Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Death Valley National Park

An Unimaginable Wilderness

A name like 'Death Valley' suggests a harsh and forbidding wasteland, a barren cavern of dust and sand that one would be better off avoiding. The moniker is not entirely unjustified. The valley floor maintains the highest consistent summer temperatures of any location on the Earth's surface - air temperatures top out in the low 130's (Fahrenheit), and the ground temperature can exceed 200 degrees.

These extreme conditions present significant dangers for any human activity. Simply driving an automobile on paved roads can be hazardous as tires are likely to blow out under the strain. Of course, if your car does fail, stay with it. Walking for help in these conditions will almost certainly result in disaster.

Fortunately, the valley enjoys milder temperatures in the late autumn, through the winter months, and into early spring. This cooler season provides the opportunity to explore the park's many wonders.

Death Valley is more than sand dunes and salt flats. The diverse landscape changes significantly every few miles. There are new glimpses of a complex and unexpected beauty at every twist in the road.

Zabriskie Point

Death Valley contains extensive areas of 'badlands'. Badlands are areas of exposed clay that are impermeable to water. Since no water can penetrate the surface, no vegetation grows anywhere in the area.

Zabriskie Point offers a 270-degree view of the badlands. It's easily accessible - a short walk up ramp just off of one of the park's main roads.

I made a number of stops at Zabriskie Point while visiting the park - I kept finding new viewpoints and compositional ideas. This shot is a very popular view, but I timed it as the rising sun lit the distant Panamint Mountain range. This adds a significant dimension of color and shadow that's not visible at any other time of day.

a photo of Zabriskie Point at First Light - Death Valley National Park
Zabriskie Point at First Light - Death Valley National Park


Badwater Basin contains the lowest surface elevation in North America at 272 feet below sea level. Visiting the extensive salt flats at Badwater is a uniquely memorable experience, but be sure to bring sunglasses to deal with the glare of the sun reflecting off of the white salt, and as always, an abundant supply of water.

Here is a shot taken from the Badwater salt flats at dawn. Note the crescent moon at the top of the frame.

a photo of Sunrise and a Crescent Moon, Badwater, Death Valley
Sunrise and Crescent Moon, Badwater Basin, Death Valley

Mesquite Dunes

No portfolio of Death Valley would be complete without sand dunes. Death Valley's sand dunes have appeared in many movies including the original Star Wars. Here's a shot of the Mesquite Dunes near Stovepipe Wells.

a photo of the Mesquite Dunes and Distant Mountains at Death Valley NP
Mesquite Dunes and Distant Mountains, Death Valley, NP

The Devil's Golf Course

One of the strangest and most forbidding landscapes that you'll ever see, the Devil's Golf Course is a large field of beach ball-sized lumps of clay covered with jagged crystals. Looking out over the 'Golf Course' is like looking into the mouths a hundred thousand sharks. It's unnerving to say the least.

I took this shot from the parking area as dusk fell on an overcast day. The cold light emphasized the forbidding bleakness of this unique feature.

a photo of the devil's golf course in death valley
The Devil's Golf Course - Death Valley National Park

Ghost Towns

Numerous ghost towns exist in and around Death Valley National Park. The towns are typically remnants of mining or gold prospecting operations gone bust.

The most impressive ghost town in the area is Rhyolite, Nevada just a few miles beyond the park's northeastern border.  

a photo of the General Store at the Rhyolite Ghost Town near death valley
General Store, Rhyolite Ghost Town, Nevada

Racetrack Playa

Death Valley National Park is home to one of the world's great mysteries: Racetrack Playa, where rocks appear to blow in the wind and leave trails in the surface. No one has ever seen the rocks move, but everything from tiny pebbles to rocks the size of a large loaf of bread leave have trails behind them.

The prevailing theory is that the surface becomes slick when rain falls. The rocks are then pushed by brisk winds channeled through a narrow mountain valley.

However this phenomenon may occur, it was a thrill to visit the spot where the magic happens.

a photo of a Moving Rock on the Racetrack Playa Death Valley National Park
Moving Rock, Racetrack Playa, Death Valley National Park

I hope that you have enjoyed these images of Death Valley. If you have visited the park before, I hope that you recognize some familiar places. If you haven't visited yet, I hope that these images have provided insight into a beautiful landscape with a mysterious name.

Over the coming months I'll be sharing more photos of Death Valley and more stories of my adventures in the park. Thank you for visiting today, and please stop back soon!

            Canon EOS 5D Mark II

            Canon 16-35 f/2.8L II
            Canon TS-E24 f/3.5L II
            Canon 24-105 f/4L IS
            Canon 70-200 f/4L IS

Wishing you great light and meaningful moments!

Copyright © 2012 Daniel R. South
All Rights Reserved

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Pictures At An Exhibition

I would like to extend a heartfelt THANK YOU to everyone who contributed to my recent photo exhibition "Summer In New York".

Thanks very much to the staff and management of Two Moon Art House and Café in Brooklyn for hosting the event.

Thanks to the skilled craftsmen and creative minds at West Coast Imaging for the a spectacular printing and mounting job and for taking the time to answer all of my questions so patiently.

Thanks to the folks who invented "Ooks" (picture hanging hardware).  Your little gadgets really came in handy, and it was a lot easier than drilling holes into walls.

Thanks to Canon for doing what you do so well.

And thanks very, very, VERY much to EVERYONE who came out on opening night.  I appreciate the time and effort and travel that was involved in getting there.  But having you at my show meant more than I can express in words.

I enjoyed our spirited conversations and hearing which photos everyone liked the best - such an interesting diversity of opinions!  This night was an experience that I'll treasure for a long, long time, and I'll always treasure the memory of sharing it with YOU!! 

The Three Amigos

Thank You, One And All!!

Looking forward to more showings in 2013 and beyond!

Until then...

Wishing you great light and meaningful moments!

Copyright 2012 Daniel R. South
All Rights Reserved

Monday, May 14, 2012

Save The Date - Upcoming Show!

Summer In New York

I am extremely pleased to announce that Two Moon Art House & Café in Brooklyn will be showing selections from my Summer In New York collection next month.  Please join us for the opening reception on Saturday, June 16th at 7 PM.  I'll post more information when Two Moon publishes their official announcement.

I've attached a few samples for your viewing pleasure.  Hope to see you there!!

a photograph of a ballerina and several photographers in a park in new york

a photograph of a man playing a brightly painted piano on the street in new york

a photograph of a man smoking in front of a tobacco shop in new york

a photograph of a busy market in chinatown in new york city

The exhibit will run through the week of July 4th.

Wishing you great light and meaningful moments!

Copyright 2012 Daniel R. South
All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Photographing Exotic Locales - Part One

It's A Big World - See Some Of It

Someone once said that if you want to take a better picture, point your camera at something amazing.

It's wonderful to explore photo opportunities close to home, but there's no substitute for travel.

It's a big world.  There's no shortage of fascinating places to visit, intriguing sights to see, exciting adventures to cherish, and amazing things to photograph.

So pack your bags and charge your batteries, because it's time to go on a little trip.

When something catches your eye, photograph it in the best possible light.

a fine art photograph of silhouetted statues at sunset in portugal
Silhouetted Statues, Portugal

Keep in mind that the best light is sometimes bright and sunny.

a fine art photograph of fishing boats based on an ancient phoenician design in portugal
Fishing Boats Based on an Ancient Phoenician Design, Portugal

Some subjects will be obvious.

a fine art photograph of st mark's church in zagreb croatia
St. Mark's Church, Zagreb, Croatia

While others will require some imagination.

a fine art photograph of a church tower through a round window in dubrovnik, croatia
Church Tower Through A Round Window, Dubrovnik, Croatia

Isolate features for clean compositions.

a fine art photograph of a tower overlooking the Sea from the city wall of dubrovnik croatia
Tower Overlooking the Sea from the City Wall, Dubrovnik, Croatia

Or shoot wide to capture a sense of place.

a photograph of a street in the walled city of dubrovnik croatia
Morning Street in the Walled City, Dubrovnik

Look for things that you've never seen before.

a fine art photograph of an illuminated platform in zadar croatia
Illuminated Platform by the Sea, Zadar, Croatia

And NEVER lose your sense of innocence and fun.

a photograph of a fun dog food and water station station in zagreb croatia
Dogs Welcome, Zagreb

The images above were captured in Croatia and Portugal.


            Pentax 67 II film camera
            Canon 5D Mark II digital camera


            A whole bunch of 'em.

Wishing you great light and meaningful moments!

Copyright 2012 Daniel R. South
All Rights Reserved

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Discovering the Magic of the Familiar

Exploring Photo Opportunities Close To Home

Someone once said: "You can make good photographs anywhere.  You can even make good photographs in New Jersey."

I laughed when I head this quote. It seems like yet another good-natured Jersey joke, but it also contains valuable wisdom for photographers and artists in all genres. 

We don't need to visit exotic, far-away places in order to make appealing images. We can find worthwhile photographic opportunities near home no matter where we live - even if we live in New Jersey (as I did for many years). 

Working close to home has notable advantages.

It affords us the ability to visit locations again and again. If a subject doesn't work well in the morning, we can come back and photograph it again in the evening. If not in summer, try again in the winter or spring. If the flowers aren't blooming or the trees haven't changed color yet, we can try again next week. We can shoot familiar locations in all sorts of weather conditions.

Plus don't forget that shooting locally is cheaper than flying, and you don't have to take off your belt and shoes.

a photo of barnegat light lighthouse new jersey shore long beach island
Barnegat Light - Long Beach Island - New Jersey

This photo of Barnegat Lighthouse is a great example. I visited the lighthouse many times over the course of several years before I worked out the exact combination of camera, lens, light, and weather that I'd need to capture my vision. On many days, the light was a complete bust. Either I'd gotten there too late, or it was blocked by haze or clouds in the western sky. In fact, I had driven to the lighthouse one day before taking this photo and came away with nothing. But the next day everything finally came together.

Luckily, nobody had stolen the red picnic table in the meantime.  ;-)

a photo of sunset over marshland at sandy hook new jersey shore
Marshland At Sunset - Sandy Hook National Recreation Area

An even less likely candidate for an artistic image is this marshland at Sandy Hook. A hazy summer sky blocked most of the 'good' light on this particular day, but somehow it produced a dramatic and colorful sunset. The marsh waters reflected the color of the sky.

Note that no color filters were used to capture this shot. I didn't add any red or purple - that's the color of the sky captured directly onto a nice big piece of film.

I had made frequent trips to Sandy Hook throughout the year (braving swarms of aggressive mosquitoes and midges in the warmer months). I kept track of what the light was doing in a number of locations. On the day that the magic happened, I was ready. I knew instinctively where to go to get the shot.

a photo of the chapel at fort hancock sandy hook national recreation area
Chapel - Fort Hancock - Sandy Hook National Recreation Area

The chapel at Fort Hancock isn't a particularly impressive structure, but one day the setting sun gave it a warm glow. I took special steps to match the exposure of the white building with the darker grass.

a photo of an officers house at fort hancock sandy hook new jersey
Officer's Row House - Fort Hancock - New Jersey

If I were to select one image that summarizes everything that I've learned about photography over the years, this photo of an Officer's House at Fort Hancock would be on my short list. I won't go into great detail, but an awful lot of work and planning (and luck!) went into creating this shot.

For instance, this side of the building receives direct sunlight only two weeks out of the year. I knew the kind of shot that I wanted to make, but I had to wait for the planet to get into position before I could take it. That requires scouting, planning, and a measure of tenacity.

The exposure required techniques that I developed over years of practice. I used my view camera to eliminate distortion of the architectural details. The placement of the building, tree, and horizon line illustrate key elements of my compositional philosophy.

Finally, as for the windswept clouds and the con trails that match the slope of the roof precisely - let's just say that I've learned to recognize when the Good Lord is being kind to me, and I do everything in my power to avoid wasting those opportunities.

My sincere advice to any aspiring photographer would be to take your camera out and shoot something close to home. Then go back and shoot it again and again until you hit on just the right combination of elements. Familiar places can produce spectacular images when we photograph them at the right moment and under the right conditions.

            Ebony SV45TE view camera

            Nikon NIKKOR-SW 90mm f/4.5
            Schneider APO-Symmar-L 150mm f/5.6

            Fujifilm Velvia 100

(No digital cameras were harmed during the making of this post.)

Wishing you great light and meaningful moments!

Copyright © 2012 Daniel R. South
All Rights Reserved