. This advantage creates exciting possibilities. Most of the images that were converted used the Ilford Delta 100 Pro paper simulation. I also applied a sepia tone effect on a few of the images, along with high contrast and high structure giving the images a powerful, crisp look.

Capturing a portrait of a legend like the B-29 transported me if only for a few moments back in time to another era when because of the circumstances of the time, great planes were created which were destined to become some of the most beautifully functional machines ever created.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

How The Picture Was Made - Blending Two Zones of Light

Photography requires as much post processing as it does time in the field. In fact, almost all digital images require some post processing to bring out the extra pop we all desire in our photos. Fortunately, there are a few easy to learn techniques that help us in creating a finished photograph. One of these is knowing how to blend two Zones of light.

First let's go back a step or two. Blending two zones of light starts in the camera and is accomplished by taking at least two separate images of the same subject, one using the ambient light and one using a speedlight(s), then blending them in photoshop as a single photograph. The reason we do this is because when using speedlights, it sometimes becomes necessary for the lightstand to be in the shot in order to get the best angle to light the subject. When that happens we need an easy way to remove the lightstand without having to perform a lot of cloning magic which can at times get cumbersome. It is also necessary because the ambient light is almost always darker than the light from the flash and we must allow for the 'Burning In' of that background light before the flash fires to illuminate our main subject.

Let's look at the portrait of a 1976 Corvette I recently made. The situation was like this. The background was the National Corvette Museum and I wanted to take the photo during that narrow window between dusk and dark. Doing so would allow for the capture of the dynamic lighting on the museum's Skydome and also allow for some of the dusky light in the sky to be captured. This however prevented me from capturing the Corvette with a correct exposure using just the available light. To accomplish that feat required the use of multiple speedlights positioned strategically around the Corvette to illuminate it.

The two zones of light then were; The background ambient light coming from the sky and the museum, and the speedlights used to expose the car. In order to have an effective light on the car required that two of the speedlights, one with a softbox attached, be in the shot. A first baseline photo was made without the lights in place and was done simply to get the ambient light exposure where I wanted it. The second shot then was setup with the lights in place to capture the car.

The first two images then shows the ambient light photo without the speedlights in the picture. It was opened as a RAW image and tweaked to obtain the desired results for the background light, then saved and opened inside the Photoshop Elements work window. The Tweak settings were noted for later use.

There were some powerlines showing in the sky in the upper left of the image so they were removed using the Healing tool. Then the second image taken using the lights was opened also as a RAW image.

Notice the softbox showing in the upper right of the image and also not as noticeable the speedlight sitting on the other side of the car firing into the window. The same RAW settings were applied so the second image would closely match the background settings of the previous image. Notice the Powerlines are also visable in the second image, but they were left alone.

Next I used the Select All option under the Select dropdown box then selected Copy under the EDIT dropdown. I then reopened the first image and used the PASTE option to overlay the second image exactly on top of the first one. This created a Layer Mask that could then be used to erase anything showing on the top layer to expose what was beneath it. In this case I simply seleted the Erase tool and expanded the brush to a medium size and erased the sky area, the softbox, and the speedlight shooting into the car.

With a little more applied tweaking of the brightness, contrast, color, and the removal of some stray artifacts to clean up the final image...the results!

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

1976 Corvette - A Challenging Shoot for an Iconic Sports Car

The Corvette, America's iconic sports car has survived the test of time. From beginning's in 1953 it grew in favor and reputation until today where the newest cars are so filled with technology those of us who remember the good old days can hardly fathom the engineering used to create these marvelous machines. The first one I remember seeing and knowing it was a Corvette was a black 1963 Stingray. I was 11 years old and a neighbor down the street parked his new sportscar in his driveway. It took about three minutes before every person in the neighborhood hovered around this beauty. I've been fascinated with them ever since and even today as I am able to work parttime at the National Corvette Museum, I find their styling and mystique as endearing as ever.

A friend of mine, an ex-Navy guy and former co-worker Jim Rhea, some years ago discovered an early model icon sitting in disrepair with weeds growing out of the engine compartment and vines wrapping themselves around the body and inside the cab . The floor was rotted, windows busted, upholstery torn and frayed, and the wiring in disrepair. Even so, he saw not a ruined derelict, but a great project full of potential, one that would eventually take him over 18 months to restore. When he was finished, a 1976 Corvette was raised from the ash heap of forgotten dreams and restored to its former glory.

We met up again recently to spend a couple of hours photographing his re-creation using another symbol of this beautiful car as a backdrop; The National Corvette Museum (NCM) in Bowling Green, Kentucky. This is the story of how we pulled off a challenging photographic session.

My goal on this shoot was to capture a single exciting photograph of this beautifully restored vehicle. One that captured not only the car's styling but the car's muscle and pedigree. Photographing a white car against a dark background is not an easy task when using speedlights. The risk is over exposing the white and underexposing the darker areas.

The first problem was to identify the basic process. I decided on using four speedlights, wished I had five, one with a softbox positioned so as to capture the lines and aesthetic values of the car. The idea was to position the car in front of the Sky Dome at the NCM and shoot around the dusk hour so we could capture not only the car but the dynamic flavor of the cone-shaped Sky Dome as the backdrop. I decided to once again use the flash sync process known as Rear Sync, where the flash does not fire until the end of the shutter cycle. This would allow for burning in the background and then filling in the car with light at the last moment.

We also needed to figure out how to best position the car in relation to the Sky Dome which took some trial and error. Once we had the basic configuartion figured out, it was a matter of positioning the lights to illuminate the car while we also captured the background in the same shot.

The basic exposure values were ISO 400 - f/8.0 @ 2.5 seconds with the lens set at 20mm and secured on a tripod. I used manual focus to make sure the car was the primary focal point Once the exposure was set, the camera was not touched and was fired using a remote cable.

The lights were setup in this manner: The main light with a softbox was positioned about 6 feet in front of and slightly to one side of the car somewhat above eye level with the softbox rotated to the horizontal position. It was also set to about 1/4 power initially. This was my key light. One speed light, set to 1/16th power and zoomed in tight, sat on the ground slightly pointing toward the front tire. This not only brought life to the tire, it created a seam along the front curve of the body fender. A third light, also set to 1/32nd power, was pointed toward the rear tire well which rounded out the side lighting on the body. The fourth light, set to 1/64th power was positioned so it would shoot into the cab area thus illuminating the inside of the car.

My camera was positioned at about 45 degrees from the front and was positoned above eye level. With this as a starting point, we made several exposures and checked the results, then tweaked the lights as needed moving them in and out or to one side to even out the light on the car. We eventually had Jim hold the key light and angle it down so as to illuminate the top of the car with more light.

Although not bad for a first attempt, there are a few things I would do differently next time. Even so, the shot came off pretty well. Thanks to Jim for allowing me to capture his iconic car in front of an iconic museum.