October 2015 update: Our 2015 Bodie workshops are coming to a close for the year! We’ve opened separate registration for our last two night photography dates, October 11 and 12. These are longer fall nights, when the night sky is fully dark by 7:50 pm, and they coincide with when many photographers come to the Eastern Sierra for fall colors. We’ll have close to 5 hours of dark sky shooting each night for Milky Way, light painting and star trails shots!
We never know for sure if the workshop program will continue into the next year, but we hope to Offer Bodie workshops again in 2016.
We offer summer nights for stunning Milky Way images, and if demand is sufficient we may add fall nights which offer more 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 those conditions. 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’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 in 2014 we moved ten photographers 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:
Why are Bodie night photography workshops so expensive?
The Bodie Foundation conducts them to raise funds for building stabilization projects at Bodie. In three short seasons we have raised roughly $25,000 for the Bodie Foundation to help preserve the park. In 2015 we could pass $40,000.
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 for an art gallery or 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?
I try to set prices low to make Bodie access more accessible to more people, but the fees and other costs to access Bodie at night are heavily front-loaded with the first person I bring in, so the cost per person varies greatly. I haven’t had to cancel / reschedule a Bodie workshop since our first season when we were just figuring things out. By 2013 and 2014 I had enough Bodie workshops that I was able to cover any losses with other profitable dates. In the event of a change, I will 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). 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 anyone you’re considering taking a workshop from should 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 experience in both shooting and post-processing night shots, to truly know what they’re talking about and to teach you. 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. I’m over 300 pages into my upcoming guide book; it should be out next year. Lori has had her work licensed for publishing in Audubon magazine, Nevada magazine, the Friends of Nevada Wilderness calendar and the Bodie Foundation calendar.
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 visited our local park at least 15 times 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. Know what you’re buying and review their Bodie portfolios carefully and ensure that the instructors have shot there extensively, especially at night. Another claimed that I was “disparaging others” by suggesting this, but nothing could be further from the truth. I’m only serving as a whistleblower on unfortunate business practices, in a very general way. Credible competitors offering competent instruction and site knowledge should be eager to highlight their instructors’ strengths: digital photography experience directly relevant to what they’ll teach, site knowledge, and digital portfolios demonstrating both! I have great respect for the many photographers who have earned their place in the industry and “paid their dues” in digital photography, night photography and site experience. Anyone leading workshops who has a problem with the discussion of competence or with the demonstration of photographic and site experience only speaks volumes about themselves if they try to divert attention from those important criteria. They call themselves out.
Are extensions available to add more days?
In most cases, yes. For 2015 I’m planning Easterner Sierra or Yosemite extensions for most of my Bodie workshops. I’m working on the permits now.
Do you have first aid certification?
Absolutely. I started taking first aid classes for outdoor recreation with a lifeguard course required for a summer whitewater raft guide job. Later I took the 120 hour Outdoor Emergency Care course offered over 12 weeks by the American Red Cross. The semester format similar to a college course provides excellent learning opportunities, and I re-certified every year for many years. Most importantly, I treated injured people outdoors for many years with the National Ski Patrol at Squaw Valley, so my first aid / first responder experience is far from limited to a cram course featuring classroom dummies.
Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any additional questions!
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In summary, anyone with reasonable experience in the area they’re leading workshops can show you a healthy portfolio from that region. I’ve placed over 250 images of Bodie in an album on Flickr. Moon illumination changes every night, so for night photography it’s also important to demonstrate experience with the conditions specific to the night you’ll be there, so experience with night photography in Bodie is one thing, but what does the workshop teach? Do the instructors have extensive experience with various types of light painting, and what have they shot specifically on moonlit nights in Bodie? I do everything I can to ensure that you know exactly what our experience is, and what we can do for you. I hope that you’ll be able to join us.