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Photography In Death Valley

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Category: Portraits and People

Shooting In Death Valley - Behind the scenes with Miss Aniela on a photo shoot in Death Valley.

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This excerpt is from the Self Portrait Photography book by Natalie Dybisz (Miss Aniela). Visit ilex for more information.

Self Portrait PhotographyI shot this series of images in Death Valley, one of the most famously hot locations in the world. My partner Matthew and I were traveling around the US West coast after attending a photo festival. We headed out from our hotel in Las Vegas early one morning with the intention of shooting collaborative self-portraits.

It is always difficult, even if you are in an amazing location, to know exactly what to do with the scenery unless you have a specific plan, commission or brief. With my self-portraiture, I seldom have a fixed plan, which leaves me open to experimentation, but also occasional frustration over the number of possibilities. When traveling, this tendency can become even more problematic because of time constraints in any one particular area you visit, unless you make a repeat trip to a certain place to pursue a concept. Fortunately in this situation, I had the preconceived notion of shooting images that were themed on the spine, or at least that used the spine in a visually arresting way. The sweltering, deserted location of Death Valley was a perfect scene, both pragmatically and artistically, to stage this series of nudes.

I posed in various ways against the landscape, curling myself around a rock for some of the images, and sitting upright on top of the rock in others. At the time, I wasn’t fully certain about the concept: how I would title the images, how each specific one would be processed, and so on. We took as many images as we could before moving on.

On my computer back home, I was able to work through the images and determine which images had the most impact. The images did not need a great deal of post-production because of the strength of the location. I added vignetting, and adjusted Curves to boost both color and contrast in the images.

I clone-stamped out a section where you could see my hair on top of my shoulders. I decided that I wanted the figure to be pure flesh and bone, with no hair visible, as if it were a sculpted formation. I also noticed that I had a couple of scratches on my back, but instead of clone-stamping them out, I decided to accentuate them and add more. This is where I started to create a narrative for the image, and I gave it context by juxtaposing it with a poem themed on the loss of “parts of me”—the loss of three family members when I was a child.

 Death Valley Shoot
I kept my hair visible in this image so it became more of a literal study of a figure in a landscape. By breaking a rule and centering the figure in the image, I feel that the sense of scale of the desert is emphasized.

These images were shot with a Canon 1DS Mark III and a 16–35mm ƒ2.8 L II USM zoom lens. I slightly rotated this image to make the landscape straight, and boosted the saturation.

For this image I was actually sitting on my jumper, to protect myself from caterpillars and sharp rocks. I edited out the jumper in Photoshop using the Clone-stamp tool, taking care to keep each cloned rock looking unique against the others.

I liked the twist in the body of this shot. I processed this image a little differently from the others, with tonal adjustments in Curves to make the scene look colder. I also slightly distorted the landscape using the Warp transform tool, to subtly curve the path leading out to the mountains.

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