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Death Valley workshop sunrise at Badwater

Posted by
Gary Hart (California, United States) on 3 February 2010 in Landscape & Rural.

I just returned from my Death Valley workshop and am still on somewhat of a high--not just for the photography (which was fantastic), but for the entire workshop experience. Again. I tell my students I never shoot anything that moves (no people or wildlife), but today I'll make an exception with this image of (most of) my workshop group photographing sunrise from Death Valley's Badwater salt flats (that's not snow), 282 feet below sea level.

I'm entering my fifth year leading photo workshops, and while I started fully expecting to enjoy sharing my photography insights and favorite locations with others, I had no idea I how much just plain fun I'd have. Each group is different, with its own dynamic, but without exception every group I've guided has been a blast.

What's particularly interesting is the diversity of my groups, with men and women of all ages representing many countries, faiths, lifestyles, and political views. I've had doctors, dentists, mechanics, salespeople, attorneys, housewives/husbands, business owners, executives, educators, pro photographers, retired people, college students, and on and on. I've had a Hooters girl (a very sweet young lady who would completely shatter any preconceived notions you might have of what a "Hooters girl" would be), a geologist, an LL Bean catalog writer, a classical composer, and a professional harpist. In one workshop I had both a brain surgeon and a rocket scientist. Skill levels range from extreme beginners to quite advanced. But the one thing each person has in common is a passion for photography, and that passion is clearly enough to transcend all differences. (Even Canon and Nikon shooters get along!)

Last week's group was no exception. A 50/50 mix of repeat and new customers meant some of the participants knew each other, but most didn't. But it really didn't matter because by the middle of the second day you'd have thought we'd all been together for years. Starting as early as 5:30 in the morning, finishing a couple of nights photographing moonlight well after dark (we do take a modest break in the middle of the day), sharing images, eating meals together, and carpooling all seem to have a synergistic unifying effect. (As does world class scenery and beautiful light.)

In a previous life as a technical trainer who traveled around the country and sometimes overseas to teach programmers, I always relished the solitude of mealtime after a long day of training. But in the workshops I really look forward to the fun we have as a group at dinner. In addition to the great photographic information that's shared, and the opportunity to learn about the professions and life experiences of others, some of the greatest laughs I have come during these dinners. In many ways we're like a family without the baggage.

The upshot of all this bonding is relationships that last beyond the workshop. I have many participants who stay in touch with each other, some even planning future workshops together. I've met many current friends in my workshops, people with whom I continue to enjoy photography and non-photography activities. So as you can see, the rewards I receive from these workshops go far beyond financial and vastly exceeded my most optimistic expectations. I have only my participants to thank for that.


A few words about today's image. This is a very wide shot of the salt plain at Badwater--that's the Panamint Range in the background, with Telescope Peak beneath the cloud to the right of center. When we arrived it was still pretty dark and the moon was just setting behind the Panamints. There wasn't enough light in the foreground to photograph the setting moon (that would be for the next day at Zabriskie Point). But sometimes we get so caught up in our photography that we fail to appreciate what we see, so rather than set out immediately into the salt flat I suggested that we all stay and watch the moonset.

After about a ten minute walk into the heart of the salt flat we found that the polygons that distinguish Badwater were filled with water from the recent rain. This made for fabulous reflections of what turned out to be a beautiful sunrise. I'll be sharing images from this workshop over the next few months (and probably beyond). Stay tuned for a moonlight image on Saturday.

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Thanks for visiting. Even if I don't respond, your comments are always read and appreciated.

Tamara from Aarschot, Belgium

I wish I was one of them... I'm sure they have had a wonderful time !

3 Feb 2010 9:15am

Judy from Brooksville, Florida, United States

Thank you, Gary, for sharing what must have been a marvelous experience. The mixture of peoples, nationalities, etc., with photography as the 'glue' is certainly a treasure. I'll be watching for more and wondering just how cold it was atop Zabriskie Point. The view is worth it in spite of the low temps! ♥

3 Feb 2010 12:42pm

@Judy: A couple years ago in January I was at Zabriskie Point in the strongest wind I've ever photographed in. I had two lens caps ripped off my camera and a pair of glasses yanked right off my face--never found any of them. That same trip I was at Dante's View, 5,000 feet directly above Badwater--it was 30 degrees with 30 mile per hour winds--and ran into a couple there in t-shirts and shorts. I thought they were crazy, but they explained they were from Cleveland.

Tracy from La Selva Beach, United States

Wow! I have never been to DV, and this really gives me an idea of just how vast it is! Your workshops sound wonderful, and it is neat to know that you all get so much more out of them than photography alone. I love photography, and usually I go out alone, but there is a special bond that happens when you get to experience something wonderful in nature with another person.

3 Feb 2010 1:50pm

@Tracy: Death Valley is the largest National Park in the 48 contiguous states. What makes it particularly cool is the variety of subjects here. And yes, the workshops are indeed lots of fun. I too am more of a solitary shooter, but that's because I don't have too many people who are as passionate about it as I am. But Don Smith, Jay (my brother), and Mike Hall are of like mind--when we go on road trips we're just as productive photographically, plus we have far more fun than we'd have had by ourselves. I think the workshops are much more like this--when the group's in the field many will to go their own way, but the rest of the time we just enjoy each other's company and sharing our take on what we just photographed. It's pretty cool.

Vitor Martins from Lisboa, Portugal

Lucky people those in the photo. The image is very nice and the light in the mountais and the sky are superb.

3 Feb 2010 1:57pm

Elora from Genoa, Italy

This is great. I really think one of your workshops would be great fun! You should post more people pictures :) This one is particularly great!

3 Feb 2010 3:07pm

@Elora: Thanks Elora. Yes, our workshops are indeed great fun (and not just for the students). I'm notoriously bad about taking people pictures but I've vowed to be better in 2010. I have two Yosemite workshops this month so we'll see how I do. :)

Kelly Morvant from Lafayette, United States

Nice shot! If you don't shoot anything that moves. Is your camera locked in at f16? :-)

3 Feb 2010 4:32pm

@Kelly Morvant: Thanks, Kelly. Actually, I keep my camera at f8 or f11 because that's where the lenses tend to be sharpest. But when I need lots of DOF I'll go to f16. I was so wide for this shot I probably could have done it at f11, but this was a quick capture--I'd just been shooting some stuff very low to the ground and didn't bother to change it.

Barbara from Oakland, United States

As one of the participants in this workshop, I could not agree more with what Gary says here. He makes the workshop relaxed and fun! We had spectacular light morning and evening and al through the day. The rains were an unexpected bonus. I think that Gary brought us good photo karma!

3 Feb 2010 4:46pm

@Barbara: Thanks Barbara. We did have some pretty special conditions didn't we? Death Valley has so much to offer that you can shoot it in any conditions, but our sunrises and sunsets were (very delicious) icing on the cake. It was great having you in the group.

KriKridesign from Cully, Switzerland

catching poeple catching pictures had always made me smile... And this sky, my God!!!!

3 Feb 2010 6:17pm

Monique from Netherlands

Wish I could be there sometime! It looks just amazing and so very different than the flat country where I live

3 Feb 2010 9:52pm

@Monique: But at least you'd relate to the below sea level thing. :) The amazing thing is that less than 100 miles from where I'm standing is 14,500 foot Mt. Whitney, the highest point in the lower 48 states. California's scenic variety is incredible and I'm quite fortunate to live here.

Julie Brown from Indianapolis, United States

I love your work and enjoy reading your posts. I can't wait to meet you on the Big Sur workshop with Don at the end of March!

4 Feb 2010 1:18am

DarkElf from Perth, Australia

hehe :-) the photographers have lined up nicely and the hunt has begun! would have been great to be there! oh - and a great photo too!

4 Feb 2010 3:23am

Self-Indulgence from Chicagoland, United States

This is awesome seeing you all out there doing your thing and what a beautiful landscape to do it. The diversity you speak of just shows that no matter what walk of life or who you are, we all share some common ground. I do spy what looks like it could be a bag and a lonely tripod 4th from right. Was that your place before you stepped back? Too bad I can't sneak in there ;) I can't wait to see what you've captured in the upcoming weeks.

4 Feb 2010 4:27am

@Self-Indulgence: It would be great to have you join a group sometime, Kristen. (I'm afraid that wasn't my bag--I shot that morning with a vest only and left my bag in the car.)

Stefan from Thiersee, Austria

Wonderful place, fine photo!

4 Feb 2010 11:42am

Jen from Bartlett, United States

Gary- thank you for sharing your photo guide experiences. This is a nice shot that shows us what you do. I can just imagine what it was like to be there.

4 Feb 2010 2:56pm

sabrina huang from San Jose, California, United States

I am one of luckiest one because this Death Valley workshop was my 6th workshop with Gary in the past few years. I met so many wonderful people, learn so much from each other which became an addiction for Gary's workshop. Since I have been on every single one of the workshop that Gary had, he now needs to come up with new locations. Gary, I am looking forward to your NW workshops next year!!

4 Feb 2010 5:27pm

@sabrina huang: Thanks, Sabrina. It's funny because you told me a couple of years ago that I need to add more workshops so I added Death Valley--thanks! And yes, I am indeed planning something in the Northwest for 2011. And I'm sure it won't be long before you max out Don's workshops too. Aloha? :)

Monique from Netherlands

@Monique: But at least you'd relate to the below sea level thing. :) The amazing thing is that less than 100 miles from where I'm standing is 14,500 foot Mt. Whitney, the highest point in the lower 48 states. California's scenic variety is incredible and I'm quite fortunate to live here.

Yes you are! I'm very fortunate to have been able to visit some of the beautiful spots you show here...You have such fantastic nature!

4 Feb 2010 10:22pm

Maeve from Washington DC, United States

I'm having a bad case of workshop withdrawal in Washington DC! The Death Valley workshop surpassed my expectations in every way. In addition to getting comfortable with digital photography, I was inspired by your journey into professional photography and learned a lot from Don, Jay and everyone in the group. If all the workshops are this good, I would become an addict too. Thanks again, Maeve

5 Feb 2010 1:01am

@Maeve: I'm so glad you enjoyed it, Maeve--I know Don and I sure enjoyed having you in the group. (And we'll continue to do everything in our power to upgrade you to addict status.) :)

✿ Anina ✿ from Auckland, New Zealand

WOW! At first I thought it was snow, until I read your narrative. Amazing... to think it's below sea level. This is an incredibly beautiful shot. I really like the detail and lighting. The people simply adds that final, perfect touch. 5 stars for sure

5 Feb 2010 3:43am

Mike from California, United States

Gary...For a moment there I thought I there was somthing wrong with my monitor....People ? I hope I haven't been a poor influence on you ! All kidding aside, I like the sense of place and perspective your workshop participants provided in a great setting . I'm glad to hear the workshop went well and the weather provided unique shooting conditions.

5 Feb 2010 4:19am

@Mike: Yeah, I'm not sure what came over me.

Don Smith from California, United States

I have to echo Gary's comments (I was assisting Gary on this workshop). This was a great group with tons of energy and creative eyes. They were also a pleasure to work with and to share this spectacular beauty. A very enjoyable workshop.

5 Feb 2010 3:44pm

@Don Smith: Yeah, Don deserves half the credit for helping foster the positive atmosphere. Don assists many of my workshops and I assist all of his and we make a great team. I think much of the pleasure others derive from these workshops come from the fact that Don and I are enjoying the experience so much ourselves. It's really hard work for both of us but it never really feels that way when you love what you do.

Photosanity from Folsom, United States

Love this perspective. It sort of makes them look like they are above the badwater salt flats and not on them. Beautiful!

9 Feb 2010 6:16am

Magda from Vancouver, Canada


16 Mar 2010 3:09pm