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.
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]
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!
[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 third time is a charm!
Remember it’s all about the light!
one of my closest friends and I used to “argue” as to whether sunset or sunrise was more beautiful. I voted for sunset, but sunrise was best on the dessert. What I appreciate the most is the layering of colors of equal value with perhaps one layer of a distinctly higher (brighter) value. don oasis
Jeff and I go back and forth as to whether we enjoy the “blue” hour or the “golden” hour the best. For this location, I think the blue hour worked well for this photo. But I think I could be swayed otherwise. Especially, if we had a vibrant sunset or sunrise where the colors of the sky were reflected in the white salt crystals.
Hey guys, looks like you have returned to another wonderful spot to shoot. Look up Ben Horne Photography. He has some photos of Death Valley you might like, as well as some from the Colorado Plateau you might like also.
Hi PJ, thanks for the pointer to Ben Horne’s work. I am envious of some of the environmental conditions (water in the valley, cloud inversion, etc.) he was able to capture. I guess we will need to plan another visit.