This is first in a series of “How it Was Done” and I begin by taking you to the Moab, Utah’s Canyon Lands. While the concept of this section is to focus more on how a photograph is created, I decided for this first article I’d provide information on an entire photo shoot that created some wonderful images, rather than just one image. More of the images from the Moab Natural Light Portfolio are available for viewing in our portfolio section of this site, so here I’ll provide a couple of images and establishing shots to give an overview of the terrain and location involved for this one-hour shoot.

First, we flew three models into Utah, two to Salt Lake City, one to Grand Junction. All three I’d worked with before. The logistics to the Moab make it challenging at times, but since I had a fellow photographer and private instruction client, Brian W., who is more attune to the area, the trip was a bit easier. Brian picked one of the models up from the Grand Junction airport while I flew into Salt Lake City, where I’d pick up the other two models and the rental car.

(Two of many photos from the location, all done in one hour! For more photos, click here!)

While there is a small airport in Moab, it’s limited in what it can provide and based on prior experience, the drive from Salt Lake City, about 240 miles, is scenic and well worth the savings of flying into a major airport than a small regional airport. Grand Junction is about 120 miles and located in Colorado, limiting the airlines and flight schedules, hence I chose Salt Lake City. It’s best if flying into Salt Lake City that you arrive early enough to claim your bags, get a rental car and be able to drive while it’s daylight. Make sure you have a full tank of gas and plan on stopping half way there for a refill just as a precaution.

Upon arrival in Salt Lake City, my camera gear case made it, but my suitcase full of clothes and essentials were diverted to Aruba by mistake, so I had to stop in Salt Lake City to purchase some clothes and toiletry items, but that’s another story in itself and I won’t bore you with it. My cameras, lenses, Lexar digital cards and accessories are always hand-carried with me on the plane.

There are the National Canyon Land Parks and the Public Lands, the latter governed by the Bureau of Land Management, or BLM. We elected to venture out in the BLM area, so as not to deal with as many tourists, in fact we saw a total of maybe 10 tourists during our three day shoot once in the BLM area. I’d also recommend a four-wheel drive truck to get to the better locations within the public land area and to have more room for equipment, model’s clothes, ice chest, etc.

(View of location from the left side)

There are several hotels in the area, but nothing 3- to 5-stars, probably the most are 2 1/2-stars, but when shooting in the BLM areas, you can count on at least a 45-minute to an hour drive, each way, which means by the time you get back to the hotel, you just need a nice bed and shower. Basically you’ll be up early in the morning and eating supper around 9 p.m., and hoping restaurants will be open that late for dinner.

Be prepared for lot’s of dust, I recommend some garbage bags to go over your equipment cases to and from the locations. There are maps, but if you know a guide to get you to top shooting spots, that’s even better. I was lucky, I had been there before with Brian earlier in the year so we had most of our photographic spots picked out and stumbled into other spots.

For supplies, bring an ice chest with ice, soft drinks, Vitamin Water, Red Bull, and plenty of water, as when we were there, it’s cool to cold at night and hot during the day. It’s important that you don’t dehydrate. For lunch don’t plan to drive off the BLM lands because you’ll lose too much time traveling, so bring snacks like nuts, chips, beef jerky, etc., to get you over while you’re in the canyons. Bring toilet paper and pre-moistened disposable cloths too.

For photography gear, besides your camera, lenses, Lexar Media digital cards and all necessary photo equipment to capture an image, you might consider battery-powered lights and/or a portable generator. I had brought a light kit and Brian’s California Sunbounce reflector with us, but ultimately chose to shoot natural, available light on this trip as I didn’t want to carry around heavy gear. Most of the time you’ll park in a suitable area and will do some hiking, so make sure and wear comfortable shoes that grip.

(View of location from the right side)

Now on to how I created my photographs at this particular location, as I decided to have the models on top of an interesting rock formation. Basically I packed light and focused on the Golden Hour as my main light source. My models, Jenni and Holley, trusted my judgment and had seen the location the day before. One problem besides the hike to get there, where I wanted one of the models to be positioned at, she’d have to climb vertically and the rock formation had an outward angle. Jenni, with outdoor hiking experience, expressed her willingness and eagerness, not to mention, the climb requires an initial long reach, of which she was capable of with her 5-foot, 10 1/2-inch height. She actually climbed it twice before I told her not to do it again, as I was afraid if she fell, it would be a destructive 50-foot fall on hard rock.

Once I had the models in place, I decided to take some establishing photographs for this blog and perhaps a future story about this shoot. I told both models that once in place there’d be about a thirty-minute wait before I’d be able to shoot, so they’d be stuck up on the rock formation in the heat and need to find a shady area to rest until I’d be ready for them to pose. I also told them that at most I’d have about an hour shooting window, so we’d work fast and they’d have to pay careful attention, as I’d be running all around the canyon and rock areas looking for various shots. Not to mention I didn’t want anyone falling off to the ground.

I basically ran around the area, avoiding drop-offs, brush, any snakes, as snakes tend to come out at sundown. I also avoided cactus in the area and basically, as they say in the Army, “humped” my gear, shooting from spot to spot as I went almost completely around the rock formation they were positioned on. I also told the models to watch out for scorpions or other dangerous creatures. Ultimately we were all hot, sweaty and exhausted, not to mention hungry when the shoot ended and to make matters worse, it began to cool down.

The plan was to capitalized on the Golden Hour for my light source as it’s a sweeter light, that doesn’t cause the models to squint as much from other daylight hours. I carried two cameras, a Canon 5D with a Canon 70-200mm F/2.8L USM image stabilized lens, a Canon 85mm F/1.2L USM lens and my Leica M8 digital rangefinder camera with a Leica 21mm F/2.8 Elmarit-M ASPH lens.

(Models get in position for the upcoming photo shoot.)

The latter lens requires a special viewfinder that mounts on top of the Leica M8 hotshoe slot and since I’d forgotten the viewfinder back at the hotel, when I’d use the Leica, I’d guess at the composition, view the LCD screen, then adjust until the image was cropped properly. Since I’d done this technique before, I never looked at the situation as a hindrance as once you’re accustomed to your equipment, it’s all a matter of gut instinct and for the most part my composition was right on when I used the Leica camera.

I stayed cognizant of the fact that when changing lenses in a dusty environment I have to let the camera sensor cool-off, simply by shutting the camera off for a few minutes, then switch lenses quickly while protecting the digital image sensor. Basically, when a camera is operating, the image sensor heats up, thus if you change lenses right away, the heat will attract dust particles in the air. Therefore, when I wanted to switch lenses on my Canon 5D, I’d turn the camera to the off position and shoot mainly with my Leica digital camera, allowing the Canon 5D image sensor to cool down. I also photographed with the Leica for my wide-angle photos since I wanted to use that specific wide-angle lens during the shoot.

I maintained a white balance on both cameras at 6,000K (Kelvin) as I always set my white balance manually in my cameras, rarely will I use auto white balance, unless it’s my kids birthday party pictures. I like to control the camera and I like to see what I’m getting in the camera as shot, not worry about another post-production step. While my cameras were set at RAW for the highest digital quality capture without compression, I know I’d rather not rely on computer software interpolation based on rounded off algorithms for the color in the images, besides, I want to know what I’ve captured on the spot and not worry about it later.

Models take a break just before the Golden Hour.

Most of my images were photographed with a 1/640 shutter speed, at around F5.6 with manual adjustment to wider apertures and slower shutter speeds once the sun began to set and lose it’s intensity. My ISO was set at 100 for the Canon 5D, but at 160, the lowest setting, for my Leica M8. I carried no tripod or monopod, all photographs were shot handheld because I wanted to work fast. Thus no light meter was used, as I tend to work off gut instinct and many years of experience, not to mention that with digital, I can just take one shot, that I often call my light check, then view the histogram of the image and make spot corrections, as time is very critical during the Golden Hour. There is no time to rely on light meters, especially since the terrain at this location makes it difficult to keep measuring the light as it changes fast during this critical hour.

Once we were done, we headed back for dinner in Moab then for a good night’s rest so we’d be ready to do it again the next morning. We spent a total of five days, two of which were for travel on this photographic journey. Ultimately, the excitement of the photographs made for a nice drive back to Salt Lake City where we’d catch our planes back home. I hope to do this trip again next year as the Moab area has so much ground to cover, it’d take months to just capture all the beautiful locations. For more of the images from the Moab, and I’m sure I’ll add more later, please go to the Moab portfolio. Thanks, and remember to say some prayers for our military service members, their families and friends, God Bless, rg sends!