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Are The Death Valley Dunes Finished?

Death Valley Dunes. Tony Hewitt and Peter Eastway are leading
a photo tour to America's South West, including Death Valley,
23 Jan - 2 Feb 2017. Book now on the website!


Death Valley has been photographed to death, but this is no reason not to photograph it. Some locations have become so iconic, so recognisable, that it is almost our duty to add them to our personal collection. And there are lot of things to photograph in Death Valley, not just the infamous sand dunes.

As far as sand dunes go, Death Valley’s aren’t really all that impressive. And if it’s been busy, you’ll find footprints everywhere which tends to ruin that pristine composition with untouched sand ripples in the early light.

My first exposure to sand dunes in America’s South West was through Ansel Adams and Edward Weston. Some were photographed in Death Valley, but I think the photos of Edward's that I like the most were not taken by the side of the main road where mine were.


Later, I was much more impressed with the work of David Muench. I really loved the way he emphasised the foreground, using an ultra wide-angle lens and a high horizon line. David used the wide-angle with a very high level of sophistication, plus it was all shot on large format cameras so the quality, at the time, was superb. And it was the perfect opportunity to tilt the lens slightly and create endless depth-of-field with Scheimpflug’s principle. (You can do the same with a DSLR and a tilt-shift lens.)



On this morning there was a strong wind, which was good (for removing yesterday’s footprints), and a lot of cloud, which was not. Nevertheless, I wandered out hoping for a break in the cloud along the horizon where the sun was due.

Given the strong wind, I set up my camera equipment before getting out of the rental car - no point covering the sensor with wind-blown sand if I didn’t have to.

For the top photo, I used the ultra wide-angle 23mm Digaron (similar to a 14mm on a full-frame DSLR) so I could emphasise the foreground. Then it was just a matter of walking right into the dunes and leaving footprints for the photographers who might follow later in the day.

I set the camera up and framed my composition, and then waited. After around 15 minutes, the sun popped through just after sunrise, but it didn’t stick around for long. 




So if you're interested in a photography workshop in the next 12 months, I have trips going to USA, New Zealand, Arnhemland, Georgia/Armenia, Iran, Greenland/Iceland and Mexico. Full details on the Better Photography website!

Peter Eastway Uses

Peter Uses

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