Moondial

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Moondial

A remote area of the Mojave Desert (2015)

I feel as though I got this photo only because I managed to slink into the location under the cover of night, while Murphy and his Law weren’t looking. A month before I shot this, I worked the same composition for three sunrises in a row, and each time something went horribly wrong. I’d say it was a comedy of errors, except that I was distinctly unamused by it all. During one attempt, my remote shutter release developed a short and wouldn’t stop taking pictures all on its own. Another time, in a sleep-deprived stupor, I neglected to tighten the panning knob on my ballhead and then unwittingly swiveled the camera out of position. And on yet another ill-fated occasion, I abandoned the comp midway through sunrise to chase some meager clouds—only to watch those clouds sail backwards (i.e. towards the west!), over to where I had originally wanted them. I could almost hear the clouds laughing at me.

Oh well, at least I learned a lot about shooting this composition during those three failed attempts. The first thing I learned was that it was possible to catch the moon setting into the dip between the peaks. I also learned that there is a small window of time when the warm ambient light picks out the textures on the mud tiles at dawn. And just as important, I learned how little wiggle room I had with this composition before it would fall apart; the slightest changes in height, lateral positioning, or angling would wreak havoc on different features of its forms. It was so tricky to find that exact place where the forms gelled that I twice decided to leave my tripod set up overnight while I returned to camp a mile away. My friends decided to do the same, since they were working equally delicate compositions. Yep, we got everything dialed in and then just left thousands of dollars of gear unattended in the middle of the desert! (Lest you should think that we’re crazy, I should note that this is a very remote location, so our biggest worry was that a coyote might use a tripod as a fire hydrant.)

Alas, none of those outings produced a shot that I wanted to process; so, armed with the observations and practice from them, I planned my next trip a month later. I worked out when the moon would be in the right place again and got there as soon as my schedule would allow, which meant rolling in well after dark, with only hours to spare. The fourth time was the charm in this case. That morning’s sky was glorious, and my stealthy nighttime arrival allowed me to sneak up on this view and catch it looking awesome at long last.

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