Welcome to today’s post. I’ve just returned from an amazing photography trip to Death Valley with my good friends, Travis Bechtel and Robert Clark. We had some fantastic light and shooting conditions, but to be honest the trip was great because we laughed and joked the entire time. That, along with some sunshine, felt really good.
I’ve decided to present a few images from the trip that highlight the geology of the park. I hope you find this interesting. Today’s image is a panorama from Zabriskie Point. According to Wikipedia, Zabriskie Point is named after Christian Brevoort Zabriskie, vice-president and general manager of the Pacific Coast Borax Company in the early 20th century. The company’s famous, iconic twenty-mule teams were used to transport borax from its mining operations in Death Valley. Zabriskie Point is a part of Amargosa Range located in east of Death Valley in Death Valley National Park and is noted for its erosional landscape. It is composed of sediments from Furnace Creek Lake, which dried up 5 million years ago — long before Death Valley came into existence. The distant valley seen in the image is the “Badwater” playa, one of several playas in the park. In the next few posts you’ll see images from the palyas and I’ll provide a geological history of them.
Technical details of image:
The creation of this image starts by knowing when to shoot here. Both early and late twilight are great, but I prefer shooting “in favor of the light” on my subject. It is often more subtle and less dramatic, but can be more beautiful as well. This is the case in today’s image. A number of things are happening here. We’re in what is we called “pre-light” on the trip. It is a hybrid form of direct light that comes for a short period before sunrise, directional but very soft and warm, from the south east (camera left and behind). You see this falling on Zabriskie Point as well as the Black Mountain range to the west, behind Zabriskie Point. When the light arrived I switched to manual mode and spot meter to pull a good exposure from where I thought the middle of the pano would land. Then I swung the camera left and began to shoot my frames, overlapping them by 50%. I worked very, very fast – this pre-light is changing quickly.
The overlap and consistent exposure from frame to frame allows PTGui to provide a very good stitch and blending. If Aperture Priority mode is used, the exposures will vary in a way (because the light in the scene varies from left to right) that makes stitching messy. I didn’t use a pano head for this. I just shot each frame, repositioning the camera for the same elevation and leveling on each frame. Its not perfect, but PTGui doesn’t need it to be perfect. Just close. The output was a 16 bit .psd file, allowing me to complete the post production with incredible file quality.