the Shoot

Location Equipment
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In September 2021 I set out to Palm Springs, CA for a photographer’s content retreat (shout out to @emilypenuelasphoto). We got to the Airbnb super late the night before and woke up at 4:30am in order to drive to Joshua Tree for a sunrise elopement shoot. The original models actually couldn’t make it, so Leslie and Ian stepped in last minute. There were a lot of moving pieces. We all shot the initial concept and then one of the attendees (shoutout to Emma) mentioned a spot she had remembered from a previous trip on our way back.

We stopped here and the sun at this point was super harsh and I’ll never forget how quickly the desert temperature and light changes. I initially started out as a photographer who was scared of “missing” softer light around sunset. I nearly always shot in direct light, so seeing this structure and the bright morning sun really pushed me back to my roots. I think most everyone wasn’t super into the lighting and was ready to head back for breakfast, but this 5 minute stop quickly became a highlight of the retreat for me.
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Location Name

Near the Desert View Conservation Area

Location aDDRESS

near Desert View Conservation Area


United States

Location TYPE




Canon 5D Mark IV




Sigma Art 35mm f/1.4

Lens Filter


Other Equipment
No additional equipment was used.

the Shoot

Directions Composition Focus Light & Exposure
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Calm Holding Each other Posed


I encouraged them to stand in the doorway and get close together while facing us. Leslie & Ian had such a beautiful connection and just naturally kept their movements flowing. I saw a split second where the symmetry of the shadows & lines really spoke to me.

The sunlight was illuminating them as a couple while also pushing unique shadows through the various openings of the structure. It worked well because there were a lot of uneven slants and shapes; but the sun added dimension to everything it touched. I personally love that Leslie’s body is in the center of a clean shadow line and you can see that sliver of green behind them. That helped their features not get lost. Honestly, it was a special moment and there’s nothing I’d change.

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What was said

Hey, so I’d love for you two to bask in the sunlight together and take in this moment. Go ahead and move to the doorway and face each other. Do what feels natural. I’m going to back away and get a wider shot of you all embracing and moving the direction of your heads slowly.

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Why I composed the way I did

Framing the image like this just made sense to me. Personally, I tend to enjoy placing subjects near center in my work. Especially when the background adds to the story. I like harshness because if you expose it right, there’s so much detail to be seen. I guess you could say I broke the rule of finding softer light.

When we all first arrived to this location, we started out inside the structure playing with shadows. The two archways at the front really created a unique setting with both color and light. Encapsulating the entire structure.

Ultimately, I wanted to capture the depth of our surroundings. This was my first time in the Joshua Tree desert and there was so much to discover. I love that we stopped here and took 5 minutes.

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Rule of Thirds Leading Lines Wide Full Body Natural Frames Off Center


Focus mode

Single point auto focus

Focus Technology

Live View Continuous

Focused on

The couple

Focus description

Since the subject and structure were in alignment, I set my camera to focus on both. I’m tall so I personally enjoy live view mode so I can stand up straighter. I utilized autofocus and that’s simply my go to when it’s bright out.

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Shutter Speed






White Balance


Other Light Sources
No additional light sources were used.
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Light &

How the light was used

It was 8:34am and the sun had risen probably an hour before that. It was in full view with no cloud cover or diffusion to the right of me. I found it to feel pretty intuitive because I just felt so inspired with all the elements in front of me. Honestly, I felt pretty open minded about what the results would be. I had gotten super cold in the desert at sunrise and make the mistake of clicking the JPEG file format (big oof). I centered myself at this stop and realized what I had done, so I switched it back to RAW and took this shot.

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Harsh Light Front Lit Bright Natural Light Sunny Morning

the Shoot

Editing & Presets
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Editing &

Editing Software used

Adobe Lightroom Classic

Preset Used


How I edited this image

For a while I had been using Dawn Photo Campfire presets, but have built my own personal ones that I utilized here. I typically go for a balance of warm and cool.

I enjoy teal blues, pastel-inspired tones and muted greens. I wanted the shadows to have warmth while not losing the blue sky/green wall. For HSL, I essentially expose in camera for how I want to edit. I lifted the shadows and brought the highlights down a smidge in Lightroom. Other than applying my preset and adjusting those two things, I didn’t do anything else.

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Challenges Solutions Advice

Challenges & Solutions

Events that were challenging during the shoot

The biggest challenge I faced was time. The higher the sun got, the more shadows it would potentially cast on their faces & the group of photographers was ready to head back to Palm Springs. Ultimately it lined up well, but I had to get something I felt good about and head on out.

Solutions I found

I saw what I wanted and worked efficiently to get er done.


I learned to sink into my beginnings and to do things that speak to me. I’d encourage photographers to not view old work as bad, but as a stepping stone to where they are now. If I had rejected my older work, I wouldn’t continue to experiment heavily with light and maybe even stopped to capture this.
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Photographed by

Amaris Sachs

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