01. This was a special moment on our Wild West Adventure when Claire sang the Star Spangled Banner at the top of her voice into the hot wind of the Painted Desert.
Basic facts: We journeyed 1380 miles through Nevada, Arizona and Utah in 5 SUVs. We were 12 shooters, 1 non shooting partner, 2 tutors/ tour leaders, 1 logistics manager, 2 models, and we occupied a total of 128 hotel rooms. We started and ended our Wild West Adventure in Las Vegas.
Models: Lydia Cooke and Claire Rammelkamp
Tutors: Damien Lovegrove and Martin Hill
Administrators and planning: Laura Haskins, Blaise Parsons
Accounts and logistics: Julie Lovegrove
02. Our first stop on our epic adventure was this Santa Fe locomotive just off the Route 66. I lit Lydia in the top shot with a simple Godox AD200 fitted with 5″ reflector and grid (GFX50s, 32-64mm zoom, ISO 100, f/11, 1/125th second).
The Wild West Adventure strategy: Martin took half the group with one of the models and I took the other half with the other model. After 40 minutes or so the groups swapped tutors and the session was repeated. Each adventurer got to shoot every setup while Martin and I got to shoot half the setups each. Martin and then swapped models for the next shoot. What you see here are my shots from half the setups on the adventure.
Lighting kit: Two Godox AD200 strobes with 5″ reflectors and grids, Two Godox AD600BM strobes with 7″ reflectors, grids and diffusers. One Godox softbox and grid for the AD200 units and One Speedbox 70 with grid for the AD600 units. Two Godox X1Tn triggers in centre pin mode. 4 Lastolite Jupiter stands.
03. Americana artefacts along the historic Route 66 captured with the new GF 23mm lens.
My camera kit: Fujifilm GFX50s, GF23mm f/4 lens, GF32-64mm f/4 lens and the amazing GF110mm f/2 lens. A Novo Explorer T20 carbon tripod with a RRS quick lever lock head and a $10 universal L plate on the camera. I chose the Billingham 307 camera bag in Sage Fibrenyte with Chocolate leather trim for my GFX50s kit and it is perfect. A Hoodman loupe completed the contents of my camera bag.
04. Claire amongst the faded past.
05. Lydia chillin’ and reflecting on what might have been. Shooting into the light gave us beautiful shadow tones to work with.
06. I showed each group how I shoot in a low key style in full sunlight and then how to shoot high key, as in shot 7 below.
07. Our SUVs in the background were rendered nicely out of focus by the GF110mm lens at f/2.5. A strong connection is needed when there is eye contact in the shot.
08. The Grand Canyon is spectacular. I chose to shoot a lone, dead tree with the new GF23mm lens among many other shots during our time on the South rim.
09. We spent an hour getting lost in Navajo Nation trying to find our way to the next location. We were off grid and off road driving through canyons. We never quite made it with the fading light so we set up a few shots in this ravine. The shot of Lydia at the top was lit with sunlight and the one below was lit with a pair of Godox AD200 flash heads with 5″ reflectors and grids. The flashes were rigged some 10m away from Lydia and had plenty of punch for this kind of two point lighting shot.
10. Claire on the hill in Martin’s twilight set up. The behind the scenes shot on the left was taken in the afterglow and the shot on the right just 10 minutes later. Yes that is the real moon. Lighting was with the Godox AD600BM but could easily have been the AD200.
11. The next morning we journeyed back deep into Navajo Nation land to this little known spot. (We had arranged and pre paid all the necessary access permits and shooting licences). By 10am it was 104°f (40°C)
12. Claire looking splendid in the canyon. This was our first sighting of the famous blue earth.
13. We found beautiful weathered wooden shacks close to the canyon and shot a few sequences. This one of cowgirl Claire was shot on both the 23-64mm zoom and the 110mm prime lenses.
14. Lydia and Claire share a few moments together.
15. The narrative: “Cattle rancher Claire has fallen on hard times. The summer winds of 2015 whipped up a dust storm and blew her topsoil into the canyons. Picking up the pieces on barren land is a tough job for Claire, who lost her folks last year. Praise the Lord because help is forthcoming with new government subsidies for her cattle feed. Claire’s ambition is to rebuild the landmark Blue Canyon ranch that once stood proudly on this prairie.” I lit Claire with a Godox AD200 with a 5″ reflector and grid.
16. After the remote canyons we headed down to Route 66 and the Painted Desert. Here is Lydia in full sunlight. GFX50s 110mm lens at f/2.8 using a shutter speed of 1/4000th second and ISO 100.
17. We found another lovely little spot in the Painted Desert. The light was wonderful and so too was the fun we had making pictures. Fujifilm GFX50s with 110mm lens at f/3.6 for 1/4000th second and ISO 100.
18. Back on Route 66 we headed for the Wigwam Motel and other landmark locations.
19. Martin set up a shoot with Claire and the cars at the motel while I took the other group over to the boarded up shack below.
20. I set up a simple sequence of shots in this abandoned plot. I taught how I frame and pose standing portraits and after the mini tutorial we set about capturing Lydia here in the shade. Monochrome photographs like this take on a special quality when printed from large sensor camera. The dynamic range and fine detail in the GFX50s images is extraordinary.
21. Lydia looks very much the part here. All three shots were taken with the 110mm lens at f/2
22. A goods train trundled past in the distance as I shot this frame from the side. Again I used the 110mm lens at f/2.
23. “Lydia has just secured ownership of this plot where her late Pop once worked. She has drawn up plans to build a new auto repair centre specialising in restoring classic cars.” The lighting: Godox AD200 with a small Godox softbox with grid.
24. “Ken surveys his latest project. His brothers all worked here and now he plans to set up a micro brewery on the site.” The light and textures of the 66 through Arizona are a delight to capture.
25. We took another trip out to the Painted Desert in the afternoon to shoot a few landscapes. The formations of rock and silt are spectacular.
26. Next it was time to for us to head up the road to the Holbrook Rt 66 festival burn out…
27. It seem to me that a burnout is a completely pointless exercise but it was a bit of fun in the sun. It certainly got the locals out with their wacky racers and fabulously funky pick up trucks.
28. We headed back to the motel to catch the last rays of sunlight.
30. Claire looking fabulous in the red 50s dress that I bought for the occasion. I used Classic Chrome film simulation for these shots. I might revert them to Pro Neg S in time. I’m still coming to terms with the slightly unnatural rendering.
31. Lydia soaking up the last rays of sun.
32. A simple anonymous stand alone shot that ticks my boxes.
33. After the magic of Route 66 we headed north via Canyon De Chelly to Monument Valley. Those are vehicle tracks in the base of Canyon De Chelly. It’s a long way down.
34. This is the classic, must get shot of Monument Valley with the track we were about to drive on in the foreground.
35. There were arty options too but as this was a passing visit I decided to accept these monochrome shots from the track and John Ford point, and concentrate on enjoying the space in a tucked away corner of the valley. We were in 5 SUVs and each of the groups did their own thing. It worked out really well and we all met up at the home of the swinging steaks in Hat Rock for dinner.
36. Claire and I took a “follow me” shot. It’s a style that has recently become popularised by travel bloggers. I lit Claire with a Godox AD200 with the 5″grid. I wanted to have the lens wide open to render the background calmer but without detracting from its role in the image, so I added a ND8 filter to the 32-64mm zoom lens that was set at 64mm. This gave me 1/125th at f/4.
37. I shot these frames of Lydia in natural light using the 110mm lens at f/2.
38. I loved the last rays of light hitting this tree. By this time there was no one around in Monument Valley. It seemed like we had the place to ourselves. These were special moments for sure.
39. I directed Claire to rest under the tree having first checked for snakes and scorpions.
40. The reflected light on Claire came off this vast butte that was behind me.
41. The next morning we headed off early to get the best light at Antelope Canyon.
46. Perhaps this is my favourite shot from the canyon. It is full of the buzz that surrounded us. 2 seconds exposure, ISO 200 and f/16
47. I took my tall sturdy Novo Explora T20 tripod into the Canyon so that I could continue shooting while groups of tourists passed beneath my lens.
48. Once out of the Canyon and dusted down we headed to a wilderness area I had discovered using Google Earth. The blue soil was very sinky.
49. The top shot here shows how I got the bottom shot. My Novo T20 Carbon Tripod has an integral monopod that is a decent length. I used it at full stretch to get a shot of the Horseshoe Bend with an in focus foreground. The foreground was at 4m to the camera and is pin sharp along with the background with the super wide GF 23mm lens at f/14. The fine detail in this GFX50s shot of Horseshoe Bend knocks the spots off anything I’ve ever shot with before. I used 1/1000th second at ISO 640 to ensure the shot was sharp. It takes practice to balance a £10k camera and lens on the top of a pole above your head in 40mph gusts of wind. I got my practice at the 400 or so weddings I shot over a 10 year period. I used a £20k combo of Hassy H2 with a 35mm lens and a Phase One P25+ in those bygone days. PS: That’s my Billingham 307 over my shoulder. It was so windy I thought it might blow away if I left it on the ground.
50. Moving on from Horseshoe Bend we crossed over Marble Canyon on our way to Zion. The scenery on our route was nothing short of spectacular. This road trip kept on delivering the wow factor.
51. We pulled over at this big rock and the nearby ruins to run a posing tutorial session and to shoot a few more frames of the girls.
52. Claire and Lydia cooling off in the shade.
53. The buzz in the group here was wonderful and the girls seemed to be enjoying themselves too.
54. “Carlo’s girl” I used Acros for most of my monochrome conversion and occasionally Acros G for close ups to give lips and freckles a bit more contrast or Acros Y to darken a blue sky in the landscapes.
55. After a bit more track driving we came across a cluster of abandoned properties. This one had a lovely simple interior.
56. Lightroom is a wonderful tool for monochrome processing. You can really go to town knowing that the Adobe colour engine will take care of the tones when printing directly from the 14bit GFX50s RAW files.
57. When I shoot high key I tend to be very bold. I do find though that pushing the exposure afterwards doesn’t give the same look as capturing it in camera. I’m certainly not an ‘expose to the left’ guy.
58. I can’t wait to print this on 300gsm Hahnemuhle Photo Rag paper.
59. Arriving in a grassy valley was a welcome change from the dusty desert.
60. There’s a fair bit of fakery around in the USA so it’s fun to see that not everyone is taking life too seriously.
61. I captured this quick frame of ‘cave girl’ Lydia on our way back to Vegas.
62. Here is our group. The cast and crew of the Wild West Adventure 2017.
If you have a spirit for adventure, a creative heart and want to be part of the 2018 trip take a look at the details here. Prices for the 2018 wild west adventure have been held at 2017 rates for all bookings made before September.
Feel free to comment on these pictures or our adventure below.