14 Hours

I’ve wanted to take a picture of the Badwater salt flats for years.  Today I had my chance and I give myself a B.  I woke at 04:00 and left at 06:15 for the Alabama Hills to shoot the Mobius Arch.  There were several cars in the parking area when I arrived.  There were several photographers present when I arrived at the arch.  Good grief!  A line to shoot a picture.  Something is really wrong here.  There are four other photogs on site when I arrive.  I’m the only one without a Gitzo tripod.  There’s a young guy stationed in the best vantage point shooting a Hasselblad and he sure appears to know what he’s doing.  Another guy shooting a Canon is positioned as close as physically possible without being rude.  They both hang there as the other 3 of us hang out and wait our turn.  When the sun crests the mountains to the east the three of us throw shadows onto the arch. Bummer. We move and allow the two active photographers to continue shooting.  They did.  I finally got tired of waiting and grabbed a couple of shots from a sub-optimal vantage point.  I went off to shoot the other arch that is nearby. Then, after having 10 minutes alone with the same view but a different arch, I headed back to the car.

I stopped at the motel on the way out of town to grab another cup of coffee.  My goal was to get to Death Valley and squander several hours waiting for sunset at Badwater.  I moved into the park casually and stopped whenever I wanted to.  If something yelled “take a picture”, I did.  I hiked the Dunes.  I enjoyed several grand vistas.  I visited Zabriske Point at the worst possible light.  I meandered.  The desert was in bloom but the flowers were all roadside.  Viewed from a distance and at an angle they looked bright.  When you stopped to take a pictue the view from close in was… well, different and boring.  I finally pulled into a side road and shot some frames looking into some complex geolosgy with a band of yellow flowers in the foreground.  Death Valley is all about geology and geomorphology. At another time it would have fascinated me.  Today it was simply remarkable.  Fans and flows.  Erosion features supreme. Very complex mix of rocks.

I got to Badwater way too early.  I arrived about 2:00PM and took a 20 minute hike out onto the salt flat to reassure myself that the salt formations were there. Yup. Check.  Salt evaporation features were everywhere.  So were footprints.  Seems I wan not the first one there.  I headed away from the crowd and off into the vast salt falt.  I kept Telescope Peak in my view and wanted to see if I could find some untrampled salt features that allowed me to shoot perpendicular the sun to gain maximum value from the polarizer.  I shot several hand held shots and retreated to the care.  Still way too early I hung out in the car.  I have to say that I’m glad it’s April and not August. Man was it HOT.  I draped a shirt from my window to give some shade and hunkered in to wait for the light to get more directional and shadow-producing. The only other shade in the area was at the out houses and there was just no way that I was going to wait 2+ hours by a stinky bathroom door. Even though most folks in the lot were visiting from other countries I didn’t think they would understand why some old guy was hanging out by the toilets.  I suffered in silence and kept gaging the sun angle by poking a finger up to cast a shadow.  Finally I gave up.  The sun was still about 50 degrees elevation when I left the car and headed back out to the salt flats.  I noticed that there were indeed shadows along side the low salt ridges.  I headed into the center of the lake knowing that the sun angle could only improve as I wandered looking for good patterns of salt ridges without footprints.  25 minutes later I was in pretty pristine territory and the shadows had grown a bit.  I ste to work and kept reminding myself to watch the exposure.  Good luck with that Bruce.  It was so bright that I could barely make out the LCD on the camera back.  Finally, I realize that there is a good reason to own one of those outrageously price Hoodman loupes.  I’d of killed to know what was on that little screen.  I tested it and found that I actually could see blinkies if I was way over exposed.  I played the game for about an hour and called it quits.  I shot in a 360 degree swing to see what the light did.  I shot straight.  I shot HDR.  I kept telling myself that it was going to be great.  Well, it proves to be harder than I understood.  It’s not a bad image but it’s not exactly what I wanted.  I gave up too soon.  I admit… I was burned out… literally.  I wanted my car and knew that I was looking at 3+ hours to get back to the motel.  I gave in.  It is what it is.  I’m hoping that I get closer than this when I return home and have time to work some of the files.  For now, it’s a shot that I’ve wanted for a long time.  I went for it.  I was close.  It’s all a learning process.

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