Badwater Basin in Death Valley contains salt flats which reside 282 feet below sea level. It is the lowest point in North America and it is an area we had an unsuccessful photo shoot in the past (“Below Sea Level“). Why was it unsuccessful? We did little to no planning, getting what we deserved – less than adequate photos. I was determined to improve on our last shoot and get a shot worthy of my gallery.


This time we planned. We read photography blogs and books. We watching many YouTube videos on Death Valley photography (Thomas Heaton, Dave Morrow, and Ben Horne). And we looked at other photographer’s images for inspiration. We even did a scouting trip the day before, looking at multiple locations from which to shoot. After a few hours, we found two candidate spots: one for the evening and one for the next morning. We were ready to rock and roll. Getting a gallery shot was in the bag, so I thought.


Death Valley is quite large. Driving to potential shooting locations can take a long time, especially when traversing the many four-wheel drive dirt roads. Luckily, our evening location was fairly near Furnace Creek, where we were staying at “The Oasis at Death Valley,” a pricey accommodation, aching to be a four star resort. We’ll get to a review of the Inn in a future blog. We got to our evening location in plenty of time (accessed from the north, about 2 miles down West Side Road, on the left). This spot seemed perfect because the salt flats were prominent, the distant mountains looked nice, and there were nice clouds in the sky. After setting up our cameras, all we needed to do was await for the sky to light up with vibrant pinks and oranges. We waited an hour, right through the evening golden hour. No color whatsoever. I guess the old photography maxim is true, you can’t plan the weather.

Bad Light at Badwater

As you can see, the clouds are fantastic. But, they never got any color. (Nikon D850 w/ 14-24mm lens: 1/15 sec at f/14, ISO 110, very wide at 14mm). Photo by Jeff Dannay.


The next morning came quick, arriving at 4:30am. After sipping some coffee, a 40 minute drive to the Basin, and a 30 minute brisk walk to the salt flats, we arrived well before sunrise (it was pitch black). We had scouted this area the day before so we knew exactly where to set up for our sunrise shoot. As with the night before, we set up and waited – right through the morning golden hour. All the ingredients were present for a perfect photo: great location, great camera gear, and clouds in the sky. It was to be magnificent. Except, you can’t plan the weather. Again, we had very little color in the sky. I don’t know why.


After waiting over an hour, the sky cooperated just a bit. These colors were there for no more than 30 seconds – then gone. (Nikon D850, 14-24mm lens, f14, 1/6”, ISO 64, 14mm). Photo by Jeff Dannay.

Even though the conditions were not optimal, I did the best I could. What do you think of Badwater, sunset then sunrise?

Bonus Section

Bonus! You made it to here without falling asleep, so you must be a little bit interested. You get a bonus paragraph and photo. The next morning we visited a spot called, “The Devil’s Golf Course,” which is very near Badwater Basin. We were here a couple of years ago during mid-day, disdaining a photo shoot due to the harsh sun. This visit we were up for a few holes. Sunrise came again without a show. We had the location, the gear, and the clouds. But, no colors. You can’t plan the weather.

Devil's Golf Course

Again the clouds were nice but just a bit of color to whet your palette. (Nikon D850, 14-24mm lens, f11, 1/10”, ISO 64, 18mm). Photo by Jeff Dannay.

Thanks for reading. And, remember, it’s all about the light – even when it is not optimal!


Kathryn and Jeff at Dawn in Badwater Basin. Photo by Kathryn Dannay.