Peter and I have been to Death Valley seven times. Christmas of 2018 was our best trip, photographing the iconic scenes was exciting because of the beautiful skies. Our trip in 2019 was different. There was water in Badwater, which was rare, but the weather conditions did not make for easy shooting. One day was so bad, we were back in our room at noon, and didn’t get out until the next morning (it was hard 18 hours for me to be cooped up with a very energetic husband in a small room). If you find you’re in Death Valley, and you’re looking for ideas that other than the iconic shot list, I have some suggestions.
Look for Pattern and Texture
Death Valley is dry, and if it gets wet, and dries quickly, often in interesting patterns. These shots were taken at Cottonball Basin. Peter was photographing a large scene reflected in a small pool of water. I opted not to trudge out through the muck, and stayed on the perimeter and look for patterns in the mud.
We drove out to Mesquite Dunes for sunrise, walked a mile out on the sand, found our ideal dune and watched the overcast sky in hopes that the sun would peak through a small gap and cast warm light and shadow across the dune. But that didn’t happen. While we stood staring in one direction, for a very long time, we didn’t realize that a storm was moving in behind us. When we turned around, there was a fleeting moment of light that hit the mountains before the rain came down. We hustled back to the car. This was our first time to the dunes without any quintessential dune photos, but I walked away with one of my favorite photos of the trip.
Look for Reflections
Photographing Badwater was frustrating for me. The sky never opened up into dramatic color, and it was full of loud excited people. Typically I photograph a nature scene symmetrically reflected in water. But I wasn’t feeling it. I decided to embrace the people. There was something about the lone woman in orange standing in the middle of the crowd just looking around that caught my attention. I also created an image of just the reflection of the mountain and rotated it so it looked more like a textured image.
Death Valley isn’t really known for its macro shots, there aren’t a lot of flowers, and the patterns tend to happen on a grand scale. One of my favorite places to go in the middle of they day is the Borax Museum at the Furnace Creek Ranch. If its sunny, photograph the equipment from the shady side, and if its overcast you’re in luck, there is a lot to shoot from every angle.
Search for Abstracts
Peter and I went to Dante’s View on our first trip to Death Valley in 2010. We hadn’t been back since then, but had time and decided to check it out. It had changed. There was a nice large lookout and parking lot, and a well-worn path out to a spot that overlooks the valley. We were there in the middle of the day, the skies were bright, and so I put on my 400 mm lens searched for patterns in the valley below. The image with the diagonal line through it, is the mile-long path created by visitors through Badwater Basin that leads to the pool of water. It is smooth, and wide and I call it the runway. If you look close enough you can see people.