Personal Work: Burning Man 2013

01:37 - Peter at Space Cowboys
01:37 – Illuminated by the red light of his LED headlamp, Peter pauses during a late night Space Cowboys party at the 2013 Burning Man festival. At night at Burning Man, attendees don an assortment of headlamps, glow sticks, and EL-wire to improve visibility and avoid collisions with others on bicycle, on foot, or in art cars.

In years past, I’ve come home from Burning Man happy in spirit, but really disappointed with my pictures. Rare was the shot that captured how fun and visually dynamic the experience was for me. This year I decided to attack the event as if I were a travel photographer on assignment. I mapped out all the things I already knew I loved about the festival, reviewed information on as many camps, events, and  art installations as possible to find new things I would enjoy, and made an (overly ambitious) coverage plan/schedule and shot list. The whole process gave me a newfound respect for how travel photographers work to capture the feel and flow of a culture, event, or place. I’m a 5-time Burner and it still took me weeks to gather and parse through all the information necessary to bring home the types of shots I wanted. While I’m not sure I’d want to spend every Burn double fisting two cameras 16 hours a day for a week, focusing so much time on photography enriched my overall understanding and appreciation for the city and its citizens. I think I accomplished my primary objective which was to photograph a culture and experience that I love in such a way that might make outsiders (i.e. my reticent friends) want to come.

00:47 - Charcade's Dance Dance Immolation

00:47 – Christopher Guard & Site 3 coLaboratory show us that Dance Dance Revolution and flamethrowers are two great tastes that taste great together. In Dance Dance Immolation, one of the seven interactive fire art and game installations that made up Charcade, contestants receive a flamethrower blast to the face if they miss too many dance steps. Sadly, the Charcade crew retired the installation at the end of this year’s burn.

02:04 - LED and EL-wire Bike Lights

02:04 – LED and EL-wire lights traverse the playa at night as attendees walk, bike, or drive past in this long exposure.

12:31 - Virat

12:31 – Dressed in a beautiful turquoise sari, Virat adds extensions to a fellow burner at the “Calcutta Bitch’s Hair Salon” event.


20:32 – Goldie, clad in all-white for the yearly White Party, strikes a pose at Cosmic Giggle. Over the years, multiple dress traditions have arisen organically at Burning Man, such as Tutu Tuesday and Wear White Wednesday.

19:38 - Sunset Jazz

19:38 – A stilt-walker wearing a red clown nose accompanies sunset on the playa with improvised jazz.

17:13 - Whiteout

17:13 – Pete, my buddy Dan and I went for an afternoon bike ride during this year’s Burning Man and were caught in a brief, yet severe dust storm. We sheltered in place, but other riders braved the whiteout conditions. I couldn’t resist shooting in the ghostly ethereal atmosphere.


08:28 – Morning Meditation on the outskirts of Black Rock City.

07:25 - Dancers at the Abraxas Sunrise Party

07:25 am – Dancers at the Abraxas Sunrise Party. Through this project I realized that my favorite time of day at Burning Man is between 500 and 800 am. The light is beautiful and the beats tend to be less angry Dalek  “exterminate all humans” dubstep and more “dance with your eyes closed” chill-out.

09:00 - Virgin burner at the Greeter's Station

09:00 – A first-time Burning Man attendee rings the “Virgin Burner” bell as directed by the greeter.

05:51 - Pre-Dawn Twilight at the Temple of Whollyness

05:51 – Pre-Dawn Twilight at the Temple of Whollyness

Naked Black Guy with Ice Cream Here - A Stretch Before the UltraMarathon

04:58 – A stretch before the BRC Ultramarathon (50 kilometers). And yes, that other gentleman did run the race nude and in Hoth ice monster leggings.

01:04 - Charcade's Riskee Ball

01:04 – Burners play at Charcade’s Riskee Ball. Blasts of flame are the contestants’ rewards for high-scoring rolls.

19:54 - Puppetmaster

19:54 – Puppetmaster

22:09 - Star Light - Headlamp Light

22:09 – Smoke from the enormous Rim Fire in and around Yosemite National Park billowed over the Sierra Nevadas making the stars far less visible (to the naked eye) than usual at this year’s Burning Man.

05:54 - Outdoor Nap

05:54 – Too tired or otherwise incapacitated to return to camp, this burner naps in place against an art piece.

06:17 - Champagne and the Man

06:17 – A couple share a bottle of champagne (?) before dawn.

17:00 - The Temple of Whollyness During a Dust Storm

17:00 – The Temple of Whollyness during a severe dust storm.

10:38 - Aerial Silk Playtime at the Hive

10:38 – A skilled aerialist shows off her moves at the Hive’s Aerial Silk Playtime.

18:1 - Black Rock Roller Derby

18:14 – Black Rock City or Venice Beach?

18:18 - Pilot Lovingly Discusses his Aircraft

18:18 – A pilot lovingly discusses his vintage aircraft. The volunteer-run Black Rock City Municipal Airport (88NV) is open for the duration of the festival and dozens of private pilots travel to BRC via small aircraft.

07:42 - Alena Watters and friend at Abraxas

07:42 – Actress Alena Watters and friend at the Abraxas Sunrise Party.

Truth is Beauty

06:10 – The 55 foot and 7,000 pound statue Truth is Beauty is Marco Cochrane’s follow-up to Bliss Dance (2010). The 2 pieces are modeled after singer/dancer Deja Solis.

17:23 - In the beginning, there was Jack, and Jack had a groove.

17:23 – In the beginning, there was Jack, and Jack had a groove.

19:29 - Bucking Duck Ride

19:29 – Burner loses his grip on the Bucking Duck Ride at the DuckPond theme camp.

16:52 - Shane at the Greeter's Station16:52 – Shane at the Greeter’s Station.

21:27 - Tami Lane, Jen (Germany) Comer, and Chris (Sorn) Yung of

21:27 – Tami Lane, Jen (Germany) Comer, and Chris (Sorn) Yung of Garnish, the Portland-based Fire Conclave, breathe fire as part of the Burn night festivities.

01:48 - El Pulpo Mecanico

01:48 – El Pulpo Mecanico’s animated tentacles terrify and astound as they pump fire to the beat of a nearby art car’s sound system at the 2013 Burning Man festival. This photo just got published on as a selection in their YourShot Assignment, Night. Squee!!!


04:28 – The Man


Cameras & Lenses: Canon 60D with an 85mm f/1.8 and Canon 5D Mark III with a 16-35mm f/2.8.

I spent quite a few weeks fretting about camera and lens choice before coming out. Because of the caustic and fine dust, it is inadvisable (i.e. cuckoo bananas) to change lenses while out on the playa. You do not want to expose your sensor or the delicate innards of your camera to the stuff. Therefore I had to make sure that my two lens choices would cover me for all the situations I wanted to shoot.

I initially wanted to rent a Fuji X100S with its 35mm equivalent f/2 lens as one of my camera choices. 1) I loved David Hobby’s results from his recent trip to Cuba. 2) Some of my favorite photographers created their work largely using prime lenses (i.e. 28mm, 35mm, 50mm, & 85mm) and I wanted to experiment with that limitation. 3) If I had a zoom lens, I knew I would tend to zoom in cases when I should move closer and get out of my comfort zone. 4) So much of the Burning Man ethos is about participation and engaging with the other people there. With a wide angle lens, you have to get close. Really really close. The person being photographed is well aware of the fact because you are probably in their personal space. Because of this awareness, the shots you obtain tend to be given with the subject’s willing collaboration rather than taken. That that interchange was present was really important to me this time around because I didn’t want to be just another spectator.

I nixed the Fuji in favor of the Canon 5D Mark III and a 16-35mm lens because I wanted to try my hand at some astral photography.  The driving concept of the project was to explore all the types of light that appear at Burning Man, including star light.  I needed a wide angle lens on a full frame camera to do that. In the end, the astral photographs were meh and proved that I need more patience, practice and warm clothes to execute those shots in deep playa.

The other lens choice was fairly straightforward. I wanted a portrait lens and the 85mm f/1.8 fit right into my budget.  Overall I think it will become my lens of choice on a full frame camera, but initially left me a little frustrated on my crop frame 60D.

FYI: 15 of the above photographs were taken using the 16-35mm; the other 14 with the 85mm.

Light: Ambient light only (sunlight, fire light, LED, head lamps, EL-wire, car head and tail lights). I was going to bring an external flash, but wanted the limitation of having to work with ambient light only.

Other Gear: Manfrotto Tripod 055X PROB with 804RC2 head

Special Thanks to my husband who is ridiculously awesome and such a sport to go along with my mad schemes. I’d also like to thank Terry Grossman, the maker of the Time to Burn app, who made research and planning so much easier than I could have hoped.

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