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Photography In The Moab
The Technical: In these series of images taken in the Moab recently, I focused on using primarily two lenses, the Canon 85mm F/1.2L USM lens and the Canon 70-200mm F/2.8L IS USM lens. Though a few times I found myself in need of a wide-angle lens, so I borrowed what is termed in the photo industry as the “kit” lens, often sold with the Canon 5D Mark II, from one of the photographers attending. I’m not a fan of slow, F/4 kit lens, so I borrowed this Canon 24-105mm F/4L IS USM lens when the need for a wide-angle arose to show the vastness of the location.
Candice poses in one of the rock features found during the Moab photography workshop.
I prefer lower aperture lenses, or fast lenses like the Canon prime 85mm F/1.2 lens or their fastest 70-200mm F/2.8 lens, because the quality of the glass is better and more light enters the lens.
These lenses also allow for faster focusing in low-light conditions, such as sunsets or sunrises, as the camera viewfinder is brighter. This makes it easier for compositional framing and quicker focusing as your camera’s focusing system relies on contrast and brightness in the viewfinder. This reduces focusing time and allows for a tack-sharp focus, especially during sunsets. In the Moab sunrises are not as important as sunsets as the sun is often blocked by sheer cliffs and mountains during sunrise. The best shooting in the Moab is with the quality of the light found during the Golden Hour before sunset—a super sweet Golden Hour light known for it’s unique warmth and soft qualities.
The key to capturing this sweet light during the Golden Hour is to have your camera white balance in the manual mode setting. Inexperienced photographers tend to set their cameras to “automatic white balance,” or AWB, this only wipes out the sweet warmth of the light. A good manual white-balance setting is 5000K to 6000K. The cloudy day or shade settings work well too, or for a more neutral look, set the camera white balance to flash mode, though I prefer more warmth from a setting closer to 6000K.
I set my camera at 6000K (Kelvin) almost all the time in daylight or with studio strobes when photographing female forms. The concept comes from the old film days, where photographers would change film types, or emulsions. For example, Kodak once made a professional slide film called E100. It came in various film emulsions that provided different qualities, like E100S, which increased the saturation of colors in an image and E100VS for even more, or very saturated colors. Kodak also made E100SW which was a “saturated warm” transparency film often used by glamour photographers for increased warmth in skin tones.
Photographer Gear Box
Camera: Canon EOS 5D
Lenses: Canon 85mm F/1.2L USM lens, Canon 70-200mm F/2.8L IS USM and Canon
24-105mm F/4L IS USM
Settings: Various shutter-speeds and F/stops, white balance at 6000K, ISO 100, 200, 400 though mainly ISO 100
Basically this why I set my white balance manually, to warm the skin tones of models I photograph by essentially tricking the camera into believing the light is 6000K, a cool light color temperature. The camera will then add warmth to offset the coolness, as white balance in digital photography is a technique to ensure that a known white (100 IRE) will stay white under a given light source. This added warmth is the same as if I was shooting E100SW film, a simple technique in digital photography to mimic the film’s warm saturation.
While the light in the Moab during the Golden Hour is naturally warm, this added “bump” of warmth is a matter of photographic style—this is my style and while I don’t use this technique for product and commercial photography, it’s a style I grew up with whether I used a simple 81A filter in front of my lens with normal daylight balanced film or warmer films. While many photographers will argue to just shoot in the RAW mode and correct it later, my rebuttal is simple, I want to do it right in the camera. This saves me one step in postproduction of my images—not to mention, doing it right in the camera is always better than using software to interpolate the results.
The Story Behind the Image: For the third time in four years, I made it back to the Moab, Utah area, more specifically, what is known as the Canyon Lands, public property managed by the Bureau of Land Management. These are public access lands managed by the Federal government that encompass 1.8 million plus acres. While there are many interesting features such as “arches and red rock cliffs amidst a green ribbon of vegetation,” I tend to hit specific spots I’ve discovered in my previous visits. This “stick with what you know” attitude is due to the time constraints when working with models and prime sunlight hours while allowing time to grab dinner before bedtime.
Getting to Moab is time consuming as it usually means flying into either Grand Junction, Colorado or Salt Lake City. Either way, you can expect to drive at least two or more hours to get there, though, the drives are very scenic and well worth it. This time I did something I rarely do, I drove all the way to the Moab from San Antonio, Texas, basically about 17-plus hours, depending on how many stops you make along the way. Normally I’d fly into Salt Lake City and rent a vehicle, but this time I took extra gear as it was my first trip to conduct a semi-private instruction workshop of sorts—six photographers along with matching models. Previous trips were just one photographer, three models, thus flying in was more advantageous.
Photographing Moab, especially with models, is very time consuming. The day starts early in the morning as it can take up to an hour to trek to the best spots for shooting. These spots aren’t normally advertised, I just had the good fortune of previous scouting from my first and subsequent visits with a private photography instruction client years ago. He knew the area and this experience allowed me to save time while hitting areas rarely seen by most people—though I did call my previous client a few times for clarification on directions to these photogenic spots for this trip. Thank goodness his memory was better than mine as he guided me over the phone and emailed me some Google maps. The models and photographers on this trip were happy that we had specific locations, as this saved drive time compared to my previous trips.
Two of those models, Heather and Eleya, I brought with me from San Antonio which made my drive more interesting—we even called it “Lost Across America” as we drove through Texas, New Mexico, Colorado and Utah to get to the Moab, stopping along the way for some interesting photographs. Obviously if you’re going to trek across four states, having models with you was not a bad deal, though they slept during parts of the scenic drive.
We’re Doing It Again!
While I’m reducing my workshop load for 2011, the Moab is one we’ll do again. If you want to go, here’s your chance–info here
! This workshop is limited to five photographers!
When it came down to capturing the photos we needed, everyone did their part on top of a lot of walking and rock climbing. Let’s just say, by the end of the almost weeklong trip, everyone was more fit and toned than from the day they started. We all endured cold mornings and hot afternoons. We took coolers filled with ice, drinks, and snacks so we wouldn’t have to drive back for lunch while doing our best to stay hydrated. We only lost one model, after the first day, to what seemed to be a preexisting stomach virus on top of the dreaded afternoon heat.
Two photographer attendees had pre-positioned H1 Hummers for our use, this really helped along with my Chevy Silverado 4-wheel drive, crew cab truck and another attendee’s Ford, 4-wheel drive truck. While there are some parts that you don’t need 4-wheel drive, we where thankful we had the ability especially when we drove a treacherous windy dirt path down from a mountaintop to the bottom of a canyon. We stopped at various locations for rock and cave-looking formations and also drove up a small, but treacherous hill to an old copper mine that included worn out buildings and mine shafts. The mineshafts provided for an interesting photographic spot and instant cooling from the heat during the mid-afternoon hours.
In the end, everyone made some great friendships while teaming up together for some great images. The only regret I had during this entire Moab “photo safari” was that I took a small amount of photos than my previous trips, as my focus was catering to the attending photographers and models, their safety, and ensuring everyone was fed and hydrated with fluids. This limited amount of shooting time pressure made me make every shot count—something I told every photographer there, it’s about quality, not quantity.
Would I do Moab again, of course, in fact I’m already planning for another trip in 2012 and you can find the information at this link.