Behind the Lens: Photographing Zabriskie Point, Death Valley
Heat, gale force winds and giggle fits at Zabriskie Point, California.
As the car door opened and a gush of warmth swarmed my face I suddenly realised, oh gosh, I’m in Death Valley…and it’s HOT.
Obviously I had planned to be there however being early summer I thought perhaps temperatures wouldn’t be too bad. I was wrong. Arriving at Zabriskie Point at 4pm, the cars temperature gauge was reading 43 degrees. A sign in the carpark nearby also read ‘temperatures radiating from the ground may be 40% hotter’. Perfect.
This was however why I was here. To experience the hottest place on earth and photograph the landscapes of Death Valley that have been carved by these climatic extremes over centuries for The Photographic Forecast.
Now the heat was one thing, the first glimpse of Zabriskie Point though signified a whole other world. Actually, make that another planet. Influenced by volcanic activity for millions of years, Zabriskie Point highlights layers of lava and minerals that’s evident in the textures and changing colours within the landscape. Up to five million years ago, the valley around this point was filled with water, now however it’s one of the driest locations in the world.
Despite the temperature and gale force winds which were whipping up conditions akin to the inside of a dryer (I swear I nearly even flipped upside down), I couldn’t wipe the smile from my face as I walked up to the viewing point. You know when your dog sticks it’s head out the car window and gets that jiggly mouth thing happening? This was me. Total sweaty bliss.
As I looked around at the scene deciding what to shoot first I struggled to physically stand upright and when it came to putting the camera to my face, it was being pushed back into my face. Thank goodness for the 7 stops of stability on my Olympus E-M1X because every single one of them was required to gain a sharp image.
Between giggle fits, thoughts of ‘should I be out here’ and overwhelming inspiration, I lasted about 20 minutes capturing the scene at Zabriskie Point. I watched as people came up, took a quick photo then ran back to their air conditioned car but kept repeating to myself, you came here to willingly do this. In those twenty minutes I drank my entire drink bottle because my mouth was so dry from the wind, not only that, my thongs (flip flops) were starting to get a little sticky on the bottom…probably not ideal footwear to start with!
Later that evening sunset was happening around 9pm and I’d planned to do the Artist’s Drive about 30 minutes away to capture the rainbow-like landscape I’d seen popular Instagram feeds. Finishing the drive around 8:30pm I couldn’t resist popping back to Zabriskie Point because I felt I just hadn’t captured the images I’d wanted earlier in the day.
Planning a photography trip is something I love doing. Scheduling enough time to revisit locations, cover hot spots but also allow time to discover some road side wonders. On this trip Zabriskie Point was my first stop and despite having three days remaining, there was something about the sky on this first night that drew me back.
Pulling up to the carpark I could see a pop of pink in the sky, enough to make me run, yes RUN, up the hill…against the wind. I was puffed, dripping (I know, so attractive) and so happy to see my decision paying off.
As I stood with my camera the dusk sky grew more intense, the sun had set a few minutes before my arrival but it was one of those special evenings when the colours stick around and gain intensity. A lenticular-like cloud (my favourite kind of cloud!) was hovering above the valley and I couldn’t resist capturing some reflections to double the magic.
Hello! I’m the founder and photographer behind The Wandering Lens. With 14+yrs experience as a professional travel and landscape photographer, all advice found on this site is from my personal experience on the road. I hope it’s useful for your own travels and would love to hear in the comments about your trips and experiences around the world.
I'm Lisa Michele Burns, a professional photographer and founder of The Wandering Lens from Australia. Welcome to your guide to photographing the world, improving your photography and scouting unique and inspiring places to experience with your camera. Click here to start exploring popular guides + articles. After four years online, The Wandering Lens has turned into the leading publisher of photography focused travel guides!