“Have you ever been to Bodie?” The calls and emails have been coming in since my bud RC posted some of his images from his recent trip there with Bill Fortney’s workshop. Since we live not too far from the State Park, it’s a reasonable question. Until you head to Photography > The Bodie Series tag above and you see I have. I even wrote a book about the town (never published) and ran a workshop there for years in the early 90′s. But my relationship with the town goes back to 1900.
No, I’m not that old but at times you wouldn’t know it. My grandfather’s cousin was the superintendent at the Standard Mine from 1900-1902 which is why my family first started to come to the Eastside. My mom came to Bodie when she was a little girl when the town was still a inhabited town. So I grew up visiting Bodie before and after it became a state park to the present day. Back in the early ’90s when doing the workshop in Bodie, I was very fortunate to meet some of the surviving citizens of early day Bodie like the Bells. It’s not a real stretch saying Bodie is in the blood.
Naturally, photographers are interested in Bodie as a subject and for good reason. It’s a great subject even if you’re only seeing 15% of the town. The rest has been lost to fire and time. When it comes to photographing Bodie, my favorite time is in August when the summer thunderheads dominant the sky and in October when the light is spectacular no matter the skies. One of the photographic problems about Bodie is it is a state park so there are operational hours which aren’t really photographer friendly. Are there ways around this? Also, once in Bodie you can’t help but look inside the windows to an era gone by.
I’ve not ventured into a building in Bodie since I had keys to the town back in the early ’90s. To say things have changed is a vast understatement! I’ve been told but do not know for fact but you can pay a fee, in the hundreds of dollars and gain access to the town and interiors. The question many pose of me is, “Is it worth it?” Having a personal history with the town, to me I never turn down an opportunity to visit it. As a photographer, I don’t have the same response. When the end game is to capture a gorgeous images, Bodie is like any location where timing is everything. Light is great and there is no finer place then Bodie. When it comes to interiors, I simply don’t have a ying or yang to provide you. Back in the day, I spent all my time in the interiors shooting with scrims on the windows and a little flash fill. I’m told you can’t do that anymore which just leaves HDR to make the most of the light. You look at my parents photos of the interiors and than mine of the 90′s and than now and it’s changed a lot! I love Bodie and if you have the opportunity to visit it with your camera, do so! Just keep in mind it’s like any location, light is everything. And yes, there are ghosts in this living ghost town!
One aspect of Bodie I always enjoyed was the evenings and night. This is when the town would be all ours again, the tourists were gone with the park being closed (this is when I would find the thieves though which got old). We decided to do star trails and what you see here is the progression over the first year. The star trail exposure was the easy part. The exterior and interior lighting was the tricky part. You can see how it got better over time with the bottom frame of the Boone Store being the best. The technique from then would not be how I would do it today except for the lighting method. It is all flash, lighting painting with flash. I would walk around and just hit the open flash button. Today it would be much easier to do with the Pocket Wizards, TTL and LCD. That’s if you could do it because like any tourist, I’m kicked out long before sunset these days.
Well, I hope you’ve enjoyed learning a little bit about your heritage and how to photograph it. Keep in mind everything from this week was done with film and no Photoshop. It does show you the possibilities by using old fashion photography craft. I hope that I’ve given you a little bug to “Go West Young Man, Go West” and that some day I meet up with you on the streets of Bodie!
Since you can’t get up on the bluff, many look up from the town and see the water tower. Most assume it’s from the train that ran from Mono Mills to the bluff (it didn’t carry passenger, just tons of cords of wood). That tower is not for the train and if you’re like most, you won’t believe what it is for. But that water tower was for the first flush toilet in town. Yeap, all that water was to simply flush the two heads in the bottom floor!
This is the train office, not very glamorous, just a plain structure but if you’re in the right place in Bodie, you can see its roof line. What you can’t see anymore even where you’re on the bluff is the town that was on top of the bluff. Was it a big town? I don’t know that but I was present when there were digs on the bluff and they found the butcher shop and whore house foundation. I didn’t ever find much written material or photographs from up here but heard a couple of stories that always intrigued me. If you’re up at the train office bldg and you look southeast, you can see down in the ravine where Bodey first found gold and where is also died coming back one winter day with supplies to help out his sick partner. He never saw the riches nor fame his name sake town would produce.
The building in the foreground is the old ice house. You ever been to Bodie, you can’t imagine they had such a thing but with the Sierra snow pack, finding ice was real simple. Storing it was too with the Ice House which is full of sawdust and other primitive insulation. The roof top you see behind it was one of the well to do home of Bodie. Bodie had quite the high society back in the day living in grand homes, home paid for on the money made making money on those digging up the money. That part of the gold camp history has always fascinated me.
The Sway Back Barn (I can never remember the real name for this because we always called it that) is something I expect every time I visit to have finally fallen to the Sierra winters. Yet it persists. Both of these images demonstrate a favorite technique I rarely talk about. That’s combining the polarizer and split grad. That combination has always produced a drama in light on the verge of its own drama that I really like. You first rotate the polarizer to remove the refletion (blue) and then move the split grad into place to finish it off. Some folks like the effect, some don’t and not that I use it on every photo, I use it a lot in Bodie.
The Union Hotel is a favorite of mine, it is simply the old west personified! It is also a shadow of its former self. What many think is an awning is actually what’s left of the second story balcony where the well to do of Bodie would sit and watch life go by or stand and cheer on the 4th of July parade. Looking in the front window you can see the pool table I wrote about yesterday. And in the back, what you can see a slight hint of looking through the back window, are the transformers from the original electrical system. If you look from the back of the Union toward the cemetery, you can see a remnant of the old power poles. Back in the day, they were concerned electricity would jump the line if it weren’t straight. So they made a straight line from Green Creek Power Plant to the back of the Union. The funny thing is, the power line went up and down hills. Guess electricity doesn’t jump the line going that way. Keep in mind, this is the location for the first transmission on the planet.
Photographing the Union is think is best either with the August thunderstorms as you see above or in October. The drama in the light in August with the storms (enhanced with a split grad) is hard to ignore. The mellow, late afternoon light in October is so romantic, everything looks good. Shooting wide to exaggerate that angles works well. I have gone to Bodie with the 24PC and tried to “clean” up the angles but you know, nothing in Bodie is even close to plum so when you shoot it plum, it just looks wrong. But following the light is the key, it makes the old town just shine!
Bodie was a huge town back in the day. It had the second largest population of Chinse in the US at the time. It is really hard to imagine the size of the town unless you get up on the bluff and look down. Knowing this, I went up un the bluff but as you saw on the first day’s blog, that really didn’t do much. So I took another approach. What you see here is the Main Street and what appears to be a lot of buildings all jammed up together. What you see here is what they call the Miners Union Hall down to the Boone Store. When you go to Bodie you’ll see how much topography that covers but in this view, it looks packed. When the head ranger at the time saw this photo, he said jokingly he. Was going to cite me for moving he buildings. How did I create this illusion? It was two fold. First I used the 800f/5.6 with the 1.4x and walked way down the road. Next, it shot at first light to take advantage of the hard shadows to fill in the holes. Lastly I went up the hill to look “down” on it. It was effective, the photo being used by the Park for may years to tell the story of the town.
That old Dodge parked on Main has quiet story and this is how I remember it. It is originally from Bodie and was sent to Folsom Prison to be restored. In 1981, it was in the Bridgeport 4th of July parade with Bodie employees dressed as Bodie Ghosts (see, they exist). Now a days it sits outside of the Boone Store basically rusting back to its former self. It is parked in front of the gas pumps so lends itself to being photographed. If I had a nickle for every bad HDR of the truck, I wouldn’t have to write the blog anymore! This is a single click but you might be asking about the sky. This is a typical August afternoon thunderstorm with extra drama added with a split grid. When the clouds start to turn black, I look for a foreground that still has light on it and click like mad.
The funeral home, it sucks everyone in and why not, it’s just bloody cool. This is child casket and as you saw in yesterday posting, children died in Bodie. Now the location of the funeral home on the corner of Green and Main, thats always been an intersting question. When i talked to mu mom about it, she said there was no funeral home next door to where they ate lunch. When I asked Lester Bell, he just raised his eyebrows and smirked so you figure it out. The lighting is pretty basic, it’s the diffusion flat on the outside. Its simple, effective and predictable and that’s perfect.
One question I always get asked is, “Our there ghosts in Bodie?” I’ve heard a ton a stories about ghosts from China Rose to the one armed mill worker. Bodie is ghost town, it’s on the website so if the government says it’s a ghost town, there must be ghost. Are there ghosts in the cemetery or the funeral home? I have no comment.
so once you’re inside how do you know what to point your lens at? Ever had that problem, got something special , unique with the clock ticking and the real possibility you will not have it again? Well that how’s I thought about every interior shoot. I knew I would be back (until that last shoot at the end of the workshop) but I still went in with that thought. So how did I pick a subject? I went for the light. Now since I was teaching, I either was working with a student and making their shot better or shooting over and around them or setting up a shot as a lesson. That’s what we have here.
The top photo is the old globe in the school house. You use to be able to see and photograph it through the window. Last time I was at Bodie it had been moved which struck me funny since the rule was you could not touch or move anything when working inside. Well as you can see the light on the globe is killer, a soft shading giving the globe that curved look. You can see the continents even if you look hard. You can also see in the window a little of the diffusion flat on the outside. I was set up for another shot a student was doing on another on object. I just took advantage of it for the globe
the pool table is a totally different lighting method. The shot was done after the sun was gone so there was no need for the diffusion flat. But I wanted the gradations of the light to give visual depth and shape to the pool table. Shooting with the 20mm, you can see the shape I wanted to the table. Picking this angle though brought into play more shadows then I wanted. Also the color was rather cool, I wanted it warmer. Keep in mind this was shot on film, what you see is what was shot, there is no Photoshop, the craftsmanship had to be there from the start. So who then did I clean up the shadows and warm up the light. If you said felled flash, you would be on the right track but wrong answer. I you thought a lot of telling was part of the answer, you’d be right. Yelling? Yeah, we’d covered one of the diffusion flats with a gold reflector, a 6×3′ flat and had it outside and a ways away to grab the last ray of sun to bounce it into the room. The folks working the flat couldn’t see its effect in the room so had to yell so they hear me on how to move the flat. I was very pleased with the final result and it was a great lesson on grabbing and using light.
The one thing many visitors and photographers wonder about is all the antiquities, stuff that’s inside the buildings. Now there are a whole lot of stories why that stuff is there, from official to rumors to known facts. And as you might guess, I have my own combination of those. For example I know my mom came to Bodie many times before it was a park, walked through many a building that were empty then and full now. I remember the public being asked to return items they removed from Bodie. And there is there story of how the town was being put in quarantine so folks took off one night leaving their belongings behind. No matter the reason, the interiors are a photographic treasure trove. Most of it though is beyond most folks reach, behind glass. During my time though running the workshop, we had full access to the interiors which was one of the best lessons on light you can find.
There is a lighting difference between these two photos and to me it’s pretty dramatic. Can YOU see the difference? More importantly, do you know why there is a difference? It is the oldest lighting trick in the box but it think that book has been lost. The photo at the top is light coming in from the window and flash fill on the left. Why the light is satisfactory, it doesn’t have the same feel or romance as the light in the bottom photo. That’s because the light on the bottom is all light streaming in from the window but……you knew there was a but coming. The light is diffused by two large diffusion flats OUTSIDE the windows! The sun is directly hitting those flats (what we used are long discontinued so I’d use Lastolite panels now) and the flats scattered the light coming in. That light wraps around the piano and stool and while the background is kinda boring because they didn’t do much with them back in the day, the light is sexy as he’ll and that’s what really matters. And that’s a technique I use to this day and it works great!
Yeap, this is where my great cousin would work. Right off the table room. I can’t imagine the noise! This was the dark hole of China! I wanted a photo of it. There is no such thing as HDR for Fuji 100 and in fact, you had to watch your exposure time. So how did I light this? The F4e is on a tripod with 20f2.8AF. The exposure was 15sec at f/5.6 During those 15sec, I popped the SB-24 three times at full power. How did I know that was the right exposure (because film cameras didn’t have LCDs)? I took one exposure with the flash attached to the camera and I watched the readily light. I got my base exposure from the scale on the flash, closed down 1 more stop and saw my ready light blink. I then simply took the flash off camera and popped it three times, moving the flash each pop. Simple.
This is the machine shop in the mill, this is some place you’re not going to go on the tour. What you’re looking at here is a giant drill press, pretty damn impressive. What we take for granted these days is how the hell they got this monster to Bodie. It came in pieces, put on wagons and driven 300 miles from Carson City, NV to Bodie. What seems like a monster task to us was all in a days work back then.
Back then, I didn’t take before and after photos for teaching. Didn’t know about blogs back in the early 90′s. What you’re seeing here of course is the after shot. The flash bouncing off a silver reflector on the right just looks like light bouncing around. You don’t know about the shadow being filled in and how bad the shadow was. I did a lot of single flash, bounce off something photography. The main light was the diffused light coming in the windows and then I would fill in with flash. It’s the same basic technique I use to this day when there is only me and I have a big space to light. I used the 20f2.8AF to take the photo. If I had the opportunity to do this today (I don’t) I would be shooting a heck of a lot with the 24PC. The tilt really bugs me.
This is what it was all about! At the top of the frame you can see the 40 stamps on the Standard Mill. They went up and down smashing the gravel to loosen the gold which would then come down the table. Once on the table, they would pour Mercury on the pulverized material because the gold would stick to the Mercury. All the rest of the material would flush down through the system. Then, the mercury/gold was taken to a room where the Mercury was heated and boiled off leaving the gold. Life expectancy for these works wasn’t very long. This was a very inefficient gold recovery method. It was a hard life.
Photographically, the photo was pretty simple, at least when the thunderstorms are going through. You can take a tour of the Mill so you can get to this location inside. In August when we have the afternoon thunderstorms, they bounce the light in the windows lighting really nicely. If you look at the photo long enough you might wonder where that light in the right foreground is coming from. That’s flash, an old SB-24 bouncing off the wall behind me. I’m in rear curtain sync and using the light to simply even out the light in the room so the end can travel wherever it wants to. This is a photo you can take while on the tour if you plan.
When I first visited Bodie, the angle had its wings. Today I hear it’s worst then what is pictured here. When my mom visited Bodie in the 40′s, Ella Cain was selling many of the artifacts that were left in the town (since the Cain family owned the whole town back then). Since 1969 it has been protected but that hasn’t stop theft and vandalism which is sad. One time I busted two folks coming out of the Hoover House with a bunch of stuff they thought they should take back with them. While they were written up by the ranger, nothing came of it. My point? This is a place where photographers need to set the standard, be part of the solution and not part of the problem. If the sign says stay out, stay out! Respect what is left so it will be there tomorrow for the next photographer. Take your time, wait for the folks to go buy, enjoy the location and wait for the light. You’ll be surprised what you’ll learn. Like read the grave marker here, this is where a 3yr little girl is buried. Bodie and the times where hard!
The Hoover House, yeap, that’s my great cousin. My grandfather came up to see him while he ran the Standard Mill 1900 – 1902 which is why my family first start visiting the eastside. Hoover, that name might ring a bell with you. No, not the vacuum guy, the president guy. Yeap, this is Hubert Hoover’s brother. He left Bodie to start the school of mines at Stanford.M/p>
This building is located literally right in front of the Standard Mill. Today it is hard to understand what that means. My mom told me that when she came to Bodie as a little girl, the constant noise of the stamp mill could be deafening at times. Having your home right in front a 40 stamp mill, I can’t imagine how you’d have a conversation. I interviewed Lester Bell back in the 90′s and he told me that as long as the folks heard those stamps, they knew everything was ok because gold was being processed.
You can walk right up to the Hoover House so making this photo is real simple. With that white picket fence, I waited until the sun had left the house but was still on the hillside (you can see it on the bluff in the left corner). I did that because I didn’t want the white fence, which is the closet item, to be brighter then the house itself. I shot with a polarizer because I wanted the blue sky reflection removed from the side of the building. What does that mean? I wanted that great warm, Sierra tanned brown to come out in the wood and the polarizer removes the blue reflection coming from the sky. Remember, this is a straight scan from the the film. What you see is what I saw and captured. Oh, was there underexposure? This is Moose here, what do you think?
Bodie State Historic Park is simply an amazing piece of our history! It’s actually part of my family history. There seems to be an incredibly number of photographers coming up to the eastside this summer and rightfully so, heading to Bodie. It is in my backyard and a location I’ve been visiting since 1959. My family goes back in the town to 1900. So to say we have a little history there is putting it mildly. With so many folks coming up, with many asking me for suggestions, I thought I’d blog a little bit about it.
Back in the early 90′s, I was co-leader in a workshop series that taught at Bodie. During that time, I literally had the keys to the town and with the workshop, had access you normally can’t have. I even wrote a book on Bodie (never published) so I have a little insight in the town to share. I went through the thousands of images I have of Bodie, looking at what I should share and how I can help photographically and this is what I came up with. I scanned in 35mm images from the early ninties to illustrate the week. I did that because what you see is what I saw and captured. The images are straight scans, there is no Photoshop applied like I do to “modern” landscapes. You could easily call it all, old fashion photography. The reason? I wanna talk history and light and using them both to preserve part of our heritage. So here we go!
When you enter Bodie, all you’re seeing is about 15% of the original town. The hospital, racetrack and nearly the entire west end of town is now empty meadow. Two fires took out the majority of the town. The photo is looking down on the Cain House from up on Bodie Bluff. You can’t get up to the top of the bluff, that’s closed to the public. Shot with a 800f5.6 with a 1.4x just as the sun shot over the bluff (you look hard, you can see my shadow as I was jumping during the shot). This is really the key to shooting at Bodie, waiting for the light. No matter the time of day, the time of year, there is photography to be had if you just work the light.
Bodie during its day was the technological hub of the world! You wouldn’t guess that today looking at it in its “arrested state of decay,” but a lot of what we enjoy today like transmitted electricity was done first at Bodie. Hopefully I’ve caught your attention and grabbed your imagination and you’ll come back all week as we explore this treasure.