Days and Nights of Baja

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I was incredibly fortunate to have my first “work” trip of the new year be a Linblad/Nat Geo week-long Expedition to the Baja Peninsula. I soon discovered that the Sea of Cortez is an amazing place to set up a cubicle! My good friend, David Brommer, and I were sent down to showcase a ton of gear to the lucky 60+ guests of the tour, plus teach alongside famous Nat Geo/Traveler photographers Bob Krist, Michael Melford, and Ralph Lee Hopkins.

We flew into Cabo San Lucas, and after joining the rest of the tour, we took a 3 hour bus ride to the very remote and exclusive Las Cruces resort. First overwhelming impressions – the constant crashing of the waves along the shore and the bazillion stars shining brilliantly in the sky. Even though I was exhausted after a full days worth of traveling, the night sky drew me out to shoot some long exposures on the Fujifilm XE-1 and X Pro 1.

This first shot was taken along an old breaker/dock area that wasn’t doing a great job of stopping the waves from spilling over. I reluctantly left that camera to burn an hour long exposure and then set up the other rig just out of the picture in the upper left frame.

The area is called Las Cruces, because when Cortez landed here in 1535 he placed 3 crosses to commemerate his arrival in the land of supposed gold, but really lots of pearly oysters.
I’m torn between the celestial and the hour long star trail shot for which I like best. No moon was out and the sky was riddled with stars and satellites from the water to the mountains on the other side


What really sucked  about this week was that I had to get up for the sunrise over some epic landscapes every morning. I’m not a 6am kinda guy…but work demanded it, so I showed up. I really loved this in between moment when the warm morning sun shared the same time and space as the cool night sky. This magic moment was fleeting as the sun quickly began it’s domination of the day-time.


Bob Krist was talking a lot about creating moments that include people for storytelling and scale. I just love how the three philosophers are each pointing their camera in a different direction with the brilliant sunrise silhouetting them.

20130105_CaboXE_058We had set up a Canon 1dx with a 300mm 2.8 lens and a 2x teleconverter for people to use on a tripod and gimbal head.  Here I caught some interesting wildlife – one of my favorite students Leonard, who tried every piece of gear we brought with us! This was almost the last siting of Leonard before he was swept to sea…luckily we were able to recover the Canon 8-15mm lens!


 The Expedition was a Land and Sea Adventure.  We started on land and shot the sunrise, ate breakfast, and then had several photography lectures through the high sun hours.  The classes covered the basics to inspiration.  I gave a talk on night photography and then led the students out on several night shoots. Here is a shot of Ralph giving his presentation and a sampling of all the gear that was available for the guests to use.


 On the 4th day we left the land for the sea.  We boarded Linblad’s Seabird in La Paz and got our sea legs ready.  We were incredibly fortunate as we did not have to go far before we were able  to witness whale sharks feeding!  I’m still working on that underwater video footage but if that riding with whale sharks wasn’t enough, for desert we witnessed two humpback whales breaching as the sun set along the horizon!


The next day, after a brilliant sunrise and breakfast, we raced herds of dolphins as they performed many acrobatic tricks around us! I’ve really never shot “wildlife” before and it is really tricky! Ralph called out camera settings, shutters blazed away and we tried to anticipate where the dolphin would break through the sea. Sometimes you just had to set the camera down, breathe, and take in all the beauty. Then fire away again! We photographed the dolphins for maybe 20 minutes and I ended up with over 700 shots! I had to do a quick edit afterwards, immediately deleting 250 missed shots. I probably ended up with 3 dolphin images that I could be proud of.


                                                                                                                         Another 6:30 wake up call, another beautiful day in the Sea of Cortez.



Part of the reason I was asked to join this expedition was to teach the night photography segment of the workshop. Most of the students were new to creating night scapes and we got 3 moonless evenings to experiment capturing stars and the trails that follow.  Below is a 1 hour exposure on with the Fujifilm X E1.  The Fuji X E1, X Pro 1, and  X100 are the most capable cameras of creating 1 hour exposures without the need for stacking or long exposure noise reduction.


And then my coworker, good friend, co-teacher, and bunkmate – David Brommer and I, in our quarters!  I’d like to thank David for working hard on the relationship with B&H and Linblad/Nat Geo.  This was one of the coolest gigs that I have ever worked!  After swimming with the sea lions, I have now adapted them as my new spiritual animal!

But in all seriousness, it was an epic adventure.  We became great friends with the 65+ guests who signed up for the trip.  They were so thankful to have B&H reps on board and help them try out all the latest lenses – from 4.5mm to 500mm.  It was an honor to teach alongside with Bob, Michael, and Ralph.  And I have a newfound love and respect for wildlife and expeditions.  Linblad is one of the most professional organizations that I have ever dealt with.  The adventure starts when the sun rises and there are tons of opportunities for you to take advantage of the day.  Whether it be snorkeling with sea lions, kayaking, zodiac cruises, or just chilling at the beach.


At the Drive-In… Ode to Sugimoto

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Galleries and Museums are an invaluable source of inspiration. It was on one of my first visits to the Fraenkel Gallery in San Francisco that I was introduced to Hiroshi Sugimoto’s work. I was awestruck when I saw the small 8×10 image of the old movie theater at Radio City Music Hall hanging on their wall in their back room. The movie screen was burning bright white and subtly lit up the entire theater. As I studied it more I saw ghosts of a few people sitting in seats. I was enthralled.

Sugimoto explains: “I’m a habitual self-interlocutor. Around the time I started photographing at the Natural History Museum, one evening I had a near-hallucinatory vision. The question-and-answer session that led up to this vision went something like this: Suppose you shoot a
whole movie in a single frame? And the answer: You get a shining screen. Immediately I sprang into action, experimenting toward realizing this vision. Dressed up as a tourist, I walked into a cheap cinema in the East Village with a large-format camera. As soon as the movie started, I fixed the shutter at a wide-open aperture, and two hours later when the movie finished, I clicked the shutter closed. That evening, I developed the film, and the vision exploded behind my eyes.”

At the time Radio City Music Hall was the only image of his hanging at the Fraenkel. But his series on Theaters lasted from 1975-2001 and took a nice turn when he incorporated Drive-Ins.

Let’s just step back and think about this for a moment. Large format camera, probably an 8×10, that he exposes for the entirety of the movie; capturing all the millions of film images on his single frame. The essence of the movie is white light which is time itself exposed.

With Drive-Ins and classic movie houses all but extinct in America, these images truly capture the spirit of a fading era. It is as if the white screen is revealing all the movies and memories the theater has experienced. The Drive-In shots added extra depth to time-exposed as airplanes and star trails would permanently incorporate themselves to the image.

When I found myself in Scottsdale, Arizona with a free night, I remembered the last time I was here I went to the Drive-In. A quick check on the web revealed the Scottsdale 6 was still in existence! It featured not one, but 6 different screens to choose from and is open year round. I packed two tripods and cameras, one film and one digital, to see what I could capture. It was jam packed at the Scottsdale 6 on a Saturday night, at least 50 cars at each screen. We eased our way to the middle of the Shutter Island screen, second row. I set up both tripods low and directly in front of the car so as not to interfere with anyone else’s vision. A truck load of teenagers next to us must have thought I was recording a boot leg version! I set up my Mamiya 7 to expose for the entirety of the film but came to the conclusion that digital capture would really max out with a 30 minute exposure. Add 30 minutes of in-camera noise reduction which gave me two shots to make some magic happen.

You can see the airplanes come and go, or circle around on the right; star trails shoot straight up on the left. Why is there one person, yet three cars? Cars were turning on and off to recharge their batteries throughout the film and their headlights briefly lit up the foreground giving more depth to the image.

It was very exciting to capture this amount of time in one exposure. Often with long exposures and night photography, the camera will reveal much more than our eyes can see.
It is this unexpected certainty of knowing some of what will happen during the exposure- but how much of it can we control?

Let go, and let the visions explode behind your eyes.

Valley of Fire

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If you are in Las Vegas and want a landscape that is far more impressive then the manscape called Las Vegas Boulevard, I highly recommend a trip out to the Valley of Fire.

Less then an hour northeast of Vegas, past the quickly depleting Lake Meade, you’ll find Nevada’s oldest state park.  “Valley of Fire derives its name from red sandstone formations, formed from great shifting sand dunes during the age of dinosaurs, 150 million years ago.” Not only have the dinosaurs lived here but the Basket Maker people and the Anasazi Pueblo farmers have also passed through leaving their mark on Atlatl Rock.
The dramatic red rock surrealistscape makes you feel like you are landing on Mars.  No wonder it has been a popular location to shoot many movies, including Total Recall’s Mars.  So with an extra night in Vegas I loaded up the minivan with a group of friends and photographers and we headed out for a sunset/nightshoot.
The plan was to meet dear friend and wedding/fine art photographer David Ziser and his wife Ladawn somewhere in the park.  I’ve toured and worked with the Zisers for several years, but was really looking forward to actually shooting with them!  David just released his first book, Captured by the Light:   The Essential Guide to Creating Extraordinary Wedding Photography, which is quickly climbing the charts of Amazon’s top selling Photo books!
Well, 15 miles before we reached the park we quickly learnt that there is no cell phone reception in Mars.  Luckily the park if fairly small with the main Valley of Fire road connecting the East and West entrances of the park.  And surprisingly within 20 minutes we ran into each other chasing after the last licks of magic hour light.  Click on the wonderful group shot taken by Matt Hill to see who all the players are.
In order to photograph in the Valley of Fire at night you need to have a camp site.  So with the twilight hour now behind us, we headed out to the Arch Rock Campground that we had scouted earlier.  Zoobroker got right to work seasoning up the meat and firing up the grill.  Matt, Sylvester, and I set up our tripods and started popping red gel’d flashes as we went from chasing the light to chasing the stars.
Sebastian in the sky was a 6 minute exposure and then I pulled back to get more of a feeling of the whole campsite.  It was packed, we were lucky enough to get one of the last spots that was right in the front of the entrance.
We definitely felt that we were in the Valley of the Gods.
Thanks to Zoo that was the best camp meal I’ve ever had, pork loin and home-made cheese stakes!
Sorry, no pictures, it was quickly devoured by all of us in record time!
Most of the images you see here were shot at a lower ISO, but the “Elephant Eye” photo at the bottom was shot at 6400 ISO to capture what the night sky actually looked like.  Obviously we were far away from any city lights and the sliver of a moon had not risen yet which meant plenty of stars in the sky.  By keeping your exposures under 30 seconds you’ll get more of the celestial feel of the night which can be just as beautiful as those long star trails.
Sylvester, who I quickly learnt is prone to dancing with fire, was the next subject of our shoot.  The difference between the two photographs is what happens when you twirl light in a continuous pattern as opposed to a chaotic pattern.
Which one do you like more?
Remember any light that is in the frame of your photograph, whether coming from a flash, flashlight, or flame will be permanently exposed in your image.  Sylvester spun the light for approximately 30 seconds and then I popped a red gel’d SB900 on the rocks about 5-8 times at full power to enhance the red rock.  I needed to walk into the image during the exposure in order to get close enough for the flash to “read red” on the rock.
Why is it that you don’t see me in the image?  I was blocking the light, not getting hit by it directly, and I was never in the same place for more than a few seconds during these 8 minute exposures.
I did slip up once in the image Inside the Beehive #2, but luckily it perfectly matches up with some of Sylvester’s sparks.
In the last shot of the night I wanted to go long and get a more atmospheric shot of the Beehive.  I set up for a 15 minute exposure and popped the red gel’d flash at 1/2 power 4 times about 8 feet away and at an angle to add depth to the rock.  This ended up being my favorite shot of the night, though I really liked all the ones you see selected here.
Matt Hill also got some killer shots that you can see in his 3-part blog titled Valley of Fire.

Next up…Night exposures at the Drive-In Theater

Pearsonville Junkyard Workshop

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Would you consider photographing a junkyard? What if it was during a weekend workshop by the light of the full moon? Does it sound dirty, fun, or both? What if I told you that master lightpainter, Troy Paiva, teamed up with ghost-making Joe Riefer to lead the expedition to the classic car filled Pearsonville Junkyard? Does that peak your interest? Both of these guys are on the forefront of capturing long exposures at night in surreal and abandoned urban areas. They both have huge followings – Troy with his vibrant light paintings of desolate planes, trains, and automobiles has practically all of Flickr following his every post. His recent book Night Vision: The Art of Urban Exploration is an inspirational look at forgotten America. Joe Riefer’s blog on Night Photography is probably the best out there and if you don’t have it in your feedreader, mark it now. Joe is the Ying to Troy’s Yang, his subtle CTO light painting finesses (opens) the shadows and his digital post processing information is one of the best in that deals with the night light.

So when they invited me to join them on a 7 hour drive to the Mojave desert to take their Pearsonville Night Photography/Light Painting Workshop, I cleared my schedule. This was their second workshop they’ve offered at this truly unique place, the last one took place during October 08’s full moon. The class is limited to 11 students and a bargain at $500 for two nights! We had total access into the Pearsonville Junkyard – a virtual wasteland of decaying classic cars and trucks mainly from 50’s -70’s’.

Pearsonville, population 24, has definitely seen better days. Troy and Joe have been shooting this place for years, and have built an excellent relationship with the owners, which is literally the “key” element to shooting a semi-abandoned place like this.

The lucky 11 met with Joe and Troy on Saturday at 1pm. They showed us their Pearsonville pictures and went over several night lighting techniques before we made the 20 minute commute to stock up on the food and enter the graveyard of cars.

The 40′ tall Uni-Royal lady surrealy beckoned us to the gate, we had a little over an hour before sunset to scope out the 1/2 mile by 1/2 mile junkyard looking for possible night shot set ups. Joe and Troy warned us not to get lost in just a few cars or a small area as there was an amazing shot every step you took. And with exposures averaging 6-8 minutes, you really didn’t want to spend more than two set ups for each car. I walked half the back lot of the car graveyard during the sinking sunlight, getting quick digital grab shots to see what angles worked. I’m not really a car guy but 3 steps in and I was captivated by these dying engineering beauties. I worked quickly in the sinking sunlight getting grab shots of these hulking metal beasts I’d only heard rumors of, familiar wide 70’s chryslers to the famous rare Edsels.

My gear list consisted of 3 camera rigs:

  1. Fuji S5 with a Nikon 17-55 2.8 to shoot the daylight test shots
  2. Nikon D3 with a 14-24 lens ~ Thanks to Mark Kettenhofen at Nikon for letting me borrow this perfect rig. A single battery lasted me the entire 7 hours of shooting each night!
  3. Mamiya 7 and the 43mm wide angle lens of course I’m gonna shoot film, especially when you have time for the 45+ minute exposures!

Wide or Super-wide are really the way to go. The two modes of thought when capturing the cars were what accentuating angle (usually wide) do you interpret the vehicle with as well as sharp detail shots. Of course on the first night I got lost in a small area of old and modern trucks in the back, but finally met up with Joe at the racetrack. Yes, they used to race cars here as well back in the day! In the middle of the track was a firetruck from the 20’s that I spent a lot time trying to figure out. In between exposures Joe asked me to become one of his classic ghosts. The image, ironically called, Towing from Beyond came out great and you can see it here.

The second day we brought our top 5 shots from the night, got feedback from Joe and Troy and then went over several digital post processing tips on how to get the most out of your image. Joe has been posting several of these techniques on his website, check out A Warm Car on a Cool Night.

After mainly working alone the first night, I made it a point to spend a couple hours with Troy and Joe each night and improve my light painting techniques. You can see Troy’s collaboration with me on the red chained trailer, candycane 18 wheeler, and of course the famous D’oh! shot! Joe taught me the cool and ever useful steering wheel shadow technique and how to get the most of my gelled color temperature controlled flashlights by gently remove shadows and adding highlights to certian areas of the vehicles.

For and extra $100 Joe and Troy offered a bonus 3rd day of night shooting that 3/4 of the class participated in. You could see flashes popping and colors flashing in the distance as we worked well into the final night of Pearsonville. As we drove away late that last night, I knew I had only scratched at the surface of the secrets of Pearsonville, and that I would hopefully, be making this trip again before it disappears.

Check out a few more of my shots as well as the rest of the amazing work from the rest of the students on the Pearsonville flickr page. Troy is still creating Pearsonville gems on his 5+ visit, check out his new shots here. And finally Joe’s blogs on shooting and post-processing techniques can be found here and here and here! Oh just check out his whole blog!

Rumor has it that Joe and Troy will be offering this again in October, so stay tuned if you are interested in capturing the rides of your night-time!

Upcoming Events

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2009 is turning out to be a creatively successful year so far and March is packed with some great group shows as well as my first solo exhibit in NYC!

First up, the 11 th Annual International Krappy Kamera Show, which features one of my previously unseen images, opens on Tuesday March 3rd at the Soho Gallery.  This is always a fun exhibit featuring images made from creative artists and their toy cameras.  The Opening is from 6-8pm, with voting on the People’s Choice Award ending at 7:30pm, so get their early, drink some wine, enjoy the images, and vote!

Jill Waterman and Daryl-Ann Saunders curated and brought together some of the best modern nocturnal photographers for two exhibits featuring the fine art of Night Photography that will open on Thursday March 5th at the Farmani and Safe-T-Gallery.  These Galleries are right across from each other in DUMBO Brooklyn, and the opening will be from 6-8pm.  Several of these photographers will also be speaking at B&H’s Event Space on Monday March 9th.

On Friday March 6th a couple more openings:

First, my dear friend and fellow blogger and photoartist, Angelia Lane, will have several of her paintings featured at ArtSlant’s Group Show, World of Imagination.  The opening is from 6-8pm and will run to the end of the month at the APW Gallery’s new location at 48-18 Van Dam Street, Long Island City, NYC.

If you are heading upstate that week, one of my photos will be in a Group show titled Festival of the Visual Arts, at the Morton Library in Rhinecliff.   The Amtrak train drops you off within 3 blocks of the Library and the show is curated by the newly engaged Sandy Bartlett.

Now mark your calendars and plan your trip to NYC accordingly; I’ll be having my first solo show titled “The New York Years” at John Allan’s in Tribeca on Friday March 20th from 8:30-10:30pm!  This exhibit will be touring the four NYC John Allan’s locations throughout the year but you’ll definitely want to come celebrate with me on March 20th!

And finally, on the last day of the month come and test drive the newest Lensbabies at B&H’s Event SpaceDavid Brommer, Jennifer Diamond, and I will be giving a slideshow presentation on how to get the most out of these creative lenses and then take you on a photo safari as we Lensbabify Times Square!

So shake the winter blahs off and I hope to see you out there this March!