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The story behind the shot: Experimenting with light in the Sahara

A Light in the Dark, Morocco. 2010 Photo Contest Finalist: Autumn DeLellis

Our latest installment in the Story Behind the Shot series comes to us from the Sahara in Morocco.  Autumn DeLellis, a professional photographer from Greensburg, Pennsylvania, describes how she captured this unique moment with “the manual push of the flash.” Shot during our Morocco Photography Expedition, this photo earned her a place among our 2011 Photo Contest Finalists.

The Photographer: I decided to join National Geographic on the Morocco expedition to hone my skills in shooting, which was a dream come true. I began shooting photography at the age of 17 with an old Minolta film camera, which was older than I was. Six years ago, I opened my own photography studio. I absolutely love to shoot people. I have a passion for photojournalism as well, especially when I can incorporate raw emotion into it. So, naturally, National Geographic has always been one of my benchmarks for success. My life and passion is photography, and being chosen as a finalist for this competition was an extremely proud moment in my career.

The Expedition: Morocco Photography Expedition

The Shot: A Light in the Dark

The Story Behind the Shot: We had just spent the most amazing day in the Sahara riding camels into the sand dunes and photographing the sunset. We rode back to the Berber camps, arriving at the tail end of dusk, with just a bit of light on the horizon. The camels were resting from the trek, and everyone was preparing for dinner. My fellow traveler Andree and I saw an amazing opportunity to capture a unique shot. I dashed to my tent to grab my flash from the camera bag because I wanted a backlit highlight around the camel for some definition, instead of the traditional silhouette that you commonly see. I hadn’t packed my wireless remote to trigger the flash though, so I had to think creatively. I knew if I slowed down the shutter speed slow enough, I could time out a manual push of the flash at the same time the shutter would be open, in order to record the burst of light. However there were no other photographers in my group present that were able to hold and “fire” the flash on my cue, so I asked one of the Moroccan Berber guides that was with us to help me out. At this point, I had only minutes of light left in the sky for a miraculous photograph, so I was rushing this process. I placed the flash in the hands of this man, showed him the button to push, and asked him to hit it on the count of three. With a shutter speed of 1 second long, we would need to time it just right. The first try didn’t work, but on the second try we counted aloud together, timed it perfectly, and created a magical photo that remains my favorite of the entire trip.

The Camera: Nikon D300S

The Most Memorable Moment of the Trip: I think it would have to be either the day of this shot, watching the sun set over the dunes with all of my fellow travelers. Or possibly the final day when I went shooting with just a few members of our group, including photographer Massimo Bassano, very casually exploring the labyrinth of streets in Fes. We just let ourselves get lost for hours discovering and exploring through the lens.

Morocco is a great choice to travel if you like to be challenged and inspired at the same time. There are a thousand clicks of the shutter in every direction you turn that will excite your photography senses. Pack light on the clothing to save room for your extra favorite lens and equipment!

The Most Valuable Photo Tip/Lesson Learned from the National Geographic photographer: Massimo Bassano was able to inspire me by his excitement for photography. I wanted to learn how to become better at photojournalism, and capture emotional images of a country that was the complete opposite of my daily life. Massimo really pushed me to think outside the box, and photograph in a way that is unique. He helped me to imagine that I was on location shooting for National Geographic magazine, and my goal was to push myself to try to capture an image that is “magazine cover” quality.


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  1. Everything coming from NatGeo and spectacular!
    I love all the material that you’re doing!

    Posted by symone | May 20, 2011, 5:59 pm

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