The Man

The Man Begins to Burn

Happy Hour on the Playa

Really Happy Hour on the Playa

Fleeble Flobbler


Burning Man 2008: A Photo Essay by Matt Freedman

Now Available FREE on the iTunes App Store


Burning Man is not only the world's most unique and visually spectacular cultural event, but the nexus for a worldwide community that exists all year long. It is a temporary city of 50,000 people which leaves absolutely no trace when it is gone. It is about radical self-reliance in a harsh but incredibly beautiful desert environment, and radical self-expression in a gift-based economy.

Think of "Burning Man 2008: A Photo Essay by Matt Freedman" as a coffee table book for the iPhone. It contains over 300 extraordinary Burning Man photos, packaged in an easy-to-use full screen photo viewer:

  • View the whole set, or browse by categories (People, Art, Art Cars, The Man, Dust, etc.).
  • Mark photos as favorites, for quick retrieval.
  • Every image has an informative caption, which can be displayed, or left hidden.
  • Slideshow mode, or manual "flick" paging.

In addition to the photographs, you will find essays:

  • A foreword, by Burning Man's Director of Business and Communications, Marian Goodell, explaining what exactly Burning Man is.
  • An introduction describing my own personal 10 year journey with Burning Man, along with my views on the evolution of the event.
  • My 4000 word Photography at Burning Man how-to guide, which gives you detailed information on how to take better photographs on the playa. What gear to bring, how to carry and protect it, when and where to shoot what, and perhaps most importantly, rules and etiquette. Note that my guide is also available on the Burning Man website.
  • My own annotated Burning Man packing list. What to pack for your own visit, and why. A complete version of the list is also available on this site.
  • Due to the awkwardness of following links from within an iPhone app, my Burning Man Links document is found here on this site, rather than in the app.

Burning Man 2008: A Photo Essay by Matt Freedman is published by my iPhone development company, Monkfish Labs, and is Now Available on the iTunes App Store. It has been reviewed and approved by the Burning Man Organization. Cover and app icon by Giannina Silverman.

Introduction (Excerpt)

by Matt Freedman

There are as many reasons to come to Burning Man as there are attendees (around 50,000 at last count). Some people come because it is an open and welcoming community like no other; some because it is the greatest party on the planet; some are there because it is the largest most unique art gallery they will ever find; others find that hard work for a noble cause truly is its own reward – and when it is with a bunch of your best friends in the world, damn fun. I come for all those reasons, but primarily, I am there to take pictures.

Burning Man is my artistic muse – it is the place where I really discovered my love of photography, and realized that it was truly my calling in life. Burning Man represents every artistic opportunity that a photographer could want. It is a culture that is wildly foreign to many, with all the costumes and rituals one would expect in an exotic land. It is a culture that embraces the spectacles of both art and humanity – from the frivolity of furry costumes to the erotic beauty of a naked body in a barren desert landscape. The extreme natural environment beckons to be captured even when it defies being tamed. All of this makes Burning Man an ideal place not only for human artistic exploration, but for a photographer to capture the complexity of both man and nature, and the beguiling beauty that emerges when they come together.

The collection you hold in your hands is the very best of the 2500+ frames I shot over my ten days at Burning Man in 2008. It is a deeply personal view of how I see the event. Do not expect to find here a look at what you will see when you come to Burning Man – I strive to create beautiful images, not to document reality. I am very selective about what I will shoot, and draconian about what I will delete. And I use all the skills and tools I have at my disposal to turn my raw images into final pieces that reflect the idealized vision I still have of Burning Man, even after ten years and eight journeys to the playa. So no, these are not necessarily completely accurate renditions of what was there – but these images do represent what it looked like to me at the time, at least in my own mind and heart. In other words, yes, these are Photoshopped. Get over it.

Photography at Burning Man (Excerpt)

By Matt Freedman


The Light

Morning My favorite time to shoot at Burning Man is sunrise – which means being in position for your sunrise shots no later than about 6:15 AM. For one thing, unlike at sunset, you can get shots of the sun actually crossing the horizon. Due to the location of Burning Man, the actual sunset is blocked by the mountains, but sunrise is not. However the exact location of Burning Man in the Black Rock Desert sometimes changes from year to year, so don't count on this. Once the sun is up, the light is absolutely magical. This is generally the calmest time of the day, so there are few dust storms, and it is not hot yet. Though there are plenty of people around who have been up all night, there are far fewer than there are during the day, so it is easier to get shots of art pieces without people in the frame. This is definitely a time of day when you generally want to be shooting out on the open playa.

Daytime By 9AM the light is not nearly as good, and it is starting to get hot. Obviously great shots can be made any time during the day, but it is much harder to get them when the sun is high. Midday is a good time to be shooting indoors – at Center Camp, inside various other domes and structures, etc. This is also a good time to be scouting locations – where do you want to be for the next sunset and sunrise? What art pieces do you see that you love? What direction will the light look best on them, and when will that happen? You might consider giving yourself a break and leaving the DSLR at camp during midday outings, and just bring your small digicam.

On the other hand, you just never know when dust or bad weather is going to move in, so there is something to be said for going out at mid-day if it is calm, just to get some shots in the bag in case the weather goes to hell. For example, in 2000 it was overcast, windy, and dusty pretty much continually from Wednesday on.

Late Afternoon By 4PM the light is starting to get interesting again, by 5PM it is spectacular. Anything and everything looks good in this light. The major art pieces tend to get crowded with visitors this time of day, which can make them more challenging to shoot.

Dinner Interregnum At just after 7PM the sun slides behind the mountains, so you lose the "golden hour" light prematurely. The sky is suddenly much brighter than everything on the playa, which is no longer being lit, so you really have to be careful how you frame your shots. This can be a good time to take people portraits, because there is a nice even diffuse light, and your subjects will not have to wear sunglasses or squint into the sun, but again, be very aware of how bright the background is compared to your subject – you may need to use fill flash, or shoot in a different direction. This can also a good time to eat a quick dinner.

Sunset Around 8 the real sunset is starting to happen, even though you can not see it. However if there are clouds to the west there can be absolutely spectacular skies. You no doubt scoped out what you wanted to put against those clouds earlier in the day, so now you are in position to get your sunset sky shots. Experiment with silhouettes against the sky, as well as fill flash.

Twilight As the daylight starts to fade, the artificial lighting starts to come on. It is now dark enough to see the glowing lights, but light enough that you can still see the people, vehicles, art, etc that have the lights on them. This is a great time to break out the 2.8 zooms. It is a very technically challenging time to shoot – keep a close eye on your shutter speeds.

Night Nighttime at Burning Man is absolutely spectacular, and very challenging to shoot well. You can lug a tripod around which gets annoying very fast if you do not have an art car, or you can rely on a very fast lens (f1.4 preferably) and high iso. Ideally you have both. A flash can be helpful, but in my opinion, only if you are using it in slow synchro mode, and you have enough ambient light for that mode to be interesting. You also have to consider how irritating your flash might be to those around you.