I am not a big fan of pre-dawn photo shoots, but I am a big fan of a great photo opportunity.
So when the alarm clock abruptly woke me from a sound sleep at 4:30 in the morning a few days back I begrudgingly drug myself out of bed to gather my camera gear and head out to photograph.
It was the day before the full moon and I had identified a photo that I wanted to make of an old boarded-up house, which was painted a bright blue with yellow trim with the front of an old car protruding from the side of the house. I had been eying this particular spot for a couple of months, trying to figure out in my mind how I wanted to make this self-assigned image.
The day before my dawn wake-up call I decided that I would make the shot of the old, abandoned house by the light of the near full moon and then add some light painting with a small hand-held strobe during the long exposure.
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Because the house faces the west, I knew that I would have to wait until almost before dawn before the moon was in position to illuminate it properly. I also knew that I would have to work fast before the moon slid below the western horizon and the first, faint vestiges of daylight appeared to ruin the night – and my image.
I also had to work quickly before the sheriff showed up! I had made a scouting mission to the location the day before to get a feel for the spot in the daylight as it is always much more difficult in the darkness, especially if you are not familiar with the area. I did take note of the fact that the only occupied house in the area was at least fifty yards away. This was a good thing, as I really did not want a confrontation with a neighbor.
I did not want to explain why a seemingly normal man would be out in the middle of the night with a camera, aimed at a wreck of a house firing shots of light with a camera flash (putting it like that, maybe “normal” is not the right word). The location was just out of town in a not-so-great part of Merced, which I did not really consider until I was standing out there alone in the cold and very dark morning with some pricey camera gear.
Actually, now that I think about it, I have put myself in danger so many times in the past to make a photograph that it is probably a miracle that I am still here to write this column. Hanging off of cliffs, standing in the middle of busy roads, hanging out in bad neighborhoods with folks that might want to steal your equipment or worse. And not to mention the occasional trespassing on a rancher’s land who might not care if you are trying to take the world’s greatest photo.
Being a bit of an adrenaline junky, I am willing to do any of these things to make a great image. Sometimes all I see is the vision of that image and will do whatever it takes to make that photograph.
I made my first exposure at two minutes to see where I stood on a base exposure before I begin the light painting with my Canon speedlight strobe. That one proved to be a bit underexposed, so I decide to bump up the exposure to three minutes and set my stopwatch and pressed my electronic shutter release to begin the exposure. After that, I walked closer the house to begin adding light from my strobe. As I approached, night suddenly turned to day as bright light flooded the area.
After uttering a few choice words, I turned, fully expecting to see a county sheriff’s deputy ready to put me down with a stun gun. But there was no one there – the light came from a security light on a motion sensor that was activated when I approached the house. Unfortunately, this bright light ruined any chance of making the photo that I envisioned. So it all seemed like a wasted effort. The early wake up call, the danger, the cold ... and then it came to me – black duct tape. I’ll be back!