Behind the Image | Camping in Moab

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It was just myself and a friend, Kevin Campagna - a local endurance cyclists that recently finished the Tour Divide. Among other things, Kevin and I share a core common passion: adventure. One day we decided to take a short trip out to Utah to explore the backcountry roads in search of lonely mountain bike trails, great camping, and an overall break from society. We discovered it's easy to do that in Utah, specifically the BLM land surround the Moab area. BLM land is great. For one, the camping is free. It's also (usually) scattered with undeveloped camp sites. In this particular area, a man made fire ring signifies a undeveloped camp site. Of course the goal is to camp within range of this ring and not have to build yet another fire pit. You can find spots out in the open, under massive boulders, and even on the edge of a 500 foot cliffside, overlooking a canyon. In fact, we ended up sleeping tent-less in all the above. It was October, so nights were chilly, but we were prepared and slept next to the fire. I don't think it get's much better than that. Each day, our goal was to find a "cooler" camp site. All in all, I think we did a pretty good job. The last afternoon, we drove (off-road) through some hairy stretches of backcountry roads just south of Canyonlands NP. We drove until we came to a dead end at the edge of a canyon. There was a small pine just on the edge, and there it was --- our fire ring. Boom! We had just located the most stunning camping spot ever. It was the perfect spot for me to attempt a shot that I had been itching to get. I wanted a lit tent scene under the stars. These days, this type of shot is rather popular, but it's a must in situations like these. This shot was actually quite tricky, well, not really but it required more work than you would think. To start, the moon phase was unfavorable (full moon setting very early in the morning - 3am). Along with the moon set, the milky way was not present that night as it had set as well. So, I was left with a very starry night, no milky way, and a bright moon. This forced me to shoot two exposures at vastly different times in order to achieve what I wanted to accomplish.

Exposure #1

After getting the composition I was happy with, I set up the tripod in a protected position and hung a weight from the center column. My next exposure was 5 hours away so I didn't want the tripod to move a single millimeter. The purpose of the first exposure was to do two things: use the light of the moon to illuminate the foreground and the canyon in the background, and to fire two speedlights to light the tent (I could have done this on the second exposure, but didn't want to fire a bunch of light into a sleeping friend). To be honest, I could have wrapped up the shot with this first exposure. I wanted more stars, though.

Exposure #2

The second exposure was fairly straight forward. All I needed was a long exposure after the moon had set to gather light from the stars above. That's it! Now, just a little blending in Photoshop and it's a done deal. To my surprise, this image was my #1 seller through my stock agency, Tandem Stock. It's been used on the internet, magazine articles, and point of sale display. I can't wait to try this again! If you have any questions about further detail in the setup, please comment!


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