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Moonset at Dawn, Badwater, Death Valley

Posted by
Don Smith (California, United States) on 30 January 2011 in Landscape & Rural.


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Every once in a while I'll visualize a location shoot prior to arriving, running through my mind a plethora of finished visions as I like to call them. Rarely do all the pieces of the puzzle come together perfectly.

While assisting Gary Hart on his Death Valley workshop last week, Gary had informed me that the hexagonal salt flats at Badwater were under water from recent late-December rains, a condition not seen since 2005. We took the group to Dante's View (elevation 5,000 feet) for a sunset shoot the day before and I couldn't believe my eyes! Indeed the Badwater flats resembled a lakebed and visions of the snow-covered Panamints Range with a setting full moon began to race through my mind.

The next morning we awoke in the dark for the 25-minute drive to the lowest place in the western hemisphere (-282 feet below sea level) and walked the approximately quarter mile to the edge of the water. Soon, the warm light of the morning's twilight wedge began to appear. I was shooting straight ahead towards the mountains and Telescope Peak when this scene to my right started to catch my attention. The colors were beautiful and soft and fit nicely into one exposure. But I wanted them to last, to await the first kiss of light on the peaks and to allow for the setting moon to drop a bit lower into my frame. Other than a polarizer, no filters were used, the colors were as they appeared to my eye.

I bracketed a sequence of images from that magic morning but this image kept drawing me back during my edit. As for processing, it was simple, my regular global adjustments in Adobe Camera Raw and some sharpening with Nik Sharpener Pro. After sharpening, I ran the image through Topaz DeNoise 5 software - that's right, you read that right - after sharpening! As long as your noise reduction requirements are no more than moderate, this software allows you to apply the noise reduction as the last step without damaging the overall sharpness to the image - simply amazing!

For sunset, we went from the lowest location in the western hemisphere to photographing the highest in the contiguous United States, Mt. Whitney (14,494 feet). Sometimes Mother Nature decides to cooperate with my visions. Wish it was this easy all the time but I'm certainly not complaining.

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