Death Valley National Park Photography, Part 1

On the road again

I spent most of 2018 shooting around my home state of North Carolina, and I had a blast, but I was ready to stretch my legs on a longer journey. I had been wanting to go to Death Valley National Park for landscape photography for quite some time, and so that is where I set my sights. After a few failed attempts to plan the trip, everything came together and even the government shutdown couldn’t stop me.

I tried to have no or low expectations. I tried. But my hopes for the trip were pretty high, which is risky. Often, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. Successful nature photography requires multiple factors to go your way every time you press the shutter: Good light, an interesting subject, unique conditions, timing, patience, luck, and technical abilities - to name just a few.

The date of the trip arrived, and with more camera batteries than pants, I caught my flight eager for the epic and absolutely begging to be heartbroken with clear skies and boring conditions.

Zabriskie Point shines under sunset’s pastel sky. (Click the image to see all of my photos from Death Valley.)

Zabriskie Point shines under sunset’s pastel sky. (Click the image to see all of my photos from Death Valley.)

A Thousand Miles From Nowhere

When we entered the park, it was love at first sight. Our National Park system is truly our top natural asset. That’s not exactly an original hot take by any means, but get yourself out there - far away from it all - and appreciate these wonderful landscapes.

A very popular spot in Death Valley National Park is Zabriskie Point. It offers you 360-degree views with colorful and interesting rock formations in every direction. As a result, it’s a great place to take in sunrise, sunset, or the night sky. I believe you could spend weeks on end just exploring Zabriskie Point and never run out of landscape photography or abstract fine art opportunities.

Though I tempted the fates with high hopes of stunning skies, they still delivered over and over again - a favor for which I will be paying back for the rest of the year, I assume. But what’s interesting and perhaps unique about Death Valley National Park is that there are smaller scenes to be had even under blue skies devoid of any clouds.

A great spot to see that happen is Artist Palette. I hiked out away from the parking area, and watched the colors change as the sun set and glow well into twilight. The result was one of my favorite photographs from the trip, and I can’t wait to have this print hanging on my wall. You have to see this one big to appreciate it:

Artist Palette glows during twilight.

Artist Palette glows during twilight.

Indescribable mud cracks point to sunset’s last light.

Indescribable mud cracks point to sunset’s last light.

I Won’t Back Down

One of the main reasons I was obsessed with Death Valley National Park is because I had seen photographs of mud cracks that I couldn’t get out of my head. I was determined, and my desire was obvious, if not annoying, to my travel photography companions.

We spent a good bit of time locating them, scouting good spots, and shooting them. Photographing these scenes requires quite a bit of sweat equity and technical know-how. The challenge was both invigorating and frustrating. I found myself lying on the desert floor to capture them properly.

I was hoping to get some unique conditions and find an interesting perspective to bring something new to this natural wonder. I’m particularly proud of this slightly moody photograph.

The sunset behind me was really picking up, but I couldn’t resist capturing this image. The golden glow on these mountains lasted for just a very few moments. I only managed two photographs before the light disappeared completely. Sunsets last forever in Death Valley National Park, but the light changes quickly.

In part two, I will look at some of the best sunrise moments from the trip.