I awoke well before sunrise, laced my boots, and strapped on my backpack. The lack of weight was much appreciated. All I had in my backpack that morning was film, water, and some snacks.
My camera, lens, and tripod spent the night at the dunes. The night was calm and I slept easy knowing that my camera was safe.
It is a one mile hike from my campsite to my shooting location. As I drew closer, I stumbled upon a lonely set of footprints leading the opposite direction. Clearly they were my own footprints from last night, but seeing those lonely tracks across the barren desert evoked a strange feeling — as though I was walking back in time.
While following the footprints, a tiny dot appeared atop a nearby dune. My camera seemed insignificant amidst the rolling sea of sand.
Upon reaching my shooting location, I inserted a film holder, and began metering the scene. The soft glow of morning was fast approaching.
I removed the darkslide, and began my first exposure on Kodak Portra 160VC. The wind was calm, and I could see the first sign of a glow on the right side of the dune. I studied the light, and constantly re-metered the scene. What began as a 25 minute exposure reading was soon 7 minutes.
I find it difficult to shoot in conditions with changing light. You must constantly meter the scene, and decide when it’s best to cut the exposure short. My technique is to average the initial exposure reading with the current exposure reading. If the reading starts at 25 minutes, and eventually meters at 10 minutes — I would cut it short at roughly 17 minutes. I have no clue if this is considered proper technique, but I find that it works quite well.
In retrospect, I prefer the evening version from day 2. When you’re enamored by the beauty of a location, sometimes it’s difficult to choose when the light is best. That’s why it’s important for me to experiment, and take as many photos as I can (within limitation).
I made sure my camera was physically level when I took this image, but the result didn’t seem very level. An optical illusion was to blame for the unevenness. I was able to rotate and crop the image to compensate. This is one of the advantages of shooting 8×10. I can significantly rotate and crop such a large negative.
I spent the late morning through early afternoon traversing the backbone of the dominant dune — the one in my photo. My image shows it at a foreshortened angle, but the ridge is actually quite long.
Later that afternoon, I photographed an interesting “s curve” that was located only 100 yards from my morning location. Technically, the photo turned out fine, but I’m still not sure what to think about it. The sun was moving fast, and I lost some of my foreground light. I think the composition still might work, but I’ll have to sit on it for a while.
Taking two photos in one day was a great feeling. I was very impressed with the Ibex dunes — the lack of people — and the photographic opportunities I enjoyed during my visit. Sticking around any longer would have been asking too much from this great location. It was time to move on, and see what else I could photograph in Death Valley.