Canon SD780 Vs. Burning Man

Posted by Scott

So after years of being goaded by my friends I finally took the plunge and went to Burning Man. I figured it would be a good idea to bring a camera but I had heard that the dust could wreak havoc on the delicate inner-workings of a DSLR so I decided to leave the D80 at home and bring my little SD780 Elph. It ended up working out great, that little thing surprised me every time I used it. But this being my first time, I wanted to focus more on the experience and not be worrying about getting shots the whole time. Consequently, I didn’t come home with a whole lot of material, but I was really happy with what I did manage to get. Next year I am definitely going to bring the D80 (or whatever I’m shooting with at that time) and focus more on shooting, the place is a photographer’s dream.

Above are some examples of the shots I did get; all have been post-processed and most are multiple-exposures. As you can see, the place was downright otherworldly in terms of aesthetics; the beauty of the desert (a place I’ve spent very little time in my life) was absolutely breathtaking. The texture of the sand (which was extremely fine, almost like talcum powder) seemed like what I’d imagine the moon to be like. As the images above will attest, I was somewhat preoccupied with the sun, but you’ll have to forgive me as the sunrises and sunsets were some of the most beautiful I’ve ever witnessed. Some of the photos are available for purchase as prints at the ISO50 Photographic site.

As for the experience itself, I could go on and on but I’ll spare you the details and just say that is was without question a high point for me. The music, people, and artwork were all incredible. I brought with me a lot of preconceived notions about what Burning Man is and the kind of people who go there, but within the first hour or so of being out there in the desert with 50,000 people, every one of those notions were proven to be completely wrong. Try to make it out there if you have the opportunity, it’s really something special to be a part of.

Edit: I’ve discussed the process of creating these images a little in the comments.

Edit: ZX asked in the comments if I could post an unprocessed image, the example below is the raw output from the camera. After processing it became the top-most image above (this one). I really had a great time working with these images and I think I am closer than ever to becoming a Canon convert with my next DSLR purchase.

41 Comments Leave A Comment


Bas says:

September 15, 2010 at 2:56 am

I almost bought this camera yesterday, but postponed it till today at the least. Would you recommend it as a compact camera?


Scott says:

September 15, 2010 at 2:59 am

Good call, post updated…

Yeah, it’s a great little camera. But if I had it to do over again I might go with the S95. It’s a little more expensive but I used one recently and was really impressed.


clug says:

September 15, 2010 at 6:10 am

Hey Scott. Now you have me curious about your post work flow. Does the little s95 shoot raws? Are you using a couple of adjustment layers hue/sat style? The images look great.
I just borrowed a g11 for some shots in Virginia and was amazed at the cameras capabilities, might be leaving my dslr at home more often.


Philip says:

September 15, 2010 at 6:48 am

Scott, great job with these photos. Your post-process work is gorgeous.

I’m quite envious >>> I would love to go there with my camera.


Cornelius says:

September 15, 2010 at 6:53 am

Holy shit Scott. Your post processing techniques are quite simply amazing. I have that camera (called the Ixus 100 IS here). Is this all done in Photoshop using native filters etc?



D says:

September 15, 2010 at 7:12 am

AMAZING shots! Contrast and lighting of the desert is stunning. But, I happened to like some of the other pictures you took that you DONT have for sell, any chance we can get some of those…?

Cheers mate! Great job!


Alanna says:

September 15, 2010 at 7:26 am

I have that same little camera. Was just wondering how it would fare at Burning Man…Did you do any special cleaning afterward?
I took Polaroids the last time I went– turned out to be a great gift to people I met…but at some point it got too dusty to make any more exposures. Fun while it lasted!


Curtis says:

September 15, 2010 at 10:28 am

Scott is there anyway you could break down your techniques for achieving these results ?

They are amazing … just goes to show, it’s not about the camera


Bas says:

September 15, 2010 at 11:00 am

Forgot to say (pretty rude): great shots! Good thing you went there; judging by the things I saw, it seems like something you have to go to at least once in your lifetime.

Btw, I ordered a SD780 just now. Seems like a good camera to carry around with me whenever my D90 is too much of a hassle. The S95 looks great, but I don’t have the budget atm (for I’m but a poor student!). Thanks for the reply, though.


Alan LeBlanc says:

September 15, 2010 at 1:18 pm

These are incredible! Not that I ever to expect to see or know how, but the things I would do to observe your post process techniques would be awesome. Coming from your graphic background, I think your understanding of photoshop allows you to bring in some elements strictly photographers don’t even consider after shooting. Such sweet manipulation :)


mp says:

September 15, 2010 at 1:46 pm

Great shots – I really enjoyed these. I also have a sd780, and it’s the camera I carry around when I otherwise wouldn’t due to size. Nice little camera, but quite noisy at anything over iso200 (or so). It’s great in full sun (like this).

I took a quick stab going from your rough output to the finished photo. I couldn’t quite match the colors, but for what it’s worth.

A short discussion of process would be very cool.


Scott says:

September 15, 2010 at 3:27 pm

RE: for everyone who was asking about the process details…

Each image is a composite of two or more different photos. The overlays are set to various blending modes, all are effected with multiple adjustment layers (curves, hue/sat, color balance, etc..). There is a lot of gradient masking going on on both the adjustment layers and the overlay images. The visible parts are “painted” in with the brush tool on the gradient masks.

I think they key to the color is individually treating each channel in curves and color balance. In curves, the R, G, and B channels are independently manipulated. In color balance, the RBB values for midtones, shandows, and highlights are being set individually.

There are also some filters being applied via a smart object on the base image layer (shadows/highlights, noise, blur). Over the top I’ve also placed some solid color channels — sometimes in various blending modes — to get a color cast effect.

I wanted to treat these as almost illustrations, using heavy manipulation, so as to sort of blur the lines between photography and design.


CR says:

September 15, 2010 at 10:06 pm

It’s amazing how this place can be brought to life through a lens — thanks for sharing your perspective. As a first-timer, I can say it was definitely a high point for me as well. I was reluctant to take a nice camera, but still pleased to look back at an incredible experience.



Scott Lowe says:

September 15, 2010 at 10:45 pm

Really good work with bringing out those colors. I don’t get the spots though. I think they really distract from an already great image.


Cornelius says:

September 16, 2010 at 5:52 am

Thanks for taking the time to reply Scott, I guess I kinda had sussed these were mostly the techniques you were using, it’s how you use them that matters and jesus you’ve used them well! Great work.


Lauren says:

September 16, 2010 at 9:12 am

Oh wow, I really love these photos! They exemplify what photography means to me… you’ve really captured the essence, so I feel like I know what it’s like to be there… or what I would want it to feel like. Wonderful.

I hope to get out there next year, it’s definitely on the list…


Danielle says:

September 16, 2010 at 9:21 am

YES! These images are amazing – I took a photo of that dude with the boots too. This was my first year as well and you captured it perfectly by saying that all of your preconceived ideas or assumptions about it were debunked. I feel the same way. People really have to experience it firsthand to understand the magnitude of beauty, freedom and love. Wow. It was amazing!


Joaquim Marquès Nielsen says:

September 16, 2010 at 10:46 am

I totally love the Apogee 03 shot. Looks like something interstellar. The dust specks are really working well. I’m flabbergasted! Darn it — only 35 editions… I’m gonna start saving up for this one! I can’t decide on 03 or 03B though. Something pulls me towards 03B. The person just adds a lot of storytelling. On the other hand, I’m also drawn towards the solitude of 03. Either way: great shots man! and awesome grading!


Alex Key says:

September 18, 2010 at 1:06 pm

Nice! I have an SD770 and it really is a good alternative when you don’t feel like lugging around an SLR.

You’re post-processing looks so natural.


Daniel Carvalho says:

September 19, 2010 at 1:38 am

Well done Scott, these photographs are amazing. I was shocked as I started reading the post and then came to the realization you took them. Mainly because they look like they’d be official Burning Man photos or something. Very cool.

It’s amazing the how much difference post-processing does though. I had a similar experience with some photos I took of Portugal.


vintage nomad says:

September 20, 2010 at 4:47 am

Don’t do it mon! Ye of the vintage ilk cannot find the path using a Canon. If you’ve got the play-doh, go Hasselblad; otherwise pick up a cheap Pentax & get the adapters so you can invest the old glass.

Canon is to digital imaging what Matchbox Twenty was to the nineties. Sure it’s popular & generic.. but is it really that good?


holly danger says:

September 20, 2010 at 8:10 am

I’m so excited to hear that you let your friends coerce you into going to the most fabulous party on earth, AND, to hear that you’ll be back next year!!! This was my 5th year, and 2nd year VJing out there. Which also brings the experience to a whole new level.. It just involves buying some crappy projectors that you dont mind sacrificing to the desert, but it feels so great to do live video mixing in that environment, under the moon & stars and in all that creative energy.. I highly recommend it for future years and would squeal with excitment if I ever got to see you VJ on the playa.. It’s the most amazing place to experiment with colors & light.. I hope you consider it. :)


Cort K says:

September 20, 2010 at 8:48 am

I was at Burning Man this year (my first time too) and I would have loved to meet you. We will be back next year. We’re camped with White Dragon Noodle Bar and we serve vegan noodles every evening when the sun hits the mountains. Please come by and say hello. I have been a huge fan of your work for a long time and I’d love to meet (and feed) you out there in the desert.

Beautiful pics, as always.


Phaedon says:

October 6, 2010 at 9:58 am

I love your images. Do you have any tips or tutorials you could suggest or point me to on how you overlay and blend your photographs to make them look this way? Really love your work.


OLGV. says:

October 23, 2010 at 4:29 pm

Are you using any CHDK on the camera ? … I thought about it when you said about multiple-exposures…


Jiver says:

October 27, 2010 at 11:33 pm

What would you fellas suggest for a 10 MP compact, around F2, with a manual focus ring, + HD?
I was reading reviews of the P7000. Getting a lot of mixed signals on it. It does look cool, though.