I have a lot of (too many?) images in my Lightroom Catalog. I like to look through them sometimes. It brings back memories of people and places I haven’t seen for a while. It’s easy to lose track of time doing this. And if I run across a promising image that I’ve never processed or published before, I can end up spending even more time “stuck in the archives”.
There’s a bit of water / mud in the riverbed, left over from a rain storm several days earlier. And there’s a group of hikers on a ridge on the right hand side. If you’re viewing this on the web, you’ll be able to see the header image, which is a small crop showing the hikers.
Late afternoon at Zabriskie Point (75mm, f/8 @ 1/80s, ISO 100).
When I went through my photos after the trip, I passed over this one. The sun’s position just out of the frame on the top made the light very harsh. The RAW image was washed out, the riverbed was over exposed, and the terrain was a bit underexposed. There were also a few ugly lens flare spots through the middle of the frame. I can see why I didn’t bother with it back then.
Anyway, I decided to try and process it and spent some time applying various quantities of modern software magic to it. I like the result and I think it was worth getting stuck in the archives for this photo. I’m really glad I saved the file!
When I wrote about Father Crowley Overlook a couple weeks ago, I realized I had several promising Death Valley images in my archives that I’d never processed. A trip like that can be overwhelming, and dealing with so many photos takes time and effort. I suppose back then I picked out ones I thought were best and left the rest for later.
Well this week I went back, found this one I liked, and worked on it.
Shifting sun, shadows, and sand – early morning at Mesquite dunes in Death Valley.
This scene is looking roughly north about 15 minutes after sunrise. The low sun angle makes for lovely contrasts and colors, and helps emphasize the shapes and textures of the dunes.
While I was working on this in Lightroom, I noticed something on the far sand dune, just below the shadow at the top. Please click on the image below so you can see it better.
I was making landscape images, so I used a 24-120mm lens and fortunately liked the framing at 120mm. My Nikon D800 camera had a 36 MP sensor and captured a great deal of information in the file. Even though it’s at the limits of resolution, you can definitely tell there’s something there – tracks in the sand and one (maybe two?) animals!
A photo like this is a good example of something I wrote about 10 years ago: Photographic “Level of Detail”. Looking at it from a distance, you see colors, shapes, shadows and lines. Zoom in a bit and textures, tracks, and other details become visible. Zoom in all the way and you can spot wildlife. How cool is that?!
I really enjoy this aspect of photography. Have you ever discovered something like this in one of your images?
You can view my other DVNP photos here. Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now, go make some photos – it’s can be surprising!
You may have seen the tragic news last week about a US Navy F18 crash in Death Valley. The jet was flying through Rainbow Canyon next to Father Crawley Point when it hit, killing the pilot and injuring seven bystanders.
I feel a connection to this. One reason is because of my own Navy service. During NROTC training, I was assigned to an attack squadron aboard an aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean. I saw firsthand how professional, dedicated and skilled Navy aircrews are. My heart goes out to the pilot’s family.
I also feel connected because I’ve visited that exact spot. Back in 2015, Tom M. and I drove up to Father Crowley Point during a trip to Death Valley and made a few photos. At the time, we weren’t aware of the background of this place and just planned to make landscape photos. But then we heard the jets overhead.
US Navy F-18 exiting “Star Wars Canyon” in Death Valley at Father Crowley Overlook, October 2015
Air Force and Navy pilots have trained there since the 1930s and it’s become a hotspot for military aircraft photographers and enthusiasts (see this article in the LA times). Rainbow Canyon has a couple of nicknames: “Star Wars Canyon” and the “Jedi Transition”. It’s one of the few places in the world where you can see and photograph military aircraft below you as they fly by (here’s another good article on Arstechnica).
Tom and I were getting ready to move on when we heard another jet approaching and getting much louder. I managed to switch to continuous mode and follow with my camera as it roared through the canyon right next to us. The photo above is a 9 frame sequence merged into a single image to show the progression as it leaves the canyon. I’d only ever processed a single frame of it before (here on Flickr). Although this set of frames is from a more recent (and capable) camera, I went through processing steps similar to those I described here: Reprocessing-a-mt-evans-elk-herd-panorama. I merged it manually this time to make sure all images of the aircraft were preserved in the final version.
I’m glad bystanders’ injuries weren’t too serious. I feel very sad for the young pilot and his family. And I’m grateful that we have people that volunteer to serve and protect us, even at such great risk to themselves.
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go thank someone in the military for their service.
Good morning, wonderful readers! I hope you don’t mind a short post today with a few more photos from Death Valley. The place made a big impression on me. I hope to return sometime in the future.
Desert rain water – A different view of the post storm water in Death Valley. Some locations had 5 inches of rain on October 18th. The water here collected in small puddles.
Overbury Building ruins in the Rhyolite Ghost Town near Beatty, Nevada. Black and White Infrared panorama.
Death Valley Sundown – I like the sun rays and reflections from the wet mud below.
Mosaic Canyon Monochrome – Rushing water carved these canyon walls, resulting in a variety of textures to explore.
Monochromatic textures – Zabriskie Point in Death Valley is a wonderful place to photograph. The hills vary in color and with the changing light and clouds, it seems there are always new textures, shadows, and compositions to focus on (pun intended). I wanted to emphasize the textures, so I used Lightroom to convert this one to monochrome. For some reason, this was one of the first photos I made there and one of the last that I finished processing.
We’ve added even more photos from our Death Valley expedition in the albums at these links:
When you think of the desert in the western US, you might imagine extreme heat and monochromatic scenes of empty barren land. If so you probably haven’t been to Death Valley. There is some empty barren land:
Badlands sunrise – This was my first visit to Death Valley and what I thought it would look like.
And there are sand dunes and wind-blown textures:
Photographing Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes – A distant photographer lines up his shot.
But there are so many more things to experience there.
It’s the largest national park in the contiguous US at over 3.4 million acres. The habitats are varied and the elevation ranges from 282 feet below sea level in Badwater Basin (the lowest point in North America) to more than 11,000 feet at the top of Telescope Peak.
Panorama of Badwater from Dantes View, looking west toward Telescope Peak
Many of the places we wanted to see weren’t accessible while we were there. The good news is that there were more than enough locations we could still get to, and the water created some rare views of the area.
Death Valley Reflections – Some locations had 5 inches of rain. The following morning, we saw large pools of water west of route 190 and north of Furnace Creek. It was a long walk (~1.5 miles from the road) to get close, and at times I wondered whether it was a mirage. I’m guessing it’s rare to see the mountains and clouds reflected in standing water at this spot.
And are there any waterfalls in the desert? You wouldn’t think so, right? We decided to find out one day and after a long drive, hike, and rock scramble through a gorgeous canyon, we arrived at Darwin Falls, which seems like a miracle in the middle of such arid country.
Darwin Falls – This desert waterfall in Death Valley had about a 40 foot drop. It’s spring fed and flows year round, although the rains may have added some water while we were there.
There’s a lot of history in Death Valley too. The Native American Timbisha tribe have lived in the valley for at least 1000 years. Gold and silver mining started in the 1850s and Borax was discovered in the 1880s. There are also several ghost towns to explore in the park and the surrounding areas.
20 Mule Team Wagon Train – Used in 1885 to haul Borax From Death Valley to Mojave. Borax Museum, Furnace Creek, California
There’s also a surprising amount of wildlife. While hiking back from the Mesquite Flat Dunes we spotted some motion ahead that turned out to be my first sighting ever of a fox in the wild.
Kit Fox at Mesquite Dunes – We saw it from a distance. At first I thought it was a coyote, but Eric Vanbergen on Flickr suggested it might be a Kit Fox. Judging by the info on Wikipedia, he’s right. I made the photo handheld (with my tripod still attached!) using a 24-120mm lens that I was using for landscapes. This is a small crop from the frame. It was nice of the Fox to stop, stand in the light, and look at the camera for me – but it should have come closer!
We also saw several of these, curiously along or as they crossed the road. They’re large enough (~3 inches across) to spot as you drive by.
Classic Death Valley (Photo by Kevin McKinney – used with permission) – We saw several Tarantulas while we were there.
Here’s one last photo. We’d been searching for a Road Runner all week but hadn’t seen any. On the last afternoon we finally sighted this one as we drove by the visitor’s center. Of course, none of us had our camera gear – thank goodness for iPhones!
“Beep Beep” – A Roadrunner outside the Visitor Center at Furnace Creek. I think this is the one the rangers have nick-named “Robbie”. It’s very tolerant of humans and went about catching and eating bugs while we watched.
You can view many more photos from our trip at these links:
Link to Tom M’s album on Flickr (No longer available)
This is really more of trip report than a review or guide. With so little time on site, I’m not qualified to give you much specific advice on photographing Death Valley. But here is some info I found very useful:
I’ve been away for the last week and caught a bad cold on the trip. I got home last night and I’m feeling better today although I don’t have the energy for a long blog post. Sorry.
I’ll be back next week and I promise to provide more photos and info. Here’s one image to whet your appetite. This is a 20 second exposure at f/2.2 and ISO 1600, under the darkest skies I’ve ever seen. The Milky Way was easily visible even though the brightest part was below the horizon.
Two galaxies – Andromeda Galaxy and part of the Milky Way, from Zabriskie Point in Death Valley National Park
Thanks for stopping by and reading my blog. Now – go make some photos!