It was 2am, and as the only car driving up the winding canyon road, it was a lonely endeavor. The moon had gone to bed below the mountains in the west, and the inky night seemed to close in on me as I drove further into the mountains. Turn after turn my headlights briefly splashed onto the canyon walls, illuminating the cold rock faces on both sides of the road. Now and then the road briefly turned from its normal black into an almost glossy white sheen, where the snow from the day before had been packed down by passing cars and had escaped the plow’s scrape. I drove on with a bit of trepidation, winding into the mountains, knowing that it was somewhat dangerous and there was no cell signal here.
Finally I saw the sign, slowed, blinkered, and veered off to the right. The blacktop turned abruptly into dirt, and my tires vibing over a cattle guard let me know I was on my way to the right place. Away from my everyday world, away from the amber luminescence of the city lights, away from the white glow of computer screens. Here.
The small road I crept along was a dark line contrasted against the snow that blanketed both sides, and as I drove I kept leaning forward and peering out the windshield, stealing glances up at the night sky. The stars peered back, somehow welcoming me here into the stillness of the night. I had come to the right place, and I gently put the Jeep in park, turned out the lights, and just sat for a minute taking in the night before venturing out into the cold. I had parked in a small clearing, and could hear the wind gently blowing against the Jeep, coming in cold from the north.
Once my eyes had fully adjusted to the night and I felt ready to take on the cold, I pulled my balaclava over my head, slid my hands into my gloves, zipped up my coat and grabbed my camera, tripod, and small video light. I opened the door – greeting the north-wind – and began walking toward my subject for the night. The wind-blown snow crunched under my boots with every step, and once I decided on how to frame my subject, I quickly set up shop. I had to extend the legs of the tripod to pierce down through he snow to anchor them on the solid, frozen ground. I used the video light to illuminate my scene and ensure it was all as I wanted it to be, and I set the timer on the shot. Tonight I wanted to freeze the stars just as they were, but still give myself time to paint my scene with light. I’d give myself one minute.
Bulb mode: Check.
Shutter Speed: Check. One Minute.
Wide Open Aperture: Check.
ISO high enough to grab the stars but low enough to reduce image noise: Check.
Custom Functions 2-1, 2-2, and 3-6 On: Check.
Focus at infinity: Check.
UV Filter Off: Check.
No condensation on lens: Check.
Video light ready: Check.
I pressed the shutter button to flip the mirror up and lock it into place, grabbed the remote timer and pushed go – and I was off! Each time I pressed the release, I would take off in a sort of mad dash through the snow – crunch-crunch-crunching all the way – painting my subject inside and out with my soft yellow light. I spent the next hour running around in the still night like a madman, in this middle of nowhere place in the mountains, fine-tuning my light with each shot, running back and forth between my camera and my subject, perfecting my light painting to get the just the right effect.
I think if I would have been a fly on the wall that night – or rather a cow in the clearing – I would have thought that this person who was out there at 3am running laps around, inside, and outside that bus with a big yellow light every few minutes was off his rocker. Maybe I’d have been right, too! But I think we all need to go a little off our rocker sometimes. It’s fun.
Be your creative self, even if it means being a little…crazy. ;)
I stayed out in the night until I couldn’t feel my toes anymore, and quietly walked through the door into our house around 4:30am.
And yes, I did immediately go up to the office and load the photos to look at them.
Here’s the shot from last night (below). I don’t think it’s the most mind-blowing shot of all time or anything, but I do think it’s kind of neat, and I had a blast creating it. I did a similar shot a few years ago of the same bus, but there wasn’t a blanket of snow covering everything.
Oh, and below is also a time-lapse video of the snowy Flatirons at night, taken almost exactly 1 year ago.