Pregnant in Death Valley, D4/D800

Started Mar 17, 2014 | Discussions thread
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MichaelK81 Regular Member • Posts: 203
Pregnant in Death Valley, D4/D800

Ok I admit. As a portrait photographer it's not often that I use my tripod. Or that I use filters (LEE graduated ND saved the day here). It's also uncommon for me to use an ultra wide-angle lens (like the 14-24mm), nor do I recall EVER taking a portrait with my aperture down to f/16. Crazy, right? I love fusing my love of landscapes with portraiture. I think it's a win-win situation

On a recent trip to WPPI in Las Vegas, I decided to spend two days at the nearby Death Valley National Park, and do something that no one has ever done before (at least, to my knowledge!). To capture timeless maternity portraits at one of the most raw, desolate and inhospitable places in the USA (ok, I'm not counting Alaska this time around). Death Valley (and Badwater Basin in particular) is one of the driest, hottest, and lowest (in elevation) places in North America. I loved the idea of juxtaposing its alien environment with the frailty and innocence of new life.

Death Valley has literally no cell phone reception, and gas prices generally hover in the $6/gallon range. There are still "radiator water" pull-outs on the road for those times when your vehicle overheats (summer temps regularly reach 125*F / 52*C, which is why I chose to do this in the winter:-) Coordinating a little project such as this has definitely taught me a LOT (hint: walkie talkies come in super handy).

Thanks to my little assistant for keeping the Profoto B1s pointed right where they needed to be, to our wonderful model for making the trek from 4 hours away (you're the best, Christina!), to Valerie for the absolutely gorgeous maternity gown, and to Sophie for being my radio DJ during the many hours we've spent on the road, and for her attention to posing, hair, wardrobe, and everything else that went into making this (couldn't have done it without you!).

Equipment used: Nikon D4/D800 bodies, 14-24mm f/2.8G, 105mm f/2DC, 200mm f/2, Gitzo Tripod, Lee Filters, and Profoto B1 strobes.

Badwater Basin is an odd place. You're standing at a dry lake, 282 feet below sea level, while out in the distance, Mt. Whitney (just past that mountain range) soars at 14,505 feet high. The lowest (and highest) point in the country. Talk about extremes. But we didn't pick this place because it would be easy. What's the fun in that?

If you haven't already "followed" me on Google+ and Facebook, please do!

I'm including photo commentary in the captions below with more info:

Fresh & Modern Family Photography

The biggest difference between this (and the shot below) is the sun. Here it's just about to set, and its light really defines the salt formations on the dry lake floor. The ground looks like something a planetary orbiter would've shot on… Callisto?. These two shots were taken with a D800 with 14-24mm. Due to the obvious wide-angle distortion of this focal length, I try to keep the subject close to center to minimize the effects.

20 minutes later, I am blessed with some clouds, so I compose the shot with a bit more sky. However, the missing sun causes the salt formations to be rendered flat and featureless. Here the strobes provide much needed illumination, one left, one right (for the hair and rim).

Another 20 minutes later, I decide to use a telephoto. I am always amazed at the difference in perspective that a simple focal-length change can do. D4 w/105mm f/2DC. The sky behind the mountains was still pinkish, but the rest of it was deep blue. I've had to tune my white balance in PP to 25,000 Kelvin in order to render her skin tone nice and warm. Crazy!!!

Unlike the previous portraits from this series (which were shot with the 14-24mm), this one was taken with a 105mm telephoto (with a shallow DOF), bringing the Panamint Mountain Range so much closer. That's Telescope Peak to the left, blanketed in snow, standing 2 miles high. Luckily, the valley floor was much warmer

Spent the night in Beatty, NV (where you can find a room at Motel 6 for $50, vs. the $300/night resorts in Death Valley), that is, if you don't mind the 1hr+ drive. Come to think of it, most things out here are 1hr away by car. It's just, the standard unit of measure. Next morning my wife and I scout early, and find these surreal formations north of Zabriskie Point. Here I used the 200mm f/2 to really compress the landscape. This time of year is about the only season you can photograph in Death Valley and not get baked (no really, BAKED!). Death Valley is consistently ranked as one of the hottest places on Earth.

I would LOVE to hear your comments on this series, please! Technically, these were amongst the most challenging portraits, with a combination of filters, strobes, ambient light, and sun that was eager to set. No HDR, no sireee Bob!

Nikon AF Nikkor 105mm f/2D DC Nikon AF-S Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G ED Nikon D4 Nikon D800
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