The Racetrack, USA


“Flowing Time #001 – The Race” is the first of a series of 12 short video artworks on the perception of time in still photography. I created the images for this video during my 2017 visit to Death Valley, seven years and many visits after my first trip to this special place. In this article, I’ll tell you what the idea behind it was as well as what it took to create it, in terms of physical, artistic and technical challenges. In short, this article is about the passion driving me, the force that makes me go out day after day chasing that elusive, perfect image.

“Life is full of challenges. It takes resolve and determination to overcome them. We might feel like we are running all the time, but often we are just standing still. We are surrounded by millions, yet we are longing for just one to share our journey.

She moves on a timescale we cannot perceive, with a determination we cannot fathom. Her purpose unknown, her resolve steadfast, her own longing ever growing. Dreaming of someone to share her journey with, she continues her race through time, seemingly unmodified and yet different, apparently still and yet moving.

The strength of her dream conquering all, no matter how long the race will take.”

In January 2017, I flew from Italy to Las Vegas and from there I drove to Death Valley for two weeks of work. Since my first visit in 2010, whenever I go to Death Valley I make sure I rent a special 4×4 jeep to make the three hours’ drive – most of which on a washboard gravel road – to get to the Racetrack. Once there, I walk about a mile and a half to get where my favourite Sailing Stones are. Getting there is intense, but the reward at the end has little equal in the world for me. The Racetrack is a dried mud playa dotted with rocks of all sizes moving by themselves and leaving tracks behind them. While I have known the scientific explanation for this incredible phenomenon for a while now, I still prefer to think it’s magic!

Once I get to the area of the Racetrack where the most beautiful rocks are, an area I found thanks to many repeated visits over the years, I just walk around and look at all the rocks. I then look at the sky, check the position and movement of the clouds, and decide which rocks to work on. Going back year after year, I love to see how the rocks moved – or not; how some of them broke; how new ones joined the race. I love how I choose different rocks each time according to the way I feel, and I love how the rocks – together with the different weather conditions – always make the scene new and inspiring for me.

On this particular day, the sky featured a beautiful cloud coverage, something you don’t see often in Death Valley. The clouds moved pretty fast, and that inspired me to create different photographs, based on the exact same composition but expressing completely different moods and perceptions of time. Looking at the position of the clouds, I decided to compose using the long tracks behind one beautiful stone to create a strong diagonal leading line into the frame.

Many photographers think that it’s enough to use long exposures to create images that are inherently artistic. To me, mastering exposure control means much more than that. Shutter speed is one of the most powerful tools we have available to create mood and express the feelings that a scene awoke in us.

In this particular case, I wanted to create two images rendering a completely different perception of time – but based on the exact same composition – so that I could then connect them in a seamlessly moving short video. Looking at the cloud’s movement, my experience told me that for the first image a 24 second exposure would make the clouds look smooth enough, while retain enough shape to look like something the naked eye could perceive. For the second image, I wanted to transform the clouds into masses and lines that we couldn’t perceive when looking at them with the naked eye. To do so, I needed a much longer exposure than 24 seconds: 10 minutes did the trick for me.

Since I am old school, I am used to try and get as much right in camera as I can, rather than cheating my way through post-processing. In this case, to get to the image I wanted, I used two different filters. First, a Grad ND helped me darken the sky to balance the exposure. Then, a choice of different ND filters – a 6 stopper for the first image, and a 10 stopper for the second – helped me getting the two different exposure times I needed to create the images I envisioned for the video I had in mind.

When I work in the field, I “see” either in colour or in black & white at the time of shooting; in the case of this vide project, I envisioned it in black & white right there in the field. The camera I was using back then outputted files in 3:2 image ratio; however, image ratio for me is a very powerful tool to realize our images’ true potential, and this video worked perfectly in 16:9. As a side note, I always stick to predetermined image ratios (4:3, 5:4, 1:1, and so on) rather than cropping freely; this helps me keep my mind’s eye in shape, while making it easier to frame and exhibit my images.

To create the video, I first developed my RAW files in Photoshop Camera Raw; then, I converted them both via DxO Nik Silver Efex Pro; last, I made sure that the two images were as perfectly overlapping as I could, and I created the final video I had in mind. The wind’s sound has been recorded by me as well.

For lovers of Fine Art Prints, one of the two images used in this video, “The turns we take” is available in Collectors Edition of just ONE copy per size, 4 different sizes, following the link here: THE TURNS WE TAKE. Unlimited Open Edition are also available following the link above.

For NFT lovers, “Flowing Time #001 – The Race”, a 12 seconds video with sound, is available as 1/1 edition NFT on Foundation, following the link here: FLOWING TIME #001 – THE RACE.

Join us for one of my DEATH VALLEY PHOTOGRAPHY WORKSHOPS to create your own amazing photographs of The Racetrack and many more incredible locations while learning all I know about Fine Art landscape photography. Attendance limited to just THREE people!

Death Valley Photography Workshop

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