Death Valley

A Trip to the Moon

I love to photograph the Milky Way. For me it’s just one of those things I love to do. This time I was in Death Valley.

A Trip to the Moon, Death Valley National Park

Yes, this is Death Valley. It may look like I took a trip to the Moon, and that’s exactly what I wanted this photograph to look like!

It’s not difficult to photograph the Milky Way. It takes a little preparation and planning, but once that’s out of the way, if you point your camera at the sky and make an extended exposure on a solid tripod, you’re going to capture the Milky Way easily. So there are really no technical hurdles to photographing the Milky Way.

The real trick is finding a way to fit the Milky Way into your overall composition to make something interesting and perhaps unique. There are lots of obvious things to do. For example, one of the most popular places for photographers in Death Valley is Zabriskie Point. The Milky Way positions itself nicely over Zabriskie Point, so it’s a good place to photograph at night. Here’s the photograph I made there.

Milky Way over Zabriskie Point, Death Valley National Park. Note Jupiter in the upper right.

Milky Way over Zabriskie Point, Death Valley National Park. Note Jupiter in the upper right.

But that was the last photograph I made that night, and I really only stopped there on my way out of the park to check it out. There were a couple other photographers there--a crowd at 1:00 AM--so clearly this was a relatively standard place to photograph from.

While I was considering locations during the day, I stopped at Zabriskie Point, but I later found something that gave me an idea. I found a mound or large hill covered with volcanic-looking rocks. To me it looked like the surface of the Moon, and that inspired my idea. Why not make a photograph from this location and make it look like it was taken from the Moon?

There was no vegetation or other signs of life, so it was perfect. The rocks look grey just like on the Moon. The only things that give it away are the slight haze from the atmosphere and some light pollution. Otherwise, I think this is a pretty good representation of the surface of the Moon.

I moved around and made a couple other compositions there. Aside from being a not too hot 80 degrees at night, a strong wind, my car sitting about 250 yards away, and a vehicle driving down the road every now and then, I felt like I could have been standing on the Moon. It was great fun!

Lunar Surface at Death Valley, Death Valley National Park

Ripples in the Mesquite Sand Dunes

Last month I visited the Mesquite Flats Sand Dunes in Death Valley National Park. I wrote about my Moon photography on the dunes, but I’d also like to share some of the photographs I made around sunrise and sunset.

Mesquite Dunes Before Dawn, Death Valley National Park

When photographing sand dunes, I like to emphasize the texture of the sand and the ripples of sand across the dunes created by the wind. The best time to do that is close to sunrise and sunset when the sun is low in the sky. At those times the sunlight skims over the top of the sand and creates shadows in the ripples, which adds contrast and brings out the shape of the ripples. In the middle of the day, the ripples of sand are blasted with light from above, so you lose the contrast and texture.

Sunset on the Mesquite Dunes, Death Valley National Park

The other thing I love about the sand at these times is the pattern of curving lines it creates. Here’s another photograph I made around sunset that really shows those lines.

Ripples on Mesquite Dunes, Death Valley National Park

The challenge of photographing the sand dunes in Death Valley, in particular the very popular and easily accessible Mesquite Dunes, is that they are covered with footprints! You have to hike out for a while to get to cleaner dunes, and even there you will find at least one or two foot paths. It is still possible to find clean areas for a composition, however. When I was at the dunes last month, what was really needed was a good wind storm to clear away the footprints and refresh the dunes. On one of my trips a few years ago, I was there during just such a windstorm, and it presented its own challenges! But the ongoing winds allowed me to make a photograph like the one below, where I captured a larger panorama of the area without having to worry about footprints all over the place.

I love visiting the sand dunes of Death Valley. In both calm and windy conditions, they offer lots of great opportunities to create beautiful photographs.

Tranquility on Mesquite Dunes, Death Valley National Park

A Late Moon

I have wanted to make photographs by moonlight for a while, and one of the places I wanted to do this photography was on the sand dunes in Death Valley. I made my first attempt last week, and I’d like to share some of my results and the story of the Moon’s late arrival.

Moon rising over the Mesquite Sand Dunes, Death Valley National Park

Moonlight is just reflected sunlight, and one of the problems with these kinds of photographs is that depending on the exposure you use, the photographs tend to come out looking like they were taken during the day. But with a different choice of exposure there can be something special about photographing by moonlight. Moonlit photographs can take on a very surreal effect, or they can have a very strong mood to them.

During my moonlight photography trip to Death Valley I decided to adjust my color balance so that my photographs would all have a blue color cast to them. This was not a complete departure from reality. In the darkness of moonlight, an overall blue feeling was perfectly reasonable and realistic in most cases, and it established the correct mood of the photographs. I also chose not to expose long enough to see a lot of detail in the shadows. Had I made a longer exposure, the photographs would have looked much more like daylight images.

Technical details aside, none of the photographs I’m sharing here would have been possible without the Moon, and even though I knew when the Moon was supposed to rise, it was apparently running on its own schedule and decided to be late that night!

I hiked out on the Mesquite Sand Dunes in the late afternoon and made some photographs around sunset. Then I found where I wanted to be for the moonrise and settled in for the wait. I had looked up the moonrise time, which was 8:09 PM, so I had a few hours to wait.

Since it’s January, the sun had set early, and by 6:30 or 7:00 there was no sign of any light coming from the west. At this point, I was committed to staying until the Moon rose unless I wanted to hike back to the car in complete darkness with only a flashlight to guide me--not an appealing option. The whole reason I had come was to make the Moon photographs, so I wasn’t going anywhere, but as the time continued to pass and the temperature started to fall, I was thinking it would be nice just to leave and go home. After a short mental debate I would come back to my senses and continue to wait patiently.

At around 8:00, however, I started to worry because there was no sign of the Moon, which was supposed to be rising in nine minutes. I wasn’t truly worried because I knew the Moon was coming, but my mind started to play tricks on me. Is it really coming? Did I get the time wrong? Of course not. The moonrise time was based on a location of Furnace Creek, about 10-15 miles south of my position on the dunes. The time for me would have been essentially the same. By 8:00 there was not even a hint of twilight coming from the horizon, however. I’m not sure what I expected, but I thought there would at least be a small amount of light coming over the mountains by this time. So there I was, only nine minutes from the scheduled moonrise, out in complete darkness in the middle of the sand dunes with no sign of the Moon’s supposed arrival. Nothing.

Well, 8:09 came and went, and still nothing. What is going on here, I thought? Where is the Moon? All I could do was continue to wait. Finally, at around 8:20 or so, I started to see some light coming from the northeast horizon where I expected the Moon to rise. This photograph is from 8:27:

The Moon is just about to rise, Death Valley National Park

And at 8:30:

The Moon just beginning to rise, Death Valley National Park

The photograph at the start of the blog is from 8:33. Either the time was wrong on the calendar I was using, or the difference was caused by the difference in the apparent height of the horizon due to my location versus what it would be at Furnace Creek. In any case, the Moon had finally arrived, and now I was in business. It was really great. I had the Moon in my viewfinder zoomed in, and I watched it creep above the mountains until the whole Moon was visible. In all of my photographs, I allowed the Moon to overexpose to a white circle, but I also made this photograph correctly exposed for the Moon itself:

The Moon, Death Valley National Park

The Moon was not quite full that night, and you can see the well-defined craters on the top part of the image where the Moon starts to fall into shadow.

I moved around and made a few more photographs, like this one:

The Moon over the Mesquite Sand Dunes, Death Valley National Park

When the Moon got too high in the sky to be in my frame, I started to head back to my car--another adventure. At least I had the light of the Moon to guide me. I knew the general direction I needed to go. If I went in that direction I would run into the road, even if I was not right at my car. Navigating the sand dunes by moonlight for 30 minutes, however, meant I’d have to be very lucky to end up right at my car. Well, that’s exactly what happened. I thought I was close to the road, but I wasn’t sure. Then a car drove by, so I knew I was very close. I saw a strange shape ahead, and it looked to me like the underpass of a bridge. I have no idea why it looked like that, but in that light that’s what I saw. I didn’t remember a bridge being anywhere near where I was. My mind started playing tricks on me again. Could I be that far off course? When I got a few steps closer, however, I recognized the shape of my car! Somehow I ended up exactly where I needed to be.

The Moon may have been late that night, but it was great fun making these photographs, and I look forward to doing more of this kind of photography in other locations.

The Moon peaks through a desert plant in the sand dunes of Death Valley National Park.

A Death Valley Oasis

When you think of Death Valley, you probably think of an arid desert and extremely high temperatures. Maybe you think of rattlesnakes, lizards, and scrub brush. All those elements seem appropriate for a place named “Death Valley.”

Darwin Falls, Death Valley National Park

But one small area of the park defies these descriptions of Death Valley. It is an oasis of trees and lush vegetation, cool, flowing water and waterfalls, and colorful dragonflies. Darwin Falls is located in the Panamint Springs area of Death Valley near the western edge of the park, and as I discovered during my visit, it is a surprising and refreshing contrast to the rest of the park.

After driving a couple miles on a dirt road, I arrived at the parking area. From there it was about a mile hike to the first of the falls. When I started hiking it was about 85 or 90 degrees outside, and the terrain was the typical Death Valley mountain and desert landscape. As I proceeded, I became aware of some changes in the environment, however. I heard crickets, and there were some large bushes that I wouldn’t normally expect to find in Death Valley. Then there were puddles of water on the path.

These changes quickly opened up into a completely different environment. I heard the running water of a stream, and I was protected from the hot sun by the shade of large trees. I crossed the stream a few times. There was a large pool of water, and I could see tadpoles swimming in it. I continued and began to hear the louder sound of a larger waterfall. Along the way, many dragonflies were flying around the area. I turned the corner and arrived at the Darwin Falls. As I approached, I imagined it might only be a mirage. The flowing water and green vegetation seemed completely out of place in Death Valley.

The water, fed by a spring that sustains the falls year round, poured down fifteen feet into a small but relatively deep pool. It was cold water, and several people came to take a dip in it while I was there. Both red and blue dragonflies inhabit the area. I noticed that the blue ones liked to land on logs and other things, and the larger red ones liked to fly around more. It was a completely surreal scene. It felt like a fantasy. Was this really Death Valley?

It was Death Valley, and it’s another one of the stunningly beautiful features of the Mojave Desert I have encountered in Death Valley National Park. Unlike those other features, however, this small area of refuge is truly an oasis in the desert.

Wind Power

The desert Southwest is a windy place. In many areas around southern California and Nevada, large wind farms harness the energy of the wind. Their presence is a reminder of the constant and fierce power of the wind here. The strong winds in this part of the country also play an important role in shaping the landscape.

Kelso Dunes in Mojave National Preserve

One example of how winds shape the landscape is sand dunes. There are many sand dunes in the Southwest, and the wind is responsible for forming, shaping, and moving these dunes. One example is in Mojave National Preserve. I’ve written about the Kelso dunes in Mojave Preserve before. These dunes are tall heaps of sand gathered and shaped by the wind.

Another great place to see sand dunes is in Death Valley National Park. Death Valley has several sand dune systems, including the Mesquite sand dunes. It was a very windy evening when I hiked out among the Mesquite dunes. I had to keep moving to prevent the sand from gathering around my feet and causing me to sink more deeply into it. It also took a while for my tripod to gain stability in the shifting sands. At the peak of the dunes, I got sand-blasted as the sand whipped up over the crest.

Tranquility on Mesquite Dunes, Death Valley National Park

The landscape changes constantly as the sand dunes reshape themselves and move within the system. These changes are subtle when viewed from a distance. But when you get up close, it is clear just how much material is being moved around by the wind. Footprints in the sand alter the way the sand flows, but it does not take long for those footprints to vanish, swallowed up by the wind-powered re-shifting of the sand.

Here in Las Vegas, windstorms are one of the few weather hazards we get. This past weekend at the Boulder City Spring Art Festival, I experienced the power of the wind first-hand. My tent, along with the tents of three or four other artists, was blown over by strong wind gusts. It could have been a lot worse for me. Fortunately nobody got hurt, and the only property that was damaged was my own. I’m taking it as a learning experience, and I am making changes in my booth setup to prevent this problem from happening to me in the future. But at least I got a photograph out of it. This photograph shows the remains of my tent. Someone suggested I put a price tag on it and sell it as modern art!

That's not the kind of art I like to make, however. I much prefer making landscape photography, and I thank the wind for helping to sculpt many beautiful sand dunes for me to photograph.

Desert Heat, Death Valley National Park

Death Valley Super Bloom

During late winter and early spring each year, the wildflowers bloom in Death Valley National Park. This has been a special year, however. For the past couple months, Death Valley has experienced a “super bloom,” where the number and density of the flowers, and the size of the individual plants, are all much greater than normal. A super bloom is a rare event--the last one occurred in 2005. This year’s super bloom happened thanks to several heavy rain events late last year.

Wildflowers at Sunset, Death Valley National Park

The flowers started earlier than expected. At first they were confined to the southern parts of the park down Badwater Road. They slowly worked their way north and up to higher elevations. As the flowers appeared and thickened in one area, they diminished and died out in the areas they had been before--it was like a wave of wildflowers passing through the park. The flowers are mostly gone in the valley, but they remain in the middle and higher elevations.

Early Morning Wildflowers, Death Valley National Park

I went to Death Valley several times to take advantage of the super bloom and make photographs of the wildflowers as they passed through the area. Based on what I found each week, it was fun to estimate where I should plan to photograph the following week. A great resource that helps me ultimately decide where to go each week is the National Park Service’s wildflower update. They have lots of great information there about the varieties of flower and where best to see them.

Wildflower Portrait, Death Valley National Park

I made a few different kinds of photographs of the flowers and their environment. I focused mostly on the Desert Gold flowers. They seem to be the most numerous in the lower elevations, and their bright yellow color makes them stand out the most. At certain times and places throughout this season the Desert Gold flowers appeared to blanket large areas of the terrain of Death Valley. This visible burst of life in Death Valley presents a beautiful contrast to the sometimes inhospitable environment there. The intense heat and dryness that characterize Death Valley are not present all year round, and in their absence, life flourishes visibly and beautifully.

Super Bloom, Death Valley National Park

The Ethics of Digital Development

Did this photograph go through Photoshop? Absolutely, it did. I’m an artist, and developing my photographs in Photoshop is an important part of my artistic and creative process in the digital medium. But what are the ethical implications of modifying a photograph? The answer is that it depends on the context.

Sunset at Badwater Basin in Death Valley National Park

In this earlier blog article, I presented two photographs I took of a kitchen to demonstrate the value of professional real estate photography. Here are the two photographs.

Snapshot of a kitchen

Professional photograph of a kitchen

In the photograph on the right, notice that among other changes, I removed the air vent in the ceiling. I also removed the magnets on the refrigerator. If it's hard to see, click the images for a larger view. I made these changes during the development, or post-processing phase of production. Let’s discuss these kinds of changes in different contexts.

We’ll start with my area of photography, fine art landscapes. For fine art photography, I believe it is acceptable to exercise artistic license when creating a photograph. It is, after all, an artistic process we are talking about. Art does not necessarily need to represent reality exactly, even in the case of photography. Art is about communicating a message, and removing distracting elements from a photograph focuses attention on the message. In artistic photography, anything that does not add to the message or add to the aesthetic value of the photograph detracts from it. From an artistic perspective, an element that detracts from the beauty or value of a photograph should be removed.

During development and finishing, I make many changes to my photographs for artistic reasons. Sometimes the lighting is not quite right, or the photograph needs to be cropped to make it more effective. Sometimes the color is off. I make these kinds of changes freely, and I never feel bad about making them because I know what I’m doing is creating art. I’m not preparing a photograph to serve as evidence in a courtroom. Of course it’s best to get as much correct in camera as possible, but often it’s not possible to create a perfect photograph in camera because of both the technological and physical limitations of the camera. In those cases, I do whatever is necessary to shape the photograph into an image that expresses my artistic vision.

Fine art photography represents one extreme on the spectrum of acceptability for image development. At the other extreme is photojournalism. In photojournalism it is completely unethical and unacceptable to change a photograph in any material way. What constitutes a material change? Removing or adding elements is a big one. Even making significant lighting changes could be unethical. Cropping could be unethical because it can remove relevant items from the image, thereby changing or completely eliminating the context of the events depicted in the scene. Very little retouching or development is acceptable for photojournalism. A photojournalist might make some minor color and exposure adjustments, but that’s about it.

So fine art photography and photojournalism are on separate ends of the spectrum of acceptability for development. Now let’s shift over to real estate photography, which presents its own set of issues. If I make a photograph of a room and decide that the air vent in the ceiling is a distraction and should be removed, I would not make that change. If a photograph is being made to showcase a home or office in a real estate listing, it would be unethical to remove the air vent because doing so results in an image that misrepresents the product being sold. The ethics of photojournalism apply to real estate photography in this case because it is important to represent reality accurately and completely.

If the real estate photograph is being used purely for marketing purposes, however, then the situation is different again. Let’s say a company wants a photograph of its office for a brochure. They want a photograph that flatters their space. If an air vent or other element detracts from the aesthetics of the image, I would remove it. In these cases, I want the photograph to be a little nicer than reality. It’s more of an artistic representation of their space, so the ethics associated with artistic photography apply.

It still is best to try to get everything right in camera. Is there a way to exclude the air vent or other offending item from the frame by moving around, zooming in, or shifting perspective? Sometimes it’s not possible, and in those cases the post-processing edit may be needed.

On the other hand, when I removed the magnets from the refrigerator in the photograph above, I did so purely for aesthetic reasons. The difference is that I would make that change even if the photograph were made for a real estate listing of the house for sale. The magnets on the refrigerator contribute nothing to the scene. They are simply clutter that distracts the viewer’s attention. For this reason I should remove them. It is ethical to remove them during post-processing because they are not physically a part of the room. I’m simply removing personal items that would not be transferred in the sale in any case.

Now, here again it would have been better to get it right in camera--physically remove the magnets before taking the photograph. But that’s not the point here. The point I’m making is that there is no ethical dilemma in removing those magnets or making other similar changes in post-processing in cases where it was simply not possible to do it on location, or where the photographer may have overlooked something.

That’s a brief overview of some of the ethics of development during post-processing. As a creator of fine art photographs, I enjoy the freedom I have to make the changes I see fit to express my artistic vision.

2015 In Review

It has been a great 2015, and I thought I'd share with you some of the photographic highlights of my year.

I visited Joshua Tree National Park for the first time this year. I made two trips to the park. I focused on the trees but also on the Milky Way when I was at the park in the summer.

Joshua and Joshua, Jr., Joshua Tree National Park

Amazing Milky Way, Joshua Tree National Park

I made several trips to Death Valley this year. I was excited to get to visit the Racetrack for the first time. I also made several photographs of the Mesquite Sand Dunes. And I made the photograph of Darwin Falls that I wrote about in my last blog article. Here are some of my photographs from Death Valley this year.

Tranquility on Mesquite Dunes, Death Valley National Park

Morning Marathon on the Racetrack, Death Valley National Park

Morning Marathon on the Racetrack, Death Valley National Park

Desert Heat, Death Valley National Park

I also made a few trips to Zion. I returned from the Narrows hike with a couple of beautiful photographs. I also visited the park in the Fall and captured some of the colorful foliage.

Big Spring in the Narrows, Zion National Park

Burst of Color on the Virgin River, Zion National Park

During the summer I focused my attention on Great Basin National Park, hoping to make some Milky Way photographs. I created this photograph featuring Mount Wheeler and the Milky Way.

Milky Way Over Mount Wheeler, Great Basin National Park

I also took a trip to the Los Angeles area. Here’s a photograph I made at Laguna Beach.

Laguna Beach Aurora, Laguna Beach, CA

Those are just some of the highlights of my year photographically. I also made several new photographs around Las Vegas and during some smaller trips as well. I’m looking forward to visiting new places and returning to familiar places and seeing what I can produce in 2016. Happy new year!

A Death Valley Oasis

When you think of Death Valley, you probably think of an arid desert and extremely high temperatures. Maybe you think of rattlesnakes, lizards, and scrub brush. All those elements seem appropriate for a place named “Death Valley.”

Darwin Falls, Death Valley National Park

But one small area of the park defies these descriptions of Death Valley. It is an oasis of trees and lush vegetation, cool, flowing water and waterfalls, and colorful dragonflies. Darwin Falls is located in the Panamint Springs area of Death Valley near the western edge of the park, and as I discovered during my visit earlier this year, it is a surprising and refreshing contrast to the rest of the park.

After driving a couple miles on a dirt road, I arrived at the parking area. From there it was about a mile hike to the first of the falls. When I started hiking it was about 85 or 90 degrees outside, and the terrain was the typical Death Valley mountain and desert landscape. As I proceeded, I became aware of some changes in the environment, however. I heard crickets, and there were some large bushes that I wouldn’t normally expect to find in Death Valley. Then there were puddles of water on the path.

These changes quickly opened up into a completely different environment. I heard the running water of a stream, and I was protected from the hot sun by the shade of large trees. I crossed the stream a few times. There was a large pool of water, and I could see tadpoles swimming in it. I continued and began to hear the louder sound of a larger waterfall. Along the way, many dragonflies were flying around the area. I turned the corner and arrived at the Darwin Falls. As I approached, I imagined it might only be a mirage. The flowing water and green vegetation seemed completely out of place in Death Valley.

The water, fed by a spring that sustains the falls year round, poured down fifteen feet into a small but relatively deep pool. It was cold water, and several people came to take a dip in it while I was there. Both red and blue dragonflies inhabit the area. I noticed that the blue ones liked to land on logs and other things, and the larger red ones liked to fly around more. It was a completely surreal scene. It felt like a fantasy. Was this really Death Valley?

It was Death Valley, and it’s another one of the stunningly beautiful features of the Mojave Desert I have encountered in Death Valley National Park. Unlike those other features, however, this small area of refuge is truly an oasis in the desert.

The Racetrack Playa

I recently took a trip out to Death Valley National Park to visit the Racetrack Playa. What an amazing place! I’ll be writing more about it in my next few blog posts, but for now I wanted to share with you some of the photographs I made during my visit.

The sun is rising at the Racetrack

The sun is rising at the Racetrack

Going to the Racetrack is an event. It’s something many photographers dream about doing from the first moment they see a picture of those mysterious moving rocks. Why are photographers so fascinated by this place? It is certainly an odd sight to see, but from a photographer’s perspective, it’s a dream location. Everything is set up for you. A beautiful location. A dry lakebed, which itself is a really interesting subject with its patterns of mud. Amazing mountains in the distance. You want a foreground element? OK, pick a rock! Need some leading lines to make a stronger composition? The rock’s trailing path is ideal!

The Racetrack Playa seems to have been hand-made specifically for photographers. The best part of it is that the rocks tell a story. Each rock has gone on a journey, and that history is part of the photograph. Photographs that tell a story are strong photographs. There are so many opportunities to create photographs like that at the Racetrack Playa.

Moving rock at the Racetrack in the afternoon

Moving rock at the Racetrack in the afternoon

When I arrived, I immediately ventured out onto the playa. The rocks start about a half mile away. Many of the rocks closest to the road have been ruined by people’s footprints when they walked on the playa when it was wet. That’s a terrible shame, because those footprints will remain for many years. You have to continue farther out to find the good rocks and trails.

Shortly after sunset at the Racetrack

Shortly after sunset at the Racetrack

I found a couple rocks that were near each other and decided to focus photography at sunset on those two. They were close enough to each other that I could alternate between them and create a couple different compositions.

That night I did some astrophotography and created some photographs of the Milky Way and the moving rocks. I’ll write a separate article about that experience. I was up for most of the night, and in the morning I made some additional photographs before and during the sunrise.

My trip to the Racetrack Playa was an amazing experience. I loved seeing these mysterious moving rocks, and it was a great joy for me to create these photographs of them.

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Ubehebe Crater: A Challenging Photograph

The photograph you see here is the result of my effort to make a compelling photograph of Ubehebe Crater in Death Valley National Park. In addition to having a really cool name, the subject is very interesting, which inspired me to want to photograph it. But the actual process of making the image was not easy.

Ubehebe Crater in Death Valley National Park
Ubehebe Crater in Death Valley National Park

Ubehebe Crater is located in Death Valley National Park and formed several hundred years ago when hot magma rose to the surface and encountered a layer of water. The water quickly vaporized, and tremendous pressure built up. The result of all that steam pressure was an explosion that left behind the crater you see here. We don’t know exactly when the explosion occurred, but it’s estimated to have been around 300 years ago.

The crater is quite large; it’s around a half mile wide. I came to the crater in the afternoon and viewed it from the parking lot, which is on the north side of the crater. It’s really an amazing sight to see, and it almost feels like you’re in an alien environment. That’s actually a feeling I got in several other places in Death Valley as well. It’s an incredible place.

I walked along the rim of the crater for a while, and as I was exploring I quickly realized that photographing a crater of this size is not an easy thing to do. The problem is the light. Photography is all about light, and you need good light to create the best images. The problem is that by the time the golden hour arrives and the light is best, the interior of the crater is completely in shadow. The eastern side of the crater exposes the yellow and orange layers of rock that you can see in the photograph. I would love to capture the late afternoon and sunset light falling across those colorful rock layers, but unfortunately that is just not possible.

I traveled around to the west side of the crater and set up to capture some images. The sun was behind me and illuminating the crater and the mountains behind it in the distance. At this point in the afternoon, the east side of the crater with the orange and yellow rocks was lit up by the sunlight, and the remainder of the crater was in shadow. I created an image at this time and worked on it for quite a while at home during my post processing. In the end I discarded that version because I didn’t like the way there was such a harsh shadow line cutting across the middle of the image.

Instead, I waited until the crater was completely in shadow. The mountains in the distance were still completely illuminated. It was now 45 minutes later and about 30 minutes before the official sunset time. The light was much better, and I really like the way the distant mountains look in this final image. The shadow line is much more subtle because it kind of follows the edge of the crater so that you don’t really notice it. And there was still enough light that I was able to bring out the color in the rocks of the interior of the crater.

This photograph was a challenge to produce, both on site and in post-processing. But the result is worth it to me. I think this image captures the beauty of the crater and conveys the feeling of amazement I experienced when I saw it. I hope you enjoy it too!