Sometimes landscape photography is easy, but more often than not, it is road of discovery.  

Death Valley National Park offers many intriguing sights, one of which is the beauty of Badwater Basin. You have likely seen photos of it, a valley floor of hexagonal crystalline structures as vast as the eye can see.  We had read that if you caught it during the blue hour (just before sunrise), the crystalline structures would actually glow. Intrigued, we had to capture this iconic shot. 

Rewind back to our first visit to Death Valley in the fall of 2016. We arrived at the Badwater Basin parking lot long before sunrise. In fact, it was pitch black. With flashlights in hand we headed out into the abyss. The salt minerals provided a ghostly white trail for our lights to follow. After walking for what seemed like forever, we could make out the shadowy outlines of hexagonal shapes off the trail. We set up to shoot. We waited. 

Surely the blue hour light would transform these dark objects into a field of splendor.

The predawn light revealed a half dozen photographers between us and the parking lot. Had we walked right by the target location? Too late now, the blue hour was upon us. Our subject didn’t light up and it didn’t look any better. [Check out our first visit in the post Below Sea Level]

The blue hour sky was nice, but the subject was disappointing

On the next visit, Valentine’s Day 2018, we were a little smarter. This time we scouted out the basin in the daylight. After walking about a mile, we found white hexagonal images. This must be it. Now we knew how far to walk in the dark. We’d capture the magic this time!

Even after scouting, the crystalline structures weren’t quite right. Fortunately the sky put on a show to make up for it.

[Read all about this visit’s pre-shoot planning in Bad Light in Badwater Basin and our lack of success.]

Fast forward to today. We have returned to Badwater Basin more determined than ever to capture the crystalline structures at the magical blue hour. Again, we show up before dawn and start our trek out into the valley. We hope that this time, the crystalline structures will be there.

Some of you might say that this is the definition of insanity, doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome. Others of you would say we are insane for getting up at such an inhuman hour.  Yet, others might say we are getting a little senile and forgetting the lessons learned on the last two visits. Okay, maybe all of the above?

As we leave the parking lot, I can make out two photographers ahead of us on the trail. This means we need to go at least as far out into the valley as they do, otherwise they’ll be smack in the middle of our photos as we shoot the valley. They keep walking and we keep following. Far past our previous 1-mile mark, we finally catch them. And oh my gosh, we are surrounded by white crystalline structures. Is it possible that on the last two visits we had not walked far enough?

The beautiful white crystalline structures spanned in all directions
Finally, the crystalline structures in the light of the blue hour punctuated with a full moon and snow capped mountains. The third time is a charm!

The third time is a charm!

Remember it’s all about the light!


The moon is setting as the first light hits the mountains behind us.