Sorry for the delay posting day 9. It has been very busy at work lately, and I haven’t had as much time in front of my computer as I would like. Now, on with the show!
Monday, January 24, 2011
I can’t say enough how much I love my one man tent from MSR. It’s fast to setup, and affords a wonderful view of the night sky. The wind was calm that night, but it was very cold. I slept in my 0° rated REI sleeping bag, and it performed well.
I awoke around 4AM, put on my boots, then treated myself to a gourmet breakfast (frozen cliff bar + Gatorade).
On the short drive to the playa, my 4Runner’s thermometer read 15 degrees. I’m sure glad I packed warm clothes.
I stepped onto the cold, dark playa. The experience of walking across racetrack playa at night is surreal, and difficult to put into words. No matter how fast I walked, the silhouetted mountains never drew closer. My feet turned a giant treadmill, pulling the playa toward me.
On a previous trip my GPS went haywire, and required a recalibration. Thankfully I knew how to calibrate the compass in the field. Without the GPS, it would have been very difficult finding my truck — nearly a half mile away on a moon-less night.
Thankfully, that was not the case today. I found my camera without issue, and prepped it for a morning shot.
A glow filled the sky — sunrise was imminent.
There were clouds in the northern sky, but I had my doubts — They were moving quickly. I watched as they soared overhead, and headed south.
I stuck around for sunrise, but didn’t see anything I felt like shooting. My plan that day was to leave the camera in place, hope for afternoon clouds, and return for a sunset shot. Needless to say, I had a lot of time to kill.
I spent the morning/afternoon reading a book, listening to podcasts, and checking out an abandoned mine on a nearby mountain. Thankfully, the days are short this time of year.
It was now 2 hours until sunset. Although there were some clouds in the sky, they weren’t very impressive. My backup plan was to setup my 4×5 camera for a star trail photo.
I loaded Provia 100 in a 4×5 film holder, and carried my 4×5 camera onto the playa.
Cloud formation increased near sunset, and soon my composition was filled with clouds. I took 3 photos that night with my 8×10.
The first photo was before sunset. Direct light illuminated the foreground, and cast long shadows across the playa. It was okay, but nothing all that amazing. My second photo was taken just as the sun dropped behind the mountains to my west. The foreground was cast in shade, but the sky and mountains in the background were illuminated. It is okay, but the light is a bit too harsh for my taste. My final shot was a 2 minute exposure on Velvia 50. The last rays of sunlight illuminated the clouds. I felt a square crop was fitting.
Although I do like what’s going on with this shot, I feel like I can do even better. I’m certainly inspired to return to racetrack, and see what other atmospheric conditions I can capture. I definitely prefer the northerly view as you see here. When facing east, west, or south, the background mountains are too dominant for my taste.
Just for fun, here’s a shot of my setup on the playa that night. I use a Gitzo 0 series tripod with a Manfrotto 701HDV head for my video camera. The Sennheiser MKE-400 mic with wind muff helps give decent audio, despite very windy conditions. I should also note that this is the first time I’ve used my 8×10 with the wide angle lens so close to the subject. I often set the camera up much higher. This in-your-face composition was fun to try on LF.
My experience shooting the 8×10 that evening left me satisfied. My thirst for shooting racetrack was quenched. I even considered packing up camp, and heading back to Stovepipe wells for sunrise.
These thoughts were induced by a lone pair of tail lights leaving the valley that night. As they faded into the distance, I knew I was the only person left on the playa. Just then, a cold wind swept over the playa. Everyone was returning to their camp sites or hotel rooms elsewhere in the park. I felt left behind.
Those tail lights represented a tie to civilization. They flickered like a distant flame, blown by the cold desert wind. This was the 9th day of my trip, and the solitude had become overbearing. I missed my fiancee, and her sweet smile. I knew in my heart that my trip was done.
Despite my revelation, I was still standing on a cold dark playa in the middle of the Mojave desert. I packed my 8×10 camera, but left my 4×5 in place.
You see, shortly after taking my sunset shot on the 8×10, I exposed a sheet of 4×5 film at -1.5. This was the base exposure for the star trail shot I planned. Moonrise was around midnight, which meant the majority of my exposure would be star light. The base exposure ensured that there would be some degree of foreground detail. I waited an hour after sunset, then began the long exposure to capture star trails.
It was time to return to camp for dinner. I kept my eye on a distant peak. I try not to depend on my GPS, but it’s useful to confirm my judgment. Soon though, it was too dark to see the peak. It was time to rely on my GPS.
The screen flickered as the arrow marking my location jumped around.
I took a few moments to recalibrate the compass. This also happened on my ’09 trip — in nearly the same place. Weird.
I headed back to camp, made dinner, and read a book in my truck. Several hours later, I drove back to the playa. It was midnight, and I needed to retrieve my 4×5. I chose not to use my headlamp as I walked onto the playa that night. My eyes were surprisingly well adjusted.
Just then, a bright light in my peripheral vision startled me. I ducked as a bright light streaked across the playa…
Now, in my own defense, it was a very bright shooting star. But ducking? Really? I had a good laugh.
I carefully approached my camera (it’s difficult to see a black camera in the dark with no headlamp), stopped the exposure, then threw it over my shoulder. I looked forward to my nice down sleeping bag that night.
So what about that star trail shot? Eh… it didn’t turn out so good. There were some clouds that night. I did learn that the -1.5 base exposure was a great starting point though. Maybe next time.