A long reconnaissance beyond Tonopah, NV, traversing south of the Reveille Range and into the playa of southern Railroad Valley. I located good access to the playa of Sand Springs Valley near Rachel and then moved on to Alamo, NV, to check in at a small motel. It’s a small strip motel, family-owned, old and a little sad, but really pretty nice. Right on the noisy highway but room is set back and perfectly quiet. Vern the owner/manager said I might be able to park my trailer if we are working nearby, he has one hook-up that sometimes works.

It’s close to the new moon so I headed out to Dry Lake Valley late in the evening. I left the hotel about 9:45PM, fueled up, and pointed the truck down the dark highway. I’m in the area mapping and investigating desert loess (fine-grained dust) deposits and had scouted out a cool spot for astrophotography earlier. I liked the spot because of the prominent outcrops that extend toward the valley floor. These would provide the foreground subjects as I experimented with low-level lighting to illuminate the outcrops, alcoves, and even some ancient rock art panels.

The drive was longer than I remembered, and I overshot my turn with a big-rig bearing down on me. After a quick turn-around, I was there. A perfect, calm evening, finally a warm one. Bats circled around me as I set up some lights. From the rocks above me, in an alcove beyond the rock art, a haunting songbird called in a steady repeat—once every twenty seconds. It’s probably a whippoorwill or something similar.

The small tripod-mounted lights adjust to emit a very low amount of light. While composing the image the light is almost impossible to see, but in a long exposure to capture the night sky, the light works nicely to create foreground interest. I have to take several practice shots to make sure the levels and direction of lighting works. It’s more controlled than light painting and works over relatively long distance. I learned about it on the PhotogAdventures Podcast and thought I’d give it a try. I’m not an expert at this (it’s my first time), but it has definite potential.

Ancient sky. Experimenting with lighting and capturing the starry backdrop above Dry Lake Valley rock art panels. 6.8 sec, f/5.6, ISO 6400; Canon 6D, Sigma Art 20mm.

Point of Rocks. The Milky Way above the boulder outcrops was fun, but I have to seek out some foreground interest to work with these lights (and why did I shoot these at 5.6?!). 19 sec, f/5.6, ISO 6400; Canon 6D, Sigman Art 20mm.

My images don’t really pop, but I like the rock art against the starry sky. A long perfect night in the darkness of Dry Lake Valley. Tomorrow will be a long day.

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