Photo Journal: Death Valley And The Difficulty Of Quality Imagery - February 2020

I have just returned from my second trip to Death Valley National Park in California.  As with my previous (and first) trip, but can be quite overwhelming and difficult to come away with quality images due to the fact of the sheer size of the park, and also due to the lack of clouds on most days.  It makes all of the quality images with unique conditions all the more special knowing the hard work that is put into bringing back work that is top notch.  

With that being said, my goal this time was to spend much more time in the dunes and exploring them extensively.  The last time I was here, I was only able to spend one evening out in the dunes.  And it was a cloudless and lackluster sunset at best.  But this time around, we were blessed with some stellar conditions with clouds on 3 out of the 5 days we were there.  Some of the places we explored were Badwater Basin, Cottonball Basin, Salt Flats, Mesquite Sand Dunes, and Dante's view.  

If you plan a trip there, I would highly recommend the Death Valley ebook by Ron Coscorrosa & Sarah Marino.  It is a great starting point to some of the best places in Death Valley for exploring and photography.  But obviously, one must go much further and deeper in researching to find unique places from which to photograph.  

Some of the more difficult things to deal with is the number of footprints in the dunes and in some of the mud flat areas.  The wind will typically alleviate the issue in the dunes, but I found it difficult to find places in Cottonball Basin that were not covered in footprints.  You just had to work extra hard to find "clean" images that had not recently been explored.  The footprints in the dunes did not pose much of a problem as the winds were really strong the first few days.  But even though it made for cleaner images, it was sometimes an equipment nightmare with blowing sand working its way into camera, lenses, and my bag.  

I think the one thing I learned upon my return trip is the difficulty in the dunes of coming away with images that were visually pleasing with all of the elements(blowing sand, lines, light, shadow, dunes, and mountains) arranged in a manner that would complement each other but yet help to emphasize the larger dunes in the background.  On many occasions I succeeded, but in some cases, some of the images did not make the cut.  Those I have put on my website I feel represent some of my best work from this area, and I am pleased and excited that many of these images will end up in my Gallery in Macon Ga.  I hope you enjoy some of my favorite images from the trip.

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Another image from the sand storm with the leading lines coming in from the left.  There are literally thousands of places to take images within the dunes.  But no doubt, it is difficult to put all of the elements together to get that "perfect" shot.  One of my main goals while in Death Valley this year, was to spend a lot more time in the dunes.  I would say mission accomplished.

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It takes time and patience, but there are many places in Death Valley where there are patterns of mud, sand,& rock that reflect the colors of the sky to make interesting subjects.  This image was shot at Cottonball Basin at Sunset and the beautiful colors of the sky are picked up in the cracked mud.  

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Shifting Sands

Shot this 7 shot Pano during a sandstorm midday the first full day in Death Valley.  Amazing how the dunes can become so cluttered with footprints, and in sand storms such as this, our footprints literally disappeared within a matter of a minute or two because of the shifting sand.  

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Late in the day after the sun has set, the dunes take on a whole new look.  They don't have the harsh lines and edges as when the sun is up casting deep shadows.  They become much softer looking and take on these pastel colors.  

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Second day in Death Valley there was a significant sand storm with winds gusting all day long.  One thing I learned from my first trip is that when the air is filled with sand, the color of the light from the sun is greatly effected and can change in an instant.  Though this image was shot in mid-afternoon, the light filtering through the atmosphere made it look as though it was the golden light of sunset.  Thankfully we were no constantly bombarded with flying sand in our faces as we found certain areas where we were sheltered from the blowing winds and sands.

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Dante's Perspective

This view in Death Valley is up a 13 mile road and a short hike once in the parking lot.  From here you can really get a bird's eye view of just how big Badwater Basin is and see all of the salt flats that make up this area.  Just as in life when we face problems or need clarity on a situation, it is good to be able to step back and see things from a totally new perspective.

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The light that hits the dunes and the color of that light is so different between morning and evening.  This is morning light on the dunes with all of the shapes and patterns.  So otherworldly and calming.

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Awoke at 4am this particular morning as I was still used to EST.  The winds were blowing some 30 plus miles an hour and the sand was blowing up the valley from Mesquite Sand Dunes.  The one good thing about this morning was the cloud cover and beautiful light at sunrise from Zabriskie Point.  This is only my second trip the Death Valley and the one complaint I would have from my first trip was a lack of clouds on most days.  But not the case this morning.