Written by Hilary Morefield on August 11 2016

Joshua Tree Photo Intensive

It was 4:15am when my phone went off. I’d slept maybe two hours after staying up late to muse over the expanse of desert stars. Thankfully, the hope of catching the early dawn light in Joshua Tree National Park was motivation enough to scramble awake in the dark. I made my way across the dark ranch house, quietly tiptoeing past the group of students sleeping in the front room to start a pot of coffee. I peaked out of the side window to see a sliver of color burning the dark edges of the landscape.

As soon as 4:30am hit, I carefully woke the house for breakfast. To my surprise, the eleven high school students all managed to pull themselves up and out of bed without hesitation.

Today was the final shoot of our three-day youth photography intensive in and around Joshua Tree, where participants studied lighting, manual settings, and genres of photography with our expert media educator team. After several photoshoots and small workshops, the students seem ready to show off their skills and capture the early morning light, especially after our lead Media Educator, Will boasted stunning photos from his walk the morning prior.

By 4:55, we’re on the road. The groggy gang silently sipped spilling mugs of hot coffee as Will raced up the desert road. The high beams quickly illuminated the spindly outlines of the Joshua trees on the turns, hinting at the vast and alien desert landscape. I faded in and out, trying to keeping my eyes peeled on the horizon while The Morning Blenders “Excuse” drifted in and out of range from the back.

When the van pulled into a turn-out, everyone quickly jolted awake to pile out, cameras in hand. The students fanned across the desert plain, stretching far out towards the growing warm glow at the mountain of rocks on the horizon. The group wandered amidst the silent desert, snapping the trees from every angle and adjusting settings to capture the golden light filtering through the rocks and trees. We watched as the stunning sunrise emerged and the students’ newfound confidence in shooting bloomed. 

The van rolled back up to the house. We squinted as we step out into the mid-morning light. Had it really been that long of a shoot? We check our phones to see the time- the clock was just turning to 6:50am. We laughed and weary eyes wandered back to sleep on the couch. Only the smell of homemade chilaquiles made by our student Diana proved motivation enough to rise again.


Check out a video of our full adventure here!

Interested in future photo excursions with Outside the Lens? Contact for more information about our special workshops and programs.  

Leave a Comment