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When I took bodybuilding champion Alina Popa out into the Southwestern desert for photos, her response was, “Even though I’ve never been out here before, it seems very familiar to me. Because I’ve seen this kind of landscape in so many Hollywood movies since I was a young girl. Especially, the westerns. I half expect Clint Eastwood to come riding over the hill at any moment.”
Of course, there are spectacular landscapes in Alina’s native Romania. Again, something you can often see in movies. And at one point she lived in Switzerland, and there are few places in the world with such spectacular mountains. But the American desert Southwest presents some amazingly exciting desert and mountain terrain, including national parks and celebrated locations such as Big Sur, Yosemite, Yellowstone, and the Grand Canyon.
There are also some great locations within short driving distance of Los Angeles, and I took Alina to two of these to do photo sessions. Fortunately, it was not super-hot for either photo session (I’ve been out shooting when it was 113ºF). So, we were able to work for extended periods of time without serious discomfort.
Like most of the female bodybuilders I’ve photographed in the desert, shooting on location presented no problem for Alina – not the heat nor hiking through rugged terrain, avoiding spiky cactus or looking out for snakes. We also had to wake up at 5 a.m. to catch the sunrise, but women bodybuilders are usually good with early rising.
I’ve had models petrified of snakes, but in several decades shooting in the desert I have only seen a snake twice. But I have had to use a pliers to pull cactus spines out of my leg. My usual procedure is to lead the way and have the model walk right behind me to keep her out of trouble. In brushy areas, I go in first and I have a staff I use to make sure there is nothing to worry about in the area.
I’ve also climbed up slippery, rocky slopes in a way I should not have, could never do today or let one of my models do either.
I often shoot where there are sand dunes, but there were none where Alina and I went. But there were plenty of granite boulders, sheer cliffs of red rock desolate areas that resemble moonscapes.
Alina Popa has since moved to Phoenix, AZ, where she is working with Jake Wood as Vice President of European Operations and Athletes’ Representative at Wings of Strength. So, I’m sure she is getting her fill of all the desert terrain she could hope for.
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