DEATH VALLEY & THE ALABAMA HILLS
SMALL GROUP PHOTOGRAPHY TOUR
January 30 - February 6, 2023
Death Valley and the Alabama Hills are two of California’s best locations for landscape photography. Each offers a wide variety of landscapes, from epic grand vistas to intimate details.
Death Valley is the lowest, driest, and hottest place in North America, which contributes to its unique geology. It’s also the largest national park in the contiguous US, almost as big as the entire state of Hawai’i. Within its borders we will find sand dunes, colorful badlands, mind-bending patterns and textures, and unique plant and animal life. It’s a park that gives more the more time you spend with it. That’s why on this tour we have a full 5 days to explore the park’s nooks and crannies.
The Alabama Hills comprises a collection of decomposing granite boulders splayed across the western rim of Payahuunadu (the Owens Valley). These boulders range from the size of a pumpkin to the size of a school bus, and larger! Within the boulders you will find cacti, willows, lupine, cottonwood trees, and thousands of natural rock arches and tunnels. And towing above the boulders you can’t help but notice the grandiose Sierra Nevada. There are six 14’ers visible from the Alabama Hills: Mt. Whitney (Tumanguya in Paiute), Mt. Langley, Mt. Muir, Mt. Williamson, Mt. Russell, and Mt. Tyndall. And we will have the opportunity to photograph all of them during the time we spend in this magnificent area.
The Full Moon. This trip is timed to coincide with the February Full Moon. Just imagine: moonlit dunes and granite spires, the moon rising behind a stately Joshua Tree, or setting beyond the magnificent Sierra Crest. These are all things you’ll experience on this tour.
- – 8 days of guided photography in two of California’s greatest landscape destinations
- – All guiding and instruction from me, Josh Cripps
- – Welcome dinner
- – Breakfast everyday
- – Unlimited fruit, nuts, snacks, cookies, crackers, and water
- – Special surprises
- – A small, intimate group of 5 participants
- – Memories to last a lifetime
Lodging Supplement* – $1,500
This supplement covers lodging for the entire trip, in comfortable, private hotel rooms. There are 5 nights at the Furnace Creek Ranch and the 2 nights at the Lone Pine Best Western.
* The lodging supplement is optional. If you prefer to book your own accommodations you may.
4 Spaces Available
Secure your spot with a $1250 deposit.
YOUR TOUR LEADER
Josh Cripps – Professional Photographer, Guide, and Chief Cholla Wrangler
Josh has been visiting Death Valley as a photographer for over 10 years. He has had his tent collapsed by the wind, accidentally given rides to hitchhiking scorpions, swam with the pupfish (just kidding), and said “this place is so weird!” more times than he can count. For him the magic of Death Valley lies in the diversity of its landscapes, as well as its wide-open majestic beauty. He believes it’s a park that guards its secrets; the more you explore the more you will discover.
Josh is also passionate about the Alabama Hills and Payahuunadu (Owens Valley). It’s a stunning place for photography on its own, but the fact that these granite boulders lie beneath the highest peak in the contiguous US makes them all the more special. Currently Josh lives an easy 2-hr drive from the Alabama Hills and explores them every chance he gets.
THE TOUR EXPERIENCE
Who is this Photo Tour for?
This Death Valley & Alabama Hills photo tour is for upbeat, adventurous photographers who appreciate a wide array of landscapes and scenes. If you love intimate details of salt crystals and layers of colorful badlands as much as grand landscapes, then this trip is for you. There is a wonderful range of subjects and scales to explore in these areas, and photographers open to all kinds of different shots will find great joy on this trip.
This tour is for photographers of all experience levels, from pros to novices. That being said, you will get the most out of this trip if you understand the basics of exposure and composition.
One of the most important things you can do to prepare is to know your camera. Understand how to change the settings, how to zoom in to 100% on Live View and on Playback, and how to quickly access the histogram and menus. When the good light is changing rapidly, simply knowing how to work your gear quickly and efficiently will set you up for success.
This is a group trip, and morale is a key factor to everyone’s enjoyment. Our favorite kinds of photographers:
- – Roll with the punches and go with the flow.
- – Respect people from different backgrounds and different styles of shooting.
- – Can laugh when Mother Nature throws a monkey wrench into the plan.
- – Look for reasons to be excited about the landscape, regardless of the light or conditions. Death Valley is a world-class location for photography, no matter whether it’s totally overcast or blazing blue skies. Photographers who are fixated on “epic light and clouds” are going to miss out on a lot of beauty. So be open to the opportunities in each moment.
If this describes you, we’d love to have you aboard this tour. Negative, complain-y, or high-maintenance “everything needs to be my way” photographers need not apply.
In short, this tour is for anyone who wants to explore and photograph stunning scenery with a fun group of like-minded people. The trip is limited to 5 participants for a more personal experience.
Fitness and Physicality – Moderate 6/10
Our Death Valley & Alabama Hills photo tour is appropriate for photographers of medium to good fitness levels. You should have good balance and mobility. We will walk approximately 4-5 miles over the course of each day of the tour. Expect walks of up to 1 mile to reach certain shooting locations. This includes walking on hilly, uneven, and slippery terrain. Some areas are quite rocky, steep, and/or loose, and careful footing is required.
Walking in the mountains and in sand dunes is strenuous and we recommend preparing for the trip by walking at least a few miles per week leading up to the tour. All participants are expected to carry their own camera, personal gear, and water during the tour.
The average age of our past participants is 50 – 70 years old.
What’s the difference between a photo tour and a workshop?
This is a photo tour, meaning that we are focused on getting you to the right places at the right times to create amazing images. We don’t have any boring lectures, and I don’t force you to learn the latest complicated processing techniques. This trip is about having the best possible experience in Death Valley and the Alabama Hills. That means in addition to shooting we are also enjoying meals together, learning the history of these areas, and allowing for down time so that you can stay rested and excited. We set a relaxed pace during the tour so that you will enjoy each day, rather than feeling exhausted, burned out, or mentally fatigued. This trip is FUN, not boot camp.
We are here to help, without overwhelming you.
In the field I am always available to answer questions, provide guidance and feedback, and give you ideas of how to approach your photography. In short, if you have questions I’m here for you. At the same time, it’s important avoid spending every field session cramming your brain full of as much photography knowledge as possible, as this only leads to overwhelm and an inability to retain anything.
I will also be shooting photos during the trip, both to provide examples and ideas, and so that you can see the scene through my eyes, get inspiration, and learn about my approaches to photography.
If you have any questions about the tour experience, let me know!
A Typical Day
5:45 am – meet in the hotel parking lot and drive 15-20 minutes.
6:05 am – walk up to 20 minutes / 1 mile over gentle, rocky ground to our shooting location.
6:25 am – arrive on location 30 minutes prior to sunrise and begin exploring and shooting.
6:55 am – sunrise.
8:00 am – wrap up morning shoot, and walk back to the cars (up to 1 mile).
8:30 am – buffet breakfast (included).
9:30 am – break.
Midday – rest, optional ranger programs, optional talks on approaches to Death Valley landscape photography.
1:30 pm – leave for afternoon shooting session. Drive 30 minutes.
2:00 pm – hike 30-45 minutes / 1-1.5 miles over rocky or sandy ground.
2:30 pm – arrive on location 2 hrs before sunset to explore, see the landscape, and shoot.
4:30 pm – sunset / moonrise.
5:30 pm – wrap up afternoon shoot, and return to cars.
6:30 pm – arrive back at hotel for dinner.
Note that these times are given as a general sense of what to expect. Exact meet times, drive times, and hiking distances will vary day to day. Some drives are as short as 5 minutes, some are as long as 90+ minutes. Some hikes are 2 minutes, some are 45 minutes. We do our best to spread out the long drives and hikes, but we always let the conditions guide us to the best spots each day.
ITINERARY AND LOGISTICS
Our itinerary is organized to visit some of the most spectacular locations in these two special areas. The tour is 8 days, giving us tons of opportunities to shoot. We’ll set a relaxed pace on the trip, with emphasis on shoots during the golden hours of sunrise and sunset, with breaks in the middle of day for meals, optional side-trips, or transit between locations.
Day 1, Arrival Day. January 30th.
Arrive in Furnace Creek, Death Valley, prior to 1 pm. Meet at our group’s hotel for orientation and introductions. We will plan to shoot sunset this night.
Days 2 – 6. January 31st – February 4th.
We will spend the next four days getting deep into Death Valley. We will explore certain iconic areas (albeit with our own special twists), including Badwater Basin, Cottonball Basin, Zabriskie Point, 20 Mule Team Canyon, Artists Drive, Ubehebe Crater, Mesquite Dunes, and Aguerreberry Point. We will also have the opportunity to explore secret spots, along with off-the-beaten-path locations such as the Ibex Dunes, Lee Flat, Conglomerate Mesa, and more as conditions and time allow.
The beautiful thing about having 5 days in Death Valley is that it gives us the opportunity to get deeper into the park than most other photo tours. We will also have the chance to revisit favorite locations as conditions change (multiple shoots in the Mesquite Dunes? Yes please!!).
Days 6 – 7. February 4th – 5th.
Our final morning in Death Valley is a planned rest morning so you can be full of energy for the final two days of the trip. (Of course, depending on conditions we may organize an optional shoot). After breakfast, we will check out of the hotel and make the beautiful drive to Lone Pine. We will spend that evening and the next two days seeing the best of what the Alabama Hills and Payahuunadu (Owens Valley) have to offer.
Day 8, Last Day and Departure. February 6th.
After a final morning shoot somewhere in beautiful Payahuunadu we will enjoy a last meal together before the tour disbands at approximately 10 am.
Getting to the tour
This Death Valley & Alabama Hills photography tour meets in Furnace Creek, Death Valley and disbands in Lone Pine, California.
I recommend flying into Las Vegas and renting a car from there. It is an easy 2-hour drive from the Las Vegas airport to Furnace Creek. From Lone Pine, returning to Las Vegas takes approximately 4 hours.
Since we will be occasionally driving on bumpy dirt roads, I recommend renting an AWD vehicle with decent clearance like a Subaru.
Transportation during the tour
Participants are responsible for transportation to, from, and during the tour. However, during the tour we carpool as much as possible so that you can spend time with your fellow photographers, as well as minimize our impact on the landscape.
Most of our locations are within a 30-60 minute drive, though some locations can be as far as 90-100 minutes each way. Trust us, they are well worth the journey. When we move from Furnace Creek to Lone Pine on Day 6, it’s approximately a 2-hour drive along an incredibly scenic highway.
If you choose to pay the the lodging supplement you will have 7 nights of comfortable, private hotel accommodation during the tour. The first five nights are at the Furnace Creek Ranch in Death Valley. The final two nights are at the Best Western in Lone Pine.
You may also book your own accommodation at these locations (or nearby). You are also welcome to camp if that is your style. After you have paid your deposit for the tour we will discuss the lodging options with you.
WiFi and Cell Coverage
All our hotels have complimentary, high-speed WiFi. Internet service in Furnace Creek is generally good but can drop at any time. Expect basic cell coverage at Furnace Creek and Stovepipe Wells villages, and no service anywhere else in the park. Lone Pine has good cell coverage, and the Alabama Hills is hit or miss.
EQUIPMENT AND CLOTHING
- – Digital SLR or Mirrorless Camera
- – Lenses. We highly recommend you have the following four lenses (or equivalent) to take advantage of the wide variety of scenes you will experience:
- – Ultra-wide, such as a 14-24mm or 16-35mm
- – Midrange, 24-70mm
- – Short telephoto, 70-200mm
- – Long telephoto, 100-400mm or 200-500mm (essential for the dunes and moon photography)
- – A sturdy tripod
- – Comfortable camera backpack you can hike up to 1 mile with
- – Filters (10-stop ND, 6-stop ND, Polarizer recommended)
- – Remote shutter release
- – Rocket blower and shammy cloth, lens/sensor cleaning fluid, lens wipes, sensor swabs
- – Extra batteries, charger, and memory cards
Due to variable conditions, we recommend bringing multiple layers of non-cotton clothing, like Merino wool, fleece, or synthetic fibers. Specifically you should bring:
- – Base layers for top and bottom
- – A warm jacket and pants
- – A windproof rain jacket
- – A warm hat and gloves
- – Lighter layers for warm days, like a sun hoodie or long-sleeved sun shirt
- – A wide-brim hat and sunglasses
- – Wool or synthetic socks
- – Sturdy footwear that you don’t mind getting dirty or muddy. Lightweight hiking boots or hiking shoes are recommended for most outings. Sandals, flipflops, or Crocs can be great for the sand dunes.
- – A large water bottle and sunscreen
- – Flashlight or headlamp
- – Trekking poles
January/February is one of the most exciting and dynamic times to photograph this corner of the globe. Winter storms blow through the area, greatly increasing our chances of seeing interesting light, fresh snow on the mountains, and even water in Death Valley’s parched deserts. Death Valley is also one of the best places in the world to photograph under clear skies, so be assured that you will have endless opportunities for photography, regardless of the conditions.
In Death Valley you should expect warm days and cool nights, and in the Alabama Hills expect cool days and cold nights. Overall, temperatures could range from 75°F down to 20°F, so be prepared for a range of conditions. Expect wind (and possibly lenticular clouds) at any time in either place. Rain and snow are possible in the Alabama Hills as well.
TOUR TUITION – $2,995 USD
LODGING SUPPLEMENT (optional) – $1,500
- Double occupancy lodging available for a reduced price.
A deposit of $1250 is required to reserve your spot. The balance is due 3 months before the tour. Payment can be made via check, bank transfer, credit card, or PayPal. Payments made via credit card / PayPal incur a 3% fee.
Costs in the area
Costs in Death Valley can be quite high. Here are some approximate costs at Furnace Creek Ranch:
- Coffee – $5
- Packaged sandwich from the general store – $10-12
- Omelet – $20
- Burger and fries – $20
- Large Pizza – $30
- Pasta – $30
- Buffet Dinner – $35
- Steak – $45
- Beer – $6-9
- Gas at Furnace Creek: $7-8/gal
Gas at Stovepipe Wells: $5-6/gal
- Gas in Lone Pine: $5-6/gal
- Breakfast is included every day on this tour. Your total daily budget for additional meals could be anywhere between $25 and $60 USD depending on your choices. Prices are high in DV and more reasonable in Lone Pine. Though please note that Lone Pine is a small, rural town and mildly elevated prices for food and drinks should be expected.
HELPING MOTHER NATURE THROUGH PHOTOGRAPHY
Fully Insured and Permitted, Leave-No-Trace Advocates
We take pains to ensure our activities are 100% above board. We obtain all the necessary permissions, certifications, and insurance required in order conduct our tours.
We are also strong advocates of Leave No Trace (LNT) wilderness ethics. We teach responsible photography practices and never sacrifice the environment for the sake of a photo. Our goal is to leave our tour locations in better shape than the way we found them.
TO REGISTER FOR THIS TOUR
1) Fill out this 1-minute registration form
2) Once you complete the form you will be taken to the deposit payment page.
Cancellation and Refund Policy
Deposits are non-refundable. Additional payments toward your balance are fully refundable up to 90 days before the tour. If you withdraw from the tour and we are able to fill your spot, we will refund your payments (including deposit), less a $200 administrative fee and any discounts given to fill the space. If we cancel this tour for any reason, your entire tuition fee will be transferred to another tour or refunded to you at your discretion.
We strongly recommend purchasing trip insurance to cover your costs in case of cancellation or withdrawal. If you have a personal emergency such as a medical emergency or a death in the family, please contact us. We are willing to work with you to reschedule or refund your fee on a case-by-case basis. This tour requires a minimum of 5 participants. In the case of under-subscription we reserve the right to cancel the tour, in which case your registration will be transferred to another tour of your choosing. Or we may conduct the tour with a single instructor.
We will take all reasonable precautions to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. These precautions may include:
- Requiring all participants to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
- Requiring all participants to obtain a negative PCR test prior to the tour.
- Pre-workshop temperature checks, with subsequent checks every 3 days.
- Wearing face masks when social distancing cannot be maintained.
All precautions will be finalized approximately 1 month prior to the tour and you will be notified. Photographers joining this tour acknowledge that we can not mitigate all risks with regard to COVID-19.
This policy will be updated as CDC, WHO, Federal, and state guidelines change.