Thunderdome – Blood on the Sand

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Daily Photo – Thunderdome – Blood on the Sand

I was only partially injured while getting this photo from the wild sands of Burning Man.

A group tenderly called the “Death Guild” erected a Thunderdome in the desert city here at Burning Man. I was riding home on my customized Mad Max bike (thx for making it for me +Cliff Baise !), and I saw hundreds converging on the Thunderdome for a massive fight. Screaming hordes started climbing the super-structure to get a closer look. By the time I arrived, the observers were 10 deep on all sides, everyone crushing in to get a view of the big fight.

I jumped off my bike, grabbed my tripod, D3X, and 14-24 lens. I ducked down and crawled through legs clad in leather and spikes to get just inside.

There were latex-clad women with billy clubs and spiked cudgels roaming the perimeter, keeping people from coming inside. I gave one of more severe-looking gals the international nod of, “Hey, everything is cool, let me stay here – I’m here with purpose.” This is a hard look to communicate with words, but I have perfected it through hundreds of iterations. Anyway, I settled down low to the ground.

Heavy metal music started blaring and the master-of-ceremonies-in-leather came in to announce the combatants. The screams of the fans mixed with the music in an aggressive cacophony. People mashed harder into my backside as another climber used the legs of my tripod to launch himself up into the super-structure.

I was rained upon by bits of rock, sand, and occasional strange fluids while the combatants got locked into their flying harnesses. These were complex bungee-systems designed to let them jump and fly in any direction. It seemed the only inevitability was that they harnesses would get slung around one another in a death-spiral where the fighters would just wail away at one another until one gave out.

I finally got everything set up (+1 EV, f/4, 14mm, ISO 1600, with shutter at 1/20th of a second) and fired away as they backed up then flung themselves at one another. It was brutal and the crowd was going absolutely crazy. Even more debris rained down on me from above as the crowd jammed me more from behind and above. I gathered a series of shots, watched more of the amazing desert violence, then crawled out, barely keeping my wits about me.

The ground shook and the air crackled as the metal bent and strained around my body.  The screams went animal and blood fell folded back into the sand.

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  • http://www.kelleybard.com Kelley Bard

    so it’s not all peace and love in the desert? Great shot… and perhaps even better story. Love the crowd most of all, really.

  • Andrea Boyle

    OMG, what an awesome shot! I hope you have more to show. Any sand damage to your camera gear this year?

  • Susan

    Super fantastic shot – I guess it was worth the pain?? It’s funny but this is just how I kinda pictured it there at burning man!

  • Barry Grau

    Awesome photo and awesome story.

  • George

    Whoa, that is an awesome story and photo. But it would not have been worth it if you had been seriously injured. Just being selfish ’cause we would all miss our daily photo from we never know where. I need my daily Trey fix.

  • Andy Bird

    Oh man this looks like my kind of event – I wouldn’t want to mess with that chick in the heels – looks like she could do some serious damage with those babies!

    Just jumping back to your question yesterday about my Gorillapod – I have been using it much more than my normal tripod lately, mainly because it’s much quicker to setup which is great when you are in places where they would not allow you to set up a normal tripod. With the Gorillapod you just click your camera in, set it up (either as a normal tripod or by attaching it to something), do your stuff, unattach it and then quickly conceal it in your backpack. You really need the ball head attachment though otherwise I reckon it could be quite clunky to accurately set up your shot just the way you want it but that’s the only drawback I can think of. I’ll still be using my normal tripod for the bigtime shots though, with the Gorillapod ball head which attaches to other tripods too. Do any other guys in here ever use one? If not I think it could be worth asking Santa for one hehe…..

  • Gail Moshier

    Wow, have a great Saturday :-)

  • http://www.themarkeworld.com Mark Esguerra

    Very cool shot Trey! Looks like quite an effort to get into position, but well worth it. You didn’t happen to notice Tina Turner running around there somewhere, did you? ;-P

  • Trevor

    Trey, you should really give a tutorial on your international face gestures, such as the: “Hey, everything is cool – I’m here with purpose” and your classic eye brow and camera lift: “hey, can I take your photo” – which I’ve used a few times, so thanks for that, buddy :-)

  • http://www.stuckincustoms.com Trey Ratcliff

    Thanks :)

    Hehe I should do that Trevor :)

    Andy – thanks for the response!

  • http://catchthejiffy.com Adam Allegro

    That is so cool! Everyime I see one of your Burning Man photos it makes me wish I could attend. Really cool stuff. It seems like you can get in anywhere, even through a bloodthirsty crown around a deathmatch :) Love this shot Trey. Great stuff.

    On a separate note, I gave the textures thing another try and posted my shot on my blog, http://catchthejiffy.com. If you have a free second and want to check it out, maybe give me some feedback, I would really appreciate it! Thanks man, you rock.

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