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Ripples and Footprints

Text and Photography Copyright Michael Reichmann
All rights reserved.

Camera:    Rollei 6008
Lens:        Schneider 40/3.5
Flash:       None used
Support:    Gitzo CF w/Arca Swiss B1
Film:         Fuji Provia 100
Exposure:  1/2 second at f/22
Filter(s):     None used

The sand dunes in Death Valley present a particular problem for photographers — footprints. Because the most popular dunes area is located just a few miles from the town of Stovepipe Wells, in the center of the national park, it is difficult to find an untrammeled area. In this photograph, taken just prior to sunset, I decided to integrate the footprints into the composition by featuring them rather than trying to hide them. The low cross lighting accentuates the ripples of the sand and allows the footprints to merge naturally into the sand’s texture. Also, the warm evening light brings out the natural color of the sand and creates a strong counterpoint to the clear desert blue of the sky.

This photograph required extreme depth of field and exquisite sharpness to be successful. A view camera with tilt would have been ideal but I was using the medium-format Rollei that day. At f/22 the Super-Angulon has depth of field from about 30 inches to infinity. This was sufficient. Being careful to keep the horizon level I lowered the tripod to the point where the foreground sand was about 3 feet away and then framed the shot so that the rippling dune passed from left to right through the frame — the natural way the eye moves.

The image is successful because of the variety of contrasts and textures that it offers. The large shadow area to the right adds mystery, while the lovely textured sand keeps the eye moving and exploring the frame.

Michael Reichmann has been a photographer, collector and teacher for more than 30 years. After an initial career as a photojournalist he spent time as an executive in the software and telecommunications fields. Today he operates The Luminous Landscape, an extensive web site devoted to the art and technique of landscape photography. He also conducts 2 limited-enrollment landscape workshops a year, in the spring and fall, usually somewhere in the American Southwest.

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