Stovepipe Dunes Mud Sunset 1

Stovepipe Dunes Mud Sunset 1

I just returned from leading a private photography tour in Death Valley National Park. I’ve spent a lot of time in this dramatic but desolate park the last few years, so it was nice to return to a place that I know so well. It was especially nice seeing the sun while missing the lousy weather back home in Seattle. I did not take a lot of photos during this trip because the shooting conditions never got epic, plus my attention was focused on working with my clients. What is important is that they had a great time and learned a lot from me. Most of my photography tours are done on a private basis, and include as much instruction as I can cram into a trip. The cost of working with me is higher per person compared to an instructor who leads a dozen people at a time, but my clients have me all to themselves. Please consider working with me if you are interested in pushing your photography to a new level.

This image is my favorite from the trip. My regular readers and fans might wonder, “why is this not some epic-light, wide-angle shot from some far off destination like Jon typically shoots?” I occasionally photograph abstract details and patterns, but they never sell or license compared to the “bigger” images that I am know for. Even though the clouds did not light up as I had hoped for at sunset, I used the twilight glow to add some red color to this intricate mosaic pattern of mud. I created this image using my Canon 5DmkII body and Carl Zeiss 50mm f1.4 ZE lens. It required minimal processing using Aperture 3.

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Stovepipe Sand Dunes Sunset 4

Stovepipe Sand Dunes Sunset 4

I haven’t been out shooting this last month, just home editing photos, updating my website, completing submissions, and taking care of my family. I think that a lot of people think that I am always gone, but that is not the case. I spend almost 40% of each year traveling, but that still means that I am in Seattle with my family over 60% of the year. Since I work at home, I don’t leave my neighborhood, let alone my house all that often. I have enjoyed my recent time at home, but I am looking forward to flying to Iceland this weekend and creating incredible images!

Since I don’t have any brand-spanking-new images to share, I decided to post this dramatic sunset image that I created last January in Death Valley National Park. While exploring the sand dunes north of Stovepipe Wells, I was drawn to photograph these delicate mud-sand textures. This was one of those sunsets where nothing exciting happened until 15 minutes after the sun went down and the clouds brilliantly lit up neon pink. I know better than to put away my camera gear while there is still light left in the sky. Dramatic images like this are my reward for sticking out an otherwise unproductive afternoon.

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Eureka Sand Dunes Sunset 3

Eureka Sand Dunes Sunset 3

During my recent trip to Death Valley National Park, I visited the Eureka Dunes. At over 600′ tall, these dunes are the tallest in California. They are located almost 100 miles due north of Furnace Creek, requiring either a 40 mile off-road drive or 160 mile circuitous route around the park to the northwest. After soliciting advice from the park rangers, I decided to try the off-road option since the road was reportedly dry and in good condition. There were a few washboard sections, but nothing as difficult as my previous drives to the Racetrack. When I finally arrived at the dunes, I was impressed by their girth. If you’ve visited the Mesquite Dunes, imagine them piled on top of each other until they blocked out the horizon. I was daunted by their size, but since the sunset was approaching, I grabbed my camera gear and headed straight up. I probably climbed about 2/3 of the way up to the top, but once I surveyed the massive ridge patterns to the north, I went back down and headed towards them. As the sunlight turned golden yellow and the shadows began to elongate, I settled on this image beneath the summit. After the sun sank below the mountains to the west, I hiked for 45 minute back to my truck, and then drove for over 2 hours back to my camping trailer. It was a long day, but worth the effort.

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Mesquite Sand Dunes Sunset 3

Mesquite Sand Dunes Sunset 3

During my recent visit to Death Valley National Park, I created this image Mesquite Sand Dunes Sunset 3. Because they are close to the road, the dunes get a lot of foot traffic and are usually covered in un-photogenic tracks. However, several days of strong wind had blow away any footprints and created razor sharp edges on the dunes. When I began my hike, the wind was still howling. I stood for over an hour in the maelstrom being sand blasted, but the winds ceased 20 minutes before sunset. The conditions serendipitously came together to create this beautiful image. You can watch my iPhone video from this shoot here.

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Ibex Dunes Sand Verbena Sunset 1

Ibex Dunes Sand Verbena Sunset 1

I want to thank California photographer Steve Sieren for camping with me last month in Joshua Tree National Park & for sharing his location advice about photographing desert wildflowers near the Ibex Dunes in Death Valley National Park. Following his advice, I drove 90 miles from where I set up my camp at Furnace Creek down to the southeastern corner of the park where the dunes are located. After a short 4wd excursion from the highway, I parked my truck and hiked for 45 minutes towards the dunes. I’ve been working with a lot of photo tour clients the past few months, so it was refreshing to experience such a fantastic location by myself. The sand verbena was in full bloom so I composed this image and waited for the exquisite light of sunset to capture the moment. If you want to photograph sand dunes without a ton of people & tracks on them, keep the Ibex Dunes in mind.

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Mormon Point Wildflower Sunrise 2

Mormon Point Wildflower Sunrise 2

I prefer shooting wildflowers still and sharp rather than a blur in a maelstrom. After waiting patiently for the wind to stop blowing in Death Valley National Park, I was rewarded with this scene (on April 13th) of desert sunflowers and purple phacelia framing the Panamint Range at firstlight. Internet reports heralded an unusually lush bloom this year. This information proved accurate. Anyone who has the opportunity should head to Death Valley this week before the heat dries out the spectacular display.

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Ashford Mill Sunflower Sunrise 1

Ashford Mill Sunflower Sunrise 1

This is my favorite wildflower image that I have created so far during my visit to Death Valley National Park. I photographed this enormous field of desert sunflowers near Ashford Mill at sunrise on Friday April 9. The interminable wind all weekend has made it impossible for me to shoot this type of big depth-of-field scene since. However, the weather forecast optimistically predicts calm winds after today, so I will here with my fingers crossed for a few more days. The display is especially brilliant between Mormon Point & Ashford Mill. If you still have time to visit this week, you will not be disappointed.

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Outdoor Photographer April 2010 Cover

Outdoor Photographer April 2010 Cover

My image “Racetrack Sunset” will be the April cover photo of Outdoor Photographer! The Racetrack is a seasonally dry lake located in the northern part of Death Valley National Park and is famous for its moving rocks. With the right combination of rain and wind, the rocks move slowly across the surface of the playa, leaving a track as they go. I photographed this amazing rock at sunset during my first visit to the Racetrack in January 2006. I was enthralled with the unusual arc that it had created as it was moving. This rock was still in the same location during my recent Death Valley National Park Tour.

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Badwater Sunrise 2

Badwater Sunrise 2

This is another image that I created during my recent Death Valley National Park Photo Tour. My 3 LA based clients unfortunately missed this photo opportunity because they drove home the day before. My remaining client & I left the Badwater parking lot in the dark an hour before sunrise. We wore our headlamps and hiked towards the center of the salt flats. After 40 minutes, we stumbled upon these salt patterns and set up our cameras to capture the magnificent scene. I like the textures on the salt flats, but I love the puffy sunrise clouds over the mountains.

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Badwater Salt Crust Sunrise 1

Badwater Salt Crust Sunrise 1

I created this dramatic image on the Badwater salt flats during the 2nd morning of my recent Death Valley National Park Photo Tour. My favorite landscape lighting scenario is the one that you see here, when sunrise light illuminates a mountain range underneath ominous clouds. I could not have asked for anything more. Over the next hour, the light interacted with the clouds giving me some very different images, but this early one is my favorite. On my way to Death Valley, California photographer G Dan Mitchell was kind enough to send me a Facebook comment about looking for nice salt crust patterns around the first corner south of the Badwater parking lot. I’m not sure if I found the exact spot that he was referring to, but I probably would not have parked in that area and walked the short distance from the road to these bizarre salt crust eruptions without his recommendation. As the sunrise began, I was mostly walking back & forth answering my 4 clients questions, but I still managed to briefly set up my camera to capture the wondrous scene unfolding before me.

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