Favorite Photo, November 20

Elephant Rock, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada. Friday, Nov 20, 1998.

There is only one photo in my “favorite photos” folder for November 20, but it is one of my all time favorite images.

We spent the afternoon and evening at Valley of Fire State Park, north of Las Vegas. It is a great place to create beautiful images of the “red rock country” in the Las Vegas area.

The sun had set when we arrived at Elephant Rock. Beautiful evening light was painting the distant hills but Elephant Rock was a black silhouette, so I lit it with flash. There was a steep hill right behind my tripod. I set the 10 second self timer on my camera, pushed the shutter button, and scrambled up the hill behind me to manually fire the flash down on Elephant Rock when I heard the shutter open.

This was in the days of slide film so I couldn’t visually check the balance of light between the ambient light exposure on the background and the flash exposure on Elephant Rock. Too much flash and the photo would look like I used flash.

Sunpak flash set to manual mode, full power.

So each time I took a picture I changed the manual power setting on the back of the flash, cycling through full, 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, and 1/16 power. Then I would meter the ambient light, change the shutter speed, and do it all again.

When I started my shutter speed was around 1/2 second and it was at 8 seconds for my last series of exposures. I ran up and down the hill behind my tripod a bunch of times, doing my best to get the right exposure. Fortunately, one of the ambient and flash exposure combinations worked just fine.

I did not use a color filter over the flash. The secret to the great color on Elephant Rock is a flash exposure that would technically be considered an underexposure if you were using a flash meter. If I was doing this today with a radio controlled, off-camera flash, I would try flash exposure compensation settings from -1 to -2.


Series: Favorite Photos by Date – all about this series

“How To” Series: Off-Camera Flash

Valley of Fire State Park – official site