Shooting by moonlight and early morning sun in White Pocket….A complete wonderland!

Richard Charpentier Arizona, HDR, hiking, Notes from Rich, Photographing Arizona, Photography, Photomatix 3 Comments

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Shooting by moonlight in the early a.m. For my buddy Jason we've got the following. 17mm, ISO 1000, f/7.1, 25 seconds

4:00 a.m. it became too difficult to maintain the charade.  Pretending I was warm enough to keep sleeping was impossible.  Sure, my back was warm against the sleeping pad, but the sides of both butt cheeks were frigid.  Roll to one side or the other, cold spots.

The whole scenario was reminiscent of a stupid thing I did in 2001.  While hiking the AT I decided to drop some pack weight.  Send home the 0 degree bag and use an ultralight 30 degree bag.  That’s when the snow really started flying.  A week of me chattering away every night.  Yeah, smart move Rich.  Well, I relived that experience last Saturday……brrrrrrr!

Tom and I had agreed the night before that I’d fire up the Titan and hit the heater while we brewed decaf.  As I left my tent I looked over at Tom’s tent and said, “Hey, you awake?”  I heard no answer, but I was committed to my course of action.  Fire up the truck.  Mess with the coffee later.  I needed to get warm.

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First rays of sunshine showing in the East over White Pocket

Within 10 minutes of starting the truck up Tom showed up.  Apparently he was awake too, but his head was deep in his sleeping bag so he didn’t hear me.  In no time though we were both warming up, and I stepped out of the truck to fire up the Whisperlite International.  Hot decaf would warm us even more!

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Early morning light makes White Pocket look even more magical.

It seemed like we hid out in the truck for hours getting warm.  But it wasn’t really that long.  At about 5:30 we decided to load up our gear and head out into the rocks.  It was still dark out, and the temperature was 30 degrees according to Tom’s thermometer, but it was time if we wanted to make sunrise.  Tom was smart enough to bring along his “puff ball” jacket.  In my case, not so smart.  Smart wool long underwear, then a synthetic shirt, then a Northface pullover, and finally my light jacket.  Also a warm hat and gloves.  Yeah, I felt like I was out shooting winter scenes back in NH.

Marching in through the dunes I realized something.  I was very tired.  The dunes have a way of pointing it out to you.  Fortunately we were on the rock in no time.  Our mission was to get over toward the White Pocket Monolith so we could see the sun reflected off of it.  Go figure, we got side tracked.

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The sun finally reaches the White Pocket Monolith in the distance.

As I looked up into the early morning sky I was blown away by the moon, and the moonlight on the rocks.  The star fields were still visible too.  A good photo opportunity?  Just maybe, just maybe.  I broke out the tripod, setup the camera, and fished the cable release out of my pocket.

With each shot I dialed  in closer to what I wanted to present.  Finally I settled on ISO 1000, f/7.1, and a range of shots between 20 & 30 seconds.  I liked what I was seeing!  Tom was getting good results too with his 30D.  Can’t wait to see what he posts over at Flickr.

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Candy colored skies, and candy like rocks

As the sun rose the moon’s light faded.  It was time to get out of night shooting mode and into sunrise mode.  We moved further into the formations and got ready to get some shots of the light hitting the monolith.  It was going to be great!!!

We found some pretty cool areas to climb up with gear in hand.  Gaining ground I looked back along the main formations and was blown away.  It almost felt like a snow covered winter scene, but it wasn’t.  It was just the white / gray coloring of White Pocket.  How cool.  Still, I had an urge to break out a sled and shoot down the formations all the same.  🙂

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From White to Pink in mere moments

Finally the “dramatic light” started doing it’s thing on the monolith.  Many photos were taken.  Unfortunately, I don’t feel that I captured what I wanted to.  Instead of sour grapes I found other things to shoot.  Another day I’ll get the monolith just right.  Until then, keep on playing with the light.

We wandered for a few hours randomly shooting here and there.  I setup the tripod several times for shots of myself in the pocket, and I did a few videos that should be turned into podcasts soon.  All very fun stuff.

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A cold Rich Charpentier stands on the amazing rocks

As the sun broke the ridgeline to our East things got really interesting.  Formations began being lit in ways we hadn’t yet seen.  Deeper reds, deeper yellows, more drama.  It was so cool to be there.

The “amazing” light started havoc pretty quickly too.  Shadows.  Photographer shadows to be exact.  Suddenly I had to become very aware of what I wanted to photograph, and where my stupid shadow was popping up.  There was one photo that would have just been amazing.  A curving band of yellow up to one of the brain rock formations.  Unfortunately, my shadow would have dominated the foreground.  While I did take the photo it isn’t showing up here today.  The shadow was too much.

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Another self portrait among the formations of White Pocket

When you have those situations you make the best of it.  I moved around to another angle and captured an image almost as spectacular, but not quite.  I’ll have to work on figuring out how to get what I was after at that location, but in the meantime I’ll keep practicing!  🙂

Tom and I continued to chase the light across White Pocket into the late morning.  We moved along as the shadow lengths shortened up.  And we both blew through an amazing number of shutter snaps.  Here and there I’d change the 5D Mark II over to video mode and capture the place in a whole different way.  I can’t wait to put the podcasts together for you.

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Tom Hoopes, still bundled up and shooting as the sun races up the sky

Finally we agreed, it was time to head back and break camp.  Go figure, the walk back took a little while.  We both kept stopping for one more shot, one more look, and for one more reason to linger.  White Pocket is a hard place to leave.

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Absolutely one of the photos I returned to White Pocket to take!

By the time we returned to the truck we had both warmed up.  Cold nights in AZ are often replaced with warmer days.  Good thing too.  I wanted to get rid of a few layers of clothing!  🙂

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You might have already seen this one, but I had to repost. Sunrise made this photo!

In about 30 minutes we had camp cleaned up, tents broken down, and the truck mostly repacked.  Most of the gear was coated in sand, and is still coated in sand.  That sand sure gets on everything, including cameras.  Make sure to bring your brushes along if you go, you’ll need them!

At about 10:30 a.m. we rolled slowly out of White Pocket and waved good bye to the unique formations.  From that point we had one of those 5 and one half to 6 hour rides home.  You know the kind of ride that is.  A wonderful time was had, and you’re sorry to be leaving the place.  Even though you were only there 24 hours you feel like it was longer.  On our way home I said to Tom, “I feel like we’ve been there for days.”  He laughed and agreed.  Guess certain places will do that for you.  Gotta tell you, I’m glad to live near so many places that leave me with that feeling.  Reminds me that I’m a lucky guy!

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The yellow rock shot that I wanted to take differently, but my shadow got in the way. Where's Peter Pan?

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