Photographing death valley national park


SHARES Death Valley landscape photography tours

Landscape and night photography offers an amazing diversity of subjects and conditions in Death Valley.

Death Valley GuideCome join me for my photography workshops in Death Valley National Park in 2018.  In addition to my tours in April, October and December, I’ll most likely take some exploratory trips focused on hiking or Milky Way photography.

I wrote the book on landscape photography in Southern California.  Literally!  I invested the years 2010-2015 researching and writing my 320-page guidebook ““.  It includes 40+ locations in Death Valley National Park, and as I look towards a Death Valley specific guide, my location list is 200+ so far.  Guides are a great option for people who have the time and can invest the days to visit a lot of sites, but if you want to chase the light most efficiently while you cover a park this large, there’s no substitute for real time guiding and feedback/instruction.  I personally lead all of my workshops, so you can be sure that I’m planning every trip for a peak season and opportunity: wildflowers, Milky Way, meteor showers, and so on.

2018 Death Valley Workshop Schedule:

Apr 13 – 15  –  Death Valley at Night  3 days/nights – completed
Wildflowers bloom at 2000-6000 feet, the Milky Way rises and forms arches at night.

Sept 30 – Oct 3  –  Death Valley Milky Way Adventure                                  5 
This time of year the Milky Way is conveniently up in the evening, so we’ll go get it as many places as we can in 3 nights. We’ll do a lot of driving, many rough roads, may puncture & repair a tire or two, but should get a lot of great and uncommon images, perfect for hardcore, advanced photographers wanting to expand their portfolio.
(Held immediately prior to the Eastern Sierra / Bodie workshop.) 3 days/nights.

Dec 10 – 14 – Death Valley Landscape & Night Photography                                
Given that this is the last major meteor shower until 2021 without moon interference, the Geminid meteor shower is even more of a priority than I had anticipated! I’ve been chasing just about every available meteor shower since 2009 (without clouds or moon). If you’re interested in learning or practicing meteor shower photography before 2021, this is your chance to practice it. We’ll have three nights to practice before the peak night of the shower. 4 days/nights:

fine art photography by Jeff Sullivan

See much more in Death Valley than the tour bus stops that a million people visit.

spring in Death Valley

2017 wasn’t a “super bloom” year, but through diligent scouting I found some great areas.

My spring workshops in Death Valley are pretty similar. We’ll visit some of the better-known places, as well as some less known and rarely visited ones. To pull this off in the largest park in the Lower 48, we’ll have starting and ending points outside of the small Furnace Creek to Stovepipe Wells area that the tour buses and most of the park’s 1 million annual visitors congregate in.  See more photos and information in the “General Details” section below.

If you want to capture a Milky Way panorama or two, April offers more time in the morning to capture them before twilight starts.

Milky Way panorama photography

March Milky Way in Death Valley, 2017

April  9 – 12  –  Death Valley at Night  3 days/nights  
Wildflowers bloom at 0-6000 feet, the Milky Way rises and forms arches at night.

Badwater Sunflowers, April 2010

Desert gold in Badwater Basin, April 2010

Given the rain in Death Valley in January and the follow-up showers in March, I’m expecting April into May to be the best timing for Death Valley wildflowers in 2018. It’s certainly not going to be a “super bloom” year, most years aren’t, but there will probably be nice patches of color, especially over 2000 feet in elevation.  If the seeds that do germinate get periodic water, we could see some nice patches like this one in Badwater Basin in April 2010.

night photography in Death Valley

Rising Milky Way in Death Valley National Park, April 2015




December 10 – 14 – Death Valley Landscape & Night Photography – Geminid Meteor Shower – 4 days/nights

My Death Valley trip in December is a landscape photography workshop during the day, but is is timed to enable us to also catch the Geminid meteor shower at night, as it approaches its broad peak over several nights.

Astrphotography in Death Valley, California

Catch Geminid meteors in Death Valley National Park.

How well do you know Death Valley?

I have been exploring Death Valley multiple times a year since 2006.  I always explore new areas/sites, and it’s such a huge and diverse park, I still have a long list of new places that I want to explore!  I have new slot canyons to visit, new dune fields to explore.  If you want more of an expedition-style trip, let me know and we can go on some hikes or rent 4WD Jeeps.  I know exactly what obscure, remote and fascinating sites I’d take those to as well, and when the peak season/dates would be.

F-18 jet in Death Valley

Photographers come from around the world for shots like this, as many nearby military bases use portions of the airspace over Death Valley for training.

Star Trails Over Charcoal Kilns

Wildrose Charcoal Kilns, October 2017

Eroded badlands in Death Valley.

See the early morning light at Zabriskie Point

Join me for a photography tour of the hottest, driest place in the United States, in its friendly and approachable season!  Death Valley National Park features some of the country’s most exotic landscapes: massive sand dunes, colorful and deeply eroded hills, salt flats, sinuous canyons carved through solid rock.  We can visit all of the iconic Death Valley sites during their best light: Zabriskie Point, Badwater, Mesquite Flat Dunes,  Artist’s Palette, Devil’s Golf Course, Dante’s View, perhaps Agueberry Point and Mosaic Canyon if the roads are open and in good shape.  

Salt flats in Death Valley National Park.

The Badwater salt flats at sunset. (2013)

Beyond the classic views, we can visit many lesser-known or difficult to reach sites as well.  Death Valley is America’s largest park in the Lower 48 states, nearly 3.4 million acres, so our opportunities are endless.  I live about 3 hours from the park, so I’ve been visiting it multiple times per year for many years, always expanding and geographic knowledge of the park.  I’ve been actively working on visiting and capturing an inventory of different types of exotic locations. I’ve made a point of exploring new sites along the majority of the park’s roads that are unpaved, many requiring high clearance and/or 4WD. There are a lot of sights just off the beaten path which people who haven’t invested that time, specifically exploring and seeking photographic opportunities, in an appropriate vehicle, will never see.

Mud Slide

Dunes and Hills

Picturesque dunes, 2015

There are several sand dune fields in the park and 8-11 or more in the vicinity depending upon your radius and whether or not you count the unnamed ones.  There are dozens of slot canyons, 4-5 of which are particularly nice.  There are multiple places to access the salt flats in Badwater Basin better than the Badwater parking lot, some with uniquely interesting foregrounds.  I’ve lost count of how many mines and mining camps I’ve visited in the park, but it’s over a dozen.  I don’t say any of this to brag, only to illustrate that whatever Death Valley subjects or themes photographers are interested in, we can show you the best of it.  You’ll be in good hands to see more than you could on your own, or guided by someone with limited or infrequent experience in the park.

Photograph wildflowers in Death Valley National Park.

Spring wildflowers in Death Valley 2014

On our spring trips our timing will be excellent to include the added element of wildflowers in many of the unique and dramatic landscapes of Death Valley.  The park only received 1.9 inches of rain in a year, so the wildflower bloom in the park tends to be sporadic and spread out among areas which received just the right amount of rain from showers.  The distribution of wildflowers is sporadic and varies from year to year with where rain showers occur, so it’s useful to visit the park early in the winter to see where in the park this year to scout out where they’re growing best.  I saw these plants growing in November after an August monsoon rain. I often visit the park in December for the Geminid meteor shower as well, then January for the Quadrantid meteor shower, so I get a great preview of conditions.

Learn light painting techniques in Death Valley National Park.

Light Painting on the Badwater salt flats, 2012

Spring is also the time when nights get a little warmer, perfect for practicing night photography, including light painting and star trails.  The Milky Way rises before dawn in March, and 2 hours earlier in the night every month after that.  If you’d like to try converting a sequence of images into a time-lapse movie, I can show you how to do that as well. 

Light In The Dark

Slot canyon, 2014

So how much ground could we cover in 5 days, 5 nights?
Take a look at.
Or look at.  Deep geographic knowledge is a key asset in a massive park such as Death Valley.  Experience outside of the typical spots visited by workshops is critical to selecting the best locations among the many types of subjects.  Anyone proposing that you join them should be able to show you that they’ve taken, perhaps even to show that they visit multiple times per year, and hopefully they reserve many many additional locations that they don’t show publicly, so you’ll have unique compositions to bring home.

Please leave loctions int eh condition you found them.

Not cool! People travel around the world to see The Racetrack, please heed the NPS signs and don’t damage it.

We practice “leave no trace” guiding, which includes not encouraging hordes of people to show up in large quantities at the less trampled places we may be visiting, so other than those well-known locations the park’s 1 million visitors commonly visit (Zabriskie, Badwater, and the other sites mentioned above), we request that participants not name the locations we shoot in when you share photos from the trip online.  There are enough heavily-trampled places in California already and the problem of crowds of photographers only gets worse over time.  No need to worsen that situation; let’s respect our investment of time and effort to find unique locations by keeping them anonymous.  My kids call our favorite locations “Voldemort” (“the one who must not be named” from the Harry Potter series).  In Death Valley we have Voldemort dunes, Voldemort mine, Voldemort slot canyon and many other sites we’re committed to protect.

Lake Manly via iPhone 6S+ Panorama

Death Valley’s salt flats, flooded, late 2015

Charcoal Kilns at Night

Charcoal kilns at night, 2008

If going beyond the sea of tourists in the normal crowded viewpoints sounds like fun, check for workshop listings below or (if I haven’t had time to update the site recently) contact me for details on my upcoming Death Valley trips.  I’d love to show you around one of my favorite local parks!  It’s hard to keep secrets in this age of digital sharing ans rampant plagiarism of concepts, but note the date of the photos of the people you’re considering taking a workshop with, and ask yourself… do you want to go to the park with a leader, or a follower?

Death Valley Mining On Pause

Death Valley mine, 2010

About your instructors: I have a deep knowledge of digital imaging, and became involved in the industry in 1984 as an applications engineer at the Graphic Printing and Imaging Division of Tektronix (the world’s leading color printing company at the time).  I have owned at least ten digital cameras since 2001 (real cameras, not counting digital devices like smartphones).  I currently shoot with two Canon full frame DSLRs and one Nikon, plus an APS-C sensor model, so I can help you navigate the menus and I have ample experience with differences in depth of field, high ISO noise and other varying characteristics of the different sensor formats.

Slot canyon in Death Valley National Park.

Lori Hibbett exploring a Death Valley slot canyon, 2013.

My co-instructor is Lori Hibbett, who shoots with both full frame and DX format Nikons, so we have all the major bases covered.  Depth of field varies from full frame to crop sensors, so it’s important that your instructors have years of experience with both to adequately meet the needs of a diverse group.  We’ve taught people with other brands such as Sony and Pentax DSLRs as well.  Fortunately, the key photographic differences such as depth of field are due to sensor size and geometry, so the key factor is that workshop instructors having years of experience shooting with the format (sensor size) you’ll bring.

Our Death Valley trips are convenient for participants arriving through Las Vegas, Los Angeles or Mammoth Lakes.  We can often help you connect with other participants to share a rental car.  (Lodging, transportation, food, and park entrance are not included.)

Sunset Over the Racetrack Playa

“Sailing stone” on The Racetrack, 2013

Our Death Valley workshops can vary between lodging-based trips and more remote and adventurous itineraries which involve some camping to reach more remote areas of the park.  AWD or 4WD vehicles aren’t required, but 2/3 of the park’s roads are unpaved, so we may be able to reach a few of the park’s more interesting sites if we have enough vehicles with clearance to carpool in.  The National Park Service recommends travelling with two spare tires on many of the park’s unpaved roads.  I’ve gotten two flat tires at once there, and I was able to drive out.  Know who’s showing you around, and exactly what precautions they take.  Upon booking, I’ll forward you suggestions for camera accessories and free software applications you may wish to consider, as well as notes on appropriate clothing and outdoor gear.

Death Valley Wildflowers... Coreopsis?

March 2017

Last but not least, some competing workshops tout their 1-week, 72 hour Wilderness First Responder class training in first aid, as if that’s photographing death valley national park some sort of unique benefit.  Not only have I been certified in the longer, 12-week, 120 hour Outdoor Emergency Care class offered by the American Red Cross many times, I’ve practiced treating scores of injured people for years volunteering for the American Red Cross.  Lori brought literally thousands of people on wilderness survival trips she offered for 10 years through U.C.L.A., and with that volume of people, on one occasion she did have to coordinate an emergency medical evacuation from a backcountry location.  We’re committed to minimizing injuries on our photography trips, and with each of us having started backcountry guiding over 30+ years ago, we’re extremely qualified to achieve that goal.

Death Valley Rattlesnake Across Road

Panamint rattlesnake

Our wilderness experience also provides you with excellent interpretive information.  Lori has an in-depth knowledge of native plants and their uses; I love animals and every year I have the privilege of rescuing snakes off of roads so they won’t get hurt.  We’ve faced everything from black bears and coyotes to rattlesnakes, cougars and grizzly bears, and we love them all… you’ll be in good hands!   (There are no grizzly bears in California fortunately, but ask me about the one I accidentally startled away from “his” berry bush in Montana!).

Sidewinder Rattlesnake in Mesquite Flat Campground

My video of a sidewinder rattlesnake

There are sidewinder rattlesnakes in Death Valley, and they sometimes bury themselves for safety and to ambush prey.  In March 2013 we came across fresh tracks in the park’s heavily-visited Mesquite Flat Dunes, and in 2016 I finally met a live one!  Fortunately we can identify most lizard and snake species in the park from their tracks.  In the unlikely event that we see sidewinder tracks, we’ll know which way he went to minimize the odds of a surprise encounter.

Note: PayPal buttons don’t work at the moment from inside my blog posts, so until I get that working, the registration buttons are in the right column of my blog’s front page: 

Sand Summit

Death Valley on a Thanksgiving family trip in 2009

Still Water in Death Valley

I disclosed this Death Valley lake in my guidebook, so everyone who lead workshops in the park should have a photo of it by now!  (2011)

Larger copies of the photos in the mosaic image at the top:

1., 2., 3., 4., 5., 6., 7., 8., 9., 10., 11., 12., 13., 14., 15., 16.


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