I had planned on starting another series of infrared photos from a trip down to Laughlin, across to Kingman, and up route 66. Instead of starting that series I wanted to share this image first.
Back in February of this year I shared 36°17’59” N 117°10’33” W which came from a trip out to the west side of Death Valley National Park. It received a very positive response on 500px and thought it would be interesting to revisit this area and try for a sunrise shot. I fired up The Photographer’s Ephemeris and started looking for when the sun would rise almost directly up the valley from this perspective. I found that my best chances at this were on March 21st and 22nd.
With the date problem solved, my next issue was time. Sunrise for March 21st was listed as 6:51 am. The issue with this is the trip from my home to this spot is a good three hour drive. This left me with two options. Either leave very early before sunrise or stay somewhere closer. I chose the later and to be adventurous. I decided I would leave home the 20th, camp in nearby Wildrose Campground, get up early, drive to this location, and shoot my heart out. My main concern was that this campground is fee free and first come first served. This meant if I arrived and it was full I would have no where to stay. I figured if that happened I would just pull over and sleep in the car.
Well, my daughter overheard me talking about going camping and immediately wanted to go with me. I explained to her that this wouldn’t be our normal camping trip and that if the campsite was full we’d be sleeping in the car. She was totally ok with that and so I decided to bring her with me.
Of course as my luck would have it, I was delayed leaving Las Vegas and when we arrived it was pitch black outside. To make matters worse the campground appeared full. Instead of walking the entire campground looking for an open site I resigned myself to the fact that we were sleeping in the car for the night. Thankfully for me my car has the ability to have the front seats lay completely flat and even with the back seats. This gave both my daughter and I near perfect sleeping platforms. I parked the car at a pullout which you can see on a map here (map) and we got ready to sleep.
I rested very fitfully the entire evening and kept waking up throughout the night. To hot, to cold, to cramped, the list went on and on. Throughout the night I also kept looking out the windshield looking for clouds in the sky, but all I kept seeing were bright stars. This had me concerned; if I didn’t have some clouds in the morning the sunrise would be a dud and our entire trip wasted.
The alarm on my phone went off at 5:45 giving me an hour to snooze, get ready, drive, hike, and setup. We drove the short drive to a spot just out of the frame to the right and parked. I grabbed all my gear, and the kiddo and I started hiking up the small hill to my vantage point.
As the sky started to get brighter and brighter I started shooting. My first shots were at 6:25 and my last shots were at 6:57. I tried a variety of graduated ND filters and compositions. I started much higher and tighter than what you see. The compositions had just the road winding through the valley. I didn’t like what I saw. So I lowered my tripod, went as wide as possible, and framed the shot to get both the red cactus to the right as well as the rock to the left in frame. With my composition all set, we sat, shivered and waited for the sky to give us something.
While we waited I could see the red start to creep ever so slowly into the clouds. My heart started to race as it looked like we were going to get something good. After waiting 15 minutes we finally got what you see here. I also took the opportunity to capture several more frames for a HDR panorama that I’ll be sharing later. We stuck it out in the cold and wind for another 10-15 minutes before agreeing that the best of the skies had passed and it was time for breakfast.
The final photo you see here is a nine frame HDR with shots ranging from -5 EV (1/160) to +3 EV (2.5s) all at f/4 and 10 mm using my Canon EF-S 10-22 f/3.5-4.5. I started processing by using Photomatix to create the initial HDR. I then sent it to Photoshop for final editing. I spent a lot of time in Photoshop trying to get this image just perfect and I’m really happy with the end result. Also very relieved that all the work and preparation I put in for this shot came through in the end (map).