Without appearing over-dramatic, I think this is a fitting image to mark my first official blog post as a landscape photographer. Although I have shared stories about my landscape images in a number of different forums, I have not until now had a place of my own to collect them, and it feels liberating, even luxurious to be able to do so.
This is the first of a number of images I will be sharing from Death Valley -- this serving as a bookend to the beginning of a great adventure. It all began several months before, with an idea and then an email to fellow photographers, and finally to execution of a plan. Four dedicated -- and some may say a bit crazy -- photographers in an iconic location for a full week of capturing light. After a long day of travel and logistics, Chris, Guy, Louis and myself entered the park right at the last rays of sunlight. Arriving late in the day in a new location before a sunrise shoot always makes for a difficult situation. With no chance to scout ahead of time, finding a good position in the dark is a tall task. We settled on Mesquite Sand Dunes as our morning spot, because of its easy access. After speaking with one of the locals at the hotel, we got a few pointers about the area of the dunes where we might have the most success.
Pulling up to the parking area in the still-dark, we squinted our eyes and searched the horizon -- still too dark to see anything. But trusting the advice we were given the night before, we left the parking area with its few cars already gathered, and headed up the road to the west end of the dunes. Still unable to see much, we pulled over just before we could see the shoulder narrow, where we could see the last of the tire tracks, figuring that those who had come before us must have known something.
One of the down-sides of accessibility is traffic, and on the dunes this means footprints. Photographers generally don't like footprints. We anticipated this being a problem, and planned to try to skirt the edge of the dunes. I say "try," because we still couldn't see anything. Armed with headlamps and the orientation of the road, we set off North.
As we passed through the mesquite scrub, which gradually gave way to undulating hills of sand, we began to be able to see in the dim pre-dawn light. Glancing at our watches, we saw that we had about 45 minutes until sunrise proper. Knowing that there is good light to be had well before that, and knowing that travel across sand dunes is not swift, we stepped up the pace. We looked across the contours of sand for a spot that would give us a good vantage point of the eastern sky, as well as a view to the west for compositional options should the light warrant them. We also looked for sand that had not been marked up by the thousands of footprints that were present. We moved ahead, trying to stick to paths that had already been formed so as not to ruin our or anyone else's images.
After a steep uphill climb, then moving along a gentle crest, we came upon the set of footprints you see here, surrounded by windswept ripples of sand, and we made our stand. Almost purpose-made for our images, they led right to the eastern skyline with it's near-perfect cloudscape. With the pre-dawn lightshow just beginning, we unpacked in the still silence, took a deep breath, and made our photographs. This was to be just the first of many incredible light shows of the trip, and the beginning of a great adventure.