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Every type of location presents its own photographic challenges. For the stark wilderness of Death Valley National Park, these can include harsh desert light, stark landscapes, and a vastness that can be daunting to capture in a single frame. In this course, travel along with author, teacher, and photographer Ben Long to Death Valley to learn about the challenges and techniques behind capturing the exotic beauty and surprising details of the desert.
This is the part of the day where things get really nerve-racking. The sun is maybe half an hour from the mountain range. It's actually more than an hour until sunset. But we're going to be in shadow as soon as it goes behind those mountains. It gets really tense because, wow. There's the scene out here that I want to exploit. But There's somethin even better, maybe, down the road. I gotta see it all. This is the part of the day where you start movin really quickly. Trying to find your shots quickly, compose them quickly, figure out your strategy and your exposure technique. Get the shot and move on. And that's what we're trying to do here.
We're going to head to bad water. (NOISE) I hate to break it to you, but this is very often all there is to landscape shooting. You've found the great light, you've found a compelling background, but now you need a foreground. This is such a great spot to shoot an album cover for some band or something. It's, it's all about atmosphere and texture, but it's hard to build a sturdy composition around it.
If you've watched my composition course, you know we found the same problem in an old hotel in a small town. Really great texture and, and vibe, but when you actually take a picture of. Now one thing that I'm finding as I look through the viewfinder is if I frame, as I have been doing. Oh, here's a good strong line. If I frame, as I have been doing, to fill the top of the frame just with the mountains. I get a really nice change out there on the horizon.
There's a real luminousness to the horizon out there that looks nice up against the black of the mountains. You know, I haven't looked this way and that's a mistake I often make. I get focused on the light in one direction and you turn around and it turns out there have been elephants marching by or something and you missed them. So it's a good idea to pay attention to the light in every direction. And I see that we've walked a long way. So, I have some things that I like okay. Ooh, it's really just changing. I have some things that I like OK.
I don't have a really killer shot. One of the things that's killing me right now is this empty sky. It's just not (SOUND) something I can compose with. That's just a big empty field of blue. It's boring. I get the same thing shooting in this direction. So trying to go wide and shoot big wide vistas (SOUND) is not very compelling because of that empty sky. So if I was to come back here, one thing I might try to do is get myself in a position to keep an eye on the weather and when I see that the forecast is calling for a week of clouds, get myself to death valley very quickly. It's easy for me to do living in San Francisco.
I can fly to Vegas and drive for a couple of hours then I'm here, not everyone has that option. Okay, do you see it? The light is changing, it's going away, I'm falling into shadow. And all of this texture that was here just moments ago is gone. It's still there, our eye sees it but it's not there photographically, I don't have that beautiful contrast that I had before. And so the moment has passed. We are done shooting in Badwater. So if you look this way, you'll see that there's still light up on the mountains behind us. And actually that's kind of pretty just as a shot of documentation. Oh and what I'm getting right now is a nice Jacobs ladder off of the peak there. Maybe I can get, it's real subtle.
And there's snow up there, which I didn't realize. So that may appear like we're fishing or like it's a crapshoot. Often, that's what it is. You look for the good light, you find the compelling landscape and you hope that a subject is going to present itself. You -- it's not all luck. You have to apply photographic skill. You have to keep your eyes open. You gotta keep your compositional skills working. But sometimes, the things don't just conspire in the perfect way. That's why I keep coming back here, that's why you return to a location.
It's a really, really big version of working your shot. I'm not just working the shot in the moment that I'm here, I'm working it at a scale where I'm going all right, I'm coming back next month. And you keep going. Still, I think I got a few good things, and I just love this spot. That's another thing to remember - a big part of photography is you get to be in these beautiful landscapes.
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