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 this tour in March, 2024, during the best time of year to photograph landscapes and nightscapes, both in Death Valley and the impressive Alabama Hills.
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.
We will help you capture the best possible images during our photography expedition to Death Valley and the Alabama Hills. We 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.
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.
This workshop is highly focused on astrophotography and will take place during 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.
Our Death Valley photo tour begins at the boarding meeting room at the Inn hotel at 2PM.
After a meet and greet with the rest of the group and a welcome speech, we will do the check-in in our hotel at the Ranch. 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.
For the first shooting, 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.
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 our guides 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.
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.
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.
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.
Deposit: USD 1,500
A $1,500 deposit is required to reserve your spot for this photo tour. You can also pay in full at any time. The remaining balance is due 90 days before the start date of the tour. If the remaining balance is not paid in full by the due date, you will lose your spot.
*Capture the Atlas operates under a CUA (Commercial Use Authorization) with the National Park Service and the Bishop BLM to run photography workshops in these public lands.
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:
Some of the post-processing techniques that you can learn with our included tutorials are:
Your instructors on this death valley astrophoto tour
Chris Bundens will be the tour leader of this Death Valley astrophotography 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, composition, and post-processing for both day and night images.
Chris is a landscape astrophotographer who has explored and photographed the most photogenic spots in the States over the last few years, including the Oregon Coast, Death Valley, Utah, Monument Valley, etc.
His passion for photography has fueled his motivation to become an expert in composition, light, and color.
Chris will be with you every step of the way to help you capture the best landscapes in Death Valley.
James McGivern will be the co-leader of this workshop. He is a proficient astrophotographer and an expert in capturing all types of images, from wide-field nightscapes to deep-sky imaging.
James is based in Southern California and has explored and photographed some of the best places for Astro in the US, including Death Valley, Joshua Tree, etc.
He has taught night photography workshops at Sky’s the Limit Observatory and has volunteered for several outreach programs at the observatory.
James will be able to help you with your night photography from the basics to advanced techniques like star-tracking.
We will send you a complete list of everything we recommend bringing on this tour before the trip. Below is a summary of things you might need:
You may be interested in this guide, where you can dive deeper into photography equipment for traveling.
Some optional items, if you are focused on advanced MW photography, are:
*While zoom lenses are acceptable for this workshop, prime lenses are recommended for Milky Way photography. Some of the best lenses in this range are:
You can get them either from your camera brand or from third-party manufacturers like Rokinon or Sigma.
*This astrophotography workshop focuses on Milky Way nightscapes and not on deep-sky imaging. However, you can bring a telephoto/telescope and take your own deep-sky photos if you like.
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:
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.
During this Death Valley astrophotography workshop we’ll be staying at a couple of the best hotels in the area. Accommodation is included in shared double rooms with queen beds.
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 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 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.
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.
If you prefer to have a single room during the workshop, there is a supplement of $650. (This is subject to availability)
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
Most shooting locations in Death Valley will require a 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.
Non-photographer companions are welcome to join the tour, and they need to book a spot under the same price and conditions as any other participant. (We don’t allow non-participant companions tagging along with the group). We have had plenty of non-photographer companions over the years and all of them enjoyed an amazing experience. As long as they enjoy nature, beautiful landscapes, and are a bit patient with the schedules of a photo tour, joining the trip can be a great experience regardless of the shooting.
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.
We’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.
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, we are grateful to have the opportunity to take you on this trip and to show you what the Eastern California landscapes have to offer!