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Last week photographers from around the world came together for the annual WPPI conference in Las Vegas. It is common to hear many photographers talk about their plans to hit the desert for incredible landscapes or portrait sessions in between classes and workshops. A few tips from pro boudoir photographers can help you the next time you are able to take the trip.
Note that there are many types of photographers who take this trip to the desert but as a boudoir photographer this will be geared towards this genre. The first obstacle to take into consideration is the drive. Most locations are at least thirty minutes from the strip. Plan ahead as this is not something you want to risk doing if you have time constraints with classes. A few even stayed an extra day just for shooting purposes.
Shawn Black wrote about planning out your locations due to the permitting issues you may run into. "Shooting is the desert is an awesome and daunting task all rolled into one. First, you have to decide where you are going to shoot as there are many options from canyons, mountains to the dry lake beds. You have to know your location long in advance of the shoot because some areas may require permits to shoot as they are National Parks. You'll end up with a hefty fine and have your shoot ruined if a ranger comes up on you." Black suggests an SUV depending on the location due to the road conditions. If you are bringing strobes or other lights a great tip is to bring a car power inverter so you can recharge in between sets. The last tip from Black is to thoroughly clean all your gear using canned air to blow all dust and sand out of the smallest crevices.
Take advantage of the winds and bring flowy fabrics is one suggestion from Sue Bruce. Be prepared to work with the hair as well in the breeze. Bruce said as this was her first time to this location it was cooler than anticipated so bring blankets for client and models for in between shots.
Jennifer Smith warns about the pop-up dust storms. Be aware of your surroundings and be ready to go to the car in this instances. In the case of a needing a lens change it is best to do so inside the vehicle to minimize the chance of sand or dust. Besides having your vehicle (whether rented or your own) it is far better scenario than using Uber or Lyft with the chances of losing cell signal for your ride back to the strip. In terms of shooting, Smith advises being aware of color casts in the full sun. There is minimal shade in many locations with the exception of sunset with losing light fast behind the mountains.
While the groups here mainly shot boudoir, Smith also suggests getting the time in for a shot of your own. She and her husband were shot by Jennifer Halley and Kim Ashford for an incredible portrait in these amazing locations.
"Shoot with your back to the sun and have models aim their chins upward to avoid dark under eye shadows," writes Suzanne Ng during her shoot in the Nelson Ghost Town. The initial perception of the desert is barren and flat. However, in some of the Ghost towns, you may find unique backgrounds to work with.
Just as you may have music to set the pace on your studio shoots back home, it is suggested to bring wireless speaker for music. This is a fun experience and music will add to the model or client feeling the mood is one suggestion by Marylie Thompson. She warns about keeping an eye on the surroundings as planes are typically in the area. This was not a runway in case anyone was curious.
Anna Johnson feels the desert lends itself to some of the most amazing landscape views for a perfect session. The mountains not only add to the texture and feel of the image but can also add shadow during the golden hour. The desert oasis or water holes during this time of year will add reflections for the background of your images.
The cons to working in this environment is the timing during the WPPI conference is always held this part of the year and can bring cold weather with strong winds. Bring warmer clothing especially pants to block the sand blowing against your bare skin. Chapstick or lip balm will be beneficial due to the dry air and winds. If you have allergies Johnson suggests taking your medication with the dust and pollen that routinely is in the air. The last con Johnson warns is to rememberer many will come to the desert to party so there is lots of broken glass in the area. Keep your eye out especially if your models are barefoot for the session.
Locations can be tricky even if you have been to the area in past year. Brooke Summer had an unexpected issue when she drove up to a site she had been to last year. "My most recent desert shootout included a ton of solar panels in the background. I was heartbroken driving up, thinking it would look terrible, they were new and I hadn't seen them before. Instead of being frustrated, I used a different lens and they ended up looking like water, which was a very different look for a desert shoot."
The majority of the shooters I spoke with agreed that the conditions can be trying if you are a first time shooter in the area. Knowing ahead of time how to prepare can make the day smoother for everyone. Each year many groups will post about going to the deserts for shoots if you are wanting to tag along with those experienced in the area. If boudoir is something you are wanting to shoot I suggest joining groups geared towards it as AIBP and Do More Photographers, not only to familiarize yourself with the people in your genre industry but also to make acquaintances for these group excursions net year at WPPI.
Cover image courtesy and with permission of Marylie L. Thompson.