Death Valley National Park: Sand Dunes and Landscape Oddities

Discuss this workshop

Amazing landscapes, beautiful astrophotography and sand dunes in North America's most famous desert.


Death Valley is regarded by some as desolate and empty, and it might be an appropriate name for what they see … but there is so much more. Desert lovers know that the beauty of the park lies not on the paved tourist road but in abundance away from the tourist spots. Framed by the Armagosa and Panimint ranges, the valley harbors a beautiful delicate and fragile ecosystem that changes spectacularly in front of your eyes from day to day, hour to hour. Here, timing is everything.


A complete 4-day (Thu-Sun) course with a structured curriculum for the beginner / intermediate photographer seeking to learn more about the compositional aesthetics of photography, including learning to read the scene.

When: November 13-16, 2014

Where: Stovepipe Wells

Price: $895

Class Capacity: Minimum of 5 students, maximum of 10 students

What You Will See

We will see breathtaking cliffs inside box canyons, remote ghost town dwellings, salt flats, bizarre formations and more. Here is a list of the main locations we will photograph during the workshop:


The lowest elevation in the Northern Hemisphere and the location of intricate salt patters in the flat, seemingly endless pan.


An apt name for this immense area of rock salt eroded by wind and rain into jagged spires.


Shaped by overnight winds and towering over the landscape, the dunes are a workshop favorite as they are constantly evolving, never photographed the same twice.


A panoramic location situated 5000 feet above Badwater, providing the workshop’s first exercise in pre-visualization.


A narrow canyon that widens to reveal the badlands within, providing shades and hues of golden yellow.


A popular location with tourists, but when timed to the light just right, Manly Beacon and the surrounding Badlands at staged intervals provide excellent colors and shapes to the morning light.


This desolate locale holds several buildings, shacks and the original train station from the mining days, when this town was called home to over 20,000 residents.


One of the longest, largest and narrowest — and drivable — slot canyons in the entire park.


A 600 foot volcanic steam crater and also site of the astrophotography session.

What You Will Do

One surprising aspect of these travel/landscape photography workshops for nearly all attendees is the level of education provided. There is a comprehensive photographic curriculum integrated into the workshop, with each location providing an exercise in technique and application, as found in the four-day course itinerary below.

Day 1

We begin mid-day with a workshop orientation at the Furnace Creek Ranch, detailing the workshop schedule and shooting locations, a discussion on survival in the desert (water, weather and common sense), a brief history and understanding of what is Death Valley, and a review on shooting techniques/concerns in the desert. We then depart our lodging accommodations via carpool up to Dante’s View, over 5,000 feet above the valley floor to begin our photography and lessons, starting with composition and the layering. After Dante’s View, we head down for a late afternoon trip through Golden Canyon for continued exercises in layering but adding modified exposure to the lesson plan while documenting the vibrant colors in the warm afternoon light. We conclude the day under the towering Panamint Range to photograph the surreal salt flats and jagged weathered salt forms of the Devil’s Golfcourse.

Day 2

The day starts with a pre-dawn trek out to the sand dunes near Stovepipe Wells for sunrise on the unmarred and wind-sculpted dunes. The first of two trips to the Sand Dunes, we work in-depth on the modified exposures and landscape composition. We will travel outside the park to the ghost town of Rhyolite before heading back into the park via Titus Canyon, a large drainage that culminates into a slot canyon exit, providing several opportunities to begin application of the previous two-day’s lessons as well as learn the techniques of High Dynamic Range photography. We will then head back to Furnace Creek and beyond to capture sunset at the dry lake bed at Badwater (the lowest elevation in the U.S. at -282 below sea level).

Day 3

The morning starts by capturing sunrise at Zabriski Point, further application of the layering, composition and modified exposure techniques. We then begin our carpool trek up to Ubehebe Crater and Mosaic Canyon. The workshop concludes after Mosaic Canyon and a farewell lunch.

Day 4

Our final day begins with another sunrise trip to the sand dunes followed with a short walk to a Death Valley treasure: Mosaic Canyon. The workshop concludes after Mosaic Canyon and a farewell lunch.

What You Will Learn

As with all Michael Mariant Workshops, this workshop focuses not only on the ‘where’ to take the pictures, but also on the ‘how’ to take pictures, incorporating photographic education throughout the workshop at each location. By building on the previous location’s techniques and lessons, this allows for culmination in comprehensive lessons in:


Techniques, methods and approaches used with Pre-Visualization.


Philosophy applied to landscape photography, specific to the desert conditions in Death Valley.


Using “Basic Daylight Exposure” in exposure shifting for atmospheric conditions or artistic interpretation.


Based on the concepts by the master’s of photography.


Used for emotional intent.


Sought by professional photographers to craft the powerful, final image.


An extensive hands-on understanding of astrophotography and star trails. (Weather permitting)


An examination of the landscape photography assessment of color or B&W photography, based on the artistic representation of the scene sought by the photographer.

All workshop participants receive the “Workshop Guide”, which includes the workshop itinerary, reference material and maps of Death Valley, as well as the always-popular “Workshop Tip Card” for the camera bag!

Transportation Details

The recommended airport for arrival and departure is the Las Vegas-McCarran International Airport (LAS).

Travel time from Las Vegas-McCarran International Airport to Stovepipe Wells, Death Valley is approximately 2.5 hours.

Carpool from the airport to Stovepipe Wells is strongly recommended and will be organized the month prior to the workshop start

Alternate airports for arrival/departure:

Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)

Driving time from nearest major city:

From Los Angeles to Stovepipe Wells, Death Valley: along Highways/Interstates 405, 5, 14, 395, and 190 is approximately 4.25 hours (not including any traffic delays in Los Angeles.)

Tip: Travel to Death Valley from the west is a long drive regardless of the route. It is suggested to stay in Ridgecrest (approach from the south) or Lone Pine (approach from the north) on Wednesday evening before driving in to Death Valley Thursday morning for the workshop start.

Lodging Details

For the Death Valley workshop, all participants will be making their lodging reservations at the hotel listed below in Death Valley. Please do not make reservations at any other hotels, as travel time to/from other hotels will be excessive. Please do not make reservations prior to registering for the course OR after registering; a booking code and reservation details will be emailed to the group in the first “Workshop Planning and Preparation” email.

• Longstreet Inn & Casino is the workshop base operations. Longstreet Inn has several lodging choices, including a Hotel and RV park, along with a full-service restaurant. A group rate and block of rooms for the hotel is set aside for workshop participants. Rooms start at approximately $89/night under the HSW group booking code.

• DO NOT book lodging in advance at Stovepipe Wells, Furnace Creek Ranch, Furnace Creek Inn, Panamint Springs Resort, or in Beatty, Nevada, due to the excessive distance from the workshop morning meeting location.

Dining Details

In order to balance the various individual meal and budget preferences, time is allocated for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day at one of the various dining establishments in Death Valley or surrounding towns.

While we will eat as a group, meals are the individual responsibility of each workshop participant. Each dining establishment is chosen to provide a wide variety of meal options to satisfy multiple dietary preferences.

  • You will learn

    • Composition
    • Visual Thinking
    • Calculating Equivalent Exposure
    • The Painter's Principle
    • White Balance Shifting
    • The Four Design Elements
    • Astrophotography
    • Color vs. B&W
  • What to bring

  • Required

    • A list of required gear will be sent to you before the workshop begins.
  • What is provided

    • Excellent instruction
    • Field guidance
    • Cancellation policy: If you cancel more than 30 days before the workshop, we will refund your tuition except for a $150 fee. If you cancel less than 30 days before the workshop, we will refund 50% of the tuition. If you cancel less than 15 days before the workshop, we cannot offer a refund.
  • Venue Information

      Please check your venue by specific city area location.


Come to most famous desert in North America. Find out how good a photographer you can be in this scenario with the close personal guidance of your instructor, while making new Nikonians friends. Class size limited to only 10 participants.


Death Valley National Park: Sand Dunes and Landscape Oddities workshops are provided in the following locations:

City Area Date Instructor Price (Member) Price (Non-Member)
Death Valley, CA 14-NOV-2014 Michael A. Mariant $895 $975 Sold out

Member prices are only applicable to Nikonians Silver, Gold and Platinum Members. Non-members can register as Nikonians members here. Nikonians Basic members can upgrade the membership level here. Membership payments help sustain the growth of the Nikonians community and its services such as the Nikonians Academy.