Best Photograph of 2012 – California Desert

February 2nd, 2013
by doinlight

We are choosing the best Ralph Nordstrom Photography photograph of 2012, or, more precisely, you are.  We’re running a series of surveys, selecting the best photograph from each of five areas where we did workshops – Death Valley and Joshua Tree (collectively the California Deserts), Eastern Sierra, Big Sur, Zion and Bryce Canyon.

The first survey covered the California Deserts.  And the results are in.  But before presenting them I’d like to give you an opportunity to weigh in on the second survey – the incomparable Eastern Sierra.  We were there in early June which is summer in the Owens Valley but still spring up in the mountains.  There are six photographs to choose from and the survey will only take a couple of minutes.  So click the link below and share your opinion.

Select the Best Eastern Sierra Photograph of 2012

OK, now let’s turn to the results of the California Deserts survey.  There were four photographs, two from Death Valley and two from Joshua Tree.

The first of the entries from Death Valley is a beautiful sunrise shot from the Badwater area.  Actually, this is not in Badwater itself but along the West Side road.


The white in the foreground is salt which is so much a part of the story in Death Valley.  In the playas the salt pans are anywhere from a couple of inches to as much as six feet thick.  I saw this location the pervious afternoon as I was driving in and thought it would be worth a try for sunrise.  And I happened to catch an incredible one.  The texture in the clouds above mirror the patterns in the salt below.  And this image really captures the endlessness of Death Valley.

The other Death Valley photograph is from my absolute favorite shooting location – Zabriskie Point.  I remember how intimidated I was by the harshness and chaos of this area the first time I shot there.  But upon returning again and again I have grown to truly appreciate the abstract qualities and endless interpretations this magical place has to offer.


My favorite light for Zabriskie Point is twilight, be it before sunrise or after sunset.  This is a sunrise twilight photograph.  I chose a palette of muted colors which lent themselves to soft, quite feel I was after.  The mood I wanted to create in this image was one of peace and calm without being static or lifeless.  This is one of my personal Zabriskie Point favorites.

Turning now to the two images from Joshua Tree, the first is of a little known outcropping of massive quartz blocks way off the road near Twin Tanks.  It was raining that day, a unique and exhilarating experience for the desert.  Four of us put on our protective rain gear and enjoyed several exciting hours of exploring this little piece of Joshua Tree in seldom seen conditions.


In this photograph I tried to catch the feeling of being in the desert during a rain storm.  You can see how incredibly large these quartz outcroppings are.  And hopefully you get the feeling of being cold and wet and completely into the total experience.  It was one of the best days I ever spent in Joshua Tree.

Most people who visit Joshua Tree stay in the high desert where the Joshua Trees actually grow and the many rock protrusions offer some of the best climbing in the world.  But Joshua Tree also extends into the low desert, the most prominent feature being the vast Pinto Basin.  I’ve always felt this would be a great sunrise location and sure enough, it proved to be just that.


This location is not at one of the many fine turnouts but rather along the road just north of the Cottonwood camp area.  And it was one of those situations that you catch a glimpse of something interesting out of the corner of your eye as you drive by.  We hit the brakes and made a U-turn in the road to head back to where all of the elements came together.  A little scouting around found the one bush blooming with yellow flowers.  The hazy receding layers give a feeling of the size of the Pinto Basin, culminating in the appropriately named Cockscomb Mountains.  This location is certainly worth returning to.

So how did the voting come out?  Which one was selected as the best California Desert photograph of 2012?  Have you picked your your favorite?

The voting results, starting with the one that received the most 1st place votes are

  1. Sunrise, Death Valley
  2. Dawn, Pinto Basin
  3. Zabriskie Point 14
  4. Quartz Rock

You missed the California Desert voting but you can still participate.  Vote for your favorite 2012 Eastern Sierra photograph.  Here’s that link again.

Select the Best Eastern Sierra Photograph of 2012

Please feel free to join the conversation and leave a comment.  We always appreciate hearing from you.

And if you liked this post please share it on Facebook, Twitter, email it to your friends or whatever.  We’ve provided a link at the top.

We do photography workshops.  Come on out and join us.  Click here to check us out.

You can also check out our photography.  Click here.


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Posted in Journal | Comments (1)

  • Nasrin says:

    Hi Ralph! I love your all photos . ritm and harmony in your landscape are very beautiful!Death Valley photos are better and the first is your sunrise . thank you!

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