LEGAL DISCLAIMER: Hiking by yourself at night is hazardous, and may cause serious bodily injury and/or death.
I’m a gambler. For those of you that don’t know, I’ve spent as many hours at the poker tables as I have working a regular 9-5 job… I’ve made more cashing in poker chips than cashing paychecks. My photography style reflects my gambling nature. I believe that the best images are created when you attempt shots that have a low probability of success—because, let’s face it: images that are easy to create already exist.
During the film age it was expensive to be experimental. Not only was film expensive to purchase and develop, the ability to correct during post-processing was much more limited than during the digital era. In other words, there was an incentive to go for the safe shot (this entire paragraph is a raging assumption as I learned photography on a Konica Minolta 7d…though I do have three film cameras now.)
My point is that it is difficult to attack the oft photographed locations unless you’re willing to try something that nobody has tried before. Thus, if you are like me and you want to drag your camera gear up to Delicate Arch in Arches National Park odds are the shot you’re envisioning has been done one million times over.
Completely unorginal image of Delicate Arch:
This past August I went back to Arches National Park to score some star trail images; I had previously been to Arches in 2010, but there were thunderstorms every night (getting up close and personal with a lightening bolt is low on my “to-do” list.)
Here is an image from 2010 that I shot through the windshield of my old Volvo whilst rocking out to some Volbeat (Danish heavy-metal/country fusion:www.volbeat.dk/)
This time around, I went back to Arches hoping to shoot Delicate Arch during the New Moon. If you’ve never been to Delicate Arch, the main viewing area faces south, which will make it difficult to shoot star trails if the moon is near the horizon. The Fire Wave in Valley of Fire State Park & Skull Rock in Joshua Tree also suffer this photographic affliction. I prefer to shoot star trails with more moon than most other night photographers because it makes navigation in the dark easier & it lowers the exposure time and thus the amount of noise; you could also use a smaller aperture if you want to include something interesting in the foreground.
Like, perhaps a nerdy self-portrait:
However, as previously mentioned, you can’t shoot facing south (at least in the Northern Hemisphere) without dealing with the wrath of the moon. Without moonlight, I decided that either my flash or Fenix TK35 (raddest/brightest/cost effective flashlight on the planet,) could provide sufficient light for the terrestrial aspects of the image. My goal was not to light-paint, but rather to illimuninate the arch from an angle that will create flattering shadows.
I hike out to Delicate Arch well before the sun goes down in order to figure out which angles will work best for both my 16m-35mm & 8mm fisheye.
A few of my friends thought it would be fun to also check out Delicate Arch at sunset:
And one on the Lomo 360:
Night finally falls and the crowds disburses, except for a French dude and his wife/girlfriend/daughter. I attempt to ask him what kind of photography he is attempting because I do not want to screw up his exposure by blasting away with my flash & flashlight. He speaks no English, I speak no French; so whatever, this is America, I’m going to do my thing and hopefully he’s cool with it.
I set-up my Sony a55 with the 8mm fish-eye attached on the south-side of Delicate Arch, almost underneath it, but not quite (8mm is really really wide.) For those who have been there, you know that the south side of Delicate Arch is an uninviting, slippery rock face/cliff, with poor footing that most people don’t tread on during the day.
Oh yeah---did I mention that I decided to mount my camera on a Gorillapod instead of my regular tripod?? I was trying to travel light, and I knew that I was going to place my camera very close, if not on the ground. After finding the composition I’m going for, I attach my timer remote cable release and dial down the settings I’m going to use for the sequence. In order for photoshop to successfully stack the images, it is imperative that the tripod & camera do not move for the entire sequence. For this reason, I quadruple check to ensure the stability of the Gorillapod and Sony a55; I sit and watch the damn thing for 3 minutes and there is zero movement. Satisfied, I program the timer remote for 40, 230 second exposures, at f/3.5, ISO 400. I go to set-up my a850 on the north side.
Test shot Samyang 8mm Fisheye (looks like there was some camera shake):
Whilst setting up the a850, the French dude comes to bid me adieu and now I’m all alone with the bats and mosquitoes (more about the bats later.) As soon as I’ve run my test shots & figured out my composition on the a850, I hear the most awful noise a photographer can hear: his gear tumbling down a 45% angle rock face and smashing into a boulder 50 feet below.
As I go survey the damage, I’ve written off my $700 camera body & $350 lens; at this point I considered it a recovery mission more than a search-and-rescue. Besides the fact that I do not want to pollute a national park, I had about three-hundred other images on the memory card that I hadn’t downloaded to my computer. If they camera had been writing to the memory card at impact, odds are that all of the data would be corrupted, assuming I can even recover the body and that it hasn’t been eviscerated.
I spot the corpse and carefully navigate my way down the steep rock terrain. To my surprise, the camera is in one piece; though the lens is front element is very badly scuffed & scratched. It appears that the Gorillapod & lens hood acted as decent shield to the camera body & remote timer. I turn the camera off & on and it fires up like it hasn’t just taken a back-alley ass whoopin’. You gotta be impressed with Sony’s engineering.
I return to my a850 to check on its progress. I hate what I’m seeing in the LCD screen: tons of yellow ambient light from Moab. The sky was very smokey from fires in western Utah, and I hadn’t taken into consideration the affect it would have on the ambient light that already was going to be a major issue. At this point I’m already feeling lonely and defeated when the bats started to take in interest in what I was doing. Generally speaking, I’m not afraid of wild animals, but nobody in their right mind enjoys wild bats flying within inches of their head. I pack my shit and leave, escorted by bats back to my car.
Needless to say, the above images were not worth the price I paid. Though stayed tuned for more images from my scratched Samyang...