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Edition #156, August 15, 2011

Steam, Steel and Strobes

Photographer: Steve Crise

                                                                            Photo by Steve Crise

Steam, Steel and Strobes

I think I’m a pretty luck guy. Good fortune has blessed with some fantastic opportunities over the years. One of those opportunities has been to spend my last seven winters vacationing in Ely Nevada. Now when you mention Ely Nevada to most folks, they have to really stop and think about what it was I just said. I’ll get a funny look from them and they’ll say something like, “Ely, Nevada – man, you’ve got to be kidding me – that place is in the middle of nowhere!”

But what they don’t understand is the rare opportunity that exists there in beautiful downtown East Ely and just exactly what this opportunity is that I enthusiastically speak of. 

I will try to impart to my inquisitive friends that there are only a very few places on this earth that still offers what Ely can provide, and no, I’m not talking about the three bunny ranches they have in town.  

What I am referring to is that in that most chilly and dark month of February, the Nevada Northern Railway becomes my blank canvas, my diamond in the rough. Because for those two winter evenings, I can pose and light two 100 + year old steam locomotives anywhere on the property I chose, create cinematic compositions of fire breathing, turn of the last century technology steam locomotives with my large and very powerful studio strobes and digitally capture the entire scene in a few nanoseconds.

But of course there is a catch to having this much fun – I must do all of this so that 20 some other photographers can shoot along with me as well.  For you see, I produce and provide instruction for the night lighting photo sessions at the Nevada Northern Railway’s yearly Winter Photo Freights.

Now you may think that having to share this experience with 20 perfect strangers is a real deal killer for me, but in fact it has been exactly the opposite and here are a few reasons why.

First, to create a scene with strobe lights, I must do several tests prior to the evening’s shoots to insure that the lights are placed correctly, gelled and powered up just right. I get a few personal moments with a model, in this case engineer John Tyson, and shoot off a few test frames to see what the scene will eventually look like when the strobe lights blend with the available light provided by the setting sun.

The image above is from one of those lighting tests. It is the only frame of John I shot that evening. After seeing that on the back of the camera, I knew we were ready to go. 

Secondly, many people who attend the Winter Photo Freights have never shot at night or at least have never shot with strobe lighting in this manor, so they are not quite sure how it all works. With a little instruction and coaching from me, they will eventually make their first successful capture of the evening – and most are very surprised and amazed to see the dramatic results of their efforts. 

It truly is best part of the evening, seeing the expressions on their faces when they’ve done something for the first time that they previously didn’t know they could do - as they say on credit card ad on TV – priceless!

Steve Crise

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