Death Valley Photography Workshop
Death Valley is the lowest, driest, and hottest place in North America. Its extreme geology provides otherworldly photography opportunities that are unique unto themselves. Its salt pans, sand dunes, and cracked earth textures are a feast for the eyes and the camera. Join this multi-day workshop to explore, shoot, and enjoy this fascinating and beautiful desert landscape. This multi-day Death Valley photography workshop will help photographers create memorable photos of the fascinating and beautiful features of Death Valley National Park. For beginners, this workshop focuses on understanding your camera’s settings in order to expand your knowledge and break into more creative realms. For those more comfortable with their gear, we will place a strong emphasis on producing striking and powerful compositions, as well as telling a story with your photos. Depending on conditions, the workshop will introduce participants to aspects of night photography and light-painting.
Death Valley Highlights
The variety and stunning landscapes of Death Valley are unrivaled.
Small Group Size
Our low participant to instructor ratio ensures plenty of 1-on-1 instruction.
We typically spend two evenings photographing under the stars with an emphasis on light painting and static stars.
Death Valley Photography Workshop Information
$2395 per person
A $700 deposit is required to reserve your spot with the balance due 90 days prior to the start of the workshop.
- 3 nights lodging at the Oasis Ranch in Furnace Creek.
- Quality, professional, 1-on-1 photography instruction on par with your level as a photographer.
- Small group size of 5 or less with one guide (8 or less with two guides).
- 2 full days and 2 half days of in-field shooting and instruction.
- Image critiques and post processing sessions.
- Snacks throughout the workshop
- A fun, positive, interactive learning environment.
What’s Not Included
- Transportation. While participants need to provide their own transportation during the workshop we will be carpooling as much as possible.
- Park entrance fee. Bring your National Parks Pass if you have one.
- Meals. Death Valley has limited food options and can be on the pricier side. Breakfast is about $18, lunch $22, and dinners $32-60. There is a General Store with “gas station” style food for less though.
- Trip Insurance: I highly recommend trip insurance due to unforeseen circumstances that may require your cancellation.
Getting to the Workshop
We will be lodging at the Oasis Ranch in Furnace Creek. Death Valley is located in the south-eastern portion of California, sandwiched between the Sierra Nevada mountains and Nevada. The closest and easiest access to the park is from Las Vegas, which is about 2 hours east of the park via highway 160. Alternatively, Death Valley is about 5 hours north of LA via highways 395 and 190, or approximately a 9 hour drive from the San Francisco Bay Area.
Day 1, Thursday
Participants arrive in Death Valley and are free to explore the park on their own. Before sunset we will meet to introduce the group, talk a bit about the workshop, and give a brief overview of Death Valley and its unique wonders. Then we’ll head out for our first sunset shoot.
Day 2, Friday
Up early to catch the sunrise at Badwater Basin, followed by a morning shoot with the marvelous textures of Golden Canyon. Then we’ll take a break for lunch. We reconvene in the early afternoon to shoot the warm light on the Mesquite Sand Dunes. An hour or so before sunset you’ll see the dunes come alive as the low light from the setting sun creates a vivid display of patterns and textures. We’ll stay at the dunes for sunset. Depending on conditions and the group’s energy level we will head out again after dinner to experiment with moonlight photography, star trails, and light-painting. Or we may stay in and talk a little about post-processing.
Day 3, Saturday
Up early to catch the sunrise at Zabriskie Point, followed by a morning shoot in the badlands below. Both of these places display an awesome array of folded earth patterns. After that we’ll once again take a break for lunch and to recharge our batteries. Then we’ll head out to a little-known seasonal spring to catch the sunset. After dinner we’ll head back out for some more fun light painting at night photography at Natural Bridge.
Day 4, Sunday
On our last day we’re up early again to shoot the sunrise in Cottonball Basin, an amazing area full of textures and patterns. Then we head back to Furnace Creek in time for breakfast. We typically return to FC around 9 am, early enough to eat breakfast and pack up before check out.
This Death Valley photography workshop is organized to take advantage of the best and most interesting locations the park has to offer. However, the exact itinerary and places we visit may change depending on the group and weather conditions. Please note that at this time we do not visit the Racetrack or the Eureka Dunes because of their extreme remoteness, along with the additional levels of support and permitting needed to visit these wilderness areas. However, we are hoping to add these locations to the itinerary in the future.
Our Death Valley photography workshop is conducted in fall and winter in order to take advantage of pleasant temperatures and a greater chance of dramatic skies. From November through March Death Valley typically enjoys beautiful weather, with daytime highs in the 70’s and 80’s and nightly lows in the 40’s. However, the desert climate can often be surprising and it’s not unusual to see temperatures as high as 90°F or as low as 32°F. Also, we may visit Dante’s View, which is 6,000 feet above the valley and can be extremely windy and cold. Don’t be surprised to encounter below-freezing conditions here. In addition, Death Valley gets most of its tiny amount of precipitation in the winter, making these months the best for interesting photography.
Our Death Valley Photography Workshop topics include:
• Transforming your artistic vision into memorable photographs
• Aperture, Shutter Speed, and ISO – their relationship to one another and how to change them for exposure control
• Metering and getting a correct exposure
• Histograms, how to read them, and how to fine-tune exposure
• Creative depth-of-field effects using aperture control
• White balance and creative coloration
• Creating perspective, depth, and a sense of “being there” in your photos
• Creating powerful compositions with impact
• Composing to control your viewer’s attention in your photos
• Composition: balance, tension, and visual flow
• How to use filters to capture dramatic light or create long-exposure effects
• Low-light and night photography
• How to capture stars, the Milky Way, or star trails
• Light-painting experiments
• Shoot planning and how to be at the right place at the right time
• Aspects of post-processing and digital workflow
• Digital SLR camera
• Lenses. Wide and ultra-wide angle lenses are highly recommended
• A sturdy tripod
• Footwear with good traction (waterproof or rubber boots recommended) and warm socks (very important!)
• Creativity and a positive attitude
• Warm clothes in layers, gloves, a warm hat, and a rain jacket
• A wide-brim hat and sunscreen
• A one-liter (or larger) water bottle
Most participants will be comfortable with a jacket and hat for the mornings and evenings, and pants and a long-sleeved shirt during the day. Depending on your personal preferences you may also be comfortable in shorts and a t-shirt. If we visit Dante’s View, we HIGHLY recommend a very warm, windproof jacket, hat, and gloves as this location can be cold and windy. A wide-brim hat, sunscreen and sunglasses, and a large water bottle will also be indispensable.
Highly recommended items
• Filters (ND, Grad ND, Polarizer)
• Remote shutter release
• Camera rain sleeve
This Death Valley photography workshop is appropriate for photographers of moderate fitness levels. We will walk approximately 5 miles over the course of each day of the workshop. This includes walking on sandy, rough, and slippery terrain. Walking in sand dunes and other desert landscapes can be strenuous. All participants are expected to be able to carry their own camera, personal gear, and water during the workshop.
My workshops combine the very best scenery we can find along with in-depth knowledge of the areas we’re visiting. From the coast to the mountains to the desert, our workshops visit some of the most breathtaking landscapes you can imagine. And with hundreds of hours spent scouting and shooting in each location, I know the best times to visit, the best things to see, and the best shots to get. Plus I’m constantly adding new and exciting locations to our line-up so you can keep expanding your photographic horizons.
1-on-1 Instruction at Your Level
I take a three-tiered approach to my photography instruction: Philosophy. Theory. Technique. This means that no matter what level of photographer you are, you can expect to walk away from a workshop with your head bursting with ideas about how to refine your vision and find your own style, an understanding of camera techniques and composition concepts to springboard your photography, and the actual “How-To” of nailing a shot in the field. And with my relaxed, casual, 1-on-1 approach, you can soak up just the information YOU need to become a better shooter.
Small Class Size
My workshops insure you get ample one-on-one time, and the small group size also helps build camaraderie. Plus, we can go places big photography tours simply can’t.
A “Go Happy or Go Home” Attitude
I believe photography is as much about enjoyment as it is about scoring a keeper for your portfolio. I strive to create a fun and dynamic environment in which you meet other photographers, learn at your own pace, enjoy the beauty of nature, and have a great time while doing it.
I Never Stop Scouting
I’m never content to rest on my laurels. Before and after every workshop, I am scouting, scouting, scouting. Whether it’s to find new and exciting location to shoot or to provide a different view of the old icons, I strive to show you the absolute best places for photography.
Fully Insured and Permitted, Leave-No-Trace Advocates
My workshops are 100% above board, and I obtain all necessary permissions and insurances.
I am also a strong advocate of Leave No Trace (LNT) wilderness ethics. I teach responsible photography practices and never sacrifice the environment for the sake of a photo. My goal is to leave our photography workshop locations in better shape than how we found them.
This was the first photography workshop I’ve attended, and it was gratifying in so many ways. Jim is an excellent and patient instructor, taking us to the best locations in Death Valley. There were tons of teaching moments that refined my sense of composition, helped with understanding filters, and especially answered those tough questions about night photography. My Milky Way photo shoot was my favorite despite the early rise. Overall, the variety of locations at Death Valley kept things interesting.
Thank you so much, Jim.
I wanted to thank you both for an outstanding weekend. The workshop was fun, creative, and I learned a lot. I enjoyed the company of the other participants and, of course, the two of you.
Hi, I’m Jim Patterson and I live in the Seattle area of the Pacific Northwest, but I spent the majority of my life in California. Through a combination of theory, philosophy, examples, and on-the-spot feedback, I will help students reach those “a-ha!” moments that take their photography to the next level. I have explored and photographed Death Valley’s wonders for more than a decade, and my knowledge of where and when to take advantage of the best light will insure the group is in the right place at the right time.