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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.
Had a really nice drive out yesterday. It's important to remember on a trip like this, that your shooting doesn't have to start at your destination. We were actually driving through desert on the way to get to Death Valley. So I was able to do some shooting along the way which was nice. I didn't get as much done as I thought I was going to. I really thought that the drive would actually be a good day of shooting. And I was thinking, oh, that's that's a whole extra shooting day that I'm going to get. And it didn't really happen because, just a lot of times on a drive there's a lot of practicality that comes into play. We got a later start than we thought we were going to, had to stop and buy food and had to gas up, do some other things and that ended up eating a lot of daylight.
I didn't want to get here too late because, for one thing, it gets really dark and also it gets cold very quickly out here at this time of year as the sun goes down. So, (SOUND) ended up just kind of making a big push at the end, and didn't do as much shooting as I thought I would have. So that's something to think about when you're planning your drive. Either, if you, if you want to have a lot of time to shoot on the drive, pad your drive time. If not manage your expectations. Don't worry if you don't actually get as much shooting done as you thought you were going to do. With that in mind, I'm going to do a little bit more planning today. So we're here at Panamint Springs.
It was a very nice place to stay in Panamint Valley, which is just next to Death Valley. It's morning. Had a good night sleep, which is going to help and, which is sometimes difficult in the desert. If you've never spent any time in a desert climate, you've gotta be ready for just how dry it is and how that can actually impact your sleep. It's really easy to get really dried out and congested in a way that is really kind of disgusting to talk about so I won't go in to that now, but I got a good night sleep. so I'm looking forward to getting out and doing some shooting today.
Because I don't want to repeat the mistake of yesterday, I want to take a look at some maps and do a little planning here. Before I do that, I just want to get a couple of things on the chargers. It's great being based in a motel like this because I actually have access to power. We've been shooting some with these cool little GoPro helmet cameras. we didn't actually have them on helmets. But I drained one of the batteries, so I want to get that going. Charging my phone, that kind of thing. I brought a lot of maps of Death Valley. and the reason I have multiples is, you get different information from different maps.
It's nice to have a range because some of them will show things that others don't. So, I've got a few here. I want to just take a kind of over all look at the land here, and start and try and make a plan. Death Valley is the largest national park in the country. It's enormous, which is great in so far as seeing things and generally vacationing. It really complicates shooting though, because it can take so long to get from one destination to another. So it's a good idea to have some ideas in mind (SOUND) before you start even out on the first day.
I don't know why this map is stuck together. Um, (SOUND) dried sunscreen or something. this is another good reason that I brought multiple maps because this one may now be less legible. So (SOUND) here's what we've got. Now, Death Valley is actually only one valley. What we've got here, is a, series of north-south running mountain ranges. We've got one here. We've got one here.
We've got one here. The valleys in between are, most of the areas we're going to explore, Death Valley is a valley between the Panamint Range and the Black Mountains. We're in Panamint Valley, which is right over here, so Death Valley is one mountain range over. So, there are a number of different areas that I'm interested in exploring. Now, I've been to Death Valley before, a lot. I've shot here a lot, so I already know what a lot of these places are. There's different approaches when you're going to someplace you've already been versus a place that you've never been. Because I've already been here, I can narrow things down and really make the most use of the three or four days of shooting that I have here. So we are currently right here at Panamint Springs Resort. Panamint Springs Resort is actually just this one building that we're in. A very good restaurant, a really nice place to stay. It's also a very good staging location here.
From here, we can head down to Panamint Valley. This is a wonderful dry lake bed that we can actually see right outside right now, and it has a nice big dune field in it. It's also a great place to camp. It's also a little bit difficult to get to, it's it's a very rugged road that you gotta go slow on. and the sand dunes are a good hour-long hike to get to them. The reason I'm worried about those distance things is because part of my planning effort here is to try to manage light. Sun is, the sun is rising at about 6:20, but it doesn't come over the mountains for another 20 to 30 minutes after that. Which means my really good morning light starts maybe a little bit before 7 and goes for probably an hour, an hour and a half.
If I want to be somewhere in that light that means I gotta get a really early start. The really good morning light is gone by 9 or 9:30, so I gotta figure out what to do with the middle of the day until the good afternoon light starts up again. So that's a location that might be interesting. To the south down here there's a little bit of there's a little ghost town. There is what is, allegedly, Charles Manson's truck. One thing I love about looking at the Death Valley map is the names are so great. we've got here the, the World Beater Mine Surprise Canyon, which I, I just love the name of that because it's, begs the question, what's the surprise? You know, you're hiking along and, look, a nest of pythons.
That's a surprise. so I, I might want to get up in there. I think I've been in there before. I think the surprise is actually that there's water there, which is a very unusual thing in Death Valley. So there may be one or two other valleys over here that I'm going to look at. Now after that, there's the Panamint Range itself, which has some interesting details. it's a very high mountain range. This time of year, late February, early March, there's possibly still snow up there. I don't know what the conditions are like. Might want to talk to a ranger about that. And then there's Death Valley, which is a good hour-long drive from here.
So I need to think about how I'm going to manage my light that way. So what I'm going to do here is take a look at the map, pick out three or four different locations. Try to figure out how far it is between each of them and then, figure out how I can divide those amongst the different shooting times that I have over the next three or four days. Again, I've got those couple hours in the morning, couple hours in the afternoon, so I can use that middle part of the day to try and cover some of these huge distances that I have to get from one location to another. Now, right now I don't have much of a weather problem. I think the high today is only supposed to be in the high 80s.
High 80s here at the first day of March. If I was here later, even, even April or May, temperatures could already be much, much higher. So then I might want to think about the middle of the day being a time to run and flee into a shady area and just hang out. And it's hard to find shade around here, so you kind of gotta work that into your plan. The desert is an environment that you have to manage very carefully. You gotta manage heat, you gotta manage light, and you gotta manage water. And somewhere in there you gotta find time to eat, and hopefully you're getting to the good light in time to be able to shoot.
So before you head out, it's good to sit down with a map. Pick out some locations, plan how you're going to divvy them up over the time that you have, and then you're going to be ready to get started. So, I've got some ideas, we'll talk about them along the way as we go. I think my next step is to get outside, really see what the light is like now, feel what the temperature is like, and start trying to pick my first location.
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