Death Valley in Spring Workshop Review

Landscape has been a real hit and miss pursuit for me and I want to be a better landscape photographer. It’s not for lack of trying. I’ve logged countless hours in classes, workshops and in the field trying to learn this aspect of the photographers craft.  Not to be deterred, Christy and I signed up for a landscape workshop through High Sierra Workshops. We’d never heard of this outfit, the location and timing of the workshop were the primary reasons we selected it. I’ve been wanting to photograph Death Valley in the spring for years and I wanted to share my love of Death Valley with Christy.

The instructors turned out to be two terrific guys. Our lead instructor was Michael Mariant, he was assisted by Aaron Lambert. Both were informative, knowledgable and capable. I fact, I have to say that Michael is one of the best photography instructors I have had. That’s the thing that distinguishes this High Sierra workshop from the other workshops I’ve attended. Michael specifically structures his workshops with academic goals and standards, each demonstrated by an accompanying photo shoot. For instance, elements of design we’ve all learned such as texture, line and shape are experienced first hand in the field as the sun peaks over the horizon. At dawn, the light dances and infuses the sand with light and life, subtle and sublime. Shadows breathe, line, texture, it’s all there in front of your lens.

Death Valley sand dunes at Sunrise

Death Valley at Sunrise

And so it went over each of the four days of the workshop. Best of all I finally felt like I was making progress, I was learning! When we drove to the ghost town Rhyolite I reached in to my own bag of tricks and tried to find a happy medium with my daily “assignment.” It was hot, really hot, so like like any other mammal I found a shady spot to while away the midday heat, drank some water and took this image.

Ghost town Rhyolite as seen from the bottle house.

Ghost town Rhyolite as seen from the bottle house.

As our “final” we traveled by jeep over rutted roads reminiscent of Tanzania, except these were covered with a fine chalky dust with an almost talcum powder like consistency that wanted to work its way into every nook and cranny of our gear. The trip and dust was worth it. We were at the Racetrack, an iconic locale for photographers. I spent a lot of time searching for my rock, naming my rock and lying on my stomach photographing my rock. I hope you like it.

Meet Trixie, my rock at the Racetrack. Named after the character from Speed Racer.

Meet Trixie, my rock at the Racetrack. Named after the character from Speed Racer.

I consider this Death Valley workshop a success. The locations were well scouted and selected to help participants practice a specific skill. Instructors Michael and Aaron were knowledgeable and approachable. They presented information in a novel way that reinforced practical applications. Both Christy and myself had a fantastic time, we met new friends, had a great adventure and expanded our photographic toolsets. We enjoyed this workshop so much we signed up for another to photograph the giant Redwoods of Northern California.

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