Camera or not, sunrise is my favorite time of day. Starting with the faint glow expanding on the eastern horizon and lasting all the way through the long shadows and amber hues of the sun's first rays, there's no match for the color, sounds, smells, and utter stillness only possible before the rest of the world stirs.
Now I can't pretend that I frequently find sunrise solitude at popular locations like Death Valley's Zabriskie Point, but even at places like this I find that I'm sharing the moment with kindred spirits, other photographers who respect the beautiful peace as much as I do. Everyone seems to speak softly, tread lightly, and marvel with a common but private awe.
Reverie notwithstanding, photography in the magic hour before the sun is pretty nice too. On most clear, still days, when sunrise may just be the only time for serious photography until sunset, my favorite time for shooting comes 30 to 15 minutes before the sun arrives. That's when the western sky starts to brighten with complementary layers of pastel pink and steely blue and the entire landscape is washed in even, shadowless light. Exposures are long but easy, and a light foreground often reflects sky's predominant hue.
One problem photographing frequently photographed locations is finding something to make my images unique. Not necessarily one-of-a-kind (always a goal, but I can't be greedy), but at least something that makes them stand out from the plethora of other nice images. Certainly choosing the best light--e.g., sunrise for Zabriskie Point, sunset for Tunnel View--is a start. But I like at least one other element, either a compelling foreground subject, or as in this case, something interesting in the sky.
Getting the Moon in your frame (without Photoshop shenanigans) is pretty simple--I mean, there are countless charts and tables that provide the Moon's phase and position for any location on earth for centuries to come--with some basic homework. For me it has become so routine that I no longer schedule a workshop or personal photo trip without factoring in the Moon, both as a subject and as a source of light for night photography.
On this morning late last January it was still fairly dark when I got my workshop group in position at Zabriskie Point, dark enough that it was impossible to capture the bright Moon's highlight detail in the same frame as the murky foreground. I encouraged the group to concentrate on long foreground exposures that excluded the Moon, but to monitor the light because while the moon would remain constant (fully lit by the sun), the foreground light would increase quickly with the sun's approach. It wasn't long before we could start including the Moon with the help of a graduated neutral density filter, and shortly thereafter with careful filterless exposure.
One other thing this image reminds me is how much difference moving around makes in a composition that features the Moon. Photographers tend to get so locked on to their compositions that they forget that they're not anchored to the ground. When you have a fairly prominent foreground subject like Zabriskie Point's Manly Beacon, it's pretty easy to organize your primary visual elements by moving around a bit. In this case I moved left to balance the Moon with Manly Beacon; in other frames I moved right to align the two. Moving forward, down the slope brought the Moon closer to the Funeral Mountains; moving up the slope behind me put the Moon higher in the sky. The closer your foreground objects, the more pronounced this effect.
* Website: Eloquent Images
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