Mesquite Dunes at Sunrise (Death Valley National Park)

Another of my hopes for this week’s overnight trip to Death Valley National Park was to get some shots of the dunes in the morning. The last time I visited in January 2014 there was little wind in the park and as such the dunes were trampled with footprints from other hikers. Fortunately, throughout the night when I was taking photos of the Milky Way the wind was whipping through the valley periodically and I knew this would lead to good dunes in the morning.

Mesquite Dunes at Sunrise (Death Valley National Park)

Mesquite Dunes at Sunrise (Death Valley National Park)

The best time to shoot sand dunes are on the edges of the day when the shadows creep in and out and make the dunes look dramatic. I liked the look of this shot and the way the shadows emphasized the shape of the dunes and the pattern of the dunes also resembles that of the mountain behind it. Also, because of the wind there are no footprints as the sand blew all around the prior night before settling – a few hours after this the dunes would most likely be trampled and the photographic possibilities become much more limited.

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Milky Way Above Zabraskie Point (Death Valley National Park)

I’m very intrigued by night photography/astrophotography/star photography – whatever it is called – these days and alot of that has to do with the camera I bought earlier this year. My old Canon Rebel T3i is a FANTASTIC camera but I just don’t think capturing the Milky Way like this would be possible on that body – it probably is and I’m sure if I googled Milky Way T3i I’d find something similar – but I am just continuously amazed at what the Nikon D750 can do and the way it handles noise in images. This was taken at ISO 6400 with a shutter speed of 21 seconds. My lens is not ‘optimal’ for star photography in that it ONLY goes to f/4 (as opposed to the lenses that can open to f/2.8 or even f/1.2) but even with a 21 second exposure I think the stars are pretty sharp.

The GENERAL rule with stars is that they should be pretty sharp and show up as single points of light as long as you follow the rule of 500. That rule essentially says that as long as you keep the exposure time below 500 divided by the focal length (I shot this at 16mm) your stars will be pretty clean. Thus, I tried to keep my exposures below 25 seconds (just to be on the safe side – I’ve heard anything over 25 seconds is going to show some blur regardless of the focal length because of how fast the earth rotates).

Milky Way Above Zabraskie Point (Death Valley National Park)

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Milky Way over Zabraskie Point (Death Valley National Park)

I stayed out all night shooting – I got 20 minutes of sleep when I pulled off on the side of the road to take a power nap – before heading to the Mesquite Dunes for some early morning shots (after shooting there in the morning I took another 20 minute nap before starting the trip back to Vegas so 40 minutes total sleep in the last 36+ hours – yikes! 😦). There was a fair amount of wind (unexpected) in Death Valley last night which meant the dunes were pretty smooth and free of footprints this morning so I’m actually pretty happy with some of my dune shots from this trip whereas on my last trip I threw every one of them in the trash almost immediately. I will say there are some things I could have done better with these Milky Way shots though. I’ll have to post on that when I have some more energy – now to take a quick nap before dinner tonight.

The Long Road (Death Valley National Park)

Next week I’m heading to Las Vegas for my Mom and sister’s birthdays – it’s a family celebration and we are all looking forward to it. I arrive a few hours before everyone else so instead of hitting the casinos all by my lonesome I decided to rent a car and drive out to Death Valley National Park to take some pictures of the milky way. The 15th is the ‘new moon’ so on the 16th when I get there the sky should be dark and devoid of light pollution for the moon so I’m really looking forward to it.

My plan is to drive out to Badwater Basin and take some shots with octagons in the foreground (It’ll be hard to search in the dark – I’ll be less particular this time) with the Milky Way over top (and it is supposed to be in full view this time of year!), before heading to Zabriskie Point for the Milky Way over that spot and then head over to the dunes – maybe catch the milky way there but ultimately I’ll plan to sleep in the car for a few hours before sunrise at 5:45 AM over the dunes. After that I’ll make my way back to Vegas, grab a mai tai and crash by the pool. So much for vacation!

The Long Road (Death Valley National Park)

Highway through Death Valley (Death Valley National Park)

Sunset over Badwater Basin (Death Valley National Park)

Taken early last year at the lowest point in North America on my last night in Death Valley. During the day I spent about five hours searching for an area where the salt flats made smooth, visually appealing patterns and marked each location with my GPS so that I’d be able to find them (and more importantly find my car) when the sun was setting. Badwater Basin covers approximately 200 square miles so finding smooth, undisturbed salt flats isn’t an easy task.

Even with the GPS coordinates it was still a struggle to find my car – I knew where it was of course – but there are not any ‘trails’ in the dessert to follow back and the dessert isn’t all smooth salt flats like you see in this picture. Littered throughout the area are large salt crystal formations that stretch for quite a distance that will saw your legs up if you try to pass through them. Thus, you have to find a way out without walking through any of the spiky salt formations, think of it as a giant natural maze. I walked about nine miles (largely in circles) seeking a place to setup for sunset and so just following my GPS created ‘trail’ was not an option. All-in-all my car was only about a mile away from where I took this picture but it took me a little over an hour to get there because of all the backtracking I had to do.

Sunset over Badwater Basin (Death Valley National Park)

Sunset over Death Valley (Death Valley National Park)

In this photo I tried to really minimize the size of the mountains (they are actually pretty large) and did that by using a really wide angle lens to make them seem very tiny in the distance. I also wanted to convey a sense of just how wide and vast the landscape was.

Long day tomorrow with a 7 AM flight and 7:45 PM return flight so I probably won’t be posting anything on Thursday.

Badwater Basin (Death Valley National Park)

“Stuff your eyes with wonder, live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories.” – Ray Bradbury

I couldn’t agree with Ray Bradbury more…If I leave here tomorrow I know that I’ve done everything I can to get the most out of this life. We are here so briefly that we might as well enjoy the hell out of it.

Sunset in Badwater Basin (Death Valley National Park)

Badwater Basin (Death Valley National Park)

Unfortunately, this afternoon didn’t quite cooperate but it doesn’t always work out perfectly – c’est la vie!

I’m out in L.A. for work today and tomorrow. I came out earlier today because I wanted to head to the Pacific to take some sunset pictures at Santa Monica Pier with my new camera. Unfortunately, work got in the way and I had to go straight from the airport to the hotel to finish something up – naturally, as I sat at my desk in the hotel the sunset over the Pacific Ocean was fantastic. I can’t be too upset though since in the past year I’ve had a half dozen or so trips to LA and in almost all of those instances I’ve had the chance to get sunset pictures and I don’t think I’ll ever see one as glorious as when I was here last January – the reflections in the Pacific Ocean at Santa Monica Pier were spectacular.

We are off to Paris in 4 days! I cannot wait. It’s been four years since the last time I’ve been there and I absolutely fell in love with the city the last time we were there. Hoping the second time isn’t a let down – hell it is Paris how could it be?

Zabriskie Point (Death Valley National Park)

Zabriskie Point in Death Valley National Park is noted for its unique landscape that was formed over 5 million years ago when this whole area was covered by a gigantic lake. A favorite spot for landscape photographers at sunrise while in Death Valley it is often extremely crowded before the sun comes up. I visited my first morning there and after exploring the rest of the park decided that would be my only day there. The constant doldrums of other photographers bemoaning the light (less than perfect), their gear (damn Canon hasn’t made any improvements in years), etc… ruined the experience for me. The rest of Death Valley I found to be an absolute delight because of the solitude – Zabriskie Point did not afford that luxury. So if you are like me and enjoy to work alone – check out some of the other spots throughout the park where the ability to disappear and be on your own is greater.

Zabriskie Point (Death Valley National Park)

Zabriskie Point Death Valley National Park

Zabriskie Point is a popular place among pop culture apparently – in doing my research before the trip I learned that it is a popular place to trip on acid, has represented the surface of Mars in Hollywood films, was the backdrop of the U2 Album Joshua Tree and is a soundtrack for a movie of the same name featuring Pink Floyd and Jerry Garcia…Fortunately, I saw no one tripping on acid during my hike throughout the area.

Winds over Death Valley

Death Valley on the California/Nevada border is a really amazing place – the variety in landscape photography shots is pretty spectacular. Obviously, the one thing that is usually missing is water (for reflections) given the lack of rain and often the weather is pretty mundane – hot sun, lack of clouds but I was lucky on my first day in the park. Storms surrounded me most of the day which added interesting elements to some of the shots as the clouds moved quickly overhead.

Winds over Death Valley National Park

Winds over Death Valley National Park

In order to capture the atmosphere and the windy conditions that I was experiencing as the sun lowered itself to the west I put my ten-stop ND filter on the lens in order to allow the shutter to stay open longer. This exposure was a sixty second exposure and the movement in the clouds is noticeable. The wind was dry and hot despite the rain falling over the horizon. It only started raining after the sun set and at that point the storm came hard and fast. By the following morning though you could not even tell that it rained at all.