Behind the Scenes of this Photo

Taken near Zabriskie Point in Death Valley National Park, California, on December 3rd, 2017

While teaching a workshop in December of 2016 in Death Valley with Jim Patterson, we wrapped up our four days instruction with a final sunrise shoot at Zabriskie Point. This area is known not only for the famous features of Manly Beacon and the Manifold, but also for its incredible, tortuous, and twisting badlands. The folds of earth overlap in a mind-bending array of patterns and textures that are heaven for a photographer. After our group took their final frames and we started the short walk back to our cars I came around a bend and noticed sunlight filling up one side of a diagonal canyon. The light, shadow, and reflections made for a stunning scene so I whipped out my telephoto lens and grabbed a quick shot. But when I got home later that night I discovered I had blown the depth of field on the shot and the background was slightly blurry. I needed a redo.

So every time I visited Death Valley in 2017 I shot sunrise at Zabriskie and waited for the light to fill up this canyon the same way. But due to the changing seasons and difference in the sun angle the quality of light was never exactly the same. Until a year later. Again we were leading a workshop in Death Valley, and again our final stop was Zabriskie Point. But this time I was prepared: I knew the light would behave and I made sure I had my camera on my tripod, and the focus and depth of field dialed in exactly how it needed to be. Then it was only a matter of time till the sunlight reflected off the Zabriskie Point Badlands just how I needed it, and I snagged this photo.

See more beautiful Death Valley photos here.

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1 reply
  1. Eric
    Eric says:

    Beautiful image Josh. I appreciate the story along with it. I wouldn’t have thought that the ‘time of year’ would have made such a difference to the light/shadow play, but after reading your article, it makes sense. Duhh. Keep up the great work. Hope to attend a workshop one of these days.


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