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intro to burning man: 2015


intro to burning man: 2015

Depending on who you ask, you'll end up with all sorts of answers about what Burning Man is, so it becomes really hard to describe.  Especially because (as you'll see) it's a place of intense sensory overload, in the best possible way.  There's no way to do, or even see, everything, even in a whole week.  Some people go for the live music, other go for the party; I go for the amazing sense of community, the art, and the costumes!  It's a place of unbridled creativity - there are art installations, performance art, bumper cars, swing sets, firebreathers, elaborate costumes, and giant vehicles shaped like snails or chickens or yachts just casually, slowly cruising around a dry lake bed.

Most people live in costume all week, and as a portrait photographer, that's one of my favorite parts.  Everyone gets around the city by bike, and most bikes are totally blinged out, decorated, and lit up to help you distinguish your bike from everyone else's.  The only other vehicles that are allowed in Black Rock City are art cars (also called mutant vehicles).  They cruise around very slowly like crazy parade floats, and offer rides to people going by.  This year, we made one!  We made a royal carrying chair (also called a sedan chair / palanquin / litter) and offered rides to people.  

Burning Man takes place in the middle of the desert, so conditions are always pretty extreme, but this year was especially dusty.  I didn't shoot as much as I was wanting to, because bringing out my nice camera in the middle of intensely blowing dust storms didn't seem like the best idea.  Most people wear face masks and goggles (or at least keep them with them) to protect against the blowing dust, which is less like sand and more like a really fine talcum powder.  It gets EVERYWHERE.

Since there are so many people biking around at night in the middle of nowhere, it's really important to keep yourself and your bike lit up, so people don't accidentally run into you.  Although this is done for practical reasons, many people incorporate the lights into their bike decorations or costumes.  The city at night is awesome, and overwhelming - there's always a thousand things flashing, blinking, moving, playing music.  Every art car plays different music as they drive by, and some have DJs and dance floors on board.  It's just complete neon chaos.

This giant table and chairs also served as the Stilt Bar for all of the people on stilts to meet at, which of course looked amazing, and of course was the day I left my cameras back at camp.

In the Center Camp area you can buy coffee and ice... but other than that, nothing is allowed to be bought or sold (or even traded).  Individuals, and camps, often give things away to the community : french toast, tamales, classes, coffee and drinks.  We listened to TED talks and took an awesome lockpicking class - so fun.

This old fashioned TV set art car was one of my favorites: all the riders inside were pretending to be hosting a talk show as they drove by :)

It's absolutely huge: the first time I went, I was totally unprepared for the scale.  I think this year, we had around 75,000 people?  It's a fully functioning city, complete with street names, neighborhoods, and alleys - being a part of a pop-up city that's almost 40 times the size of your hometown is a crazy experience.  All of this goes up for a week in the desert, and then comes down.  When you try to bike across the city, it takes forever - not just due to distance, but also due to the fact that there's something insanely cool around every corner and you just keep stopping to check things out :)  It feels a little like a refugee camp at times: cars, RVs, and tents lined up in the dust.

This cabin was actually a moving art car as well: the front half that you see in this photo is a front porch; the back half is an open cross-section of an Appalachian cabin kitchen, complete with working oven.  They were giving away chocolate chip cookies,  hot out of the oven, while cruising around the dry lake bed.

There's a lot of post-apocalyptic / Mad Max culture, I think because you have to have  bit of a survivalist mindset in the desert.  You have to pack in all of your food for the week... and all of your water.  If you want electricity, you have to bring it.  Since there's nowhere to buy or sell anything, you have to make sure you're prepared to survive a week in the desert on your own, which brings out the inner Mad Max in a lot of people :)  Lots of flame throwers.  There's even a functioning Thunderdome where people fight each other (with foam swords).

There's also a replica of a full city block of Bourbon Street in New Orleans.  A flaming tuba band plays in the middle of the street; people throw Mardi Gras beads from the upper balconies, and some of the shops on the lower levels serve free gumbo.

This is the Temple - it's new and different every year.  People bring photos of loved ones lost, mementos of things they want to let go of, and write on the wooden walls with Sharpie.  It's a beautiful, but very heavy, place.  Many people step inside and start crying almost immediately after reading the notes people have written to those they've lost.  At the end of the week, the Temple is set on fire and everyone gathers around to watch it all burn.

Yeah nights are just crazy.

These are all art cars waiting in line to register at the DMV - the Department of Mutant Vehicles.

Most of the art installations  like the Temple and the other buildings, are ceremoniously set ablaze at the end of the week: very good reminders that everything is temporary, that creativity is endless, that we will rebuild and recreate again next year.  Huge crowds gather to watch everything burn.  This vibrant city begins to dismantle itself.


my favorite locations: three tips


my favorite locations: three tips

I often have students or other photographers message me with questions about photography, and I welcome that!  I get one question so frequently, I thought it might be a good idea to do a blog post about it - WHERE.

"Where do you find such cool locations?

What are some of your favorite locations to shoot at?

OMG where was photo XYZ taken??!?!?!"

(Okay, now's the time to to fess up - the headline of this post is a little misleading.)  

My answer to most of those questions is usually, "Nowhere cool."  I have kind of a mantra that I end up repeating to people who ask these types of questions: It doesn't matter.  It's not about the location.

I promise!

I got a lot of messages about this shot from people wanting to know what cave we were at and how to find it.  This is actually just a boring ditch to the side of the road on the way to my house.  It's not a cave and not particularly exciting during the day, but I figured that lighting it from underneath at night would make the rocks look cool.  We parked on the side of the road, scrambled down into the ditch, and I kicked off my flip flops and stood knee-deep in the creek for this one.

Part of what makes this job fun and unique is that it forces you to use your brain in different ways.  You have to learn to see light differently from other people, to look for different angles, and to figure out how to turn nothing into something cool.  In fact, it's one of my favorite challenges to look at a bleak, boring, or uninspiring location and figure out fun ways to make it look awesome.  Beautiful backgrounds are awesome, but simply sticking some people in front of a beautiful background does not guarantee an artistic image, or even a good image.  Just sticking a person in front of the Eiffel Tower or a cool wall is not what's going to make you a great photographer.

It's not about the location.  We have to be magicians and illusionists - we have to learn to use the tools at our disposal (angles, lighting, posing, color, creativity, etc) to make something look like something else.  A LOT of my "favorite spots" are literally just off to the side of the road somewhere... and it's often a busy, boring road and not even a scenic road :)


The most important advice I can give you: There are no good locations, there's only good light.  The coolest wall or the most beautiful garden could look totally terrible in the wrong light or with the wrong equipment.  If I'm shooting at morning vs. afternoon, I end up guiding clients to very different types of spots, because I know which direction the light will be coming from at that time of day.  Some spots have great light in the morning and don't work well for my style in the afternoon.  I always carefully place clients in good light, pretty much regardless of what's in the background.  This also really requires you knowing how to manage your equipment properly and efficiently in all types of lighting conditions - they might change at any minute.  Get out of auto mode and learn how to shoot in manual for maximum control of your light.

Underneath an overpass in Denver.  I saw a small window of super cool, semi-diffused, all-natural light and we jumped in it.  About three minutes later, the sun came out fully through the clouds and it was way too bright to keep shooting there.
Super cool light and gorgeous model, but Annette is just sitting on a plastic picnic table in Denver.


Very rarely is some kind of epic landscape going to be laid out for you, where you can just show up and click the shutter without any thought and have your image look stunning.  You will have to look up, look down, kneel down, lay on the ground, stand on something tall, shoot through that bush - whatever you have to do to make where you are look like something worth looking at.  This part takes some practice and some effort.  This is why I rarely wear nice clothes while shooting (I'm often laying in the dirt) and I usually wear flip flops (I can kick them off, roll up my pants, and step into the water or scramble up into a tree, etc). 

Often, you can use angles to your advantage to cut out parts that don't fit your vision for the image.  Sometimes, by lying on the ground, you can make power lines disappear, or fake a different horizon.  By standing on something tall and shooting down, you can eliminate the sky and the horizon line if it doesn't fit with your vision for the image.

On some back access road behind some buildings.  All natural light; only edits are minimal skin retouching.  We had technically finished the shoot and were heading back to the car, trying to outrun this crazy storm that was coming in.  I saw one last little ray of sunlight and placed Cece carefully.  I knelt down and shot from below to include more of those super dramatic, ominous skies; if I had had more time, I would have changed my own angle slightly so that big pine tree wasn't right behind her, but this cool light was fading super fast.  And yes, we got totally drenched about 5 minutes later :)
Not the Carribbean, but by shooting at a certain angle, I was able to eliminate the things that make the viewer think "Colorado".

I would recommend TOTALLY FORGETTING what you've seen in other photographers' work, especially if you're shooting at commonly-photographed locations.  If you're researching commonly-photographed locations, you'll see the exact same angles a hundred times, which results in hundreds of almost-exactly-the-same images. It seems like lately, I've seen a lot of photographers talking about wanting to go to "THAT location "to get "THAT shot", and by that, they mean that they pretty much want to exactly duplicate an image that's already been photographed by someone else.  "I'm so excited to shoot in front of THAT graffitti wall / on THAT overlook," they'll say, and then line their subjects up in exactly the same way that another photographer set up.

Sure, it's easy to throw your client into that same spot as everyone else and snap the shutter, but then, what's going to make your work stand out?  We can do better than that, and we can be more creative than just copying stuff we find on Pinterest (or copying what you've seen other local photographers do).   So switch up your angles, shoot the same cliche location in a new way, and think for yourself rather than copying stuff you've already seen so you can stand out and help people see the world in a new way!  Aside from the fact that being a copycat isn't cool, shooting new angles will turn boring old locations into, "OMG where was this taken?!?"

Along these same lines, if you really want your work to be unique and remarkable, avoid asking other photographers for location recommendations - many commonly-photographed locations are crowded, busy, and overused.  And besides, you want your work to stand out and be different, right?  To create your own cool, unique, images, find your own cool, unique locations!  Do something that hasn't been done!

Some people who saw this set on Facebook were worried about Tess' safety.  No worries, guys, I would never ask clients to do anything reckless or unsafe.  We were only about 3 feet off the ground, but I wanted it to look more dramatic, so I scrambled up onto the rocks with her and then changed my angle to make it look more like a cliff.  This is another one where we were just randomly off to the side of the road.


A lot of the images I get asked about have more to do with good use of color than actual location.  For maximum impact, I try to match or coordinate colors of outfits with colors that appear in the background.  It doesn't matter WHERE you can find these colors, as long as they work within the frame of your image.

In an alley, with a bright orange electrical cone to her right and a dumpster to her left.  Good thing Faith trusts me!  Haha.
Another shoot I get asked about often.  This was just a few shrubs in the median of a parking lot on the industrial side of Longmont.  The vibrant colors of the foliage echoed the colors of the produce in her basket, and made her coral skirt stand out.  I'm standing on the curb.
Busy downtown Denver, against a city planter box on a sidewalk, at a stoplight.  I chose this spot because the flowers in the background coordinated with the color of her earrings.
Also not the Carribbean.  The storm clouds made the sky look really dramatic, and the water was reflecting the colors of the sky.  Zoe and I were actually freezing cold and paying close attention to the approaching thunder, and the wind was whipping her hair around like crazy.  The water looks lighter closest to the camera because the wind from the storm was churning up the waves into mud.  I told her the images would be worth it and would look sunny and happy, which I'm sure was really hard to believe at the time.  Her pink dress helped solidify the tropical feel of this image.
Nowhere cool.  Just a storefront of a store that was still closed.  I loved the way the oranges of the lights in the store, and the reflection of the sunrise in the window, coordinated with her coloring.
Nowhere cool.  Just a storefront of a store that was still closed.  I loved the way the oranges of the lights in the store, and the reflection of the sunrise in the window, coordinated with her coloring.


So, when you actually go location scouting, here are a few tips:

- Go at the same time of day that you'll be shooting at.  This helps you figure out what the light will be like at that time of day.

- Go do the footwork yourself, rather than just asking someone who's been there. Take a day, hop in your car, and drive around and explore!  Figure out what types of locations work best for your particular style and shoot, and then check them out for yourself.  Then, get out of the car and walk around : maybe some place looks gorgeous from a distance, but when you get right up to it, you'll realize it's all marshy, and if you put your model there, they'd be standing up to their shins in murky water.

- Be aware that many, many locations (especially in the Boulder area) require permits to shoot at.  If you get stopped by rangers, which happens frequently, and you can't show proof of your permit, you may get ticketed and forced to stop shooting.  I hear that those fines are around $500 bucks, so make sure that if you're shooting professionally (or even with professional-looking gear) that you have your required permits.  Also I should remind everyone that shooting on train tracks is illegal, dangerous... and stylistically overdone anyway :)  Totally not worth putting your life or your clients' lives at risk.

Hope this helps you go out and create something totally unique!


follow me on instagram!


follow me on instagram!

Hey guys!

I'm assuming you're fans of the Cedar House page on Facebook because you want to see lots of awesome images and check out my latest work! I want to connect with you, too! Unfortunately, that's not what's happening.

Facebook has made some recent changes that totally throttle how many of my fans see the images I post.  I have over 6,000 fans on Facebook, and often, only a few hundred people end up seeing what I post.  Facebook has started offering the option to "boost" your post for an extra fee.  The few times I've done this, I've gotten a great response, and after looking into my results, about 5,600 of my 6,000 fans see the post when I pay to boost it.

Wait... what?  

Yep, that's right.  Even if I pay extra money, Facebook still does not display my posts to all of the people who want to see them!  That's so crazy to me.

I'm just a one-person studio, and I run this business out of my home office.  I definitely can't afford to pay to promote every single one of my posts to make sure Facebook shows them to you guys.  It's a bummer, because I've spent lots of time and effort in maintaining the Facebook page over the years, and built up a pretty good following, and now none of you guys are even seeing it!  Engagement has dropped a ton, too - meaning, the number of people who click on a post, comment, or share it - and I'm pretty sure this is directly related to FB just not showing it to anyone, because it wants me to pay.

Take a look at this post - 93.5% of you guys didn't even see this image on Facebook! :(

From here on out, I will still be maintaining my FB page, but I will be posting more images + behind the scenes awesomeness to Instagram, which (at least as of now) does not require me to pay money for my images to be seen.  I'd love to have you follow me there!  My Instagram account is relatively new so I don't have anywhere near the following that I do on Facebook, but even so, way more people are seeing my posts and engaging with them on IG - which is awesome!

Cheers, and hope to see you all over on Instagram!





After our time in the cities, we headed to the Annapurnas to start filming for Epic Rides Nepal.  These mountains were unlike anything I had seen - they made the Rocky Mountains look small and quaint :)  We flew on a tiny propeller plane from Pokhara into Jomsom, took a long, bumpy ride to Muktinath, and started filming there.  From Muktinath, we trekked from town to town, filming and shooting along the way.  I even got to film partly from horseback!  It was absolutely breathtaking - and exhausting.  We found ourselves falling asleep in our dinner by 7 or 8 pm :)

Our guesthouse in Muktinath

Check out some of the footage we filmed here:

[vimeo 99539009 w=1280 h=720]

[vimeo 99482976 w=1280 h=720]




In May, we spent about a month in Nepal, where I shot + filmed for some awesome organizations, including my good friends at Portal Bikes and Epic Rides Nepal.  What an amazing trip!  Nepal blew me away.  I especially fell in love with the vast, rich history that you can feel in every alley and street in the Kathmandu.  We were welcomed by kind and thoughtful people and ate the most amazing food.  The trip was absolutely amazing, but the timing of it was a bit crazy: we had been living on the road January - beginning of April.  When we got back, we went under contract to buy our first house.  Then, our dog had surgery to remover cancer in her leg, which required daily vet visits for weeks.  We left for a month in Nepal in early May, and we closed on our house three days after we got back, packed everything up, and then moved house the next week.  It was a complete whirlwind of good things :)  

We had so many adventures in Kathmandu - when we arrived at the airport, there were three large pallets filled with crates of baby chicks, but not the mountain bike we had checked as baggage (don't worry, it came a few days later); we wrapped our bikes in glowing EL wire and zoomed through the alleyways at night; we gave a taxi driver wrong directions and ended up wandering around a spice market halfway across the city; we successfully got a welder and three trunks full of tools through customs; when we got attacked by monkeys at Pashupati Temple, I physically fought them off using my 70-200 2.8 lens as a bat; we drank delicious coffees on rooftops surrounded by fluttering prayer flags; I was surrounded by a group of young monks in training who watched over my shoulder as we filmed bike footage in the dense forests on the outskirts of town.

From my journal: Kathmandu feels OLD, and at the same time, oddly familiar: narrow alleys, low doorframes, lots of dark, rich wood, oxen on the sidewalk downtown lazily munching on corncobs from someone's hand.  A thousand bicycles weave in and out of traffic.  Our guesthouse is lovely - rattan woven floor mats, dark carved wooden beams, mosquito netting, just steps away from Patan Square where the butter lamps shimmer at night under a hazy full moon.  Everyone is kind, and the streets are elegant and charming and mazelike, with tiny birds chirping, and the scents of coconut rice, spices, diesel, incense, curries.

The evil monkey that attacked us.

Check out the video I shot for Portal Bikes! 

[vimeo 100753829 w=1280 h=720]