Untold numbers of images have been shot of the Anza-Borrego superbloom, mostly by day-trippers with smart phones. But few can match the 3,202 frames in a time-lapse video by Ramona’s Kevin Key, who camped there for eight days.
His 3 1/2-minute project is magical.
Key and fellow photographer Jeff Morris often slept during the day and shot at night. (“Several years ago, seeing Jeff’s work really inspired me to get into nighttime photography.”)
“I chose Anza-Borrego because it’s one of my favorite parks,” Key said. “In addition to the superbloom, I had a few nights where I was able to shoot the Milky Way during the time after the moon set and before the sun began to rise. It was a narrow window of between 30 minutes to 90 minutes depending on the night.”
Ten sequences are featured in his video, posted March 20 and backed by the music “Desert Sun” by Damon Boucher.
Key says he used a Canon EOS 6D camera primarily with a Sigma 15mm EX DG wide-angle lens.
“Sometimes I shoot with a Tokina 17-35mm as well. My current tripod is a Manfrotto MK190XPRO3-3W,” he said. “And to automate the shooting of time lapses, I use various inexpensive intervalometers (timer controllers) bought from Amazon.”
The native of northern Illinois, 45, has lived in San Diego County since 1987.
While growing up, he took a photography class one summer. He soon set up a darkroom in his parents’ basement, he says.
“From that point on,” he says, “I’ve managed to teach myself via books, other photographers and the Internet.”
He’s also proud of several other night sky time lapses around the Anza-Borrego Desert, the Salton Sea and Cuyamaca Rancho State Park.
This interview was conducted via email:
Times of San Diego: How did you choose your venues for the Borrego set-up? (Why no sculptures in foreground?)
Kevin Key: I chose my locations with the help of a photographer friend. While I’ve taken plenty of shots around the sculptures in the past, we were going for more natural sites this time. The locations were chosen based on having the best wildflowers, being well situated for the rise and set of the Milky Way, and being away from the crowds and light pollution (from car headlights and hiker’s flashlights) at night.
How many hours spent babysitting your cameras?
Many hours. Each sequence in my latest film was shot for between and two hours. We shot during the evening sunsets – the stars and Milky Way in the night sky — and then a few sunrises. We had to nap on and off during the day to get caught up on sleep.
Any problems with lookie-loos or park rangers?
Overall things went well. We spent one night camping near Henderson Canyon Road and then found out later in the morning that we were on private property. The ranch owner politely asked us to leave and said he didn’t want our presence to attract hordes of other people to set up camp on his property.
Biggest challenges to shooting these scenes?
The biggest challenge was the wind. We spent a couple nights camping deep within Coyote Canyon and scouted out some great spots to shoot some white, yellow, blue and purple flowers under moonlit skies. Unfortunately – as you can see in a couple of the nighttime sequences in my video – it was just too windy at times.
What scene are you most proud of?
Though 90 percent of my work involves night photography, I really like the scene where the sun rises behind the ocotillo. This was shot north of Clark Dry Lake.
Where did you camp during this project?
We camped in various locations: an area west of Coyote Canyon (which turned out to be private property), north of Clark Dry Lake, Coyote Canyon and Fault Wash. I can’t emphasize enough how much I love how one can legally camp just about anywhere in the Anza-Borrego Desert. In the majority of state and national parks, one is allowed to camp only in designated campgrounds. Being able to camp almost anywhere is one of the best things about the Anza-Borrego Desert.
What do you expect to shoot on your return to desert?
On my next trip, I want to shoot the southern part of the park. While most of the wildflowers are in the northern part near Borrego Springs, there’s plenty to see (not just flowers) and shoot in the southern part.
Do you make any money off your time-lapses? (How much?)
A couple of news organizations – Newsflare and Storyful – have licensed some of my videos to various clients, but I haven’t heard how much I’ve made off of my recent video just yet. Earnings are based on views over a period of a month or so. Last year, I made a few hundred bucks off of some Milky Way and Perseid meteor shower videos I shot at Mount Laguna.
Anything else people should know about you or this project?
As with any form of art, one gets better with practice and learning from others that are more experienced. Someday I hope to make a living off my photography alone. There is such diverse landscape to explore and shoot in San Diego County: beaches, inland, mountains and deserts.