This is a shot from Death Valley National Park in California. The salt flats are huge – 40 miles long and 5 miles wide – but it’s the tiniest details that grabbed my attention. The largest of these crystals is just three or four millimeters wide.
I was waiting for sunset near Badwater, but the clouds were gone, and there wasn’t much change of getting a gorgeous sunset. So, instead of searching for appealing foreground objects, I pulled out my macro lens and started looking for details. It didn’t take long for me to notice that in some places, the salt crystals were more spread out, so that I could see each one individually. I loved the graduated sizes spread out across the sand.
I set up my tripod nice and low to the ground, and then adjusted my lens so that the glass was parallel to the ground. When you are working with a macro lens – and when you get in this close – your depth of field is incredibly narrow. I wanted to get everything in focus, so I spent extra time making sure I had my camera set up just right.
I also needed to make sure to provide a clear point of interest for my viewer. When you are working with hundreds of similar objects, that can be pretty difficult! I chose my composition carefully so that a single larger crystal dominates – and smaller crystals fill the frame. Notice that the largest crystal is off center – and the others seem to get gradually smaller as you move through the image from the bottom left to the upper right. The placement of the crystals is random – but the composition is anything but. Despite the randomness of the natural objects, there is a clear, diagonal structure to this image. That was important to me, since a diagonal comp is usually more dynamic and interesting than a horizontal or vertical one.
Post-production was pretty easy. I wanted to make sure the patterns in the salt stood out, but it was equally important to make sure I didn’t lose any detail in the brightest white areas. A little bit of contrast and a careful white balance adjustment did the trick. I brightened the largest crystal just slightly to make sure it grabbed your attention. I also removed two small corners of crystals that punched their way into the image at the bottom. They were distracting, and I didn’t mind seeing them go.