Death Valley National Park thumbnails only

Zabriskie Point, Death Valley National Park Zabriskie Point, Death Valley National Park
 

Zabriskie Point in Death Valley National Park is one of those locations that evokes the kid in a candy store emotion for landscape photographers.

Ordering the chaos in a beautiful scene is a frequent landscape photography challenge. While details abound at Zabriskie Point, these details are more easily ordered than most. In addition, there are so many strong shapes and colors here that direct light becomes much less important. While Zabriskie Point's morning and evening light is especially attractive, some of my favorite images were taken before sunrise and after sunset.

Having so many great compositions makes selecting a few favorites to share a mental challenge. Of course, culling many images would have been easier if I had approached the area in an orderly manner. Instead, I opted to revisit subjects for a fresh take, ensuring an open mind to find the best options. Still, I'm certain that a return trip would generate new compositions in this target-rich environment.

A pair of Canon EOS R5 bodies with Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8 L IS USM and Canon RF 70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM Lenses mounted provided the ideal angle of view range for this location and, of course, outstanding image quality.


 
32mm  f/11.0  1/8s  ISO 100
Ibex Dunes, Death Valley National Park Ibex Dunes, Death Valley National Park
 

The remoteness of the beautiful Ibex Dunes in Death Valley National Park is a big advantage and a big drawback.

The advantage part is that few people make the effort required to get there, and the Ibex dune field is often untracked.

The drawback is that these dunes are located near ... well, nothing. The drive from Furnace Creek took nearly two hours, with very few services encountered on the way, and the last 10 miles are narrow dirt and sand roads that require differing vehicle classes depending on the current conditions (including at an intermittent stream crossing).

The adventure does not stop upon arrival. The dunes are over a mile from the road, but they are massive and easily visible from the road (a generous term for it by this point — more like a trail), and the hike to the dunes is not difficult. In contrast to the size of the dunes, the vehicle is tiny and may not be visible from the dunes. A small angular mistake on the way out could mean a significantly longer walk and perhaps a night in the desert.

That adventure aspect was avoided with a GPS pin, an old-school compass reading, and a feature on the mountain opposite the dunes noted.

On this afternoon, a solitary set of tracks led through the low area between the untouched northern and southern dune fields. After photographing my way around the dunes, I settled into the selected sunset location to catch the day's last rays.

As I shared in the last dune image, the Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens on a Canon EOS R5 proved the optimal choice in the Death Valley National Park dunes. While focal lengths outside this range had compositional opportunities, the 24-70mm angles of view enabled emphasis on the close subjects while keeping the background details relatively large in the frame.

The R5's focus bracketing feature made complete depth of field easily obtained for every image. Four f/11 images were required for this 48mm focus stacked final photo.


 
48mm  f/11.0  1/15s  ISO 100
Shadows Rule, Mesquite Flat Dunes, Death Valley National Park Shadows Rule, Mesquite Flat Dunes, Death Valley National Park
 

While the individual grains of sand in a dune likely have some color variation, those grains blend together at typical landscape photo distances, leaving most dunes a single color. A single color does not alone make an interesting photo. Therefore, shadows rule in the dunes — they are necessary to add intrigue.

Shadows are created by uneven lighting, and the early and late sun angle brings on the desired strong directional lighting (barring clouds).

Taking a dune image to the next step means finding great shadows, and footprint shadows do not fit into my "great" definition (unless the footprints are an intentional part of the composition).

Rarely is wind appreciated for photography, and it is especially unwelcomed when photographing landscapes. However, I celebrated as a significant wind storm blew through during the drive from Las Vegas to Death Valley National Park. The dust and sand were dense enough to severely impact visibility at times, rocking, and properly initiating the brand new Toyota RAV 4 rental SUV.

Why celebrate a wind storm in the desert? The wind erased ALL of the Death Valley dunes' footprints, replacing them with fresh, seemingly unending and highly photogenic ripples in the sand.

The Canon RF 24-70mm F2.8 L IS USM Lens on a Canon EOS R5 proved the optimal choice in the Death Valley National Park dunes. While focal lengths outside this range had compositional opportunities, the 24-70mm angles of view enabled emphasis on the close subjects while keeping the background details relatively large in the frame.

Still, the depth of field available (at apertures not impacted by diffraction) from this focal length range was often insufficient. The R5's focus bracketing feature was the solution to that problem. With focus bracketing enabled, the smallest increment specified, and the number of shots set far above what was ever needed (the camera automatically stops at infinity), the R5 proved itself foolproof, automatically delivering the complete required range of sharp focus bracketed images at nearly a 100% rate (and I probably caused the 1 or two insufficient sets). Walk up to a scene, select the composition, position the focus point on the closest subject (the closest sand), and press the shutter release. This strategy takes away the careful attention to the depth of field otherwise required and facilitates images not otherwise possible.

Do you ever struggle to obtain the ideal white balance? I do, and this image challenged me. Unfortunately, adding the needed contrast creates a bright yellow glow that I've been attempting to neutralize. This image is one of those likely to get re-adjusted in the weeks and months to come.


 
31mm  f/11.0  1/20s  ISO 100
Colorful Sunrise at Zabriskie Point, Death Valley National Park Colorful Sunrise at Zabriskie Point, Death Valley National Park
 

This morning's sunrise delivered the highly desired pink sky to the west as I was overlooking the incredible landscape from Zabriskie Point in Death Valley National Park. That is a perfect combination, right?

What if the colorful sunrise sky color does not match the tone of the landscape? Warming the sky reduced its purpleness, bringing the color tones into closer alignment, but does the pink sky complement the yellow and brown landscape in this example? Or, does that combination clash?

Attractive distant details abound at Zabriskie, making foreground details easy to overlook. This composition takes advantage of the lines and texture in a nearby rolling hill just off the point.


 
24mm  f/11.0  0.5s  ISO 160
Sunrise at Zabriskie Point, Death Valley National Park Sunrise at Zabriskie Point, Death Valley National Park
 

Zabriskie Point in Death Valley National Park changes its looks as the sunlight angle changes — or the sun sets.

This image was captured just as the morning sunlight reached the classic Zabriskie Point land formations.


 
33mm  f/11.0  1/30s  ISO 100
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