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Pregnant in Death Valley
  
 
Michael_Kormos
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p.1 #1 · p.1 #1 · Pregnant in Death Valley


Congratulations to Michael_Kormos for winning Feature Thread of the Week with 14 votes - View Previous Winners


Ok I admit. As a portrait photographer it's not often that I use my tripod. Or that I use filters (LEE graduated ND saved the day here). It's also uncommon for me to use an ultra wide-angle lens (like the 14-24mm), nor do I recall EVER taking a portrait with my aperture down to f/16. Crazy, right? I love fusing my love of landscapes with portraiture. I think it's a win-win situation :-)

On a recent trip to WPPI in Las Vegas, I decided to spend two days at the nearby Death Valley National Park, and do something that no one has ever done before (at least, to my knowledge!). To capture timeless maternity portraits at one of the most raw, desolate and inhospitable places in the USA (ok, I'm not counting Alaska this time around). Death Valley (and Badwater Basin in particular) is one of the driest, hottest, and lowest (in elevation) places in North America. I loved the idea of juxtaposing its alien environment with the frailty and innocence of new life.

Death Valley has literally no cell phone reception, and gas prices generally hover in the $6/gallon range. There are still "radiator water" pull-outs on the road for those times when your vehicle overheats (summer temps regularly reach 125*F / 52*C, which is why I chose to do this in the winter:-) Coordinating a little project such as this has definitely taught me a LOT (hint: walkie talkies come in super handy).
Thanks to my little assistant for keeping the Profoto B1s pointed right where they needed to be, to our wonderful model for making the trek from 4 hours away (you're the best, Christina!), to Valerie for the absolutely gorgeous maternity gown, and to Sophie for being my radio DJ during the many hours we've spent on the road, and for her attention to posing, hair, wardrobe, and everything else that went into making this (couldn't have done it without you!).

Equipment used: Nikon D4/D800 bodies, 14-24mm f/2.8G, 105mm f/2DC, 200mm f/2, Gitzo Tripod, Lee Filters, and Profoto B1 strobes.

Badwater Basin is an odd place. You're standing at a dry lake, 282 feet below sea level, while out in the distance, Mt. Whitney (just past that mountain range) soars at 14,505 feet high. The lowest (and highest) point in the country. Talk about extremes. But we didn't pick this place because it would be easy. What's the fun in that?

If you haven't already "followed" me on Google+ and Facebook, please do!

https://plus.google.com/+MichaelKormosPhotographyNewYork/posts

https://www.facebook.com/MichaelKormosPhotography


I'm including photo commentary in the captions below with more info:

-
MICHAEL KORMOS PHOTOGRAPHY
Fresh & Modern Family Photography
NEW YORK | SAN DIEGO
http://www.michaelkormos.com







The biggest difference between this (and the shot below) is the sun. Here it's just about to set, and its light really defines the salt formations on the dry lake floor. The ground looks like something a planetary orbiter would've shot onů Callisto?. These two shots were taken with a D800 with 14-24mm. Due to the obvious wide-angle distortion of this focal length, I try to keep the subject close to center to minimize the effects.







20 minutes later, I am blessed with some clouds, so I compose the shot with a bit more sky. However, the missing sun causes the salt formations to be rendered flat and featureless. Here the strobes provide much needed illumination, one left, one right (for the hair and rim).







Another 20 minutes later, I decide to use a telephoto. I am always amazed at the difference in perspective that a simple focal-length change can do. D4 w/105mm f/2DC. The sky behind the mountains was still pinkish, but the rest of it was deep blue. I've had to tune my white balance in PP to 25,000 Kelvin in order to render her skin tone nice and warm. Crazy!!!

Unlike the previous portraits from this series (which were shot with the 14-24mm), this one was taken with a 105mm telephoto (with a shallow DOF), bringing the Panamint Mountain Range so much closer. That's Telescope Peak to the left, blanketed in snow, standing 2 miles high. Luckily, the valley floor was much warmer :-)







Spent the night in Beatty, NV (where you can find a room at Motel 6 for $50, vs. the $300/night resorts in Death Valley), that is, if you don't mind the 1hr+ drive. Come to think of it, most things out here are 1hr away by car. It's just, the standard unit of measure. Next morning my wife and I scout early, and find these surreal formations north of Zabriskie Point. This time of year is about the only season you can photograph in Death Valley and not get baked (no really, BAKED!). Death Valley is consistently ranked as one of the hottest places on Earth.

I would LOVE to hear your comments on this series, please! Technically, these were amongst the most challenging portraits, with a combination of filters, strobes, ambient light, and sun that was eager to set. No HDR, no sireee Bob!








Mar 17, 2014 at 03:43 PM
Richard Booth
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p.1 #2 · p.1 #2 · Pregnant in Death Valley


I think these are very creative. The juxtaposition between old and new/life and death is evident and well thought out. I think you're on to something. Thanks for the pullback. Nicely done.

Richard



Mar 17, 2014 at 03:48 PM
Eyeball
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p.1 #3 · p.1 #3 · Pregnant in Death Valley


Michael,

These are outstanding images. I think it is often easy when shooting in a special place like Death Valley that the amazing environment can overwhelm the portrait but you did a great job of taking a great portrait in a great locale. I can also appreciate the work and time it took to pull these off.

Just a suggestion: You really don't need the signature line and links in your post. Fred provides plenty of links and profile info for people here to find you and it can irritate members here when it looks like someone with a low post count is just here to boost his or her SEO. Be a semi-regular visitor here with photography like that and the forum will treat you right. You'll have lots of fans that will help you get the word out and IMO the end result will have a lot more value for you than a few slots of better placement on Google.



Mar 17, 2014 at 04:00 PM
Lisa_Holloway
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p.1 #4 · p.1 #4 · Pregnant in Death Valley


These are gorgeous, Michael. SO glad you got them despite a difficult day! I hadn't seen the others yet - you are amazing!


Mar 17, 2014 at 04:05 PM
swordfishphoto
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p.1 #5 · p.1 #5 · Pregnant in Death Valley


What is she holding in her hand? Salt?


Mar 17, 2014 at 05:19 PM
Michael_Kormos
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p.1 #6 · p.1 #6 · Pregnant in Death Valley


swordfishphoto wrote:
What is she holding in her hand? Salt?


A flower :-) We thought it'd be a nice addition given the landscape. It's more easily seen on a larger print.



Mar 17, 2014 at 05:20 PM
Prettym1k3
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p.1 #7 · p.1 #7 · Pregnant in Death Valley


Michael these are brilliant. Fantastic work!


Mar 17, 2014 at 06:56 PM
SargentRay
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p.1 #8 · p.1 #8 · Pregnant in Death Valley


Michael, this is one of the most meaningful and aesthetically beautiful series i have seen in a long time, with the exception perhaps of Lisa's equally beautiful exterior portraits series.

It starts with a tantalizing title Pregnant in death valley ,and then instantly tele transports the viewer into an out of this world completely surreal and hostile environment.

Other than that i am speechless looking at your work (grasp that moment for it doesn't happen too often with me)

Your technique is completely transparent and utterly seamless, impossible to "feel" the strobe nor the filter.

First encounter with your work and let me help you get on the first step of the portrait masters' podium.

You deserve it friend.

Ray
Montreal Canada



Mar 17, 2014 at 07:10 PM
AnalogStreet
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p.1 #9 · p.1 #9 · Pregnant in Death Valley


Magnificent series. What a wonderful idea!


Mar 18, 2014 at 05:18 AM
bryanlindsey
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p.1 #10 · p.1 #10 · Pregnant in Death Valley


Brilliant!


Mar 18, 2014 at 02:10 PM
 



markcapilitan
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p.1 #11 · p.1 #11 · Pregnant in Death Valley


Quality shoot, fantastic, especially loving the 4th shot...colours/composition are magnificent. Well done, tough place to shoot portraits!


Mar 18, 2014 at 02:51 PM
ArtisticShapes
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p.1 #12 · p.1 #12 · Pregnant in Death Valley


The combination of unique landscape and female form is as good as it gets. Great job capturing the best of both.
Your perseverance has paid off .



Mar 18, 2014 at 03:37 PM
Michael_Kormos
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p.1 #13 · p.1 #13 · Pregnant in Death Valley


Thanks everyone for your kind words! It means a lot coming from so many great photographers.

@Richard Booth,I think pre-visualizing is important. I have been to Death Valley a few times prior, but only with landscape photos as my goal. I even insisted on renting a folding chair for the pregnant model. Something Sophie (my wife) couldn't understand until we got to Badwater, where half the salt was mushy and covered in water.

@Eyeball, It is - sadly - very true! In fact, when I first visited Bryce Canyon, I was flat out just flabbergasted. It's such a monstrous arena of visual stimulii, I could not successfully compose a single shot. I hiked the trails, got into the middle of it all, and still I was short of a great photo. I'm unaccustomed to being overwhelmed with such caliber of colors, shapes and patterns. As a photographer, I'm attuned to finding them in every day things. Bryce Canyon still scares me. You can take a wide angle shot of the whole canyon, but anything other than that, and your talent is really pushed to its limits.

@Lisa_Holloway, Thanks Lisa! It means the world coming from you. I see you as the master of Southwest portraiture :-)

@SargentRay, Wow. I choked while drinking my tea and reading your post, in a good way!. I feel like a critic from The New Yorker magazine just reviewed my portfolio. Thank you SO MUCH for such a descriptive, observant, flat-out honest compliment! I may contact you privately and inquire about your interest in writing more of such delicious verbiage for us :-)

@markcapilitan, It took quite a hike to find that spot! I mean you see the beautiful formations from the road, but once you get up there, finding the perfect match of elements that meet the composition that works is a trial and error. Thank you for appreciating that!



Mar 18, 2014 at 05:53 PM
BubbaJon
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p.1 #14 · p.1 #14 · Pregnant in Death Valley


Yup! me likes! Great creative thinking. I think the harshness plays off the soft/roundness of teh pregnant model beautifully. My favorites are #1 & #2


Mar 18, 2014 at 05:58 PM
SargentRay
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p.1 #15 · p.1 #15 · Pregnant in Death Valley


Ha ha ha i doubt very much i could provide "valid" critiques on cue Michael, just like this one it has to be spontaneous and come from the heart. After seing your series i did the exact same thing i did when i glanced at Lisa's work for the first time: i posted the link on our minuscule photo forum i moderate here in my part of the world. It is tiny for it is only starting and we have a big 135 members or so thus far. Nonetheless all of them want to learn and improve, some just for fun as a hobby others having little more ambitious goals. One member posted he could only dream of achieving such perfection. As spreading the good news is a role i have willingly taken on since i accepted the moderator gig, i told him: "Just find the spot and i'll help you with the technique" Maybe i"m a little over my head here but i mean well, ya know what i mean. So there's a least a couple of hits on this post that come from your friendly neighbourhood French Canadians.

Was glad to see the shots were done with the D800 since so far i had seen mostly MK III's offerings in this style, a superb body no doubt but hey Nikon is good too, right ?

Keep it up Michael, i won't be far waiting for the next delivery coming from you



Mar 18, 2014 at 09:20 PM
Sunny Sra
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p.1 #16 · p.1 #16 · Pregnant in Death Valley


Beautiful. Something i've been planning on shooting in the next few months out there.


Mar 18, 2014 at 10:21 PM
tonyfield
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p.1 #17 · p.1 #17 · Pregnant in Death Valley


Delightfully creative use of an unexpected location. Well composed. Well done.

It is hard to thing of anything wrong ... One little nit I see is the lighting on the lady is standing on the rock using the 105mm lens is slightly hot giving an unnatural feeling - whereas all of the other images are virtually perfect for lighting.



Mar 18, 2014 at 10:32 PM
Sharona
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p.1 #18 · p.1 #18 · Pregnant in Death Valley


Wow, these are just stunning. My favorite by far is #1. I could say this on any number of such posts here, but - and this is no reflection on your talent or execution here - I am not a fan of the naked on top poses that are so popular for these maternity shots. It has absolutely nothing to do with prudishness or being offended, far from it. I can't articulate it, but perhaps they seem unnatural to me, or they are just over used? Again, your work is just beautiful, and I mean no offense here. Also - I had no idea the "salty-circles" in Badwater were so large! I have yet to get there but it is on my list. Thank you for sharing these!




Mar 19, 2014 at 02:26 PM
Arka
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p.1 #19 · p.1 #19 · Pregnant in Death Valley


This is great. I've been planning on doing this with my wife before the big day. Some food for thought here; it'll be easier for me to drag my Acute 600s to DV than it was to take them on our last vacation!


Mar 19, 2014 at 05:32 PM
sachman
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p.1 #20 · p.1 #20 · Pregnant in Death Valley


Wow! These portraits are just stunning!


Mar 19, 2014 at 10:29 PM
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