Places - Documentary ( United States of America )

The Story.


I have always admired the beauty of the United States. As a small child, I would watch American movies, while dreaming of the day I could visit these places. 15 years later, photography made this dream a reality.

 

31 Oct – Las Vegas
21:30pm
My videographer and I landed at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, on Halloween night, after 19 sleepless hours, 2 connecting flights, and a rushed drive from our office in Kaiserslautern to the airport in Frankfurt. Here, in Sin City, is where we would meet our friend and talented filmmaker Eric Clayborn.

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As much as we all wanted to partake in the amazing time that Vegas always provides, we had a date with an Arizona sunrise in only 9 hours. The problem however, was that the location was six and a half hours away.
This meant that we had only a couple hours to pick up our bags, rental car, some drinks, snacks, (and of course an In-N-Out burger) and hit the road to make the sunrise.

23:00pm
The Mercedes V-Class van that Sixt loaned us was surprisingly comfortable. It allowed two of us to sleep in the rear while the other drove. We each took a shift trying our best to make good time, and get any amount of sleep we could. Our first sunrise would be captured in Monument Valley National Park.

 

1 Nov – Monument Valley
05:30 am
We arrived at Monument Valley just as the sky was turning from pitched black to a deep purplish blue. We knew we had one more hour prior to sunrise, so we used it sneak in a last few minutes of sleep, and to set up our gear for the shots of the breaking sun.
06:30
As the sun began to rise from behind the horizon, we had much more cloud cover than we would have liked, but this cleared after about 15 minutes. Even though we did not get the scene we were expecting, I was still extremely impressed how huge and wide open the rock formation was. It was a breathtaking view. I set my tripod and cameras in two different locations, and got as many different compositions as I could in the short time the sun was rising.

 

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08:30
After getting the shots I needed from Monument Valley, we started packing up and headed out for Moab Utah. After only a few hours outside of the car, we were back on the road for another 6 hour drive.
16:30
After a few stops along the way for a few miscellaneous shots (like the long straight highway going into Monument Valley) and some arches going into Moab, we arrived in Utah and checked into our hotel. After unpacking the van, our main mission was food. And luckily there was a BBQ restaurant right across the street. I could have spent the next two weeks in this restaurant, in this booth, eating this food, but I would probably have died from forgetting to breathe. I can’t overstate how much I love American BBQ.

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18:30
After our early dinner, we all were happy to get back to the hotel, black out all of the windows, throw our batteries on the chargers, and fall asleep for as long as our bodies needed. We didn’t have to be back on the road until 04:30. At this point (minus a few hours of sleep in the van) we had all been up for well over 36 hours.

 

2 Nov – Mesa Arch
03:30
It turned out that 3am was all of our bodies magic number. So, we got up, showered, and were right on time to get back on the road.
05:30
We arrived at our next location, Mesa Arch, expecting to have to jump out of the car and fight for a position in front of the main Arch before the sun rose, since this is a very popular photography location. We were happily surprised when we saw that we were the first and only ones there. This allowed us almost an hour more of staying warm in the van, before the next car full of shooters arrived.
06:30
We made our way from the van with a short hike down to the arch just as the other group of photogs arrived. We had our pick of location which eventually became surrounded by more than 50 other shooters. Because it’s proper etiquette to not set up in front of other shooters, we had established the line of which everyone was to stay behind. Many commented on how perfect the framing was at this distance.

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7:30
As the sun rose beyond the vast desert floor of table tops and canyons, everyone raced to get the elusive shot of the underside of the arch glowing from the suns bright orange light. We continued to shoot well after others left, so that we could get more video footage without distraction.
10:00
After we finished shooting in Moab, we hopped back into the van, and headed back toward Vegas. Our next location would be Yosemite National Park. Hooray for another 7 hours in the van.

 

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17:30 – Las Vegas
We arrived back into Vegas at 17:30, after only stopping twice, one stop being for gas, and the other being my first taste of Mexican food truck goodness. I won’t try to put into words, my emotions as the carne asada burrito filled my soul with completeness.
We spent the rest of the evening at BCE Designs LV getting some hoodies and hats made before staying with our friends Emery and Nicole for the night and preparing for our long drive to Yosemite.

 

3 Nov – Leaving Las Vegas
06:00 am
We woke up bright and early(ish) and grabbed some breakfast at Cracked Egg in Summerlin before heading out to Yosemite.

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15:30 – Yosemite Village
We arrived at the base of Yosemite in the afternoon, and decided instead of just going to a hotel to prep for the morning, we would drive up to Glacier Point and scout the location for sunrise. There was a winter storm (first of the season) that had shut down Glacier Point road only a day earlier, so we had our fingers crossed that it would be open to drive, and that our Mercedes with almost bald summer tires would make it up the mountain if there was still snow on the road.
17:30
We made it up the mountain in 2 hours, just as the sun was setting. The views were incredible during the dying light, and I was anxious to see it in the early morning. We were a bit too late for any shooting today, but we would end up having a long search for a hotel anyway, so it worked out fine.

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4 Nov
03:00 – Shooting Glacier Point – Sunrise
We woke up, packed our gear, and headed for the 2 hour drive back up the mountain. This would put us at Glacier Point just before sunrise. As we drove through the village, another BBQ restaurant caught my eye. I knew it would be a good day.
05:00
We reached Glacier Point on time, and were the only ones there at the moment. The sunrise was perfect, painting the eastern side of Half Dome in a warm glow, with the opposite face of the massive dome in a cool blue hue. We all took turns climbing out onto the formations while the others search for the best vantage points to grab the best shots. We continued shooting in various locations until the sun was too harsh to shoot anything else.

 

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08:00
We decided to drive around the rest of the park, to scout our locations for the rest of our 4 day stay. We drove down into the valley to check out the falls, and Tunnel View. It was as breath taking at the bottom as it was at the top. We spent the rest of the day just driving around scouting.

 

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17:00 – Taft Point
We weren’t sure how far of a hike from the road to Taft Point we would have, as the signs were pretty beat up. But we were happy to find that it was only a little more than a mile to the point. We hiked down and reached the cliffs in about 20 minutes. Just like Glacier Point, the valley floor, and the other locations, this was something that no image can do justice. The view goes on for miles, and the rock formations are all so unique. It is a testament to the natural beauty of the Earth. The setting sun comes through the valley in just the right way in the fall and paints the entire face of El Capitan in a warm magical color.

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19:30
After the hike back up to the road, we climbed back in the van and headed down to the village to get some of that BBQ we saw on the way up this morning. Dear BBQ brisket, I love you.

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5 Nov – The Valley & Tunnel View
05:00
We decided to sleep in a bit today, since we knew exactly what we wanted to shoot. We got up at 05:00 and headed back up for the third time, to Glacier Point. This morning was extra special due to the fact that we were the only ones there. We had every angle and every shot to ourselves. It remained like this for about 45 minutes, and that is when we met another photographer, Justin Boulter. We all talked for a while about travel and how impressed we were with the beauty that can be found by stepping outside of your front door and seeing the world. We also captured one of my favorite images from the trip, which is the main photo of this blog.

08:00
I had no idea when we left Glacier Point just how much better my day was going to get. When we arrived back into town, I was introduced to a man named Carl. Apparently, Carl has a son or something because his restaurant is named Carl’s Jr.
Oh my God. I thought I loved BBQ and Mexican food. But Carl’s Jr. was a whole new experience. It was like I started living from this point on.

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09:30
After our delicious experience at Carl’s Jr., we headed into the valley to shoot Tunnel View, and some of the waterfalls. The Tunnel View was very crowded and had to go to the bathroom, so I hiked up a hill away from the crowd and when I got to the top I looked and realized it was a perfect spot for photos. We spent some time around the valley and returned to shoot Tunnel View as the sun set.

 

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18:00
We wrapped up shooting on the valley floor and headed back to town, and grabbed some more Carl’s Jr. Tomorrow we will shoot Glacier Point one last time as the sun rises and then head out to San Francisco.

 

6 Nov – Traveling to San Francisco
04:00 (05:00)
We woke up to shoot the final morning in Yosemite at Glacier Point before heading out to San Fran. By now, we knew that we needed at least an one hour and twenty minutes to drive from the base of the park to Glacier Point. We should be there by 05:30 easily. However, we noticed that Eric’s phone was an hour ahead of our phones and the cars clock. We totally forgot about Daylight Savings Time! This meant that we had roughly 45 minutes to get up the mountain, and still have useable light. Challenge accepted.
06:00
We made it to Glacier point in almost less than an hour! Definitely a record setting drive. We grabbed the final shots we needed, and headed back down to grab breakfast and drive out to San Francisco.

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16:30 – San Francisco
We arrived in San Francisco and went straight to our hotel which was very close to the coast. We then immediately headed for the Golden Gate Bridge. We got to the coast just as the sun was setting and the fog started rolling in. These made for some really nice shots. Afterwards, we found a really good BBQ spot downtown that was super popular. The line was around the side of the building. We all enjoyed some more brisket and great drinks.

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7 Nov – Point Reyes
08:00
We finally woke up around a time that would seem normal to most people, because the light I needed to shoot Point Reyes was a bit later in the morning. We packed the van and hit the road for the two-hour drive. We only spent a short time here, just enough for a couple shots and some drone video. Then, it was back to the city.

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10:00
We were ready to drive back to the city when the automatic sliding door on our van wouldn’t close. This was a problem for obvious reasons. We tried everything. Fuses, resetting the batteries, reading the manual 10 times……
11:00
We decided to call Sixt, and tell them that we were pretty much stuck, with a side door that wouldn’t close. After 30 minutes on hold, we were told first to just try and drive to the city, which we felt was too dangerous with a van full of people and expensive gear. They then said they would send a replacement vehicle to us. But that it would take until 15:00. We knew that if we waited for this, and then still had to drive two hours, we wouldn’t have enough time to get sunset shots of Golden Gate.
12:00
We decided to improvise. Luckily there was a birdwatcher near us that had some rope in his truck, so we tied the door close as best we could and drove to the airport, where we could get a replacement van. Just down the road from Point Reyes, is a very famous driveway with cypress trees creating a tunnel to an old radio tower. We stopped there for a few photos and then drove back to the city.

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8 Nov – Golden Gate Bridge
05:00
We arrived at the Golden Gate Bridge well before sunrise. People were out jogging, hiking, and also setting up for photos of the day breaking.
06:45
The sunrise was gorgeous over the city. I was able to capture amazing images of this iconic location. Everything I hoped to experience was fulfilled and it was more than I could have hoped for. We spent an hour more, capturing the beauty and then headed to the other side of the bridge to shoot the piers.

09:00
We drove to the Parking lot right underneath the Golden Gate. There is a nice walk along the bay, and the waves were super strong today. At one point they came over the wall which I didn’t really wasn’t expecting to happen. Eric filmed me while I was shooting the bridge and the waves came up super far and barely missed me and the camera!

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17:30 – Baker Beach
I had to shoot the bridge from this vantage point, as the composition is perfect with the beach, sunset, and bridge all set perfectly facing into the setting sun. The warm glow of the sand and bridge, with the cool waves and crisp white seafoam, is what photographer dreams are made of.

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9 Nov – Pacific Coast Highway
08:00
We slept in again, since we had no more locations for sunrises. We decided to grab pancakes for breakfast at IHOP, and then drive over to California Street to shoot the famous trolley and bridge.

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We headed down the coast on pacific Coast Highway, stopping in Monterey to check into a hotel. My goal here was to capture the beautiful coast and the amazing cove at McWay Falls.
12:30
More Carl’s Jr.
14:00
We stopped at the iconic Bixby Creek Bridge and snatched a couple cool photos from there as well. Sitting on the bridge with my feet hanging off was unreal.

 

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15:00
We reached McWay Falls, and again, it was as beautiful as anything I’ve ever seen. The emerald green water and the hidden waterfall were like something from a fantasy movie set. The beauty along the routes this past week cannot be overstated. Having been many places around the world, I can say that America has incredible beauty all its own. I hope that everyone in these areas takes advantage of them.

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We arrived at Pfeiffer Beach just before sunset. There were a few other photographers there, but nothing too crazy and we all had a great location to shoot from. The sunset did not disappoint! The red sky merging with the deep blue ocean, mixed with amazing rock formations was another backdrop for something out of a romance novel. We finished shooting our final location in California and headed out for a long drive to L.A. where we would meet Eric’s family.

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The final leg of our trip was Horseshoe Bend Arizona and the Grand Canyon over the course of our last two days. Both of these places were extremely crowded but I am still so grateful to have been able to witness them and capture the amazingness of their natural beauty.

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13 Nov – Las Vegas
Finally, as we returned to our starting point in Las Vegas I had so much emotion and amazement that I really couldn’t even remember what I had done only a few days ago. I am so thankful for the people we met and those that opened their doors and homes to us along the way. This was a once in a lifetime experience that will never be forgotten.
It is my greatest hope that these national treasures will remain protected and cared for so that the future generations can explore and connect with our planet and our history. We only have one earth, and it is such a beautiful place. I hope you all have been able to share a bit of my emotion through this project, and I wish you all pleasant travels of your own.