November 2014 update: We’re looking forward to the 2015 workshop season. If you’d like to be notified when we receive and release dates for booking, contact me and I can put you on our list to be the first to hear.
We’ll offer summer nights for stunning Milky Way images, as well as fall nights which offer roughly double the number of hours of darkness to shoot in compared to the longer days in June or July. Temperatures can get chilly late at night in the fall, but we’re moving a lot and with warm layers of clothing we tend not to have any problem enjoying the town like we have during four workshop sessions in October 2012 and 2013.
Moonlit nights can provide a great workshop for people with crop sensor or older cameras, since the extra moon illumination is a little more forgiving, enabling us to use lower ISO settings and higher (smaller aperture) f-stops. It’s also fine for newer and full frame sensor cameras to enjoy a brighter view of the town with less noise to deal with in post-processing. For moonlit nights I’ve created a new Bodie Under Moonlight album to give you a feel for the conditions we’ll be shooting in Saturday night. I have another album with over 150 images from our interior workshops to give you a feel for those opportunities in the Sunday morning session: Bodie Interior Photos.
Sometimes we offer an interior access workshop in conjunction with our night photography workshops in Bodie. We’ve been in quite a few of the buildings in Bodie, and we’ve gotten pretty good at moving photographers through them. In the first couple of seasons we accessed interiors we were fortunate to get a group through 5 or 6 buildings. On our last visit we moved 10 photographers were able to access 14 buildings. We can’t guarantee that every group will be that efficient, but after Lori and I invested a morning accessing every building that we could and ruling out the less attractive and interesting ones, and after leading interior workshops 5 more times in 2014, we do have a great feel for which buildings will give you the most bang for the buck.
We’ll also be offering Eastern Sierra Fall colors, Yosemite and Death Valley photography workshops, contact me for details and I’ll let you know when I’ve completed wading through the permit paperwork.
We’ve had good success with back to back night and interior workshops. In the morning we get hours in the park before the public arrives, and we enjoyed exclusive access to the interiors of several buildings. We’ve gotten very good at this. On our last visit we moved ten people through 14 buildings!
Here’s a new video I’ve produced to show you how our Bodie night workshops were going so far in 2014 (including a few short clips from prior years):
Frequently Asked Questions:
How well do you know Bodie?
I’ve been visiting Bodie since the mid-1970s. My digital photography there goes back at least to 2004 and multiple daytime and after-hours visits in 2005. In recent years I’ve been living in the Eastern Sierra. I moved to the northern edge of Mono County about 50 miles from the Bodie Road in 2010, and I’ve led 21 special night or interior access workshops in the park in 2012 – 2014. We’ve visited our local park at least 15 times so far in 2014 alone. If you’re going to visit Bodie in a photography workshop, you might as well go with the leaders!
Our success is attracting a lot of workshops to Bodie. One licensed a night photo from one of our participants to have one to show their prospective participants this year. Know what you’re buying and review their Bodie portfolios carefully and ensure that the instructors have shot there extensively, especially at night.
Why are Bodie night photography workshops so expensive?
The Bodie Foundation conducts them to raise funds for building stabilization projects at Bodie. In two short seasons we raised over $10,000 for the Bodie Foundation to help preserve the park. Our workshops raise up to $3500 per weekend, and the funds we’ve raised for the Foundation easily surpass $20,000 this year.
Why are your Bodie night photography workshops less expensive than others?
I live only 50 miles from the Bodie Road, so my costs are much lower: I don’t have to ship instructors all over the state or country. I don’t use workshop participants to pay the lease on a multi-million dollar commercial art gallery, and I’d don’t ask you to buy me a Mercedes Benz tour bus. The more accessible I make prices, the more people can came and the more funds I can help raise to benefit Bodie. Besides, it’s cool to visit and shoot in a ghost town at night… the more people I can bring out there, the more times I get to shoot there at night myself!
Am I confirmed the moment I sign up?
The fees and other cost to access Bodie at night are heavily front-loaded with the first person I bring in, but I want to set prices low to make these workshops more accessible to more people. Even with minimal costs I need to register a minimum of several people to break even. There’s a small chance that a date may not reach adequate enrollment, but I should know that fairly soon so I can of course offer an alternate date or refund.
What’s your cancellation/refund policy?
I lose the opportunity to fill your spot if you cancel too close to the workshop date. Photographers often plan 6 months in advance, so open spaces can be very difficult to re-fill on short notice (even a couple of months ahead of the date). I’ve reviewed competitors’ policies, and given low profitability of Bodie workshops and new non-refundable fees I pay, I can only issue refunds up to 60 days ahead of the workshop date (less transaction costs of about 6%). No refunds within 60 days.
Can you offer a discount for my camera club?
Probably yes, if you can bring several people and I can adequately fill a workshop. I may also be able to schedule a new date or itinerary just for your group or club! I’ve researched every weekend’s moon phase and relevant rise/set times for the entire 2014 season, so you can pick exactly what ambient illumination conditions you want to shoot in. Contact me for details.
What cameras do you support?
Some people come with us to Bodie simply for the access, but if you come for instruction and help with your night photography, it’s critical that you have someone who knows how your camera performs. I’ve owned seven different Canon DSLRs over the past 10 years, both crop sensor and full frame sensor models, currently the Canon 5D Mark II, Mark III and 70D. My assistant Lori Hibbet has been using Nikon for many years and has shot alongside me for the past four years, currently with the Nikon D600 and D7000 (the D40 before that). Of course we’ve had customers bring just about every imaginable model from the eight megapixel Canon XT from 2005 to the 36 megapixel Nikon D800, as well as models from other manufacturers such as Pentax and Sony. While we can usually figure out menus and controls, a very important factor is sensor size, since that affects many characteristics of your results such as depth of field and how ISO and exposure time affect noise.
What experience do your instructors have?
I took my first darkroom class in 1974-75. I learned digital imaging at the world’s largest color printing company from 1984 – 1990. I’ve owned 9 or 10 digital cameras since buying my first one in 2001. I went full time as a professional photographer in 2006, and night photography became a significant pursuit in early 2009. Lori Hibbett was a skilled photographer when I met here, and she is in her fifth year spending a considerable amount of time with me on the road since 2010, when I started researching and writing my guide to Southern California landscape photography locations. She is in her third year of helping me lead Bodie workshops, so she knows the techniques, the town and composition options, and about as well as anyone, how the sky changes throughout our shooting season there.
Some workshop companies pawn customers off on weekend photographers with only a crop sensor camera, paying them as little as $150/day. There are many excellent professional photographers offering workshops, but I also see false and truly counterproductive advice presented as wisdom by workshop instructors on the internet. Your time and workshop dollars are too valuable to spend on people who haven’t invested the years of experience it takes to get past the basics and really learn what a sensor will do in challenging situations.
Night is a particular concern since the low light conditions push cameras to their limits, but also because we’re awake for so much less of the night, few people have invested the time to truly master it. Just about any landscape photography workshop should offer the opportunity to take some night shots, so make sure that anyone you’re considering taking a workshop from can show you hundreds of results, using a variety of subjects using a variety of techniques, to demonstrate that they have put in the hours required to truly know what they’re talking about. Also check for paid publishing credits and awards… for example Outdoor Photographer Magazine, National Geographic, Astronomy Photographer of the Year, calendars, book covers, BBC, and so on. Anyone can publish anything on the Internet or in an ebook, but hardcopy books published by a major publisher can indicate professional status as well. I’m over 300 pages into my upcoming book; it should be out next year.
Are extensions available to add more days?
In most cases, yes. I may need some lead time to notify the relevant agencies managing the lands you want to visit.
Do you have Wilderness First Responder certification?
I’m sure that particular 72 hour training offered over a 6 day period and certificate valid for 3 years is an excellent program, but how fresh will someone’s knowledge truly be after a cram course, 2-3 years later? I took the 120 hour Outdoor Emergency Care course offered over 12 weeks by the American Red Cross. I believe that the longer semester format similar to a college course provides excellent learning opportunities, and I re-certified every year for many years. Most importantly, I treated actual injured people outdoors for many years with the National Ski Patrol at Squaw Valley, so my first responder experience is far from limited to classroom dummies. All of the parks I work with require proof of current first aid certification, but I think most people feel more secure with someone experienced with treating actual injuries than someone bragging about the paper certificate they paid to receive in a quick course two or three years ago.
Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any additional questions!
Note: If the PayPal registration buttons don’t seem to work from inside my blog posts, try the ones in the right column of my blog’s front page: http://www.JeffSullivanPhotography.com/blog