A One Man Mobile Studio At Burning Man


When acclaimed studio photographer Eric Schwabel goes to Burning Man he doesn’t leave his passion behind. In 2010 he took a clever hand built “light suit” to the massive festival in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert and captured the plethora of beautiful, colorful revelers in engaging detail. Below we catch up with Schwabel for an exclusive interview about his experiences on the dusty playa.

For more on the Burning Man festival see burningman.com (be sure to check out their Survival Guide). See more of Eric Schwabel’s portraits, including many famous individuals, at schwabelstudio.com. The photo above was taken by Sidney Erthal

If you like Burning Man, make sure to check out the photography of Scott London.

How heavy was your human light suit and was it hard to steer? Did you run over any small children?
That thing could turn on a dime — just no sudden movements. You definitely needed to know where you were going. I ran into one person, who then let met take his photograph, and I ran over one child, yes, but he was my assistant and it was all OK.

The suit gives your images an almost in-studio lighting effect. Did you do any post production to get the look you wanted?
Other than color balance and desaturation on the closeups, those images have not been touched up. My goal has always been to get things done in-camera. The goal of this setup, aside from being fun, was to have enough power to bring the sky down to a deep blue. I actually needed (wanted) more power. I’m doing it again this year with more power, and more people, the helpers will be the lights this year. The new project is up at http://kck.st/ljXumT

Back when you were planning this escapade we turned you on to another friend of Visual News, Mike Hedge, for advise on keeping your camera snappy on the dusty playa. What was his best tip?
I was so worried about dust, he put my mind to ease on that issue. In general put my mind at ease about if it was doable.

What was the response like from the people you photographed?
People were ecstatic, it was amazing. I think it helped that the get-up looked so weird and bulky. When I got back, a few of them wanted prints of their shots, and I was happy to oblige.

That’s a lot of lights. How did you power the suit?
The 2 lights are the same brand I use in the studio. I used Profoto B2 battery-powered packs and Pro-7 heads. Basically studio strobes but on a battery pack. The battery pack was connected by thick cables to a bike trailer that my boyfriend was peddling.


The picture below was taken by Paige Tucker.

Remember to visit Eric’s KickStarter.


There are 20 comments

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  1. IPM Essen

    Beautiful work form a beautiful place. It is great to see someone who has such a passion for their work making sacrifices in order to capture such images in such a hostile environment. It looks heavy, awkward and bulky to carry in such hot conditions. Kudos! It was worth it and I wish you every success with building the new improved version and look forward to seeing the results. :o)

  2. Rikki

    Oh my word, this is brilliant! As a photographer myself, Eric must be praised for his dedication to his art! That equipment is not light-weight! Awesome!

  3. mike B

    I would love to shoot at Burning Man, but the commercial organizers have such draconian rules now that nearly prohibit photography without giving them the full rights. As a professional, there is no way I’d allow this. So much for free expression.

  4. EatTheRich

    the Burning Man event is for privileged middle-class white folk with a tendency towards geekiness and bad art. The tickets are $300 a pop and the whole event will sent you back $1000 at least. It is not for non-conformists, no matter now much they say it is. It’s the way that boomers get to experience what they’ve been missing for the past 20 years while they slaved for the man

  5. M

    That guy with the bandana over his face is beautiful!
    It makes me think of that famous photo in life magazine of the girl with the unforgettable eyes.

  6. Herb Green

    Wow, the lighting on these is incredible! I especially like the girl with the hat and the golf cart in the background. Mike Hedge looks like he does some great work as well.

  7. jrbobdobbs

    lol at Eattherich most of the crowd is Silicon valley folk they dont “slave for the man” they either are the man or the man needs them so bad he’ll pay anything to have them, my neighbours this year where 1 google head of department 2 a retired Nasa engineer 3 some nice civil engineering student from Russia (didnt speak much english) 4 a whack of film people from LA, the conversations over dinner where awesome. ya alot of the art is mediocre (and alot is stunning) but then at least we’re doing it ourselves, your just mad because youve never learned to do anything worth money. the best part of going to burningman is how much planning cooperating it takes to get 5 tones of ‘mediocre’ art from the middle of Canada onto the Playa and set up, and then looking around the rest of the week to see what else people have pulled off, that I never would have thought of or dreamed could actually be done at all

  8. George

    Nice pictures, but before you’re asking about running over people in his light suit you should have a picture showing that it has wheels – not clear until you scroll down later.

  9. Sören

    That’s pretty nice :)
    Here in Germany, sometimes wedding photographers
    have simiular packages withem. Mostly in the porty in a trolly carrybag.
    But anyway looks great 😉

  10. Vedette

    These images are very remarkable. It must have been a burden carrying those big lights around. But hey, atleast you are doing something that you love.


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