Nocturnal Photography in the Owens Valley

Twilight Photo, Mt. Tom from Buttermilk

While searching for an appropriate rock outcrop to light-paint in Buttermilk Country west of Bishop, I inadvertently found a large rock with a crack that looked familiar.  This was the rock made “famous” by Galen Rowell and his photo of “Split Rock and Cloud” on the cover of his book, “Mountain Light.”  I was after something altogether different, trying to get the silhouette of Mt. Tom behind something I could lighten with a flashlight that would add some interest to the foreground.  This dark image of stars and Eastern Sierra peaks needed something for added interest and contrast.  But this photogenic boulder was a piece of art itself, as Galen discovered in 1976 while chasing down a “single strong silhouette” foreground for his ephemeral late afternoon cloud.  (I have the feeling this is the beginning of a long, fruitful relationship with this boulder).

The first photo, made during the rich, blue twilight (9:05 pm), shows the silhouettes of the boulder and the skyline with Mt. Tom.  The Big Dipper is visible at upper right.  This image was made with a wide-angle zoom (17-35mm) lens at f/3.2, for 4 sec. at ISO 1250.  The last two of these three images, made around 4 am, were shot at f/4 with a shutter speed of 20 sec. at ISO 3200.  Through trial and error using different light sources, I learned that painting for about 5 seconds was sufficient to light the pale granite.  Part of the summer Milky Way is visible above Mt. Tom in the horizontal image and above the left part of the boulder in the vertical.

 

Milky Way above Mt. Tom from Buttermilk

 

Buttermilk Boulder with Night Sky

 

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