I made another trip to Death Valley National Park last weekend. I tried to concentrate more on shooting different subjects, places, and with different techniques. I put in over 170 miles on back country (offroad/dirt) roads, but that’s another story. I will be focusing on the photography aspects of the trip over the next few posts rather than the trip itself.
It had rained a torrential amount right before my last trip to Death Valley causing roads to be closed and some of the places of interest were unaccessible. Badwater was flooded and the Racetrack Playa was underwater. This time, both were in great shape and I got the opportunity to take the shots I wanted.
The Racetrack Playa was in great shape, but it was WINDY!! A couple of times, I had to kneel down in order to not be blown over and walking was an experience in careful foot placement just to keep my balance. The photography lesson was that I had to have some great tripod technique to get the images I envisioned. This includes spreading the legs of the tripod out rather than shortening them in order to get the low angel shots I was trying to capture.
Later in the trip I traveled to Badwater, the lowest place on the continent. Again, I was trying to capture HDR images. I think this location was better suited to HDR because of the white salt and the darker mountains.
My photographic goal was to capture HDR images of the rock tracks on the playa with the mountains in the background. I used matrix metering and three frame bracket bursts at the Racetrack and five frame bursts at Badwater all spaced at a stop apart to capture the range of light I was seeing. The Nikon D300 has a great feature that allows you to quickly set up your shots in 3. 5, or 7 shot brackets and to determine the amount of exposure difference in each frame.
I exported the images from Lightroom to Photomatix Pro to process the images using the tone mapping ability of the software to try to keep the images as close to natural as possible.
Below are three of the HDR images from the Racetrack Playa. You can click here to see all of my Death Valley images.
Death Valley Ractrack HDR – 1
Death Valley Ractrack HDR – 2
Death Valley Ractrack HDR – 3
Death Valley Badwater HDR – 1
Death Valley Badwater HDR – 2
Death Valley Badwater HDR – 3
Death Valley Badwater HDR – 4
Please leave a comment and let me know what you think or if you have any questions.
Posted 3 years, 1 month ago at 8:00 am. 1 comment
After a night in Furnace Creek it was time to start heading home, but not after shooting one of the iconic images in Death Valley; a Zabriski Point sunrise.
Sunrise was supposed to be at about 5:45, so I was up at five. After two nights of dealing with my rig, I have the tear down and packing down to a pretty good science. I was out of the campground and on the road by about 5:15. I really thought I would be one of the only ones at Zabriski point. I WAS WRONG!!!
Panorama of Photographers at Zabriski Point
After getting a quick pano of the crowd, I went to my pre-scouted spot and set up. It was kind of funny as I was in short sleeves and most people were bundled up in parkas and knit caps. The ironic part was that I haven’t seen a cloud in three days, especially when I wanted one, and now there was nothing but clouds that threatened to ruin the sunrise. It didn’t.
What I found interesting was that as soon as the sun rose over the horizon, everyone left. I mean everyone except a couple and another gentleman. The couple was doing something cool, she was shooting regular shots, but he was doing a time-lapse of the valley with the shadow of the clouds moving over it as the sun rose behind him.
Why was this interesting? Because the light got GREAT after everyone left. If you listen to people like Scott Bourne on the PhotoFocus podcast or Rick Sammon and Juan Pons on the Digital Photo Experience podcast or listen to speakers like George Lepp, they ALL say to stay until the light is gone. Gone as in GONE, not just lacking.
By the time the sun was up, the clouds acted like a giant soft box, diffusing the light all over the landscape. In addition, the clouds allowed the sun to play a game of peek-a-boo with the hills. As a result I came up with this shot, which I knew would be good in the field, but after just a little tweaking in Lightroom turned out amazing. At least I think so. The diffused light allowed the hills to show their color, but the spots of harsh light allowed me to get a good composition. To me, it almost looks like a painting.
Zabriski Point Sunrise
After leaving Zabriski Point, I headed to Golden Canyon to walk the 1.5 miles up into the canyon and take some shots in the shade before it got too warm and bright.
Hikers in Golden Canyon
The Back of Manly Beacon
After that, I headed to Bad Water. I didn’t stick around Bad Water too long because I wanted to get started home. I had found a road on the map that heads out of Death Valley via a 30 mile dirt road that goes out the south end of the valley. It was fun driving over 30 mile of dirt road. It wasn’t fun sitting in traffic on the 15 for the next five hours.
I look forward to my next trip to Death Valley. I have some new ideas about what to shoot.
You can view some more of my images here.
Please, I welcome any and all comments on both my trip and on my photography.
Posted 3 years, 2 months ago at 7:55 am. Add a comment
Day three started cold and bright. I had taken two sleeping bags to test in the new sleeping rig. I was trying out the warmer of the two this night. Good thing, it was below freezing during the night, but the car and bag combination was great. I was warm and toasty.
After breakfast, I started back up the Racetrack Road, stopping at the Racetrack Playa. This time stopping at the south end to look at the water on the playa. I am not sure that there will be any tracks left because the whole thing was under water, but we’ll see.
Rock in the Water on the Racetrack Playa
The plan was to not drive back the same way that I drove into the valley. I was going to go back southwest over Hunter Mountain. Along the way I stopped by the Lost Burro Mine.
Lost Burrow Mine Sign
This was a VERY interesting place. The shack was open or at least unlocked, so that you could go into the place and take pictures of the contents. I made it a point not to touch anything and was very careful to lock it back up as I left. There was also an outhouse, which is unfortunately still in use. I thought the most interesting part was a mine shaft that went into the hill opposite the main mine. I didn’t go into it because I was alone, but I think that it was not that dangerous. The main mine shaft was covered, but the structure was still standing and made for some interesting images.
Front of LBM Shack
The Interior of the LBM Shack
B&W Image of LBM Shack Items
Inside of Small Shaft at LBM
Wheelbarrow at the LBM
LBM Wheelbarrow and Mine Structure
The road to (and from) The Lost Burro mine is kind of narrow.
Access Road to LBM
After leaving the mine, I headed toward Hunter Mountain. I followed the basic map given out by the ranger’s station and had a good topo map also. What did I find? Nothing. The roads that I found on the map weren’t open. Even the ones that were, weren’t always easy to pass through. I got stuck once in a patch of snow, but after digging, backing, and taking a run at it I got through. Again, the FJ was a blessing and fun.
FJ Tracks in the Snow
I think if I had explored a bit more, I would have found a way to get there. Why didn’t I? I was below half on the fuel gauge. I thought that getting to the only gas station for several miles, like 100 miles, would be a good idea before I ran out of gas. Therefore, I turned around and drove out on the Racetrack Road.
The results of two days of playing in the mud are obvious.
There is Even Mud on the Roofrack!!
A Muddy FJ is a Happy Fj
Before I got to Furnace Creek for gas, I stopped at Salt Creek. Salt Creek is a natural spring that, due to the geology of the area, has as much salt in the water as the ocean. It takes a very specialized organism to live there. Pup Fish and Pickle Plant were the two that I saw. As the sun went down, I got this awesome shot of the sunset reflected in the creek . I took a series of five images at one stop apart and merged them in Photomatix Pro to produce this HDR.
Sunset at Salt Creek HDR
After getting gas it was off to pick a site in the Sunset Campground. Eat, rest, sleep.
You can see more image of Death Valley here.
Posted 3 years, 2 months ago at 7:53 am. Add a comment
After a nice sleep in the FJ on my custom made shelf/bed unit, I started out toward the Racetrack Playa. My plan was to stop by Scotty’s Castle and Ubehebe Crater on the way. The weather was nice, mid 60′s and not a cloud in the sky. I didn’t need gas because I had gone to Furnace Creek to fill up on their over priced gas the night before.
The drive to Scotty’s Castle is pretty easy. It’s all paved roads in the north end of the valley. There were plenty of signs that the rain the week before had been harsh with lots of spots on the road that had evidence of mud/debris flows. None of them would stop traffic today, but during the storm there could have been problems. And fortunately, it was a weekend because they were doing LOTS of road work where they would shut down the road for long periods of time to get something done. The fortunate part? They don’t work on weekends.
Scotty’s Castle was built by a Albert Johnson, a millionaire from Chicago who had invested in Walter Scott’s non-existant goldmine. Mr. Johnson visited “Death Valley Scotty” several times to see the mine and on one of his trips he brought his wife who fell in love with the area. She insisted on building a nice little place to stay because she wasn’t about to stay in the tent with the rest of the men. The result is what is now known as Scotty’s Castle. The last shot here is a panorama, something that I wanted to start trying while in Death Valley.
The Ubehebe Crater is an ancient volcano crater that is about 5,000 year old. The road to the crater was closed and I just didn’t feel like walking. So, no go.
The road to the Racetrack Playa was nice. Dirt, not super rough, and LONG. 32 miles long. The scenery was gorgeous and the weather great. I stopped once when a couple of cactus on the side of the road caught my eye.
The FJ was pure joy to drive on this road; almost like it belonged there.
FJ in the Desert
After 22.5 miles, the first stop was Teakettle Junction. The junction is a sign that people attach tea kettles to. I have NO idea how this tradition started, but it did live up to it’s name. There were over 50 different tea kettles attached to the sign. Most of them were signed and dated. I really wish I had remembered to bring one, but…
FJ at Teakettle Junction
Another 9.5 miles later, I arrived at the Racetrack Playa. It was under water. Or most of it was. The moving rocks are all located on the south end of the playa and it was completely wet. You do NOT walk on the playa when it is wet because you will leave footprints that won’t go away for many years.
North End of Racetrack Playa with the Grandstand on the Right
South End of the Racetrack Playa Under Water
The north end of the playa was dry enough not to leave tracks, so I went to find a campsite, take a short nap, and wait for dusk. The road between the campground (if you can call it that) and the playa was one of the worst I have ever seen. Washboarded to the point that there was NO speed that you didn’t feel like your teeth were going to fall out.
I think that due to the rain, there were no tracks around any of the rocks, but that wasn’t a problem. I was there to shoot star trails with the rocks and the grandstand in the fore ground and I spent the next two and half hours, from 7-9:30, standing in the middle of the playa taking pictures. I run into two gentlemen from Salinas Valley (I think), after talking to Sreekanth he was unfortunate and had his Nikon D90 go down and it hadn’t been returned before his trip so he was using a point & shoot for his star trails. I didn’t get a good look at his image, but he seemed fairly satisfied with some of his images.
I was trying something new here; star trails. This is the first image that I put together from several images. I don’t like it too much for several reasons. First, the foreground is boring because there was a new moon. It was PITCH black outside so no details in the image. I did take a couple of shots during the blue period that I used to give the image some foreground interest. Not great interest, but better than nothing. Second, I didn’t follow the primary rule when doing something new: Don’t try to learn it when you need it; learn it before so you are ready when you need it. I thought I knew how to use the camera’s intervelometer, but I was WRONG!
Star Trails Over The Grandstand on The Racetrack Playa
I will be attempting star trails in the future. I have to work out some of the kinks. Ok, not kinks, more like huge knots.
After finishing up, I drove back to the campsite, had dinner, and went to bed. I had some exploring to do the next day.
To view all of the images from Death Valley click here.
Posted 3 years, 2 months ago at 8:19 am. Add a comment
The intent was to spend three days in Death Valley exploring the land, taking some pictures, and testing out the new FJ. I thought that being in the winter, it wouldn’t be very crowded and the fact we had a storm go through the area so I thought that there would have a sky full of clouds for the pictures I planned to take. In addition, the backcountry roads would be great to drive on; muddy, but safe. Everything went according to plan. Except the timing.
I started out early morning, stopped in Barstow for supplies, and arrived in Death Valley at about two in the afternoon. My first stop was going to be a short drive in Twenty Mule Team Canyon, but when I got there it was closed due to mud slides. Ok, not a big deal. I drove up to the top of Titus Canyon. Nope, closed due to mud and debris in the canyon.
It was now almost five and while coming back from the Titus Canyon I saw the next site, the Stovepipe Wells sand dunes.
Stovepipe Dunes from Titus Canyon road.
It was fascinating to see from a distance. When I got to the spot I wanted to take my images. The first spot was in the Devil’s Cornfield where I could get a view of both the plants and the dunes.
The second spot was closer to dunes where I could walk out into the near dunes and take pictures there. From both sites the views of the dunes were amazing.
Stovepipe Dunes at Sunset
Stovepipe Dunes at Sunset
While walking out toward the dunes, I got the chance to shoot some of the detail in the sand.
I spent that night in the Stovepipe Wells campground and woke up early to start day two.
All of the Death Valley images can be seen here.
Posted 3 years, 3 months ago at 8:32 am. Add a comment
Ok, not really, but it sure seemed that way.
I took a quick trip to visit and explore Death Valley over the long President’s Day weekend. The idea was to explore the national park, get some shots of the landscape, and kind of get a lay of the land so I could go back and visit with a more definite plan what to shoot next time I visit. I also wanted to take my new FJ Cruiser out and test what it out on some of the backcountry roads.
We had a major storm go through California on the Tuesday and Wednesday the week before and I was excited by the possibilities of some great clouds in the sky over the areas that I had researched before going.
I was wrong. I got to DeVa and it was mostly closed. The rangers had list of roads open had 15-20 different backcountry roads and other points of interest on it; only five of them were open.
Apparently, the rains the week before had dumped over an inch of rain in one night. Death Valley is not the environment to handle an inch of rain in a 12 hour period. It is a desert, the water doesn’t soak into the ground very quickly; it just runs off downhill. The park flooded. Every road that I drove on had signs of the rain.
Mostly debris and dirt that had washed from the sides onto the road, but some of the roads showed major damage. Apparently, those that were located in some of the canyons got undercut and/or covered in several feet of mud. The surprising thing was that the dirt roads, if they weren’t closed, were just fine for the most part. The disappointing part was that there almost wasn’t a cloud in the sky.
After revamping the itinerary, the trip turned out better than I expected. After I had eliminated some of the spots that I wanted to visit and rescheduled some others, I had a great time, got some great shots, and tested the FJ in some pretty good conditions. The FJ could REALLY use a bath right now and it will get one sometime in the very near future.
I will be posting some of those shots here in the VERY near future. I know it’s been over five weeks since I posted here, but it got kind of busy recently and I have since made a resolution to post at least three times a week.
I did get the opportunity to use what is becoming one of my favorite iPhone apps, AutoStitch. You use your iPhone to take pictures for a panorama and the application does a GREAT job of stitching them together into a very usable image.
I took two of Scotty’s Castle in the northeast corner of the park and one of my campsite near the Racetrack Playa.
The clock tower and generator room.
The courtyard in Scotty’s Castle.
The view from my campsite near the Racetrack Playa.
I also got to use the video camera on the iPhone a few times. The only one that is worth seeing is this one. After viewing it, you might be able to understand why the FJ needs a carwash. To see the video, click here.
You can see the results of the drive through Death Valley mud.
Posted 3 years, 3 months ago at 1:52 pm. 3 comments