Death Valley 2011: Day 7

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Lucky Seven. It’s a great number. Have you ever noticed how the 7th song on an album is often the best? Everyone loves 7.

What can go wrong Day 7?

That’s what I felt when I got up that morning.

I awoke at 3AM, and headed to Badwater. Along the way, I listened to the early morning nutjobs on AM talk radio. It was the usual topics of alien abductions, doomsday cults, and the other crazy talk. Quite frankly, there isn’t much else to listen to. I can only listen to those same 2,000 songs on my iPod for so long.

I don’t mind the long drives in Death Valley. Quite frankly, I need these drives to charge my camcorder batteries.

I can easily go through two batteries each day with my Panasonic TM700. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining about battery life. Sometimes I get tongue tied, and I have to record the same clip over and over. Also, long time lapse sequences will single-handedly kill a battery.

I use a power inverter to charge the batteries as I drive.

Upon my arrival at Badwater, I set out to find my camera. It spent the night on the flooded basin.

Unlike the shallow water of my previous sunrise shots, my camera now sat in water nearly one foot deep. I was concerned about water movement killing the sharpness of my foreground.

As I waited for the light, I remained stationary. Even the slightest movement resulted in a symphony of ripples in every direction.

I took my shot, packed up my gear, and headed back to my truck.

This is the part of my blog where I should be posting the photo, talking about the camera settings, and discussing my motivation behind the shot. As you scroll down, you will see no such shot.  Why? Quite frankly, it didn’t turn out. The film likely shifted in my holder, causing a strange ghosted image. This is exactly what happened to a shot on my Zion trip. Strangely enough, both photos I shot this morning suffered the exact same problem.

Although I shot around 12 photos on this trip, I only used 2 or 3 film holders. I frequently unloaded the exposed film, and replaced it with fresh film. The film holder in question that morning was used for several other shots, and none of them suffered the effect.

Despite the technical issue, I just don’t like the shot. The water was too deep, and my foreground wasn’t very sharp. Also, the gradient in the sky was disrupted by some weird looking clouds. The technical issue was no big loss.

Since this is the second time I’ve had an issue with film shift (I think), I’ll be sure to tap my film holders to make sure the film settles. I’d hate for this issue to show up on an otherwise good shot!

Lucky 7?  Not so far.

returning to my truck after shooting sunrise @ badwater

At mid-day, I found myself near Cow Creek. I noticed some nice streams of water flowing across the basin. I spent an hour or so scouting the location, looking for a shot. Although there were some interesting foregrounds, I felt like an aerial perspective was necessary. I was an ant walking across a book — trying to make sense of the words.

My best moment that day was changing to a fresh set of clothes. I traded my salt encrusted pants for a new pair of REI Sahara pants. When I say new, I mean NEW.  We’re talking tags and everything. After putting on a fresh shirt, clean socks, and my good pair of boots, I felt like a millionaire.

I minimize the heat by aiming my truck toward the sun, and using a reflective windshield cover. My film is located in the back of my truck in an insulated case. Professional film must be protected from heat exposure.

I loaded film along the side of the road, then set out to the dunes. I had high hopes for a good sunset. Beautiful high clouds streamed gracefully overhead. If they stuck around through sunset, the conditions would be ideal.

I spent several hours scouting a small region of the dunes.

They were pristine  — untouched by man. Every footprint I saw was my own.

With just 2 hours until sunset, I found an ideal location.

There was a low rolling dune in the foreground. The mid-ground was a series of layered dunes, and the background was a high dune peak set against the mountains.

The puzzle pieces aligned, and I setup my tripod. Was this the shot I had hoped for? Could I walk away from Day 7 with an epic shot of the dunes?

I chose my normal lens, and found a composition.  It looked good.  Everything clicked into place.

It was now just an hour until sunset. Soon, the low angle light would arrive. I stood a chance at capturing a dune shot. This was 3 years in the making.

After all, this was Day 7.

Lucky 7.

It was as though someone flipped a switch. The clouds that graced my composition began to thin.

As they vaporized and twirled into bands of nothingness, the clouds to my west began to thicken. Soon, the sun was obstructed.

A freight train of clouds rumbled through the sky, blocking the trajectory of the setting sun.

There was no direct sun that evening.

Lucky 7.

5 Responses to “Death Valley 2011: Day 7”

  1. bob francella Says:

    Ben sorry you had to go through all of that and not get the shot you wanted, boy you sure do a lot of planning and nature not cooperating must be frustrating. O well you got next year to do it all over again.
    Lots of luck the next time.

    • Ben Horne Says:

      It’s all part of the fun of being out there. Sometimes I get the good light, sometimes I don’t. Either way, it’s an amazing experience being out there in search of my next shot. I’ll definitely be back there again next year — or maybe even later this year. We’ll see.

  2. scout327 Says:

    Damn, I thought you finally had the “Dune Shot”! You had to have come back in the morning, now that you found your composition. The suspense is killing me🙂

  3. scout327 Says:

    Denied, damn!

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