Death Valley photo workshop small group

Death Valley Photography Workshop, The Desert Landscape

11/11/11: Sea to Summit Workshops held its first annual Death Valley Workshop and couldn’t have had a better group of enthusiastic photographers. A big “thank you” to all in attendance: Sterling Hein, Graham Sher, Genevieve Arseneau-Nicklin (our three Canadian constituents), Francis (I’m usually the youngest) Peña, Mikko (don’t look at my camera) Varpiola, Mark Dodge and Priscilla Ouchida (the digital to film duo), and Macey (eyes on the road) Zavala.

Day 1 of the workshop found us at the Badwater basin salt flats where we enjoyed a moody sunrise and early morning session. The lines and formations here can be dizzying, but once in the zone, the lines and textures start making sense: a common theme in this national park. Death Valley is certainly not lacking in finding textures and lines to compliment compositions. After that we ducked into the cool canyons of Natural Bridge with their massive rock arch and dry “falls”. Mid-afternoon, we visited the middle of the valley on West Side Drive at the “Devil’s Speedway”, a mix of salt flats, cracked mud, and a great view of the Amargosa mountains with all their layers of color. But alas, the clouds of morning evaporated and we moved on to the Mesquite sand dunes near Stovepipe Wells. The low angle of the sun prior to sunset provides great contrasts on the sandy textures and patterns. The challenge again is distilling all the repeating lines and patterns into a cohesive composition. Here, we talked of simplifying the scene as it is all too easy to get overwhelmed and try to photograph the entire scene. As the sun went down, the light softened and a pleasing glow was cast over the dunes. After dinner, a few of us goofed off, er, experimented with light painting and night photography back at the Badwater salt flats. Good times!

Day 2 started off at the famous and popular location, Zabriskie Point where the pre-sunrise light was vivid and intense looking to the east. The cloud cover eventually consumed the sun and we moved into Golden Canyon and explored the lower section of the same badlands area. We took a quick break mid-day before settling in to a quick session on post processing before heading out to the Spring….wait for it…(salt). The ephemeral water here provided great lines and reflections in an otherwise arid desert landscape.

By Day 3, we had a thinner group with some people heading home early for various commitments more important than photography (is that possible?!?!). 🙂 The remaining hard core attendees enjoyed one last sunrise at Dante’s View where we enjoyed seeing some of the locations we visited from a bird’s eye view at 5,475 feet. Josh and I had an amazing time, and once again, thank all of you for coming. You were a great group to be a part of and we hope to see you all again!



3 replies
  1. Graham Sher
    Graham Sher says:

    Jim, Josh and fellow attendees, it was a great workshop, great company , excellent scenery and a great part of the world. I’ll definitely join J & J agin. For those who don’t know, I stayed a couple of extra days with Jim and we did the Racetrack (amazing place) and we tried to do Eureka dunes. Unfortunately we had a slight detour mishap and got Jim’s truck buried in sand. Took a good 6 hours or so to be rescued and get back to Furnace Creek – certainly made for quite the adventure. I’ll be posting some images soon. best to all, graham

  2. Gen
    Gen says:

    What a great group! I had a blast with everyone even though I was exhausted! Thank you for the wonderful time and great memories. ’til next time 🙂


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