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Death Valley Landscapes and Night Sky Workshop Trip Report
I just finished up the Death Valley workshop and we had an amazing time! I was unsure of what to expect due to the recent floods in the park. All the roads were closed due to flood damage except the main road. Going to some of my favorite places like The Racetrack and Badwater would not be an option with all the water damage! I shifted gears and decided to go to Valley of Fire instead for part of the workshop, but the night before the workshop started, we got news the Racetrack was now dry and we could walk on it! Plus the road to Badwater and Devil’s Golf Course opened up, just in time. The workshop was back on track in Death Valley as planned!

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Sand Dunes at Sunrise: Photographed at F/16, 1/13 to 1/200- second, ISO 100, EF 11-24mm f/4L USM lens at 11mm, Canon EOS 5DS R. See below for how I reduced the lens flare.

We spent our time with lectures on night photography and out in the field photographing the stark, but beautiful landscapes and night scenes. One night, we headed out to the Rhyolite Ghost Town and had a blast light painting the old buildings. We used red, blue and green lights to paint the abandoned town with the stars providing a beautiful backdrop. Out of nowhere, a donkey hee-haws across the street from us. It was so loud! Perhaps it was telling us that we were disturbing its sleep. We finished our night photographing an old car with the stars in the background and then headed back to our hotel for some much needed rest.

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Rhyolite: Light painting for about 4 or 5 seconds with an orange gel on a flashlight for the back wall and a red headlamp for the interior room. Photographed at F/2, 20 seconds, ISO 2500, EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM, Canon EOS 5D Mark III.
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Bank Building at Rhyolite: I painted with a red headlamp for 5 seconds on the building. Then taking another photograph, I painted the inside of the building with the red headlamp for about 10 seconds. I combined light painted images with a layer mask in Photoshop CC. Photographed at f/2.8, 20 seconds, ISO 6400, EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM at 16mm, Canon EOS 5D Mark III.
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Star Trails: This is a stacked star trail with fifteen, 4-minute exposures for at total time of 1 hour. These were combined in Photoshop CC. Photographed using an intervalometer set to 4 minutes, f/2.8, ISO 800, 15mm fisheye lens, Canon EOS 5D Mark III.

The morning light was beautiful at Zabriskie Point. We enjoyed seeing the pink glow of twilight, known as the Belt of Venus. Watch for the pink glow in the sky about 10-20 degrees above the horizon, just before sunrise or after sunset.

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Zabriskie Point: I chose an aperture of f/8 because it is one of the sharpest one the lens. Generally two to three stops from wide open will be the sharpest aperture for the lens.  I didn’t have a close foreground therefore I didn’t need f/16 for more depth of field. Photographed at f/8, 1.6 seconds, ISO 100, EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM at 28mm, Canon EOS 5DS R.

We took a road trip to The Grandstand and The Racetrack, renting jeeps to protect our tires. It was cold and breezy but we photographed the racing rocks through sunset and then stars, despite the cold!

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The Racetrack: Photographed at F/16, 1/60 second, ISO 100, TS-E 17mm f/4L, Canon EOS 5DS R.

I love the sand dunes. The forms and shapes have endless possibilities for compositions with sand patterns, animal footprints and s-curve shapes. We photographed at twilight and then with the sun, as it rose over the dunes.

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Sand Dunes: Photographed at F/16, 1/30 second, ISO 100, EF 11-24mm f/4L USM lens at 12mm, Canon EOS 5DS R. I converted to black and white using Nik Silver Efex Pro 2.

Our last evening had howling wind gusts throughout the park. We decided to stay inside and did some additional lectures. The following morning was our last shoot. The weather report predicted even stronger winds but it was beautiful and calm. The hexagonal shapes, created by the drying salt, made for a delightful pattern. There were storm clouds hanging above Badwater adding drama. We saw some mammatus clouds, meaning breast clouds, that you can see in the gallery of images below. They have a cellular pattern of pouches that are under the base of another cloud. Overall, a great last photographic outing and a wonderful trip!

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Badwater: I angled the camera downward to emphasis the hexagonal shapes in the foreground. This makes it look larger in the scene. Photographed at f/16, .3 second, ISO 100, EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM at 18mm, Canon EOS 5DS R.

Happy Star Trails,
Jennifer

You can see more photographs of night photography and Death Valley, as well as Jennifer’s other work at JenniferWu.com. Make sure you check out her KelbyOne class Photographing the Moon, Stars, and Milky Way, and follow her on Facebook and Twitter.

For the next 20 days leading up to Christmas Scott Kelby and RC Concepcion of KelbyOne share with you the gear that every photographer would want to see on under their tree this year.

This episode is dedicated to the Phottix Indra! This battery powered 500WS moonlight is going to be a great choice for photographers looking for great power for both the studio and the road.

For more information on the Phottix Indra go to http://www.phottixus.com/products/monolights-kits/phottix-ph00300.html

For the photographer on your holiday list, make sure you check out our great deals at KelbyOne: http://kelbyone.com/cyberweek/

Figure 1sm

Today we’re looking at a location shoot I did using nothing but natural light, but in this case we have to give Mother Nature a hand using an inexpensive trick that has big results. Although natural light can be beautiful, natural light is from the sun, and by its very nature, the sun is usually a pretty harsh light source (well, except for a short time about twice a day). So, we pull out one from our bag of tricks to help us make that natural light soft and beautiful.

We are on location in an abandoned old Mansion out in the middle of nowhere, Florida (I’ve lived in Florida my entire life, and I’ve never been to the town where this mansion resides — the town is called “Howey in the Hills” and this was Mr. Howey’s personal mansion back in the day.

I asked my wife Kalebra to do the art direction for the shoot, handling everything from picking the models, make-up, outfits, hair, and makeup, to directing and posing the shoot on location — that left me (and three assistants) to focus on nothing but the lighting and shooting.

Figure 2

I love the compression a long lens brings to the image, and you can see how far back I am from our subject in this over the shoulder view from my shooting position. I’m using a Canon 70-200mm lens f/2.8 lens here (that’s my go-to lens for portraits), and I’m usually shooting in the 150-200mm end of the lens, but to get the wide look I wanted, including the awesome location in the scene, I had to shoot at 70mm.

After a few test shots, I was already battling with her face being too bright. The storyline for the shoot had her looking out the window, so sunlight would be falling directly on her face. Here’s the narrative my wife came up with for the shot (which was told to the model in advance, so she’d know the story we’re having her play out with her gestures): “Everything she once knew has fallen down around her and now, Prince Charming has walked out the door but even as she falls trying to hang on to him (and searches the window after him) there is grace and hope still left in the light.”

So while the model and my wife Kalebra are working on the posing, clothing, and gesture, I’m trying to tame that harsh sun falling directly on her, and I’m even getting highlight clipping warnings on her face (I’m shooting at f/2.8 so at least I can soften the background behind her a little bit. I would have to zoom in much tighter to get the background way out of focus, which I did on some of the shots, but not the ones we’re looking at here).

Figure 3

Our trick is to turn that big harsh window light into a big beautiful softbox, by putting up a frosted shower curtain liner over the window (these are very inexpensive — only about $6 at Target and even cheaper at Walmart where I’ve seen them for $1.99. If you look at these shower curtain liners, they pretty much look just like the front diffusion panel of a softbox. Anyone who attended my first “Shoot Like a Pro Tour” learned this very trick — to keep one of these in your camera bag (they fold up really small) for situations just like this (and of course, we had one with us at this shoot as well, for —you guessed it —situations just like this).

It’s important to note — this is NOT a shower curtain. It’s the frosted liner that is sold separately that goes inside the shower curtain in a real shower.

Figure 4

Above: This is Brad using Gaffer’s tape to cover the bottom part of the window (the part hitting our model directly) with the liner.

Gaffer’s tape was invented in Hollywood for use on movie and TV sets because when you use it, and remove it, it doesn’t take the paint with it, or damage any surfaces, and it doesn’t leave a messy residue. It’s really pretty magic for stuff like this and we always have a roll with us for (wait for it…wait for it…) situations just like this (and a thousand other reasons). You can find Gaffer’s tape at any large camera store (I get mine from B&H Photo around $6 a roll).

Figure 5

Above: From this angle you can see the liner covering the window

From this angle, you can see the liner going right over the window, and you can even see in this behind the scenes shot, the light looks pretty soft now.

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Above: Here’s the reverse angle view so you can see how far back I am from the subject at my shooting position. You can see the window covered with the shower curtain liner, but from the angle I’ll be shooting at it, it won’t be visible at all. 

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Above: Here’s a closer look at my TetherTools shooting rig — I always try and shoot tethered like this on location if at all possible — seeing your images full screen as you shoot makes a huge difference.

My Camera Rig:
I’m shooting a Canon EOS 1Dx, but I could have just as easily used my 5D Mark III (the results would be pretty much the same since I’m shooting at 100 ISO with my camera mounted on a Gitzo Mountaineer tripod.  As I mentioned earlier, I’m using a Canon 70-200mm lens. I’m shooting in Aperture priority mode at f/2.8.

I’m supporting my laptop with a mounting bar from Manfrotto, and the laptop table is from a company called “Tether Tools” and they specialize in tools for tethering (I know, that was pretty self-explanatory). They also make that long Orange tethering cable (it’s orange so it’s more easily seen in a dark studio environment so you don’t trip over it), and I’m tethering directly into Lightroom on a Macbook Pro.

Figure 8

Above: A BTS from another shot that we tried; same location, different view.

Once we got the shot you saw at the beginning, we went for a different look in the same location (compositionally). I’ve moved a few feet over to the left, so the center of the room. You can also see two important accessories in this shot: (1) A powerful speaker system for playing Pandora radio from our phones. We feel that music on the set is very important, and the models love it, and it helps set the mood. We played some classical to get us in the mood, then we switch to whichever type of music the model likes best (that’s our rule — the model chooses the music — if they’re hearing music they love, it comes out in the image). And (2) a floor fan. We don’t want to blow her hair around, but we want it to move it just a little to add some volume to the hair, and it really makes a difference. Later in the day, we wanted the drapes blowing, so we cranked it up, and had two assistants right outside the window fanning the drapes with two large diffusers to make them blow, but that’s normally not how we use the fan — it’s just to add a little movement and volume to the model’s hair.

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To create an epic feel for the image, I switched to a Canon 16-35mm wide angle zoom, and positioned my camera way down low to get a low, wide perspective. The fan is just out of the shot, so you don’t see it in the frame. We moved the couch much closer to the camera, to add more depth, and get the subject closer in the frame, so using the 16-35mm let me get lots of the floor and ceiling in the shot even with the subject and couch much closer to my shooting position.

To finish up: I hope this article gave you some ideas of how to control harsh natural window light (if it indeed is harsh), and some compositional ideas as well, and a few other little tips along the way.

That’s it for this chilly Florida Tuesday. Thanks to everybody who came out to my Tampa seminar yesterday — definitely one of my most-fun crowds of the year. Looking forward to visiting new cities next year, starting off in Richmond and Atlanta in late January — hope I’ll see you there.

Best,

-Scott

P.S. RC and I taped a “20-days of Christmas” series where each day we post another holiday gift idea — everything from lighting to camera bags and software. If you scroll down a few days here on the blog, you’ll see the first five or six, and we post a new one every day (including weekends). Hope you find them helpful. :)

For the next 20 days leading up to Christmas Scott Kelby and RC Concepcion of KelbyOne share with you the gear that every photographer would want to see on under their tree this year.

This episode is dedicated to Aurora HDR from Macphun. If you know a photographer on a Mac looking to do all of your HDR in one spot – from toning to post – this is an app that will be on their must-have list!

For more information on Aurora HDR from Macphun go to https://macphun.com/

For the photographer on your holiday list, make sure you check out our great deals at KelbyOne: http://kelbyone.com/cyberweek/

 

shootlikeapro

Mornin’ everybody, and greetings from the Tampa Convention Center. Sorry for the late blog post this morning — I got in kinda late last night (shot the Bucs game yesterday), and I basically walked in and hit and sack, so I’m writing this before I go on stage in 40 minutes here in Tampa.

We just added two more dates in January for my “Shoot Like a Pro: Part 2 (Reloaded!)” full-day seminar, if you’d like to come out for the day. The dates and cities are:

Richmond on Wednesday, January, 27, 2016

Atlanta on Friday January, 29, 2016

Hope you can come on out. It’s normally just $99, but if you sign up early (like now), you can go for just $89 (plus, we offer a 100% money-back guarantee if it’s not the best photography seminar you’ve ever attended, period!) .

Here’s a quick trailer that explains what I cover in the day:

https://youtu.be/HYXRl4uxw6M

That’s it from here in Tampa. Hope you all have a rockin’ Monday (I’m not really sure what that means), and we’ll catch ya back here tomorrow where I hope to have a post all ready fer ya before you even wake up. :)

Best,

-Scott

For the next 20 days leading up to Christmas Scott Kelby and RC Concepcion of KelbyOne share with you the gear that every photographer would want to see on under their tree this year.

This episode is dedicated to Perfectly Clear – a software that gives you a quick way for you to get your image as tuned up as possible!

For more information on Perfectly Clear go to http://www.athentech.com

For the photographer on your holiday list, make sure you check out our great deals at KelbyOne: http://kelbyone.com/cyberweek/

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