Death Valley: Day 6

Good Water at Badwater

February 6, 2010

The soft rain continued into the pre-dawn hours. I brought two tents with me on this trip. I setup my one-man tent because it is small, and fast to setup.  Had I known how much rain I would receive, I would have chosen the larger tent.

I have lived in San Diego my entire life.  I enjoy the sound of rain, the smell of rain, and even driving around in the wet stuff.  Last night, it was an annoyance.  The rain fly was only inches above my head — every minuscule raindrop was magnified 10x.  These were not big, bold rain drops.  They were the yappy dog variety of rain drops.  Yap, yap, yap — into the early morning hours. Will it ever end?

I fumbled for my iPod, and put on my headphones.  In a twist of brilliant irony, I chose a selection I knew would put me out.  “Relaxing Rain Ambiance” was just the white noise I needed to overpower the sound of the rain on my tent. Fight water with water.

I don’t recall my dreams that night, but they were strange.  The desert seems to have that sort of effect on me.  The shrill gang of coyotes that trampled through my campsite couldn’t have helped.

I awoke around 4AM, and decided to drive to Badwater.  Why?  I’m not sure.

I didn’t have a morning shot planned, but I was betting on an afternoon shot. After all, there were clouds.  Photographing the dunes was out of the question, and many of the roads in the park were still closed.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not complaining. I really enjoyed visiting Badwater.  There is enormous photographic potential, and I felt as though I had unresolved business at that location.  Sure, I had already taken a few shots. I still wanted to capture some dry polygons.  Something different.

All of the images I captured at Badwater were vertical compositions.  This location lends itself to verticals because of the geometric foreground.  I know deep down that I need to focus my attention on horizontal shots.  My photographic style lends itself to vertical compositions, but horizontal shots (especially panoramics) look better on most walls.  My purpose is to capture images my customers will fall in love with, and hang on their walls. The images need to look good over a sofa, or spanning the wall of a study.

I evaluated the weather at Badwater over a warm bowl of oatmeal.  Storm clouds obscured the Panamint mountain range, and swirled through the valley. The clouds were trapped on one side by a 11,000 foot peak, and a 5,000 peak on the other side.  The clouds funneled through the valley.  They tried to escape, but they were trapped.

I took to my book, and killed a few hours.

When I glanced up, the clouds began to break.  I saw blue sky — lots of it!

I took this as a sign, loaded 2 more sheets of 8×10 film into a holder, and prepare my gear for a potential shot. I took a total of 3 sheets of film with me.

My goal for today was to photograph some dry salt polygons.  I felt I had done the reflection shots justice, so it was now time to try a different subject matter.  I scouted a dry region of polygons that were very well structured. It’s more difficult than it sounds.  Even though the basin spans 5 miles wide, and 20 miles long, there are not many areas with ideal polygons.  Some were too wet, some were not well formed, others were too dirty.  After a while, everything looks the same.  I found it helpful to close my eyes for a moment, then re-open them and get a fresh perspective.

The shooting location I selected for Day 6 was not all that far from where I shot the sunset photo on day 2.

The blue sky gave way to clouds.  This time, they were menacing.  The massive Panamint mountains stood their ground, blocking the onslaught of rain.  The captive storm glared at me from behind the rugged peaks. I watched as the mountain’s grasp weakened. Shafts of rain descend the peaks of the Panamint range, crossing the valley with large strides.

This was the storm.  This was my shot.

I acted fast, and setup a horizontal photo.  The foreground is not as structured as I would have liked, but I did my best.  I locked down my camera settings, placed a grad filter in front of my lens, then made an exposure.  I questioned my metering decision, so I took a second exposure.

Badwater: Approaching Storm (Velvia 50 8x10 | Nikkor 150mm SW | Ebony RW810)

Although the photo I took of Badwater on Day 2 depicts rare flooded conditions, I feel that this shot on day 6 also shows an uncommon occurance. The polygons at my feet were damp, but not flooded. The damp salt crystals reflect light in an unusual way.  This semi-moist state must be the most transient of all conditions at Badwater.  Also, storm clouds are not an everyday occurance in the valley.

Above it all, this was a horizontal shot. Yay!

I covered my camera with a trash bag as the rain swept overhead.

It was now time to break down my camera gear, and head back to camp.

I prepared dinner under my 4Runner’s rear hatch, then settled into my tent for the night.

I was about to experience my first real Death Valley rain storm from the inside of my one-man tent.

5 Responses to “Death Valley: Day 6”

  1. David Patterson Says:

    Luminous light reflected on perfect polygons, and those clouds are a just reward for your patience. I cannot imagine the detail in the large version of this shot… nice work.

  2. Nicolas Belokurov Says:

    Well Ben… WHAT A SHOT! I ‘ve seen quite a few shot from this place but this is the first stormy one. The colors an the textures are just amazing.
    I got back from a photo trip a couple of weeks ago and had my share of rain and snow. Didn’t have any music to fight it 🙂

    • Ben Horne Says:

      Thanks Nicolas. I must have missed these comments, so I apologize for the slow response. Now that the file has been scanned and printed, I’m very satisfied with it. I find it difficult to properly display the image on the web though. The print is more vibrant, but a bit less saturated. It’s difficult to explain.

  3. Sharon Van Lieu Says:

    Just now catching up on my blog reading. I am enjoying your videos, Ben. Great stuff. About vertical/horizontal – I have the opposite tendency – I rarely go vertical. Interesting how we see things, isn’t it.


    • Ben Horne Says:

      I’m learning to embrace horizontal since the presentation is so much stronger when printed large. It’s definitely a matter of changing the way I think about composition.

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