The for my first major trip of 2018, I set my sights on Death Valley National Park. One of the few places with a good chance of being ‘camping weather’ at the end of February, and a location I had wanted to shoot for some time. Clear skies during the day and partially cloudy skies at night frustrated me much of the time. While the weather wasn’t as cooperative as one might hope, I can’t complain too much either as I think the warmest we ever saw was in the mid 70’s or so. One area of the park that did not disappoint, at least on my second visit, was an area known as Artists Palette.
|Date||March 9, 2018|
|Location||Artists Palette, Death Valley National Park|
|Camera||Canon EOS 6D|
|Lens||Canon EF 70-200mm F/4L IS USM|
|Exposure Program||Aperture priority|
Shooting Death Valley, more than anywhere else I’ve been, is a ‘golden hour’ or ‘blue hour’ location. Go most places in this part during the middle of the day and you’ll be treated with harsh shadows, washed out colors, and a glaring sun overhead. My first stop at Artists Palette was under these conditions, and the colors were barely visible in the glare. I had heard that the colors here were at their best right after a rain. Well, that’s about as rare of an event as anything in this part of the world, but with the sun setting early and low on the horizon opposite horizon, there was a chance to use the fading diffused light at the end of the day to bring out the colors in the hillside. So the plan was to return in the evening, shoot the hills under better light, before moving on to other spots along Artists Dr. for what we hoped would be some interesting star trail opportunities. In the end, only half of that plan worked out, and since this post isn’t about star trails, you can guess which half that was.
The parking area at Artists Palette is fairly plentiful, and arriving at the end of the day when most people were already heading back to their lodging or camps for dinner made for easy parking. While the view from the edge of the parking lot is good, but exploring the many hillsides directly around the walk-up view provides a slightly higher vantage point where the colors stack up in different arrangements. For this shot, I found a hilltop off to the right of the parking lot, setting up the tripod for a low ISO and long exposure shot in the fading light. At ISO100 and stopped down to F/14, exposure times were increasing rapidly with each passing frame. This shot which I ultimately edited was one of the later shots in the set, a total of 20 seconds.
The Edit for this photo was all about bringing out the colors naturally occurring in the RAW file. While the colors were far more saturated thanks to the soft light the photo was taken under, RAW files never have the same punch and color as the eye will see, let alone bringing the colors to life in an eye catching collage. From the RAW file, the initial LR edit was fairly subtle, mostly opening up shadows, adding some dehaze, and using the Color Calibration section in LR to start the color boost.
The real pop came through a couple of layers in Photoshop, as seen in the image above. A single pass through Nik’s Color Efex Pro 4 added greatly in enhancing the colors and contrast, while some selective dodge/burn work helped sculpt the light slightly to ensure the eye didn’t wander off in the wrong direction. Only 6 adjustment layers were used for the entire edit, 2 dodge burn, a sharpening layer, a soft orton layer, and two copies of the Color Efex Pro 4 layer (second one with a levels adjustment added to it for deeper color which was then blended in with a layer mask)
I hope you enjoyed this short walk through of one of my favorite images from Death Valley National Park. If you want to take your own photography to the next level, I encourage you to browse the other articles here on my website. I also offer one-on-one tutorials covering both general and landscape photography, as well as Lightroom and Photoshop editing techniques from introduction to advanced topics. I would love to be able to help you improve your own photography.