Share this photo on Twitter Share this photo on Facebook

Sunrise Moonset, Zabriskie Point, Death Valley

Posted by
Gary Hart (California, United States) on 6 September 2010 in Landscape & Rural and Portfolio.

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.

* My Facebook page *

Upcoming workshops

Yosemite winter, spring, and fall; New Zealand; Grand Canyon; Death Valley; Eastern Sierra; Maui; Hawaii's Big Island; Columbia River Gorge

Other Links

* Facebook

* WordPress Blog

* Website: Eloquent Images

Thanks for visiting. Even if I don't respond, your comments are always read and appreciated.

wolfen from Villefranche s/s, France

Maîtrise technique, superbe paysage et des couleurs fantastique !!!
Une grande réussite !!
5 *****

6 Sep 2010 6:39am

Tamara from Aarschot, Belgium

This is so special Gary... The atmosphere is magical. The details on the foreground are amazing. Have a wonderful day :)

6 Sep 2010 10:03am

Judy aka L@dybug from Brooksville, Florida, United States

Excellent image ... and I like your description of the effects of moving around, positioning yourself as to the elements available.

6 Sep 2010 1:07pm

Barbara Kile from Ft. Worth, United States

Foreground lighting is exquisite!

6 Sep 2010 1:36pm

JOEMULLIGAN from burnsville, nc, United States

love the colors, textures, shapes in the foreground and background mountains and then the clear luminous sky. i can feel the silence.....

6 Sep 2010 1:59pm

Daniel from Kenmare, United States

great soft colors.

6 Sep 2010 3:06pm

VisualStoryteller from Cape Cod, United States

Wonderful composition with the foreground outcroppings providing a solid anchor for the middle and top thirds of the image. The depth perceived is almost infinite (or at least 240,000 miles deep :) )

Your description of pre-exposure planning, including positioning reminds me of a comment Ansel Adams made in his autobiography: "Anticipation is another prime element of creative art essential to visualization." He mentions the "decisive moment" that Henri Cartier-Bresson perfected in his images of people as an example.

Gary, you have done the same with your images of the natural beauty that can be anticipated during the golden hour. Bravo.

6 Sep 2010 4:07pm

DarkElf from Perth, Australia

wonderful composition! the landscape is beautifully layered into three distinct parts! there is a good contrast between the brighter tones of the foreground to the blues and purples in the background and moon gives a good reference point! the captured mood is really great in this almost other-worldly place...

7 Sep 2010 3:50am

Bill Brown from California, United States

In one word, Magnificent!

7 Sep 2010 4:49am

Magda from Vancouver, Canada

Absolutely wonderful! Lovely tones

7 Sep 2010 4:52am

Wild Mustang Photography from Carlisle, United States

Stunning light and layers! Love the colors too! Beautiful!!!!!

7 Sep 2010 11:03pm

Denny Jump Photo from Easton, PA, United States

Bar none this is the most beautiful image of and from Zabriskie Point I have ever seen. Just wonderful Gary - dreamlike yet it just exudes energy at the same time - wonderful.

8 Sep 2010 12:23am

Becky from los angeles, United States

this is really beautiful - I love all of the coloring - and I feel as though I have just gotten out to take a walk on the moon! Excellent.

8 Sep 2010 1:04am

Vaido from Võrumaa, Estonia

Great light on those layers... so well catched!

9 Sep 2010 12:48pm

Stefan from Thiersee, Austria

Outstanding photo!

9 Sep 2010 6:20pm

Jen from United States

Oh, I just love all the layers and colors here! Beautiful composition!

10 Sep 2010 3:57pm