High contrast photos at the ghost town of Bodie, California

There are two things you should know before you attempt to photograph the [amazing] ghost town of Bodie, California.

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1) The park is only open from 10 to 3 during late spring/summer/early fall, so it will be high contrast no matter what. There are tons of park rangers who feel oddly attached to the town, so don’t even think about sneaking in dawn or dusk. None of them seem to have a sense of humor when it comes to tourists (read: they did not find me charming) and getting caught trespassing comes with a hefty fine.

2) You will do a lot of walking, so bring a light tripod. And lunch.

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We were advised on another photography blog on how we “should not bother” to bring a tripod to Bodie, as it’s high noon for most of the time you’re there so it’s not worth it. Wrong. If you want to do HDR or any kind of multi-exposure shot you will absolutely need your tripod (me: muttering to myself after getting halfway across the ‘town’ and having to trek back to the car because I listened to some idiot online tell me not to bring my tripod.)

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Bodie is the motherload of ghost towns, if you’re into that sort of thing. It’s got it all – intact buildings complete with plates and hanging clothes in the closet. I don’t have much of an interest in history surrounding abandoned places so I didn’t read up on it a lot, but apparently the boom/bust cycle was so fast at Bodie that when people packed up and left they left whole storefronts stocked, etc.

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Creepy.

The drive is worth it if you’re coming from Tahoe or Mono Lake/Big Pine area for sure. Usually buildings are just a few ruined foundations in ghost towns – if you’re lucky you get something like Ryolite in Death Valley, which is pretty neat – but Bodie is an entire neighborhood to explore. It also has a mine/factory that you can explore but you have to be on a tour.

Any car can make it – just as long as you go slow. If there’s snow though… I don’t know. It gets a little rough in places.  Once you get there thought, there’s tons of old, abandoned machinery strewn about, and lots of old trucks, which I love. There was thankfully some wispy clouds overhead – ones that don’t necessarily come out in a normal shot but can be emphasized in a multi-exposure HDR shot. It was tough to think of a shot that hadn’t already been done nineteen times before in better conditions than we had the day we were there, but you take what you can get and make the best of it.

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I used a neutral density filter on mostly my Nikkor 50mm 1.2, but some of these were snapped using a Nikkor fisheye (10mm).

The gallery of my photos from Bodie are below.

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