2022 DEATH VALLEY & ALABAMA HILLS PHOTOGRAPHY WORKSHOP
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2022 Death Valley & Alabama Hills photography workshop

Dramatic landscapes and milky way

Join us for a Death Valley & Eastern Sierra photography workshop to capture some of the most dramatic landscapes in the western US. We are running two tours from March 25-31 and from April 6-12 during the best time of year to photograph landscapes and nightscapes, both in Death Valley and the impressive Alabama Hills.

Overview

Our Death Valley photo workshop will focus on the most photogenic areas of this unique and diverse national park, which range from salt flats where you can shoot spectacular patterns below rugged mountains to colorful badlands and giant sand dunes. We will shoot the most impressive landscapes during the best hours of light, including the stars and the Milky Way at night.

During our Alabama Hills photo tour, we will head to California’s Eastern Sierra, where we will enjoy superb views and photo opportunities of Mount Whitney and other dramatic Sierra peaks. These snow-capped mountains will form the perfect background for our landscapes. You will also find a photographer’s paradise full of natural arches, spectacular rock formations, barrel cacti, and more.

I will personally help you capture the best possible images during our photography expedition to Death Valley and the Alabama Hills. I will show you the best techniques to shoot day and night landscapes so you can return home with the best possible photos, a greater knowledge of photography, and, of course, unforgettable memories. It doesn’t matter what gear you have or what your skill level is – together, we will make the most of both.

DEATH VALLEY PHOTO TOUR HIGHLIGHTS

  • Photo tours from March 25th-31st, 2022 (SOLD OUT), and April 6th-12th, 2022
  • Group size: 10 participants + 2 instructors.
  • Main topics: Landscape & Night photography (Salt flats, badlands, sand dunes, arches, Milky Way).
  • Main areas: Death Valley National Park & the Alabama Hills (California Eastern Sierra).
  • Best time of year to photograph the Milky Way arch at these locations.
  • Photograph the lowest and highest points in the United States outside Alaska.
  • Accommodation at The Ranch, the best hotel right in the heart of Death Valley.

2022 DEATH VALLEY & Alabama hills PHOTOGRAPHY WORKSHOP ITINERARY

Our Death Valley & Eastern Sierra Photo Tour itinerary is flexible, and it will be adjusted according to the weather conditions so you can make the most of this trip.

Our workshop will be at the best time of year to capture the Milky Way arch over the Death Valley floor when our galaxy is visible from 01:45 AM to sunrise. If the weather conditions are conducive to a productive night photography session, we might adapt the morning sessions so we can have enough hours of sleep.

DAY 1: DEATH VALLEY PHOTO WORKSHOP 

Our Death Valley photo tour begins at The Ranch at Furnace Creek at 2 PM. This resort is the best accommodation in Death Valley and is located in the heart of the national park, a short drive from the main shooting locations. This will be our base camp during our stay in Death Valley.

After a meet and greet with the rest of the group and a welcome speech, we will venture on our first sunset photography session to Badwater Basin, the lowest and driest place in North America. This location offers fantastic photo opportunities to capture the most iconic landscape features in Death Valley National Park: the classic polygonal salt formations in the foreground and the rugged Amargosa and Panamint mountain range in the background.

We will hike about a mile into the Badwater Basin to find the best salt polygons before sunset and will return for our first Milky Way photography session if conditions allow.

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DAY 2: DEATH VALLEY PHOTO WORKSHOP 

On the second day of our Death Valley workshop, we will start the day by photographing the sunrise at Zabriskie Point.

Zabriskie is an expansive area of colorful badlands that will provide you with a fantastic opportunity to photograph some of the most impressive Death Valley geological features. The goal is to be here before sunrise, since the badlands are painted with beautiful colors during the blue hour. We will stay at this location until the sun rises enough to illuminate the badlands and the Panamint mountains in the west. This is a vast area, but Dan will show you where the best shooting spots are as well as the best lenses and techniques to shoot the badlands.

After Zabriskie, our next shoot will be at Artist’s Palette, another series of rocks and badlands where you can find unique pastel colors. From here and, depending on the timing, we will visit the Devil’s Golf Course, another area of the Death Valley floor that is full of tall, sharp salt formations.

Right before sunset, we will explore and photograph the mud cracks in one of the Death Valley drainage channels. Mud cracks change every year based on the winter precipitation, so we’ll scout the best patterns for our sunset session. If conditions allow, we will photograph the Milky Way arch over the Death Valley mud cracks.

 

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DAY 3: DEATH VALLEY PHOTO WORKSHOP

The third day of our Death Valley photo workshop will take us to some of the best hidden locations in the national park.
 
We will start the day by photographing the sunrise from the mud cracks with the sun rising just above the mountains. After that, we will explore the Cottonball Basin, the northern section of the Death Valley floor where you can find unique patterns with white salty pools surrounded by thick brown borders. These formations change every year depending on the rainfall so we will take the time to scout and find the most photogenic patterns.
 
Right before sunset, we will move to another location with possibly the best salt polygons on the Death Valley floor. I’ve spent many days and walked many miles scouting the best formations, and these are, without a doubt, the most photogenic. It’s very likely that we will have this location to ourselves to shoot the sunset and Milky Way at night.
 
 

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DAY 4: DEATH VALLEY PHOTO WORKSHOP

The next morning of our Death Valley tour, we will photograph the sunrise at the location we used the night before with the sun rising over the mountains and illuminating the salt polygons. 

Then we will drive and shoot across Twenty Mule Team Canyon, a short, photogenic drive full of interesting and colorful badlands. If our schedule allows it, we will also drive to Dante’s View, where you can enjoy one of the best panoramic views of the Badwater Basin and Death Valley mountain ranges.

In the evening, our goal is to photograph one of the most photogenic areas in Death Valley National Park: The Mesquite Sand Dunes. These are the most iconic dunes in the park for good reason. Here, you’ll find infinite sand dunes of different heights surrounded by picturesque mountains. This is a vast area and the shape of the dunes changes every year, but we will head to the area where you can usually find the best dunes to photograph them under the golden sunset light.

Artists Palette Death Valley day trip from Las Vegas

 

DAY 5: DEATH VALLEY & Alabama Hills PHOTO WORKSHOP 

On the last morning of our Death Valley workshop, we will photograph the Mesquite Sand Dunes again during the morning twilight and sunrise. This location offers endless photo opportunities, so we will explore a different section of the dunes where the light can create conditions for excellent photos.

After our morning session, we will drive to our next destination, where we will have our Alabama Hills workshop. The drive from the Mesquite Dunes to the town of Lone Pine is relatively short, approximately 80 miles (about 1.5 hours).

Lone Pine is a historic town located in the foothills of the California Eastern Sierra, and it will be our base for the next two days. We are staying at The Dow Villa, which is located at the entrance to the Alabama Hills and within walking distance of the best restaurants in town.

After checking in and taking a lunch break, we will visit the rugged landscape of the Alabama Hills, where we will photograph the jagged peaks around Mount Whitney (highest point in the contiguous US) with some interesting features in the foreground.

If conditions are good for night photography, we will photograph the Milky Way from one of the main arches, such as Mobius, Boot, or Cyclops.

 

DAY 6: Alabama Hills PHOTO WORKSHOP

On the first full day of our Alabama Hills photo tour, we will do a sunrise photoshoot from Cyclops Arch, where we will enjoy an incredible view of the Sierra peaks and a plethora of rocks, arches, and barrel cacti in the foreground.

Once we shoot the sunrise, we will move to the Mobius Arch Loop, doing many stops along the way on the Alabama Hills Movie Road to photograph the beauty of the California Sierra Nevada. Once on the loop, we will take a short hike to photograph some of the most famous formations in the area, like Mobius Arch framing Mount Whitney, Lathe Arch, or the Heart Arch.

After these shoots, we will have a break in town before returning for our sunset session from a vantage point around the Eye of Alabama Hills Arch. If there are clear skies, we will have a final Milky Way photography session in one of Alabama Hills’ spectacular formations.

 

DAY 7: Alabama Hills PHOTO WORKSHOP

On the last day of our photography workshop, we will have a final morning session where we will photograph the sun illuminating Mt. Whitney and the Sierra Nevada peaks from another of the spectacular Alabama Hills formations.

After breakfast in town, we will conclude our Death Valley and Alabama Hills photography workshop.

PRICE: USD 3,590

Deposit: USD 1,000

A $1,000 non-refundable deposit is required to reserve your spot for this workshop. You can also pay in full at any time. The remaining balance is due on January 25th, 2022. If the remaining balance is not paid in full by the due date, you will lose your spot.

A 100% refund is guaranteed if we have to cancel the tour because of COVID-19.

WHAT DOES THE PRICE INCLUDE?

INCLUDED

  • Accommodation in shared double rooms with queen beds at The Ranch at Furnace Creek for 4 nights.
  • Accommodation in shared double rooms with queen beds at The Dow Villa for 2 nights.
  • 7 days of photo guide services from professional photographers Dan Zafra and Joseph Cole.
  • Instruction in a small group of 10 participants with a 5:1 ratio (5 students per instructor).
  • Night photography sessions throughout the entire workshop.
  • 100% refund if the workshop is cancelled because of COVID-19.

*BONUSES

  • Access to Dan Zafra’s full Capture the Milky Way Course (valued at $299) – includes two complete start-to-finish post-processing tutorials of a Death Valley and an Alabama Hills image.

NOT INCLUDED

  • Transportation (including flights) to Death Valley National Park.
  • Transportation during the trip (we will arrange carpools when traveling to different locations).
  • Death Valley National Park entrance fee.
  • Health/travel insurance (We can help you purchase the best travel insurance according to your needs).
  • Personal expenses, tips, and any other service not mentioned in the “INCLUDED” section.

What will I learn during this Death Valley workshop?

What you learn during the workshop will vary according to your goals and skills. Your instructors are professional photographers with extensive experience who will help you take your photography to the next level:

  • Getting comfortable shooting different types of landscapes and photos in manual mode
  • Adjusting the best camera settings in each situation
  • Familiarizing yourself with the basics of night and Milky Way photography
  • Enhancing your compositions with the best techniques 
  • Designing your own shooting workflow to be more effective in the field 
  • Photographing daytime and night panoramas
  • Creating powerful compositions that tell a story and engage the viewer.
  • Building a connection between your photography and your vision.
  • Becoming a master of light: learn how to enhance it and keep it under control.
  • Advanced night & Milky Way photography techniques like stacking and Panoramas.
  • Advanced bracketing and exposure blending to capture the best dynamic range.
  • Using wide-angle distortion and focal length blending to create powerful images.
  • Focus stacking to capture tack-sharp images with interesting foregrounds.

Some of the post-processing techniques that you can learn with our included tutorials are:

  • How to start using Lightroom and Photoshop (all the basics).
  • Preparing your images in Lightroom/Adobe Camera Raw to start on the right foot.
  • Stitching panoramas using different software like Lightroom, Photoshop, or PTGui Pro.
  • Stacking night images using Starry Landscape Stacker or Sequator.
  • Reducing the noise in your night images using Topaz Denoise AI.
  • All types of Blendings (exposure, focal length, focus, etc.).
  • Light shaping and Dodge & Burn in your landscape images.
  • Advanced Milky Way techniques like star reduction, structure, natural colors, etc.

Your instructors on this death valley astrophoto tour

Dan will be the tour leader throughout this Death Valley & Alabama Hills workshop and he will make sure that you get the best photography results and experience out of this tour. He will help you with your photography, technique, and composition for both day and night images.

He is based in California and has explored Death Valley National Park in depth over the past few years. He is very knowledgeable, not only about the most well-known locations in Death Valley but also about the best hidden gems in the park.

Dan’s mission is to help others discover, learn, and master their Milky Way photography. He has spent years pursuing this passion, both online through articles, guides, and ebooks, and offline on his signature photo tours.

He’s also the creator of the popular “Capture the Atlas Milky Way Calendars,” which help 40,000+ photographers plan their shots around the world every year, and the creator and curator of “The Milky Way Photographer of the Year”, an award-winning annual list that inspires hundreds of thousands of people to go out and photograph the Milky Way.

You’ve probably seen Dan in…

Joseph will be the coleader of the trip and will help you with your photography throughout the entire workshop. Joseph has a background in arts and painting, specializes in landscape and night images, and has a unique vision and style.

He will show you not only the best techniques, but also how to be more creative with your camera gear so you can learn to see new compositions and perspectives that go unnoticed for most photographers.

WHAT TO BRING TO A DEATH VALLEY & Alabama  HILLS PHOTO TOUR

A complete list of everything that we recommend for this tour is sent to all participants upon sign-up. Below, you can find a summary of things you might need:

PHOTOGRAPHY GEAR
  • A mirrorless or DSLR camera.
  • A sturdy tripod and a remote shutter.
  • A wide-angle lens, such as 14-24 mm.
  • A medium zoom lens, such as 24-70 mm.
  • A telephoto lens, like a 70-200 mm lens.
  • A camera bag to transport all your equipment.
  • A headlamp for the night shoots.
  • Glow-in-the-dark tape for your tripod.

You may be interested in this guide, where you can dive deeper into photography equipment for traveling.

CLOTHING

Even though Death Valley is the hottest place in North America, temperatures are mild and pleasant at the beginning of the spring, so there won’t be extreme heat conditions.

However, during this workshop, we will experience many extreme environments. From the lowest point on the continent at Badwater Basin to the highest peaks in the contiguous US around the California Eastern Sierra, we will move through different climates and temperatures. We also have to consider that temperatures drop considerably at night, especially during the Alabama Hills workshop section of this tour.

For this reason, we recommend bringing the following clothing:

      • A system of layers to wear during the day and night (base layer, insulation layer, windproof layer, and a hard-shell layer).
      • A good pair of breathable boots (to protect your feet and ankles while hiking in terrain like salt flats or sand dunes).
      • Thermal pants, gloves, hat, and a neck gaiter/scarf for the night photography sessions.
DOCUMENTATION

If you are traveling from outside the US, you may need a specific travel visa or an electronic travel authorization (“ESTA”) depending on your country of origin. We can help you with this process.

WHAT EXPENSES SHOULD YOU CONSIDER FOR THIS DEATH VALLEY PHOTOGRAPHY WORKSHOP?

FLIGHTS

There are different airports within a relatively short drive to Death Valley. However, the closest airport and our recommendation is Las Vegas International Airport. From there, the drive to Furnace Creek is 118 miles (about two hours).

Airline ticket prices will depend on the airport you are flying from. We recommend this article to find the best flights to Las Vegas from your current location.

TRANSPORTATION

Transportation will not be included, and even though we will not be driving over difficult roads, some of them (like the Alabama Hills Movie Road) will be unpaved, so we recommend at least an SUV with all-wheel drive for this Death Valley workshop.

When traveling to different locations on the tour, we will try to carpool as often as possible. Some parking areas are small, and we would like to minimize our impact on the land and ecosystem as much as possible.

MEALS

Meals are not included. Most of the days, we will try to eat snacks/picnic during lunch to speed up and maximize the photo shoot time.

Even so, Death Valley is a remote national park and there aren’t many supermarket or restaurant options. The ones you can find are generally not cheap. We recommend buying any groceries in Las Vegas before the trip (there’ll be a small fridge in your room) and budgeting about $50-70 per day for meals.

 

In Lone Pine, there are plenty of grocery stores and restaurants, so planning the meals will be easier during the Alabama Hills workshop section.

ENTRANCE FEE

The Death Valley National Park Pass costs $30 and is valid for a week. You can get your pass in-person at the Furnace Creek visitor center or online through the official Death Valley NP website.

WHAT MAKES THIS DEATH VALLEY ASTROPHOTO TOUR UNIQUE?

Immersive

Our workshops are completely centered on photography: finding the best moments of light during the day and at night and creating an intensive experience that is conducive to learning and taking the best images.

intimate

Our workshops are limited to small groups with a ratio of no more than five students per instructor. This is also an important factor for providing the attentive instruction you need during the tour.

exclusive

During this workshop, we will photograph the famous locations in Death Valley as well as some hidden gems that we have discovered while hiking and exploring in the past that are rarely visited or photographed.

dedicated

We will discuss your goals before the tour so we can create a dedicated instruction plan for you. It doesn’t matter your age or skills; we will design your plan and provide you with materials before, during, and after the workshop so the learning process is not limited to just the tour.

proven

We have spent years designing national and international photo tours with successful results, helping photographers with everything from the simple task of getting off Auto to the ambitious goal of capturing complex images. Dan’s online courses have also helped more than 400 photographers over the last few years.

unforgettable

Beyond the photography, our photography workshops help build strong bonds that last forever. After our trip, you’ll feel like you have been with a group of friends rather than on a standard tour. We are thankful to have plenty of repeat clients who keep traveling and learning with us.

Frequent questions about our astro workshops

Whether you are experienced or just starting out in photography, you are welcome, and I am convinced that you will progress quickly. Together, we will send you home with a thorough knowledge of many photography areas from the basics to multiple advanced techniques.

Once you sign up for the workshop, we will discuss your skills and goals for this tour, and I’ll organize a teaching plan so you can make the most of this experience

While we won’t do any long or strenuous hikes, most shooting locations in Death Valley will require a relatively short hike between half a mile and two miles, sometimes on uneven terrain like salt flats or sand dunes and at night when we shoot the Milky Way.

Some locations that constantly change depending on the weather, such as salt flats or mud cracks, often require some scouting and longer walks, so we recommend being in good physical shape to be able to enjoy this experience.

Most locations in the Alabama Hills area are either just by the parking lot or a very short walk away.

There is no age limit. This trip is perfect for anyone over 18 years old who wants to photograph the Death Valley & Eastern Sierra landscapes with us.

Capture the Atlas is drone friendly. However, drones are not allowed in national parks and you can’t fly your drone in Death Valley National Park.

The Alabama Hills is a BLM area and you can fly your drone there at your own risk. Dan is an experienced drone pilot and can help you with your drone photography.

From the lowest point in North America on the Death Valley floor to the highest peak in the contiguous United States in the California Eastern Sierra, this trip is going to take you to some of the most diverse, extreme, and dramatic landscapes in the country.

There are no words to describe the feeling of being surrounded by miles of pure wilderness where the landscape is constantly changing according to the forces of nature. No image can express the experience of photographing the full Milky Way arch under an endless sea of stars in the largest Dark Sky National Park in the country.

I instantly fell in love with these landscapes the first time I saw them, and since then, I’ve been obsessed with photographing them year after year. Today, I’m grateful to have the opportunity to take you on this trip and to show you what the Eastern California landscapes have to offer!

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DAN ZAFRA

JOIN THE EXPEDITION

    TERMS AND CONDITIONS

    This tour is governed by these Terms and Conditions.

    Our Happy Students!

    I’ve had the opportunity to work with and help countless photographers over the last few years. Sharing and teaching photography is my passion, and I love doing this both online and in the field.

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    Dan has probably been one of the biggest supporters of my growth in photography everything from one-on-ones in the field to post-processing. I have not yet had the pleasure of taking an overseas tour with him yet but, from what I have seen, it is an epic adventure. I would highly recommend his services and would like to give Dan huge thanks
    Joseph James
    1 on 1 Post-Processing Training
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    We had a fantastic workshop with Dan working on shooting techniques. Dan is a wonderful guide, patient, funny and helpful. I have been waiting to invest in filters to understand what I really needed and Dan let me borrow his to get a feel of what I would need to invest in. We grabbed some fantastic shots.
    Heather Andrews
    Ricketts Glen Photography Workshop
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    When I started editing my star-tracked photos. I wasn't able to get the most from the raw files. Dan has shown me how to enhance the original details and recover the amazing colors of the night skies. Although these advanced techniques can be quite daunting, Dan makes them really easy to follow.
    Jose Luis Cantabrana
    1 on 1 Post-Processing Training
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    On my recent photo tour to Iceland, not only was I able to see the Northern Lights, but I also was able to photograph them thanks to Dan's tutelage and patience! I returned home with not only amazing pictures but also renewed enthusiasm for photography. Dan's passion for photography and landscapes is unequivocal.
    Rachel Rose
    Iceland Photography Tour
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    All the training sessions that I’ve taken with Dan have been highly instructive. We were able to adjust the program to my personal interests. Both the methodology and the logistics that accompanied each of the sessions have worked perfectly. Highly recommended.
    Isaac Loiola
    1 on 1 Post-Processing Coaching
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    If you really want to learn how to improve your photography, I highly recommend Capture the Atlas. l had a private class with Dan, and he was very detailed explaining everything about my camera settings, lenses, and post-processing. His skills are superb and he’s always eager to share all his knowledge.
    Aleida Gallangos
    Ricketts Glen Photography Workshop