Death Valley Impressions

Death Valley is a popular subject for photographers because the combination of landscape colors with the changing lighting conditions makes ofr an ever evolving tableau of images. Normaly most people are not too conscious of the color differences that occur between the red blush of breaking dawn, the harsh white of high noon, and the crimson cast of dusk. Photographers are more conscious of this as a factor that contributes to the finished image. But in Death Valley the changing light is not just a mere contributor - it can define the final image almost as much as the subject being photographed.

The pictures on this page reflect the progress of dawn from sunrise to where the scenery is fully lit - but befor mid-day which is the subject of another page.

Click on any of the following links to go to another page in this album.

By The Dawn's
Early Light


By The Dawn's Early Light


The alarm was set for us to stumble out of bed and make our way to Zabriskie Point a few minutes before (according to the Almanac) the sun would be rising.

We hiked to the top of the ridge in the chilly pre-dawn air and in the company of other photographers - without benefit of coffee, let alone a decent breakfast. Time to set up the camera in anticipation of the magic moments when the the landscape will be lit up in the direct beam of the Alpenglow light.

We are on a low rise with a mountain ridge behind us, and another one across the valley in front of us. As the rising sun peeks over the mountains behind, the first rays of light will bathe the tops of the mountains in front directly, and some of the reflected light will lighten the gloom of the valley below. This light has to travel horizontaly through the earth's atmosphere - a much greater distance than if it were shining down vertically as it does at noon. This gives the light a strong red cast called Alpenglow, but it only lasts moments as the sun rises further and the angle of the arriving light has less atmosphere to penetrate.


The Alpenglow is descending down toward the valley floot, and the rocky moonscape just in front of us is slowly growing brighter in the reflected light - but at this point it is still shielded from the direct rays of the Alpenglow. But in a moment it will light up....


Directly in front of us is the world famous view known as Zabriskie Point - a photographer's mecca especialy when lit by the Alpenglow.

The distant mountains are now almost fully engulfed in the direct red glow, but the Point immediately in front of is still only catching reflected light, and where we are standing is still almost dark.

But the promise is there...


The moonscape further up the valley has already had its turn and is now bathed in direct sunlight - the Alpenglow has been here and left already with the terrain now enjoying the soft yellow post-dawn light, which will grow ever harsher as midday approaches.


Zabriskie Point - directly in the beam of the Alpenglow - for just a few moments. This is the reason why we struggled out of bed so early.


Meanwhile almost all the red has disappeared from the distant mountain range and the valley floor. The nearby moonscape has turned a mellow yellow as it is bathed in the less-filtered light of the rising sun.


The rocky ridge just in front of us is rapidly going from light red to yellow while the sun behind us casts our shadow on the side.


Dawn has passed into daylight, and the photographers descend from their ridge - time enough now to look forward to a decent breakfast or at least a cup of sustaining coffee.


The sun is still casting a softer yellow light but we can anticipate the heat that is coming - testimony to the climate is shown by a trickle of water which will evaporate to nothing before it reaches the valley floor.

The valley forms a huge catchment basin for any and all rain that might fall in the surrounding mountains covering 1000's of square miles. As the water flows downhill it dissolves minerals out of the rocks and transports them to the valley floor where the concentration gets ever higher as water evaporates - leaving visible salts behind encrusting the edges of every little stream or trickle.


By The Dawn's
Early Light