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The perfect light
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My trusty American SUV rumbled along a rocky seldom driven road kicking up a cloud of dust that enveloped the trucks following me.

Even at slow speeds the rocks and ruts pulled and threw my truck like a bucking bronco. Our small caravan was moving down toward a salt lake few people had ever seen, especially Americans.

For most of the U.S. based workers currently living in our oil company compound trips to the Kazakh desert never happened.

They preferred to stay inside the fence until it was time to fly back to the States. Then buses or company planes whisked them away from this formidable desert that is known as one of the lowest places on the surface of the earth.

I preferred however to get outside the fence as often as possible.

Fortunately my job allowed me to do just that.

Today, I was escorting a National Geographic film team to shoot natural wonders of the Kazakhstan deserts. I had worked with them on a number of previous occasions; when they filmed a West African documentary and when one of their teams was in the high Papuan rain forests.

Our corporation supported the magazine's efforts globally so it was a natural pairing to have them now working along the Caspian shoreline.

We were driving north out of what was then known as the Hungarian Village. (The Hungarian Village was replaced many years later by a modern camp known as Shanyrak Village.

For the adventurous, there is a Geocache located there demarking the Caspian Depression and the desert surrounding the Caspian Sea.) We turned off toward the Caspian near Koschagyl and rattled along almost indiscernible roads toward the great salt flats that border the sea.

We had started late but the sun would not set until around 10:30 p.m. so we had plenty of daylight ahead of us.

We drove slowly around the edges of several low salt lakes that make up hundreds of such lakes along the northeastern coast of the Caspian Sea.

The film crew was looking for just the right formations, sun angles and the backgrounds they needed for their shots.

The salt lakes are a harsh environment baked by the hot sun during the summer and blasted by sub-zero winds during the long dark winters.

The day we drove to the site the temperature had touched 107 degrees. These conditions were one of the main attractions for the film crew.

All along the banks of the lakes and out into their very shallow depths were thousands of salt statues and pyramids that created eerie figures sticking up from the brackish water. They looked like miniature salt totem poles all across the lake bed. Although they were mostly white or tan, various minerals mixed into the salt formed purple and red streaks that brought the features to life.

After several hours of searching the crew arrived upon their perfect spot. They unloaded endless crates of equipment, then assembled and adjusted all of it as the sun slowly settled out across the sea.
Once set, we all sat down on the crusty salt surface and waited.

Photography is very dependent upon proper light. The amount, direction and angle of the sunlight can make any image work or not. In many cases even the difference of a second or two in the angle of the sun can turn an average photo into a masterpiece.

While I was certainly no expert on photographic lighting I had been around these teams long enough to know they had a plan and they were willing to wait until the timing was perfect.

Professionals are very good at planning, getting organized and then having the patience to wait for the exact moment needed to produce the perfect result.

That perfect moment came and resulted in a flurry of activity.

The film crews recorded while the still camera team shot hundreds of images. It was like controlled chaos for no more than 15 minutes.

Then it was over.

We packed up and rambled back across the rough terrain returning to camp several hours after dark.

The images were stunning. They looked far more dramatic than the salt pillars looked in real life.

The colors against the setting sun made the entire scene look like something from a distant planet.

The perfect location, the perfect time and the perfect light produce the perfect product.

It turned out however that none of their product made it into the magazine. The problem was the editors had "space limitations."

Sometimes even being perfect is not good enough. It seems there are greater powers out there than the perfect light.

Charlie Auvermann is the executive director of the Dawson County Development Authority. His column appears periodically in the Dawson County News.