How to Photograph Death Valley

Mesquite dunes sunrise

Want Great Photos from your next Death Valley trip?

Here are the top two tips when you want something special in your vacation photos at majestic locations like Death Valley.

Tip #1: Stay away in the summer.  

  • This is the hottest place on earth, or so say the numerous gift shop items for sale.  Regularly over 120 degrees F and hottest ever was 134 degrees! Your memory card might melt. This is a three-season place and Summer isn’t one of them.


Tip #2:  Get up early.

  • 90 minutes before scheduled sunrise.  You have to BE at the place when the light is there. To get the photo above required some hiking up and down sand dunes. Get there on time and your chances of bringing home memorable photos is about 100 percent.  Hit the snooze button and lose your greatest potential shots.

Two stupid-simple tips that are really no-brainer’s, right?  Don’t needlessly venture into an extreme climates and always shoot at sunrise and sunset when the light is like butter.  Not everybody knows that, and some who do, still sleep in. Anyway, now you know :)

Making this photo of Mesquite Sand Dunes

Sand Dunes look so serene. Try hiking out over half a dozen of them first thing in the morning looking for a place to setup to photograph. It’s a leg workout. After finding my place atop one dune, not the tallest one, I didn’t move. Sunrises look amazing in all different directions so, even standing in virtually the same place for 45 minutes during the sunrise ceremony, I got some cool shots which look totally different from each other. This shot of Mesquite Dunes was from Saturday, our first morning in Death Valley. Looking at this shot of Mesquite Dunes  fullscreen, you can see all the footprints in the sand from photographers who came before… I processed this photo using the Perfect HDR workflow from three bracketed RAW files.

By the way, sleeping in the new Jeep Grand Cherokee worked out very well. Thank you Linda Lyngso for the gift of a thick foam pad. Our hip bones thank you too.


More Examples of Dawn’s Early Light at Death Valley National Park

image: Paniments at Dawn from Zabriski Point

Paniments at Dawn from Zabriski Point

image:Creeping Fingers of Dawn

Creeping Fingers of Dawn


Sunset at Death Valley is also great for Photography!

The light is just like at sunrise, only different.

  • The light is now coming from the opposite direction making everything look different in another cool photogenic way.
  • Light quality is different. Intuitively, you would think morning and evening light should be the same. Morning light tends to be cooler and rosier. In the evening, the light is warmer and with more reds & oranges.  Both times of day are beautiful and that’s when you should be shooting your trophy landscape photographs.
Showing 2 comments
  • Eric

    Some great tips on shooting at Death Valley. Thanks.

  • Reply

    Stunning pics, great colors! I’ve been to Death Valley right in the middle of the summer and camped there. It was over 120 degrees in a shade during a day. My Nikon D90 successfully survived and nothing melted. I was mostly concerned about my car and its fuel tank. But the park rangers told me it’s OK to drive with a full tank. Unfortunately, I could not find good salt hexagons at Badwater Basin. They were barely visible at that time.

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Lafayette View of Mt. Diablo with Olympus OMD EM-1