In January I finally left my day job and if you’ve been following my journey on social media, or even previous blog posts then you’ll know I have been loving life!
Back in December with my good friends Jesse and Duane we set out to Death Valley to explore and scout for a workshop Jesse and I were to lead in April. We only had a few days but it was enough to get me really psyched to get back and lead a big group of students around the park and teach them everything I know about photography!
Since January I have had a snowball of clients and students here in Moab and all over the southwest that have helped take away the anxiety I had initially about making the plunge. Its been amazing traveling for a few days at a time here and there but I was really excited about leaving for California for a couple of weeks straight, but also anxious about leaving my little family for so long.
The first leg of the trip was originally set for Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada just outside of Vegas, but after a chat with my buddy Dustin, who’s an incredibly talented Time-lapse Film maker and photographer, that plan changed and took me to a much more obscure and interesting place also outside of Vegas. The rock formations were amazing, like waves of sandstone that had been frozen in place. Luckily we had a great sunset, and clear skies for the early morning milky way!
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The next day I set out on the long and graded road back to I15 and onto Vegas to hang out with Ikan, Nisi Filters and Gnarbox at the NAB Expo where I was to present on my creative use of filters. I must’ve walked 7-8 miles in two days there, so much that my feet were badly blistered. I could not wait to get out to Death Valley and away from the crowds and eccentricity of Las Vegas.
I left mid afternoon on Tuesday which gave me two full days of scouting and personal shooting before any of our students were set to arrive, and that first night was hot (107º) but it was beautifully calm and the sunset was epic! The next morning I set out to Stovepipe Wells Campground and Resort to confirm the use of the conference room and secure campsites since most of the students chose to camp. When I arrived all of the Stovepipe Wells complex was on generator power as a result of a downed power line from Furnace Creek. As I sat and ate lunch in the Saloon power would cut out and in every few minutes from all of the guests running AC and overloading the propane generator. Eventually they closed the restaurant down, and I spent the rest of the afternoon at the pool soaking up the sun and relaxing after the stress of Vegas and NAB.
That night in the barren lot of a campground in the sandiest part of Death Valley with 100º+ temps I fell asleep in my van with all of the windows and doors open. Around 12:30am the winds came suddenly and slammed the doors of my van shut, scaring the hell out of me, and quickly followed by a cloud of sand and dust that coated everything within my van, including me as I laid there. It had flattened the tents I set up for the students!
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The next morning I spent hours cleaning off all of the vans contents, my camera gear, clothes, bedding. Thankfully there was a break in the wind for a few hours so i was able to make breakfast and chat with Drew, one of the students of the workshop that arrived a day early. Fast forward through a mostly uneventful day we set out that evening to the Mesquite Dunes to see what the sand had done and was doing out there to the dunes, and break in the Tamron 150-600mm G2 lens I had rented for the trip. It was a very bittersweet experience as the winds picked back up pelting us at a steady 40mph with gusts to 60+, and I made the fatal mistake of leaving my bag partially open and exposed toward the wind filling my F-stop bag FULL of sand. Another several hours spent cleaning gear….
Thankfully that night the winds had died down for good, or at least the hard winds, and I was able to get a nice relaxing night sleep and the temps had dropped into the 70’s. The next day, now Thursday, students began to arrive and we originally had a meet and greet set for the saloon at Stovepipe Wells, but due to the power outage we had to shift gears. Luckily Furnace creek honored our campsite reservations and we were able to move everyone there, which worked out great as we would spend most of our time in the field nearer there than Stovepipe, unfortunately the only food provisions that were open was the cafeteria style dining in Furnace creek, but none the less we all ate well, chatted, got to know each other and decided wed start a night early and wake up at 2am to set out for the milky way before sunrise, which worked out very well in the end giving everyone a great crash course in advanced astro photography.
We set out to the once elusive giant mud crack playa for milky way where we covered all of the ins and outs of blue hour blending, stacking for noise reduction, focus stacking, and milky way shooting and the perfect conditions to do so! We then shot over to Zabriskie which challenged some of the wide angle shooters in the group which is exactly what I had hoped for, to challenge the group to see scenes differently, and to be diverse. Its easy to pigeon hole yourself into a specific FOV, or focal length and you can easily miss scenes within a grander scene.
an incredible smart phone shot by Brandon Black, one of the very talented students!
Zabriskie point is one of those places that doesn’t require a dramatic sky to make a captivating image, and the alpenglow that creeps down the mountains beyond the valley and Manley peak really add a great element to the more abstract landscape. After sunrise we had set back to camp where we all tried to grab a couple hours of shuteye and then an afternoon processing session at Stovepipe. Luckily they had the generator improved and we had power for the session and for everyone to recharge their camera batteries, and electronics.
During the meet and greet the group had decided that we would abandon one of our milky way locations for another, and since the group collectively had enough 4×4 vehicles to accommodate the entire group we set out for the amazing Race Track Playa, after sunset on the dunes. The racetrack is a difficult to get to dry lake bed famous for the “Sailing Stones” rocks that seem to move all on their own over thousand and thousands of years, when thin sheets of ice form encasing the stones and the pushed by the wind leaving tracks in the mud. The road is long, and it took us the better part of 2.5 hours from Stovepipe Wells after leaving the Dunes after Twilight. Getting us to the parking lot at around 11:30, and we would get back up around 1:15 to find our subjects! One of my favorites was these twin rocks that seemed to be racing against each other!
We stayed out on the playa all morning until the sunrise which was pretty uneventful and no one had much interest in shooting it so we all went back to our tents and slept for an hour or so before we packed up and drove back down to the valley in time for our second processing session. We were all completely exhausted but writhing with excitement after shooting such an amazing place and having such a dark and clear sky. Easily the darkest night sky I have ever experienced.
That night we were heading back to the mud cracks to focus on composition, and shooting blue hour images to blend with the Milky Way. The warm sunset light was so nice and it was such a mildly warm night out there.
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That night at camp we built a huge fire, and ate well since it was our last night we all sat and sipped on some some whiskey and laughed for a while until we all crashed out, setting out at 1:30 again for Milky Way and sunrise at Badwater Basin! We had scouted out an area back in December that had excellent patterns but when we headed out there the rain had left a moat of wet salt and mud and unfortunately it was too late for my trail shoes! LOL
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The clouds began to move in as we arrived and the patterns and obscured the Milky Way, but we all shot and learned while we waited for sunrise. By then a couple of students had to depart for their long journeys home. I wish we would’ve taken a group photo at the beginning!
As a bonus we stopped at Artist pallet as the clouds had left the light very diffuse and it lended it self well to the abstract badlands. A pit stop back at camp and the last of the group said their goodbyes, a sad departure as in the course of a couple days some very close friendships were made, and I’m happy to say that I have a whole group of awesome, talented friends!!
Originally I had planned on spending a day recovering in DV before setting out to the Eastern Sierras but decided we can sleep when we’re dead and headed west to the Alabama hills, easily of the the coolest places I have every seen and I cannot wait to get back!!!! I consider Jesse my best friend, the kind of friend I can tell anything to without judgement, I cant wait to do this again and again with him!
In only 24 hours we had shot all of the planned images we had in mind, and were ready to move north toward mammoth with a couple of stops along the way!
The brutal winds seemed to follow us wherever we went but thankfully they had calmed by the time we arrived at our last and final sunrise location before heading back for a night in Death Valley. But it was one of the coldest experiences of my life, manually focusing was brutal as my fingers stopped working after only seconds of exposure to the cold.
The next morning we set out back to Death Valley where I had hoped to finally get a full night sleep, and thankfully that happened! The next day I awoke and reorganized the van before setting out with the plan to stop in Valley of Fire for the night but weather didn’t really agree and gave me another opportunity to get some sleep before finishing the drive home to Moab the next day!
Back home and catching up on my honey do list and all things business that I had put off while traveling has kept me pretty busy!
Heres some really inspiring images from the students of the workshop!