Monday, April 27, 2009

Sleep Deprivation In Death Valley

(a continuation of my DEVA series of images and trip reports)

Death Valley is far more than a hole in the ground, and I honestly didn't even see Badwater Basin in my 2 days there, nor was I upset. I did in fact have some concepts for the basin after sunset including star trails, and moon lighting on the salt flats but the wind was less than cooperative, and plans needed to be adapted.

We were just a short drive from the basin on the first day, but Devils Golf Course was much more interesting to me than the flats of the basin. Fear not, I was about -150ft below sea level so I can at least say I was lower than most places on earth ;-).

This shot is an example of forgoing sleep to get the shot. Neither of us got any sleep the night before we flew out and after shooting star trails in the canyon below here till almost midnight, then eating dinner, and getting just a few hours sleep we were back up by 5am. We were done here by 7:30am, and in the real world, one with trees and shade, we could have gone back to our tents and slept for a few hours. Unfortunately, while Death Valley isn't just a hole in the ground, it is sparsely forested, and shade is a rare commodity. So we'd just have to get by on less sleep to come home with a few good shots.

In the end it was worth it. The point this photograph was shot at was devoid of any texture within half an hour of sunrise, yet our pre sunrise arrival yielded what is a phenomenon known as alpenglow that only occurs prior to the sunrise, and is actually not light directly hitting the peaks but rather reflecting onto them.

The colors and textures of Death Valley immediately disappear upon the rise of the sun, and any chance of a meaningful photograph go with it. Within seconds of the sun rising in this shot all the color was gone on the mountains, and I was left with a cold hazy background that even the warmest of warming filters wouldn't have improved.

While the snow might not be there later in the year, I have a feeling this point, Zabriske Point, which towers above Golden Canyon, is actually a better spot later in the spring or summer. The reason of course is the first rays of sun should rise on the foreground as well as hit the Panamint Range in the background. However, the azimuth of the sunrise in March is such that the sun didn't hit this area till it was fairly high in the sky, yielding too much contrast for good photography if you were including the background mountain range across the valley.

So in the end it's a trade off, the contrast of alpenglow on snow, or a more dramatically lit foreground. Which ever you choose, this is another reason to not visit DEVA during the summer months. The days are long, and the chance to photograph is short. You'll most likely get better images in winter and early spring just because of the fewer daylight hours and lower sun angle. Of course the flowers, and snow capped mountains don't hurt either.

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