Death Valley Photography Workshop - January 2019

Death Valley Winter Photography Workshop Students with Aperture Academy

Death Valley is often towards the bottom of people's favorite park list. Maybe they visited it in the sweltering summer months, or maybe they only saw it in the harsh midday light. Whatever the case, we're here to tell you that Death Valley is one of the most spectacular places on earth to photograph! There's no other place like it. This park has it all when it comes to desert landscapes!

On day one of the workshop we departed the hotel just before 6am to head to Zabriskie point. This colorful vista is a classic Death Valley scene. After a short walk we were ready to set up our gear and get to work. There were some clouds along the horizon so good morning light looked promising. As the sun reached into the sky, some of the clouds began to turn cotton candy pink while others remained a cool blue. Once the glow of morning had faded, we waited around for direct sunlight to cast shadows on the ridged land. We shot with wide angle lenses to convey the grandeur of the scene and then with telephoto lenses to isolate particular textures.

After we had our fill of morning light, we drove around to the other side of the mountain to Artist Palate. Here the mountain is striated with bands of pink, green, gold, and brown sedimentary rock. It’s a geological phenomenon that causes a curious mind to envision the past. Using our telephoto lenses we photographed the various rocks from a few different vantage points before heading back to the hotel for a short breakfast break.

At 11:30 we piled back into the “Ap Cab” and made our way to Beaty for a quick lunch stop before heading into Rhyolite. Rhyolite is a historic ghost town that had a short-lived life during a brief gold rush in the early 1900’s. Today most of the town is gone, but a few very interesting remnants remain. We spent nearly two hours photographing the skeletons of buildings, rusted automobiles, and other relics.


The next stop was Badwater Basin. Badwater gets its name from the extremely high saline content of the earth there. There’s rarely water there, but when there is, you defiantly don’t want to drink it. The salt in this dried out lakebed forms bizarre polygonal formations that will make you feel like you’re on another planet. We tossed on our wide-angle lenses and got to work looking for interesting patterns on the ground. We shot until sundown and then made our way to the lodge for some well deserved dinner and rest.

On the second morning, we rose a little earlier to ensure that we could make it out to the Mesquite Flat Sand dunes in plenty of time before sunrise. Once on the dunes, we found a few interesting compositions and waited for the sun to rise before getting to work. As the sun rose higher in the sky, we switched gears and used our telephoto lenses to isolate portions of the dunes and after a healthy dose of shooting, we took a quick coffee break before heading back to the lodge. Just after noon, we gathered in the restaurant to go over a few different post processing techniques. Here I covered a variety of Lightroom and Photoshop tools that I use in my workflow.

The final shoot of the day was an incredible set of mud tiles along the Bad Water road. The mud is left over from flash floods that happen from time to time in the valley. Since the valley has an evaporation rate of 150 inches per year, the mud turns into tiles rather quickly. We shot a number of different compositions as the sun sank in the western sky before wrapping up another incredible trip with yet another incredible group.

Until next time,

Mike and the rest of the Aperture Academy Team


P.S. If you'd like to join us at one of our workshops, you can find the schedule/sign up here.



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