How the Art Happens - Death Valley Dunes

April 10, 2019  •  2 Comments

Windy Sand Dunes at Death ValleyDunesDeath Valley National Park sand dunes on a very windy spring day.

Death Valley Dunes

It seems our weather works in cycles. This winter and spring have been very wet on our western coast bringing plenty of rain and snow to typically-dry California. The winter of 2005 experienced much the same rainfall in the deserts of the west coast. 

I had just closed my retail photo lab and was trying to figure out how to pay my bills as a full-time landscape and freelance photographer. The nightly news was filled with stories of the rare "super bloom" in Death Valley National Park. Colorful wildflowers covered the usually brown and grey hillsides of this sand-filled valley just like this spring. I had never been to Death Valley. About a week into seeing these amazing pictures, it dawned on me that I could go experience this event for myself. And, of course, make photos to sell and share.

I packed up my 13-year-old Nissan Pathfinder and headed west. I planned on camping in the park so I could catch sunrise and sunsets in great wildflower locations. I arrived at a national park experiencing 105-degree temperatures and 50 mph winds. The "Super Bloom" was over. I missed the flowers by two days!

Rather than heading back to Colorado's cold and snow, I decided to stay and make the best of the long drive. I decided not to camp. The first day was spent driving around and getting the lay of the land. I always visit the visitor's centers in national parks. I always learn a lot and it's a great place to pick up a map and get some suggestions from park rangers. They know all the best spots and times to visit!

The next day was spent trying to make photos in hot and windy conditions which were not remotely productive but that evening the wind died down enough to allow me to camp in the park. I had driven by the sand dunes at Stovepipe Wells several times but the wind and mid-day light made them unappealing. My third morning in the park looked promising with light wind and much cooler temperatures. I headed to the dunes for some early-morning light only to find a photographer in a bright red jacket set-up on the tallest dune. There was no way to shoot around him. He seemed to stay there most of the day. Dang photographers! I ended up spending the day driving to Scotty's Castle which was one of the most interesting resort areas I have ever visited. It was devastated a few years ago by flood and mudslides. Very sad

My third and final day in the park welcomed the wind back to the valley but, at least there was no photographer on top of my subject, sand dune. I made a handful of images fighting flying sand and moving subjects. If you look closely, you can see the sand blowing off the dunes. I think the tripod might have been moving too because there was nothing really sharp in any of the pictures. Major fail!

A few years later, while reviewing old photos, I came across this image with new eyes. I was captivated by the shape of the dunes, the light and shadow, and, yes, the motion of the sand. I get an almost serene sense of peace when looking at the shapes in this photograph.

While the image was not captured in a panoramic format, I decided the grey mountains in the distance really didn't do much to support the more interesting part of the photo so I cropped most of the top of the frame. The colors were not really helping either. The tan/orange dunes contrasted with the blue/gray mountains creating too much color contrast in the image. I wanted to keep the feeling of warmth but subdue the color. A deep sepia tone became the answer after much experimentation. A little bump in contrast, a little addition of film-like grain, and a lot of dark vignetting provided the finishing touches to "Death Valley Dunes".



Beverly Jordi
I want to share this blog?
Carol Connor(non-registered)
Dusty, thanks for these articulately described experiences and letting us look through your camera[s], as well as for taking us to amazing places.
No comments posted.
Other Sites and Links

Crested Butte, Colorado photographer, Dusty Demerson creates fine art photography displayed as prints and canvases and provides private photo tours in and around western Colorado.

Studio Website

Facebook page

Artist Statement

Artist Resume

Contact Dusty Demerson

Be the first to see this blog, get a free eBook, see new images, and seasonal promotions by signing up here. Sign me up. I'll send just a few emails a month to keep you up to date on new blog posts and special promotions. I promise not to share your information or send you spam! You can unsubscribe at any time.