It was the third and final day of PSW and, looking back, I swear we must have been surviving solely on the buzz of being there, as it certainly wasn’t sleep that was keeping us going. So with heavy eyes but minds still ready and eager to learn, we finished off our last day fitting in as many training sessions as we could, which just happened to end with Scott’s class on Lightroom Killer tips. Man, that guy can teach and I’m not only saying that as a friend. He genuinely owns the stage and even when something goes not quite according to plan, he’s straight in with a back up, another way to do something, or, as, in this case an endless string of relevant filler chat while simultaneously tapping away at the laptop trying to get a way around the problem. I honestly don’t know how he processes doing both at the same time.
As the class drew to a close (to riotous applause, I hasten to add), the sinking realisation began to dawn on me that our PSW adventure was nearly overland although we were in vegas for another night, today meant saying goodbye to so many cool people we’d met in this crazy town! We waited for the almost endless stream of fans waiting to speak to Scott to leave before heading over and chatting to him ourselves, which was actually the first proper opportunity we’d had to talk to him since the Instructors dinner on the first night, such was his crazy schedule. It wasn’t long before we had to hurry away to the main ballroom though, as it was time for the wrap up session, which Scott was obviously hosting. Before shooting off though, he happened to mention that there was an instructor’s wrap party in the Nearby Delano hotel later on that afternoon and that Dave, Meredith and I were obviously (obviously, he says!) invited! Despite the last few days and all the things we’d done, we were still blown away to be mixing in the circles that we had been so warmly welcomed into!
As we filtered through to the ballroom and stood at the back of the room, a number of the instructors came in and made their way over to us to chat. As we stood casually chatting away, I again had to remind myself how amazing it was that not only had I got to fulfil one of my dreams in simply attending PSW, I’d also got to (nearly) help out with an event and had become firm friends with a number of the instructors, people I still consider to be absolute legends in their field!
As the wrap up session ended and the light’s came up in the hall, we slowly made out way out of the hall and up to our room for a quick change before the instructor’s party. As we made our way back down through the Casino (obviously), we bumped in to Jordan and Max again, who seemed to be going nowhere in particular. Having told the two guys about the wrap party, they decided to tag along, which I thought was strange, as I thought two young guys in Vegas would be keen to discover the place on their own. I was suddenly reminded of the fact that as they are both under 21 though, they were forbidden to drink or gamble, so what else were they going to do…. Poor guys! (it also reminded me of how Scott kept giving me withering looks when I tried to ply Jordan with alcohol when they were in London last year, as he was legally allowed to drink there!)
The 5 of us together, we all made our way up to the party which was already in full swing when we arrived and quickly got chatting to Kubeisy and Dave Clayton. Soon enough though, Dave, Meredith and I were saying our goodbyes, as we had a drive out in to the desert planned and we still had to pick up our rental car. So with a tear (almost) in our eye, we bid our adieus to everyone and promised we’d be seeing them again next year, if not sooner!
(Not sure who took this shot for us, but I’ll let them off with the shake on account of there being little light in the room!)
Then was the next highlight of the day, as headed down to the airport rental park to pick up our car….. A 5L, V8, convertible Ford Mustang!!! Yeah baby!!! So with keys in hand and cameras in the trunk, we headed out to the Valley of Fire State Park, about 60 miles North of Vegas.
The drive out of Vegas was amazing. Roof down, warm breeze in our faces, great soundtrack on the radio, glitzy flashing lights flying by us…. I suddenly felt like I was in a Hollywood movie! As we headed out in to the desert though, the glow of Vegas began to fade behind us and the dark open road ahead held a fascinating promise of some epic shots.
As we turned off the main freeway on the Valley of Fire Highway (what an awesome road name), the visibility dropped even further and as we stopped at the sid elf the road and switched of the headlights, the low hanging (and annoyingly full) moon was the only light to guide ourselves around to the trunk. I decided that as we’d taken the trouble of hiring an awesome muscle car, I should probably incorporate it in to a few shots and seeing as the moon was looking to ruin any stars shots I might get, I thought that I may as well include that as well.
Still standing in the exact spot in the above shot, I glanced over to my right and could faintly make out a ridge of some rock formations that stood against what was, in honesty, a wishy-washy sky to the naked eye. I decided the rocks would be a great foreground feature in the shot though and so long as I could bring out some kind of star field in post processing, then it might not be a wasted shot. Imagine my surprise then when upon returning to the UK and editing the shots, I found that I’d caught the faintest of glimpses of the Milky Way (take that full moon!). I also happened to catch the light spill from Vegas some 60 miles away though, but you can’t have everything, I guess and I kind of like the light creeping over the hill to the right of the shot. It gives it an otherworldly feel (especially with the powerful beam of light coming from the Luxor hotel shooting in to the sky like a tractor beam!)
Before heading away from this spot, I’d thought I’d rattle off another few shots of the car and whilst the one below is far from my favourite, I’m including it simply to show the effect that the full moon was having on our shooting capabilities. This was taken at around 10pm and believe me when I see it was dark. However, this shot appears to make it look as though it were shot on a sunny day, save for a few bokeh’d stars in the background. You can even make out the sharp shadow that it casts under the car. It was going to be near impossible to get any hugely defined astro shots tonight but we didn’t let it get the better of us. When life hands you lemons and all…..
Moving on from here, we headed deeper in to the park and suddenly became nestled on the road between huge rock formations either side of us. Again, it was quite dark so you had to strain your eyes to be able to see any real detail but we had a feeling the rocks would continue to make some awesome foreground interest in the shots. When we did stop briefly ( I say briefly, but it’s never that brief when you have to set up a tripod, mount the camera on it and then test a few shots before you’re aiming where you want to!), the shots we got made it look like we were on Mars and having not seen another soul on this road for many miles, it felt like it too.
Our final stop of the night came when in the dim light we were being afforded, Meredith stole the tiniest of glances of a rock arch and what a spot it was. We jumped out of the car and climbed the 20 or so metres up the rock and there it was. Quite small but a rock arch all the same. So while Dave and Meredith got busy with shooting the arch, I walked through it to the other side and noticed what looked like a small African savannah encircled by rocks ahead of me. It looked amazing! Making sure to keep out of Dave’s shot, I hunkered down low, right on the edge of the rock (there was an sheer 20 metre drop, a lot sharper than the one we climbed up, right in front me at this point!!!) and using my 14-24mm lens at its widest end, I shot a two image, horizontal panorama, because the one shot on its own just didn’t get quite wide enough for me.
When Dave had got his shot, and he and Meredith had finished swapping lenses (that isn’t a euphemism, although I desperately wish it were!), I took my turn and, again, wanting to make lemon from lemons, I decided to include the moon in the shot for dramatic effect, by aiming straight up from inside the arch and ‘clipping’ the side of it to create a starburst effect.
As we finished up and carefully climbed back down to the car, it was nearing midnight and so with around a 90 minute drive back in to Vegas ahead of us, we decided hit the road and so enjoyed to ever nearing view of the city as we swept along the highway dropping back in to the glitzy shower of lights.
Having stopped off to pick up a few beers on the way back (only for Meredith and I, obvs, as Dave was driving) and then taking a drive along the strip, we got back to the hotel at around 3am. With nothing to get up for other than check out tomorrow though, we figured we could afford just one more late night. That said, tomorrow was going to be another long day, with a drive out in to the desert in the midday sun planned and an overnight flight to New York, but I’ll leave that for another blog…..