Cold desert air filtered through the mesh of my tent that morning. I closed my eyes and tried to get some rest, but it was hopeless. I watched as the last few stars gave way to the first glow of morning.
This was my morning to sleep in — but that wasn’t going to happen.
I unzipped my tent, and filled my lungs with the sweet morning air. On shooting trips, it’s impossible for me to sleep through a sunrise.
I felt a sense of accomplishment when I broke down my camp that morning. I was fortunate to have this location all to myself, and experience such great conditions.
I drove along the bumpy road, and watched in my rear view mirror as the dunes faded into the distance. It was like seeing a long lost friend — fade away once more.
I returned to the main highway, and made my way north. My next location is Furnace Creek, a familiar favorite that provides easy access to Badwater, and other nearby salt flats.
Along the way, I stopped by Dante’s View to take a few snapshots of the salt formations from above. This popular lookout sits 5,000 feet above the valley floor, and offers magnificent views in every direction.
On my way back to the parking lot, I passed a Native American man playing a flute. It was a humbling experience hearing such beautiful music set against the vast expanse of Death Valley.
I secured a campsite at Furnace Creek, then spent the afternoon scouting a nearby salt flat. It is here that a massive alluvial fan — stretching miles to the east — crumbles abrubtly onto the salt flat. A small amount of water flows from beneath the alluvial fan.
Though I was initially concerned about sinking into the thick gooey mud, it proved harmless in all but a few areas. Note to self — avoid those areas.
I ventured further onto the salt flat, leaving all traces of water behind me. The clean white salt gave way to thick, splintered brown crust — interspersed with small dry salt rivers.
I felt like an ant walking on a nasty salty brownie, strewn with flood debris, and covered with more salt.
It was then that a beautiful serpentine curve caught my eye. The dry salt river I had been following cut through a course salt crust, curving gently to the right then back to the left. It was a clean curve — very graphic.
I knew immediately that this was my next shooting location. I logged it into my GPS, then went back to my truck to retrieve my camera.
All of my compositions are the result of thorough scouting. It’s difficult to capture fleeting moments with an 8×10 camera. Instead, I must find an intriguing foreground, ask myself when the light will be best, then wait for that light.
Though it sounds difficult, it’s really quite simple. The salt formation I stumbled upon was the first part of the puzzle. I knew where my next shot was — I just needed to figure out when it would be.
I pondered the scene, and mentally tracked the path of the sun for both sunrise and sunset.
The sun would set behind the mountains just to the right of my chosen composition. With proper clouds, it might work — but the back-lit mountains would be featureless against a contrasty sky.
At sunrise, the mountains would receive soft light, but there was no hope of using the Earth’s shadow as a graphic element in the scene. Instead, I would need clouds to fill the sky with color.
I locked everything down, and left my camera on the salt flats that night — all the while hoping there would be clouds in the morning.