In Dust We Trust

Landscape Video Tutorial Review

Here’s an amazing review over on PhotoTraces by Viktor Elizarov. He really goes in depth and gets all kinds of screenshots and stuff – wow! Thanks Viktor! :)

Daily Photo – In Dust We Trust

Here's a redonk photo of me after emerging from a sandstorm at Burning Man this year! My good friend and camp mate Eric Cheng took this one! This year was the worst one ever for sandstorms. I think I must have been caught in at least four of them during the week. I did not really have the right protection, and I ended up with quite a bad cough for the next several weeks. In fact, it lasted all the way until I went to Africa about a month later… Now it's finally out of my system! :)

In Dust We Trust

Photo Information

  • Date Taken
  • Camera
  • Camera Make
  • Exposure Time
  • Aperture
  • ISO
  • Focal Length
  • Flash
  • Exposure Program
  • Exposure Bias

Burning Man and the Dust

My Full Burning Man Gallery

Is slowly getting updated with this year’s photos integrated into the flow in the Burning Man Portfolio on SmugMug. P.S. Wondering what SmugMug is? Check out the SmugMug Review here on the page!

Burning Man 2014 was Incredible!

Wow what a great year! This is year number five for me, and I feel like I’m starting to merge more and more of Burning Man into my real life. Thanks again to everyone I met and spent time with. It was so incredible and I can hardly wait for next year! I’m adding some of the new photos from this year in today’s post below.

Burning Man and using Cameras in the Dust

I’m gonna make this short and sweet. I get this question A LOT whenever I post photos, so I’m just gonna boil it down.

My Burning Man Recommendations

  • I recommend taking an older camera that you don’t mind breaking. Let’s face it, you rarely use your old cameras anyway, right? You can put them into an amazing environment and not really worry about them!
  • For daytime shots, a smaller compact camera is quite alright. You might be surprised to know how many of the shots in my Burning Man Portfolio (linked above) were taken with an Olympus Pen camera. Also, compact cameras do great in the dust — never had a problem!
  • If you do take your DSLR or interchangeable lens-system, try not to change lenses outside for the love of god. There’s always a little dust flying around… Charm your way into someone’s RV to change lenses if you must!
  • I recommend putting on a good general purpose lens (24-70mm) and then put a ziplock around the whole thing. Tape it on.
  • You can also put some tape around where the lens attaches to the body if you wish.
  • I have heard of photographers who have their cameras completely broken at Burning Man, but I don’t personally know any. I think the Burning Man website does a good job of REALLY SCARING you into over-protecting your camera. That is fine, better safe than sorry, I suppose, but I don’t do 10% of what it recommends. Mostly, it really seems to scare people because my posts are filled with comments like, “OMG I Can’t Believe You Took Your Camera Out at Burning Man!”
  • #1 Recommendation: Don’t worry so much! You may get some dust in there, but just get it cleaned! You’re probably spending over $1,000 to get to Burning Man, so just be cool with paying to get your camera cleaned at the end!

My Personal Burning Man Camera Experience

  • In the first four years of Burning Man, I never lost a camera. I never used any protection. I was a bit Olympus-PEN camera centric in the daytime and DSLR at night. I never even used a baggie or tape or anything… But I would often put my camera back in my camera bag during big sandstorms.
  • In 2013 I used almost all Sony NEX cameras and never had any problems with the sand or heat or anything.
  • This year 2014, I took my Sony A7r and my Sony A7s. This year was CRAZY with sandstorms. I basically shot with the Sony A7r the whole week with no problems until the end on the final day. This time, I did NOT put my camera away in the sandstorms and decided to shoot like a madman because it was so incredible then! I think it was honestly TOO MUCH sand in those sandstorms, again, the likes of which I have not seen in the last five years. The camera is a “little” bit broken. It’s a strange problem in that it actually works fine, but I can only take photos in the 2-second timer mode now! Strange! Anyway, I just sent it back for repair. No biggie. I did not have much dust inside either.
  • My Sony A7s performed flawlessly. Upon that, I had a Leica 35mm f/1.4. I did put tape on that. But I had no probs and no dust inside either.

On this day, I shot for about 8 hours inside a sandstorm here on another blistering day at Burning Man. While going through the middle of it, I came across a formal Japanese tea ceremony. It was amazing. The man in red on the left had a pure white face and bald head. His movements were slow and measured with the ceremony.
Just after he finished serving the woman on the right, he invited me over to sit. The whole process took about five minutes. He intricately folded red napkins to clean off the stirring brush, put matcha green tea into a golden bowl, added another tea drink (I cannot describe the taste), and then, in the end, he used chopsticks to pull out floating bits of gold from a small box of water. The first piece of gold flew away in the sandstorm, so he got another and put it all the way down into the tea. I then drank the whole thing at once. It was so amazing. I bowed and said thank you very much in Japanese, then I went away back into the sandstorm.


The Man was absolutely huge this year… It towered over all of us and could be seen from anywhere in Black Rock City.


I heard there was a lot of dramadrama over the construction of the Temple this year. I don’t know the full story, but the resulting temple was absolutely incredible when they got it up. Every year I am amazed that they burn something so beautiful to the ground.


I saw this amazing scene when I turned around during the Temple Burn.


Wonder what Burning Man looks like from above? Here’s a scene I saw when approaching the city from over a ridge. At the end of the burn, this all disappears and goes back to the white sands again…

This photo is special to me because I feel like it is me and my two little girls. I can’t wait to show them some of the art from Burning Man. Isabella is the middle one, always paying attention and very gently looking at things. That’s Scarlett in the front, just dancing freely in the wind.


Just one of the 65,000 interesting people that roam around the playa for the week.


Everyone at Burning Man rides bikes around to see the huge expanse of the impromptu city.


A little yoga session I came across!


I chased a sand tornado across the playa one day until it started ripping through the Pink Heart camp. I stayed right with it as it twisted in a counter-clockwise motion. I didn’t even have to pedal as the tornado pushed/pulled me along!


Daily Photo – Embrace

This is just about everyone's favorite art piece at Burning Man this year. What a bold idea! I took this on the first night when one of the couples that helped build it was embracing down at the base.

Embrace 2014


Photo Information

  • Date Taken
  • CameraILCE-7R
  • Camera MakeSony
  • Exposure Time0.3
  • Aperture5.6
  • ISO2000
  • Focal Length24.0 mm
  • FlashOff, Did not fire
  • Exposure ProgramAperture-priority AE
  • Exposure Bias

Burning Man PhotoWalk!

Burning Man PhotoWalk Details

Check This Event for the latest info. That is where I will keep everything updated, as this blog post may be old news at some point!

Burning Man PhotoWalk! Tuesday, Aug 26, 7 PM ! :)

An amazing event! It gets bigger every year, and this one will be very special! Anyone is welcome. All skill levels with any kind of camera from DSLRs to Mobile Phones. It’s a super-family-friendly event, so feel free to come and bring some friends!

Location: Center Camp (just outside of Center Camp in the direction of The Man MAP
Day and Time: Tuesday evening at 7 PM.
Hashtag for event: #BMPhotowalk2014
Prizes: Something special from CameraPunk ! and maybe more!

For this photowalk, we’ll have a special theme: Self-Expression. Naturally, you can take photos of everything, and I’ll be giving instruction, tips, tricks, etc etc… but for the prize, when you post your photos, I’ll be choosing a random photo that best exemplifies this theme. This is gonna be great… I’m really looking forward to meeting everyone! 

Some Favorites!

Here are some of my favorite Burning Man photos! You can see the whole Burning Man Album here on SmugMug!

Daily Photo – The Lady of the Sands

Here's the first photo I took at Burning Man last year, and it's still one of my favorites. When the occasional sandstorms come, a lot of people go take cover, but that's when I go out to take cool photos! It adds all the depth and mystery that is really there, I think.

The Lady of the Sands

Photo Information

  • Date Taken
  • CameraNEX-6
  • Camera MakeSony
  • Exposure Time1/4000
  • Aperture5.6
  • ISO100
  • Focal Length20.0 mm
  • FlashOff, Did not fire
  • Exposure ProgramAperture-priority AE
  • Exposure Bias-1

Burning Man 2013

Full Burning Man Album

You can visit the Full Burning Man album here on SmugMug. (BTW, isn’t the new SmugMug so cool? Check out my updated SmugMug Review right here for more.) I keep adding to it, and I’ve front-loaded the portfolio there with mostly new photos from 2013. This is my own little personal artistic contribution to Burning Man… I still have many more photos to edit and I will of course share them here on the blog as well.

Photo Equipment in the Desert – Questions?

Would people like to see me do a longer post about photography equipment handling in these crazy conditions? I’ve heard a few questions about this… but not sure if it is something everyone wants to know about. I’m happy to write more about it… just let me know! As for these photos below, these were all shot with the Sony NEX system… For newcomers, see my Sony NEX-7 Review here on the site.

Post-processing the Burning Man photos and Lightroom Presets?

This is a common question! If you enjoy the style of some of the photos below, you might want to grab some of my Lightroom Presets – they are here on the site in the Get Cool Stuff area.

Burning Man 2013

This is my fourth burn in a row, and this time I brought my wife and 12-year-old son. We camped with one of my best friends Cliff Baise and his wife + 12 year-old son. You can see him below as the alien, and, no, he doesn’t normally look like that. We were also right by my good friends Curtis Simmons and his wife, who were first-timers along with our wives… so it was fun to have so many “virgins” out there!

Wait, what IS Burning Man, anyway, I hear you wondering. It’s a magical event in the desert every year where over 50,000 artists, musicians, and explorers come together to build a temporary city that is just on the other side of reality.

We had an amazing time, and I can see all the questions forming now… WHAT? You brought a 12-year-old to Burning Man? Yes, oh yes. I’ll tell that full story soon. In the meantime, here are a few of my favorite photos from the event this year.

Burning Man Photo

Burning Man Photo

Burning Man Photo

Burning Man Photo

Burning Man Photo

Burning Man Photo

Burning Man Photo

Burning Man Photo

Burning Man Photo

Burning Man Photo

Burning Man Photo


Who wants to go next year? :)

Burning Man PhotoWalk

PhotoWalk in Block Rock City!

See the updated event here on Google+!

This will be A M A Z I N G ! I can’t wait to walk around the desert with all of you and see what there is to be seen and see beyond that. Come alone or bring a friend (no worries, you’ll make new friends too!) — we will have a great time.

When: 6 PM on Wednesday Aug 28.
Where: Outside of Center Camp – between Center Camp and The Man

Are you just a beginner with a small camera or mobile phone? No worries – you are more than welcome! :) This is a very friendly group, and we will walk around for a few hours through the sunset and see where the winds take us. Just look for me and Cliff Baise… we’ll be there and ready to go! :)

Burning Man Portfolio

Below is a link to my new grouping of Burning Man shots on SmugMug… there are many new ones in there you might enjoy!

HDR Photo

More Burning Man Shots – and a Calendar for Charity!

New Calendar for Charity

Are you a fan of fantasy fiction? Some amazing authors have gotten together to create this fantasy pin-up calendar for Worldbuilders, a great effort by a very inspirational author, Patrick Rothfuss.

Go buy the calendar here!

For our 2013 calendar, we’ve teamed up with some of the best authors in the fantasy genre: Peter S. Beagle, Ray Bradbury, Patricia Briggs, Jim Butcher, Jacqueline Carey, Neil Gaiman, Charlaine Harris, Robin Hobb, N.K. Jemisin, George R. R. Martin, Terry Pratchett, and Patrick Rothfuss.

Here’s a little screengrab from something I put on Pinterest… where I cropped the photos in that fun cropping factor. Also, I just found out that the first image there is actually a real person – Clare Grant, who I hung out with at a shuttle launch last year. I found this out when she re-pinned it to her board that included photos of her…

More Burning Man Pics

Remember, to see all the Burning Man pics published so far, click on the “Burning Man” category at the bottom of the post! :)

I added a few captions below each one…

Burning Man Photo

Leah Muse (random model-girl roaming the playa) slinks around the temple in the morning light. Yes, this kind of awesome stuff happens all the time at Burning Man.


Burning Man Photo

One of hundreds of unique pieces of art that emerges in the desert every year. These all look one way in the day, and completely different at night. In fact, this one looks so different at night that I was convinced I had never seen it before!


Burning Man Photo

These stars were laid out in an unusual configuration in the deep playa. I could not figure it out, until I realized these three stars formed Orion’s Belt.


Burning Man Photo

An evil bunny is stalking a rather friendly looking bunny.


Burning Man Photo

A baby unicorn. But this is obvious.


Across the White Playa

Here’s a new series of photos from Burning Man this year. I put captions below each one so you can find out more about what is going on…

Burning Man Photo

One morning I rode out to the main temple to watch the sunrise. Clouds are fairly rare out there, so I was hoping for some nice color situations, but I didn’t expect anything quite this colorful!


Burning Man Photo

That giant pirate ship in the background is actually a huge vehicle that rolls from camp to camp. In the foreground are two of the many people that walk around in the middle of the day with ornate umbrellas.


Burning Man Photo

A fire dancer performs in front of one of the many art displays that is set to burn in just a few hours or so.


Burning Man Photo

I was stuck in the middle of the desert just when a massive sandstorm enveloped everything. I made very slow progress towards my destination. Finally, after about ten minutes of sand-blindness, it opened up a little to reveal the towering Anubis here.


Burning Man Photo

This is the ornate entrance to the gypsy wagon. You can see how ornate and detailed the patterns and lighting is across the facade. And don’t you want to go inside and see what kind of characters have magically appeared?


Burning Man Photos and New Workshop Schedule

Upcoming Photography Workshops

I really don’t do these very often, but it was getting confusing so we made a page that showed what, when, and where! It’s over on the Photography Workshops page, and I have pasted it below for you. Maybe we should have a punch-card like Subway where you get a free cookie if you come to 10 events! Hehe… we do have one gentleman that has appeared at a few of them and we may see him again! :)

Photography Workshops

Location & Date Workshop Registration
Queenstown, NZ
February 7 – 10, 2013
New Zealand Photo Adventure
5 Days with Trey Ratcliff in a non-stop photography adventure… 3 nights in Queenstown and 1 in Milford Sound.
Contact us for Pricing

Learn more and Register now

Christchurch, NZ
December 6, 2012
Trey’s Christchurch Workshop
Trey Ratcliff will lead a day-long class with an emphasis on post-processing photos.
$499 USD
 $99 USD Kiwis (Hi Neighbors!)
 $49 USD NZIPP Member
 $49 USD NZ StudentsLearn more and Register now
Paris, France
November 8 -9, 2012
Midnight in Paris
Miss Aniela and Trey Ratcliff thought it would be exciting to combine her dramatic fine art photography with his epic landscapes into an intense hands-on photoshoot experience and workshop. They will share their secrets of how they envision, prepare, shoot, and process their photos.
€1,190 EUR per person

Learn more and Register now

Online Webinar
August, 2012
Discover the Art of Photography
Four part tutorial covering the fundamentals of how a camera operates, properly composing a photo, finding your artistic style and basic photo editing. Perfect for Beginning and Intermediate photographers!
Sold out!

Learn more and Buy recorded copy

Online Webinar
April, 2011
HDR Tutorial
Webinar covers HDR and many other innovative post-processing techniques. There are over 11 hours of instruction across 9 classes covering topics for beginners and moving into intermediate and advanced topics.
Sold out!

Learn more and Buy recorded copy

HDR and Post-processing workshop Sold out!
HDR and Post-processing workshop Sold out!
HDR and Post-processing workshop Sold out!

Burning Man 2012

Here are a bunch of photos I took at Burning Man a few weeks ago. I put little captions below each one so you can read more about the situation there.

Burning Man Photo

An angel floats above the scene as she glides near center camp. People look up at her as she floats by and she always seems to be waving in slow motion.


Burning Man Photo

Night at Burning Man is a bit like a Massive Multiplayer Online Game. Everyone is in costume, the lights are not of-this-earth, and the entire feeling is that of a parallel universe.


Burning Man Photo

Near the temple, a masked figure assumes strange positions, orienting herself in a particular position in relation to the sun.


Burning Man Photo

There are countless gatherings about this and that. This one comes from the Million Bunny March, where thousands of bunnies got together in a protest against humanity.


Burning Man Photo

A mobile “Home” on wheels is pulled across the playa by a tractor. People sit on the front porch and enjoy a nice cool drink.


Burning Man Photo

While I was at the temple one morning, I saw this girl watching the sunrise nearby me. I asked if I could take a photo. She immediately posed. I found out later, to no great surprise, that she was a model – her name is Eden Muse.


Sunken Ghost Ship in the Desert

Interview on Australian TV

I was on Channel 7 a few days ago in Australia – here is the clip :)

Backup Camera for Burning Man

My main camera I use nowadays is the Nikon D800, and I was a bit afraid to take that out into the desert. Instead, I took out my Nikon D3S to get some of these shots. It’s one of the six different cameras I used at Burning Man this year. I didn’t get much dust at all inside the camera… but I also never changed the lens or used it too much in sandstorms…

Daily Photo – Sunken Ghost Ship in the Desert

This year, they added to the end of the dock – a sunken Spanish Galleon, which has all the little authentic touches that I’ve come to expect from this crew. See all the rigging? It was even done by the woman who did all the rigging for The Black Pearl for Pirates of the Caribbean.

While I set up for this photo, a woman in a dress with lights inside came by with her well-dressed man. They stopped to look out across the desert while I took this photo….

Burning Man Ship Dock

Sunken Ghost Ship in the Desert

Photo Information

  • Date Taken
  • Camera
  • Camera Make
  • Exposure Time
  • Aperture
  • ISO
  • Focal Length
  • Flash
  • Exposure Program
  • Exposure Bias

Burning Man Camera Trivia – Which Camera Took What Shot?

New eBook – The Beauty of Ambiguity

I have written a new eBook called The Beauty of Ambiguity! This extended, new piece will help you to better understand your own concepts of beauty and how it can be explored through your photography.

I also decided to make it an anthology of sorts, so I included updated versions of the most popular how-to stories like “9 Tips for your HDR Brain to Consider” to “HDR: It’s About the Light,” and I also revisited and expanded some of my popular long-form pieces, like the Chernobyl story.

Enjoy! We’ve been busy publishing new books over there, so be sure to check out the many other Flatbooks authors while there!

Answers to the Trivia

I have the answers here in the variety hour! Jump ahead to 30:30 where I describe the photos and the cameras with which they were shot.

The Camera Doesn’t Matter

I’ll go ahead and state my premise here from the outset.

I believe this is the best time ever for you to get into photography, and I expect my little trivia contest below will prove that a camera that is only a few hundred dollars (like the Olympus Tough) can take photos as interesting as one for a few thousand dollars (like the Nikon D3S) or even one that is tens of thousands of dollars (like the Phase One). There are so many cameras out there, but I try to boil it down to the good/better/best on the Camera Reviews page here on the site.

Hardcore gear-head photographers will get VERY ANGRY at the statement above, but I’d like to see how they do on the trivia test below!

I used many different cameras at Burning Man – everything from one that cost a few hundred dollars to something that costs tens of thousands of dollars. Sometimes, I didn’t feel like carrying around a giant medium format camera or a DSLR, and I just wanted to be handy and quick with a little handheld consumer camera like the Olympus or the Pentax.

The Methodology

For all the photos below, I stripped out all the metadata (I think) and made them all the same resolution (4000 pixels wide or high with various crops) so that would not give away any clues as to the camera that made them.

Also note that I have processed all these photos. Look, I can’t help it… This isn’t a pure lab situation… but life is not a pure lab situation. In some cases, I’ve even used Lightroom to add grain back into the photo. That will make your job even more difficult. I didn’t make Lightroom adjustments to make the trivia harder – I just did this style of post-processing on each photo because I thought it was kind of beautiful. And see that one I put in there with the spiral of fire? I DID put that one there just to mess with you a bit.

Anyway, I’ve never made any apologies about my love of hardcore post-processing. I think the photo itself is just the beginning, and then the real magic happens when I can bend the light to my will later.

In that sense, I really quite like this trivia contest. Since I’m not alone in my love of post-processing, it makes an even stronger case that the camera with which you initially capture the light is a smaller and smaller part of the equation. The bigger part of the equation is you, yourself – your personality, your tools, and how you choose to use them on any given day.

Trey’s Lightroom Presets

All of the photos below were simply edited in Lightroom. I used the newly released Trey’s Lightroom Presets in case you want to play with them yourself. I thought I’d get that little plug in there… hope you don’t mind. :)

The Cameras

Here are the cameras I used:
A – The Olympus Tough TG-1 – $369
B – The Pentax Optio WG-2 – $299
C – The Pentax K-01 – $546
D – The Sony NEX-7 – $1348
E – The Nikon D3S (closest Adorama link) – $4499 (note that I kept my Nikon D800 in the trailer the whole time and never used it… )
F – The Phase One (closest Adorama link) – Over $10,000

ANSWERS (Spoiler!):

1 – F
2 – A
3 – C
4 – B
5 – D
6 – E

The Photos

And here are the 6 final photos with the six different cameras. I put little captions under each one to give you a bit of context for the story…

HDR Photo

While riding by on my bike, I saw these three dancers-al-fresco enjoying the sun. It seemed to be the sort of thing that was interesting and just begging for a photograph, and, well, you can see what happened. And no, none of this was posed… it just happened.


HDR Photo

In the middle of the pink party, this girl was at center camp with pink ears and her dust cover. She was a very pretty bunny, so I gave her the international eyebrow-sign of “is it okay to take a photo?” and she lit up happily.


HDR Photo

On the night the man burned, 60,000 people crowded around the bonfire of mammoth proportions. Photographers did anything they could to see over the crowd, including this enterprising photographer-wizard.


HDR Photo

A girl rides in front of the most wonderful truck I’ve ever seen. Do you know the history behind it?


HDR Photo

On the night of the temple burn, millions of burning embers filled the sky like golden dust from the heavens. I aimed my camera up and twisted it with the beat of nearby music.


HDR Photo

There are over a hundred art-cars that roam the desert during the day and night. You can get on any one at any time and it will pick you up at a random place and drop you off at another. This little gypsy car was one of my favorites, and the music that flowed out of it was eclectic and relaxing.


Sample Answer (probably not right)

Photo 1 – B
Photo 2 – F
Photo 3 – D
Photo 4 – A
Photo 5 – C
Photo 6 – E

(And you can add some of your thoughts below your answer too if you would like to ruminate on one thing versus another!)

The Answer

I’ll give the final answer in one week after the initial posting…

Welcome to STUCK IN CUSTOMS Welcome to my travel photography blog!
Enjoy the daily photos, tips, tutorials & more!
Newsletter Sign Up
The Most Beautiful Newsletter Ever!