Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Photographing Death Valley

Racetrack, Death Valley
Canon 1DsIII EF24-70 (70mm) f/14 1/250 ISO50

Racetrack, Death Valley
Canon 1DsIII EF24-70 (41mm) f/14 1/250 ISO 50

Death Valley got its name from a group of pioneers lost in the winter of 1849-1850; as the party eventually climbed out of the valley over the Panamint Mountains, one of men turned, looked back, and said "goodbye, Death Valley". 
We've visited Death Valley before however this was the longest stay to date.  Staying at the Furnace Creek Ranch we shot for 5-days visiting Badwater, Artist Palette, Zabriskie Point, Stovepipe Wells, Teakettle Junction and The Racetrack.

Racetrack, Death Valley
Canon 1DsIII EF24-70 (67mm) f/14 1/250 ISO 50

A little "behind the scene" of Don stalking a rock at the Racetrack.

This is the finished product of what he took - a 2-shot panorama.

Racetrack, Death Valley
Cambo WRS/IQ160 HR40mm f/11 1/250 ISO 50

Just a quick peek at what it looked like while we were at the Racetrack.

There's been numerous television shows lately showing Death Valley and just how dangerous a place it can be for those who are unprepared.  To quote the National Park Service " GPS Navigation to sites to remote locations like Death Valley are notoriously unreliable. Numerous travelers have been directed to the wrong location or even dead-end or closed roads.  Travelers should always carry up-to-date road maps to check the accuracy of GPS directions.  DO NOT DEPEND ONLY ON YOUR VEHICLE GPS NAVIGATION SYSTEM."  We'd also add to pay attention to the road signs; if it says primitive road or high clearance vehicle recommended, best heed the warning.

We had been calling this formation the "mother ship" but learned later its' name is "The Grandstand".  This is the first formation you see as you get closer.

The Grandstand, Death Valley
Canon 1DsIII EF24-70 (24mm) f/14 1/250 ISO 50

Just to give you an idea of the vastness of the area - remember Don is 6'-9" - can you spot him?

Racetrack, Death Valley
Canon 1DsIII EF24-70 (39mm) f/13 1/250 ISO 50
Along side Ubehebe Crater
Canon 1DsIII 24-70 (38mm) f/11 1/320 ISO 50
Near Teakettle Junction
Canon 1DsIII EF24-70 (24mm) f/11 1/250 ISO 50

While most locations we visited this trip were just off major paved roads one wasn't.  The Racetrack is located in the northern section of Death Valley just past Grapevine.  The actual road leading out is within the same area as Ubehebe Crater.  Racetrack Road is a 27-mile gravel, washboard, heavy rutted road.  There's a speed sign a couple hundred yards in that states the speed is 30 MPH - do that speed at your own peril.   While there are some sections where you might be capable of 30MPH the vast majority is much closer to 10 and below.  You can't be in a hurry to reach the Racetrack - figure at least 2-hours to get to the northern portion and depending on conditions another 10-minutes to reach the southern.  As a point of reference, we've traveled to the Racetrack in a small 2-door Jeep, a 4-door Jeep and this year in our Ford Raptor.  It doesn't matter the vehicle, you still need to go slow or risk vehicle damage and severe back problems for the driver and passengers.  And, while you don't necessarily need a 4-wheel vehicle you should at least drive a high-clearance vehicle.  If you get stuck out here there's no cell-phone service and a tow truck will cost much more than an arm and a leg.   You've been warned.

 Devil's Golf Course
Canon 1DsIII EF24-70 (44mm) f/11 1/250 ISO 50
Phase DF/IQ160 55mm LS f/11 1/260 ISO 50

Devil's Golf Course
Cambo WRS/IQ160 HR40mm f/11 1/500 ISO 50

Photographing Death Valley is a rewarding challenge.  Sunrise/sunset at the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes can be beautiful just as at Zabriskie Point.   Early morning light at Badwater and Devil's Golf Course is not to be missed.  Remember to have a tripod and filters, be patient and you'll capture the colors at Artist Palette and Golden Canyon. 

Artist Pallete
Canon 1DsIII EF17-40 (30mm) f/11 1/250 ISO 50

Artist Pallete
Canon 1DsIII EF17-40 (17mm) f/11 1/250 ISO 50
Artist Pallete
Phase DF/IQ160 55mm LS f/11 1/160 ISO 50

We're including images from some of the locations we visited to give you a sample of what you can find.  Our weather for the most part was good with blue skies and scattered clouds with low temps in the morning before warming up to short sleeve weather in the afternoon.  The wind for the most part wasn't a major concern however the closer it got to our departure the more we noticed it blowing and far less clouds.

Badwater, Death Valley
2-shot verticle panorama
Cambo WRS/IQ160 HR 40mm f/11 1/180 ISO 50

Closeup at Badwater
Phase DF/IQ160 Mamiya 120mm f/5.3 1/100 ISO 50

If you only have a few hours to visit Death Valley then a stop at Zabriskie Point is a must.

Sunrise at Zabriskie Point (6:16 AM)
Phase DF/IQ160 Mamiya 120mm f/5.6 1/6 ISO 50

Zabriskie Point (6:22 AM)
Phase DF/IQ160 Mamiya 120mm f/5.6 1/8 ISO 50

"Cake-Mix" at Zabriskie Point (6:32 AM)
Phase DF/IQ160 Mamiya 120mm f/8 1/10 ISO 50

Equipment used on this trip included a 35mm Canon 1DsIII  along with a range of lenses (17-40 and a 24-70) along with a Really Right Stuff MC-34 Monopod with the MH-02 LR monopod head.  Additionally, a Phase One IQ160 digital back attached to either a Cambo WRS tech camera or Phase One 645DF body was used along with either a Rodenstock 40mm tilt/shift lens (attached to the WRS) and a Schneider 55mm leaf shutter or a Mamiya 120mm manual macro lens on the 645DF.  A Really Right Stuff TVC-34L tripod with an Arca Swiss Cube was used to steady most of the medium format images. 

Zabriskie Point (6:09 PM)
Canon 1DsIII EF24-70 (44mm)  f/8 1/160 ISO 50

Zabriskie Point (6:11 PM)
Canon 1DsIII EF24-70 (55mm) f/8 1/100 ISO 50

If you look close enough you'll see Don sitting on the edge in the middle.
Zabriskie Point (6:15 PM)
Canon 1DsIII EWF 24-70 (55mm) f/6.3 1/100 ISO 100

Sunset at Zabrisriske Point (6:38 PM)
Canon 1DsIII EF 24-70 (70mm) f/4 1/80 ISO 100

The image files were later processed using a combination of Capture One Pro 7, Photoshop CS6 as well as either Silver Efex Pro or HDR Efex Pro.  The videos included were taken either with our Canon XF105 or a really cheap "truck-camera" both later processed using Adobe Premiere Pro software.

Phase DF/IQ160 Mamiya 120mm f/11 1/160 ISO 50

We're already planning our next visit which will include some canyons which we've not visited before.  Our next trip is a return to Monument Valley so please stay tuned.

"Storm Clouds" in Death Valley
Phase DF/IQ160 55mm LS f/11 1/160 ISO 50

This turned out a little longer than normal however we wanted to share the information with you.  As always, thank you for allowing us to share and please remember your comments, thoughts and suggestions are always welcome.

Sandy & Don

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