We had actually planned to photograph the beautiful formations in the Vermillion Cliffs region of Utah on this trip, but the storm front we were expecting stalled out over California. So, we got back into the rental car, and drove West toward Death Valley National Park. We were exhausted (six hours by plane to Las Vegas, five hours by car to Utah, and then overnight to Death Valley… enough already!)
We arrived in time to capture the storm clouds as they gathered over the Mesquite Dunes. Early morning light brought out the beautiful rippling patterns on the dunes, and the brilliant blue sky is a perfect compliment to the golden sand.
When we shoot the dunes, we avoid the areas that are frequented by most tourists. We don’t want footprints in our photographs – so the biggest dunes don’t get much attention from us. Instead, we look for patterns like these – unbroken and perfectly formed. We arrive before first light in order to seek out a pleasing composition.
I set up my camera on a tripod – nice and low – so that I could get as close as possible to those gorgeous patterns. I chose a simple composition – this one is all about the rule of thirds. And I made sure to eliminate any distracting elements in the foreground. When I want to get close in the foreground, and still get the entire image in focus, I have to know my hyperfocal distance – invaluable information when you are shooting with a wide-angle lens. I also used a circular polarizer for this shot.
Post-processing wasn’t difficult. Just a matter of getting the right white balance to ensure that the rich gold color really stood out… and making sure I didn’t lose any detail in those highlights.
Death Valley is absolutely breathtaking no matter where you are standing – but the dunes are one of my favorite places to shoot. Maybe because they are constantly shifting with the wind.