As a photographer living in California, I realize I’m quite spoiled and thanks to my job at a photography company, SmugMug, I’m fortunate enough that I leave the office and explore as much as I can. SmugMug took the entire company on a retreat to Park City, and we brought along Ben Von Wong and his girlfriend Anna Tenne, both absolutely amazing photographers, to do a fun photo shoot with our families. Ben specializes in photographing people in ways that we think are impossible and he’s been using his photography to inspire us to make the world a better place.
Anna and Ben met working on a project with Chris Koch, a limbless quadruple amputee who was visiting Cambodia inspiring children to go after their dreams. Towards the end of their trip, they realized the amazing adventure that had drawn them to Cambodia had also drawn them to each other. Despite the tremendous distance between Australia (where Anna lives) and California (where Ben lives), they’ve now traveled the world together, taking photos of their love, for their “Selfie Series.” When the two of them asked me to cancel my flight home and instead drive back with them, I immediately obliged!
Along the drive from Park City to Silicon Valley we stopped in Zion National Park, Las Vegas, Death Valley and eventually the Alabama Hills in the Eastern Sierras. At each place, Ben and Anna would get bored with me waiting for the perfect light and would instead work on their series. Ben kept pushing me to be more proactive, as opposed to the reactive “waiting-game” nature of landscape photography. I had told Ben that I wanted to start incorporating people into my landscape photography and he encouraged me to go after this.
Ben had never seen the Milky Way in person and it was quickly decided that we would photograph the Milky Way as it rose over Mobius Arch. After a quick dinner we drove to the arch and waited. Using the “Sky Guide” iPhone app I knew the Milky Way would be in position around 1 a.m. in the morning. We also realized that this would be a perfect time to incorporate people into my landscape photos, using Ben and Anna as my subjects.
I carefully placed my Nikon D800, with a Nikkor 14-24mm lens set at 15mm, on a rock and set a remote to a 10-second countdown. Ben and Anna positioned themselves underneath the arch, supporting each other, gazing up at the stars, and had to sit absolutely still throughout the 15-second exposure. I triggered my timer and immediately ran to the right with a flashlight. Once the camera shutter opened, I spent two seconds lighting Ben, while another friend, hidden behind the arch, used a second flashlight to light paint Anna and underneath the arch. We repeated this maybe 15 times until we were happy with the photo. Lastly, I removed them and took an additional photo, focused on the stars, and without the shadows of the light painting. I then blended the two photos in Photoshop.
Nikon D800, Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8, 15mm, f/2.8, 15 sec, ISO 2000