If you’re going to be setting up anything larger than a regular camping tent, like a parachute structure, you’re going to need a better way of securing your structure to the ground. Those big plastic stakes will be almost useless for anything bigger than a pup tent.
A popular and very practical way to stake your structure is to use rebar, which is normally used as reinforcement for poured concrete construction. It is strong, cheap, and resists pulling out from the ground better than anything you can buy at a camping store. It is usually sold in 20′ lengths, with a number representing its diameter in eighths of an inch. The most common and useful size is #4 (which means 4/8″or half an inch in diameter).
If you already have easy access to a metal chop saw or bandsaw, (or if you feel like a good workout,a hacksaw) you can save a couple of bucks by going to a construction supply warehouse or scrap metal yard and buy the rebar in full 20 foot sections. They will usually cut it in half for you for free so you can get it in your car.
For those of you without a means of cutting metal, there is a much simpler way: Go to your local friendly Home Club Enormart Depot, and buy it pre-cut in 3 foot lengths, for about a buck apiece (same price as tent stakes). A semi-friendly man or woman will even load them into you car for you. You could have saved a couple of bucks the other way, but this is much easier for most.
At this point you have an excellent stake, but also a real hazard, as the end sticking out of the ground is surprisingly sharp and dangerous to naked and unaware feet. A large amount of injuries at Burning Man are due to just this reason. So instead of putting holes in people’s feet, you’re better off capping the end somehow to keep people from stepping on it. A cheap way to do this is to use old 1 or 2 liter plastic soda bottles stuck upside down over the end, but you can also pick up mushroom-shaped plastic caps, made specifically for this purpose at construction supply houses. But neither of these options is particularly attractive.
There is a better way!
Professor Flubber’s Patented Kandy-Kane Rebar Method!
It’s easier than you think!
This is an excellent way of making sure no one impales themselves, and if you’re using guidelines for your structure, this will guarantee that the rope won’t slip off the end of the rebar. It also makes it much easier to pull your stakes out when you leave. You just use an extra stake as a handy hook and yank the other stakes out of the ground.
What you need is your three-foot lengths of rebar, and two long pieces of steel pipe to slip over the end, 4 feet long at least, the longer the better. Place one pipe on the ground and brace the far end against your house or anything else vertical and solid. Slip your rebar stake into the pipe so that about 4-6 inches are sticking out of the end. Take the other pipe and put this over the short end of the rebar that’s sticking out, and crank the thing over until you have made a candy-caneout of your stake. This doesn’t take any more time than searching for litre plastic soda bottles, and is a stronger, safer, and much easier way of doing things.
Whatever you do, remember to bring a small sledgehammer to pound the rebar in to the ground. A regular claw hammer might not do it. And there are no handy rocks on the Black Rock Desert to pound things in with.
The most important rule here is Know Your Equipment! Burning Man is not the place to learn how to use the fancy new camera you just bought. If you are getting any new equipment for your trip, make sure you get it sufficiently early that you can really learn how to use it before you arrive. Trust me, you are not going to read the manual when you get there.
Beyond that, I am not going to get into the technical aspects of photography in general, but I will leave you with one important word: raw. If you are at all serious about your Burning Man photography, you need to be shooting raw format files, not jpeg. There are just so many things you can get wrong in your shot that can easily be corrected after the fact with raw-processing software, and which, if you are shooting jpeg, mean you have lost the image. Even the best camera metering systems can be fooled by the brightness of the playa during the day, or the rapidly varying intensity of light from a fire at night. With a raw file you can move the exposure up or down a stop or two and often save an otherwise ruined shot. Similarly, being able to change your white balance after the fact can be a godsend. With the cheapness of flash memory cards and hard drives these days, there is just no excuse for shooting jpeg anymore.
Becoming an expert in the technical aspects of post-processing your photos is just as important as mastering the techniques of creating them. I provide some suggested links for getting started in both of these areas in the Burning Man Links page on my website.
If you have any feedback about this document, please contact me at www.silentcolor.com with your questions, comments, and suggestions.
Rules and Etiquette
Burning Man’s number one rule of etiquette for photography is Ask First — you should get permission before taking somebody’s photo. Does this mean you can’t grab a shot of somebody cruising by on a really cool bike, or capture a compelling scene you happen to see through your telephoto lens? No, of course not — realistically, you should ask first whenever realistically possible. But the question you have to ask yourself before pressing the shutter is “Am I invading this person’s privacy in any way?”. If the person is fully or partially nude, in the middle of a very private moment, or doing anything that perhaps they would not want the whole world to see, then yes, you definitely need to ask first — do not press the shutter. If somebody is doing henna body painting on a nude model in Center Camp, and there are a dozen people with cameras surrounding them snapping away, can you just jump in and take pictures as well? No you can’t — instead, set an example for the others. Go up to the model and ask first. Some of the other photographers undoubtedly already did so, and the ones who did not perhaps will appreciate the reminder that they should have.
Ask First is Burning Man’s number one photography rule — but I have my own official number one photography rule for you as well, which is Don’t Be “That Guy”. If you have been to Burning Man you know which “that guy” I mean — that guy in a paparazzi swarm chasing after every naked woman who walks by, like she was an A-list celebrity with a new haircut. That guy with the giant telephoto lens elbowing people out of his way to get his close-up boob shots at the Critical Tits ride. In other words, that guy who over the last few years has been making women in particular feel less and less comfortable freely expressing themselves at Burning Man, for fear they will end up as the screensaver on their officemates’ computers. And yes, it is predominantly guys causing the problem, but female photographers obviously need to keep basic photographic etiquette in mind in as well.
Burning Man’s legal policies about use of imagery define “professional use” as “any use beyond personal”: you accept these terms — printed on the back of each ticket — when you set foot inside this private event. If you are planning on using your photographs for any purpose other than simply sharing with friends and family, you must obtain written permission from Black Rock City LLC, the organization that runs Burning Man. You need to register with them in advance of the event, and check in upon arrival to sign a Use Agreement and have a media tag put on your camera. To learn more about Burning Man’s specific media policies, check out both the Rights and Responsibilities section and the FAQ Page of the Burning Man Press Page.
One of the more important things you will notice on that page is that you need to collect model releases from recognizable people that you photograph (again, this is for commercial use only — if you are only shooting for yourself, friends, and family, getting verbal permission is enough — you do not need a signed release). So make sure you bring plenty of releases with you. Having to get releases signed definitely slows down your shooting. But on the other hand, some of my best interactions with people at Burning Man — and some of my best friendships there — have started with conversations that initially began with me asking somebody to sign a release. Believe it or not, the process of getting a release signed can help you transition from just recording the event to truly participating in it.
A large number of people camp in their tents at Burning Man. If you are going to be setting up a tent, have a look at the stakes that came with it. These are usually small and made of lightweight aluminum or plastic, designed for backpacking, trading off strength for weight. Since you probably won’t be carrying the load on your back, go out and buy a few of those foot-long plastic or metal stakes they sell for larger tents. Also, for the same price, you can use rebar stakes, a much better idea, described below.
If you are going to be using the small stakes that came with the tent, at least be sure to keep something large and heavy in your tent when you’re not there, like a loaded ice chest. You don’t want to be searching for your tent 20 miles downwind.
Any structure designed as an elevated viewing area should be considered carefully. How many people can it hold and how will you police it? Railings are required to be well designed and built; how will you accomplish that? If someone climbs up onto it, how do they exit without causing a traffic jam? Since you cannot dig holes in the playa you will have to use cable to secure your structure. Do you know what gauge cable is best for your needs? If you have not fully considered all aspects of your plan from a structural engineering perspective, you have more research to do.
For more Burning Man Shade Structure resources please visit:
Geometry: How To Build A Geodesic Dome For Burning Man
If you’re planning anything tall and vertical and are using guy lines to keep it from tipping over, you might be shocked at the price of decent ropes or cable when you go to the hardware store. 80 cents a foot doesn’t sound like much but if you need 200 feet, it adds up.
A good option for larger structures is used climbing rope – it is unbelievably strong and has a small amount of stretch to it, which helps a tiny bit in sudden wind gusts. Purchased new, it is very expensive. But regular climbers often ditch their used ropes after a short time for safety reasons, and if you call some climbing gyms or put up a notice at a mountaineering store, you may be able to get a cheap or free deal on a 150′ coil. The common sizes are in the 9-11mm range, all are plenty strong for securing most structures, and they hold knots very well. When you cut the rope to the length you want, take a lighter and melt the end down a bit, this will keep it from unraveling.
If you get your rope from a hardware store, try to avoid that slick stiff yellow stuff, which is by far the cheapest and fairly strong for most purposes, but doesn’t hold knots worth a damn.