Just a Little Bit of Water

Day 5, Sunset

Finding water is a bit of a challenge in Death Valley. On a rainy year (which was a few years ago) there was water on Badwater flats and lots of photographers and spectators were taking photos of reflections. This year there was no water at all on Badwater.

As I was driving thru the valley I noticed a brisk reflection of the Sun. It must have been water.

Indeed there were a few small creeks with salty banks. And where water is there is life. There was some grass. Most of it dried out but there was some still green. The dry ones mineralized with salt turned into sharp spikes.

That’s where I settled waiting for a sunset.

Here are a couple of images I took at that place. The first one is right before the Sun disappeared, the last rays just touching the tops of the greenery:

Last Rays
Last Rays

And here the afterglow:

Afterglow
Afterglow

Seeing Big and Seeing Small

Day 2, Late Morning

To photograph Badwater at sunrise I went far into salt flats. On my way back I started paying more attention at the variety of structures built by water, salt and wind. About a size of human hair whiter than white these crystals were creating islands of shimmery white in salt flats.

Salt Crystals Shaped by Wind
Salt Crystals Shaped by Wind

Salty Lines

Day 2, After Dawn

Photographing Badwater is all about finding lines that are interesting a leading somewhere. Like in this photo I found a line that can be anchored in the bottom corners and goes into the image pointing toward a cloud in the sky. And there is a nice loop at the end of it that matches the cloud.

Badwater
Badwater

Badwater

Day 2, Sunrise

Badwater

My first sunrise on this trip was at Badwater. That’s a large flat with lots of salt deposits from drying out water. The salt is brought by streams running down the mountains surrounding the valley in those rare cases there is a rain in Death Valley.

I wanted to capture psychedelic twilight and early dawn colors that I saw long time ago here but now with better techniques. This time colors were too weak, so I had to put gold-n-blue polarizer to give them a punch. I use this filter very rarely because it saturates and shifts colors too much for my taste. The only exception when I use would be photographing sunrise or sunset when rich orange colors would be expected and I don’t get those colors without this filter.

I liked how sky came out with gold-n-blue polarizer but I did not like the color cast on salt flats. Thus in post-processing I removed the color cast and put back the color of salt flats without gold-n-blue polarizer.

My first attempt to remove cast was to do color balance. Unfortunately, I could not color balance uniformly across the whole field. That’s because gold-n-blue polarizer produces different color casts depending on an angle to light source (Sun in this case). Given that this is more than 180 degree panorama the color casts produced by the filter in the middle and on the sides was significantly different. As I color balanced middle of the photo, I’d have unpleasant green color cast on the sides. As I color balanced sides I’d get magenta cast in the middle.

After that struggle I decided that the only way to fix color cast on the salt flats was to get rid of color information completely and bring back color from a photo without polarizer. The first step was putting a black and white layer on top of salt flats to remove color completely. Then I put photo filter with color picked from photo taken without the gold-n-blue polarizer. The last step was blending that with original color of this photograph to add variation and make smooth transitions between colors.

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