Bouncing around Death Valley

The Artists Pallet, Death Valley, CA, USA - Copyright Martyn Phillips, M4Photo

The Artists Pallet, Death Valley, CA, USA – Copyright Martyn Phillips, M4Photo

DAY 4 – Saturday 16th – Today was one of our early starts and we would be heading up into the hills of Death Valley. Forming part of the Amargosa Range and located east of Death Valley Zabriskie Point has some wonderful rock formations around the viewpoint and a view right across Death Valley. We arrived a little before sunrise and setup just forward of the main viewing area. The sun would be rising behind us and following Paul’s guidance, we hoped for the sun to light both the mountains on the far side of the valley and also the valley floor.

Unfortunately, the morning was cloudy where we were hoping the sun to shine and we watched as the clouds blew through. The sun occasionally found a small pocket of clear sky but this only really gave us patchy lit areas on the far side of the valley and the valley floor never really lit up.

As the sun rose further into the morning sky, the shadow of the viewing area developed into a large shaded area in front of us and this never really moved out of the frame before we decided to call it a day. Lesson for today, is that you really can’t rely on the weather, even in a place a beautiful as Death Valley.

After packing up and walking back to the car, we headed back to Badwater Basin and back onto the hexagon hunt. This time we would be a little more fortunate. The heat of the day before had dried out the valley floor a little more than the day before. This is important because the hexagons are formed when the valley floor dries out and cracks. As Paul found out on one scouting mission, the mud beneath the surface is hot and this causes the salt to boil and it bubbles up through the cracks to form small hexagons with salt walls up to a centimetre or two.

Walking out over the salt flats carrying the Phase One in its case, we were skeptical at finding any hexagons but we were rewarded with a few small collections. Nothing to really wow, but we did get hexagons which was really cool – plus it means that I have an excuse to come back again at another time. That said it was really interesting to experience the difference in the camera settings for a medium format camera.

This is proving to be a busy and action packed photography road trip and we quickly back on the road again. The next scheduled location was Mammouth Lakes and shooting at Mono Lake. I’d loved Death Valley and the guys in the car told me that better was to come – expectations began to run high.

On the route over, we took a short detour via the Artists Pallet. This is an outcrop of rock that was thrown up during volcanic activity. During the pre-shoot briefing Paul described the phenomenon as ‘earth burp’ and it really is a great description.

We were arrived, I very nearly decided not to shoot the rocks because the colours looked pretty pastel. However Paul explained how to pull out the colours using post production and it was yet another example of an opportunity to capture and image and then use that image to practice what we were being taught. I was actually very pleased that I had taken the shots because the results produced in a couple of minutes in Lightroom are actually quite pleasing and I have one image that I will work on in Photoshop when I get home.

After picking up our bags from the overnight accommodation and checking out, we headed back onto the road and off to Mammoth Lakes. It was a shame to leave Death Valley behind but I had decided to catch up with my blog on the way over in the car. Famous last words, the scenery continued to be stunning and the computer stayed packed away.

We dropped the bags at our accommodation and headed out to Mono Lake. The lake is a ……… We checked out a couple of sites where the Tufas are close to the shoreline, but headed back to the first location. The weather began to close in with huge black clouds gathering above the mountains to the left of our location. We sat in the car watching the weather until Paul identified a fabulous opportunity. Grabbing our gear we hastily headed down to the shoreline and then the black clouds began to release a torrent of rain over the mountains. The result was a very interesting sky, wonderful streaks of the rain falling with the lake and rock formations in front.

Whilst Paul and Mark headed over to one side, I setup in a slightly different location in the hope to capture one of the Tufas that had caught my attention. Mark and Paul caught some great shots but I was focusing too narrowly on the scene and I missed the opportunity. Even switching from the wide angle to the 70-200mm lens was a mistake, but the great thing about this trip is that Paul keeps an eye on what you are doing but he lets you have the freedom to experiment.

Clearly sensing my frustration, Paul suggested a slightly different viewpoint and suggested shooting much wider. The scene was across, what I would describe as, a small bay with an outcrop of Tufas which jutted out into the lake. Taking more time and applying the tuition, I managed to capture my favourite photograph of the trip thus far. Felling very happy and with the light drawing in from the storm and the weather beginning to get worse, we headed back to the car.

Later we would return to the lake to try for a sunset but the weather was not favourable and the anticipated colours in the sky did not materialise and I was not lucky enough to get a decent image.

Mark was keen to capture a night sky and the Milky Way in particular. This would be something new to me and we checked the weather. It was looking to be clear, so it was off for something to eat and a few short hours sleep before heading out around half past midnight.


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