I love Death Valley. Despite its name, it is one of the most stunning places on this planet to visit, enjoy and photograph. While I have been to many areas of the park, every time I visit, I find something new to explore. Since my first visit to Death Valley back in 2009, one place that really got me hooked was Zabriskie Point. Thanks to its vivid colors, delicate shapes and beautiful contours, it is truly a magical place to be. However, in spite of my continuous attempts to capture the place in its grande beauty, I have been constantly treated with bland blue skies, overcast days and whenever I got even a hint of color, it would always seem to be taking place elsewhere – not in the direction where my camera was pointed at. By now, I lost count of how many times I have attempted to photograph Zabriskie Point at sunrise (my guess is over 20), it really has been a place of zero luck for me, my archenemy.
Even during this trip 10+ day stay at the park, I tried out Zabriskie Point 3-4 times, all to no avail. As I was getting ready to head out home, I checked the weather forecast on the last day to see what the morning would look like. “Mostly cloudy” was the prediction for the Furnace Creek area. I thought about one more attempt before my departure to again test out my luck with Zabriskie Point. I got my cameras ready and set my alarm for 5:30 AM.
The drive from Furnace Creek to Zabriskie Point is pretty short – no more than 10 minutes. The general area where everyone goes to has been photographed to death, so I knew that I would have some hiking to do before sunrise, if I wanted to come back with something unique. That meant another 10-15 minutes of time added for the climb, in addition to a few more minutes for setting up my tripods and camera gear. As I drove up to the parking lot, I looked up and saw a beautiful red sky. What? Did I oversleep? I looked at my watch and time was 6:15 AM – that was 45 minutes before sunrise! The sky was already glowing with color, thanks to the clouds way in the distance that were reflecting their rich red color. I rushed my way to the right side of the mountain, moving as fast as I could. The hike is not bad, but having previously tripped and almost slid down the canyon, reminded me that the rock under my feet was loose and I had to be extra careful. Hiking is one thing, but carrying a bag full of gear in addition to two tripods is not particularly easy!
As I found a decent vantage point, I set up the camera and started shooting away. After my first “safe shot”, I moved one of the cameras into vertical position to shoot a multi-row panorama. The patchy clouds were a bit higher this time and I wanted to capture their beauty, which meant shooting wider – a good candidate for a two or three row panorama. I removed the polarizing filter, set the camera to manual mode, zoomed all the way in and focused using live view. Panning from left to right, then moving down and going from right to left, I captured a total of around 20 shots.
Here is the result:
Doing the stitching with my laptop was really painful. With only 8 GB of RAM, my Surface Pro 3 really struggled with so much data, constantly running out of memory. After several Lightroom crashes and reboots, I was able to stitch one row, then the second one. Neither Lightroom, nor Photoshop would stitch the resulting rows together due to memory issues. My solution was to extract two small TIFF files at lower resolution, then feed them through Photoshop. I made a few very quick adjustments to the image (added a bit of contrast, adjusted shadows and highlights, added a little bit of clarity) and let Photoshop do the stitching.
Once I get home, I will stitch the whole panorama and edit the image a bit more. I expect this one to yield a huge print, which should look nicely on my wall. I might need to crop it differently for the print.
By the way, as I was capturing this image, I saw a B2 Bomber flying back and forth several times with an accompanying white military aircraft. Not sure what was going on – any ideas?
I am going there for the first time in the middle of March.
Assuming you have been there in March, how is the weather?
Shorts or long pants? I plan on getting an early start as well and was wondering what hotel
you would recommend staying at close by?
Have you considered using Hugin to stitch large panoramas ? It seems to handle memory issues pretty well, I sometimes use it on my laptop when I travel (which is 7 years old with only 4 gb of ram) and I am able to stitch up to 30 jpg images together. It is is just really slow.
The drawback is that you cannot work with raw images, but you can work with tif.
Hey, I’m an amateur photographer and probably won’t be heading to Death Valley any time soon, but if you were going to go there again, would you wake up earlier? Thanks for these articles and this amazing website, it’s really helped me out with much everything. Thanks again, Jack
Nasim, I also have been to Zabriskie Point, many times without much success in getting good morning or evening shoots, but I keep trying. I am wanting to start taking multiple row panos. What pano head set would you recommend? I am considering RRS PG-02 head or Nodal Ninja M2 series head. Your thoughts or a review would be helpful.
Thank you for reminding me to make the image instead of taking the photograph. I constantly fall into the trap of shooting landscape photography whenever I feel like it, and not when the light is perfect for the particular location. The result is I get a couple of good shots, and I think that that’s because I’m a mediocre photographer, always forgetting that if I don’t have spectacular light, I won’t have a spectacular image. The concept of “junk in, junk out” is true during shooting, as it is during post processing as well. I must remember that.
That is a gorgeous picture. Was it taken with the new 24-70mm VR or a prime lens, and are you still using the D810 or have you completely switched to the D750?
I’m curious to know what the final image size will be after you stitched it all together at home, I imagine it will easily be over a 100 megapixels!
I’ve been once to Death Valley, we spent 4 days there. Exhausting, it was in September, but unforgettable. I found every single place to be huge photographic challenge to begin to convey what I felt over there.
Regarding the B2, we had the exact same scene, a B2 with another white plane an early morning. We went to Cottonball before sunrine, got he magical atmosphere of sunrise there and that when we saw the B2.
WOW….one of the best landscape images i’ve ever saw….your persistence paid of!
thanks for sharing so much of your knowledge and keep on WOW’ us :)
greeting from Portugal
Nasim, thanks for sharing your incredibly beautiful photograph and experience. I know it’s going to be stunning on your wall. You may want to consider printing on acrylic or metal. You’ll feel like you’re viewing it live every time you look at it.
Deathly jealous of that photo…been there many many times trying to get that one myself :( Pains me to read the article ;)