Many years ago, my first thoughts of ever travelling to another country for photography were all related to America, specifically California and the mighty Yosemite National Park. This was, of course, the stomping ground of Ansel Adams, the first landscape photographer I was inspired by. As the years passed, I formed the opinion that it was pointless to travel to places such as this, as I could hardly add anything to it and would come away with embarrassingly inferior images to the ones I have marvelled at for years.

Although I eventually travelled to every continent, sometimes just for travel, sometimes specifically for photography, and always with my camera, I still regarded my home turf as the primary purpose for developing my photography.

Recently, though, particularly during the COVID period, a growing desire to see new landscapes and create different work began to grow, and I’ve been very fortunate to act on it. Returning to Iceland after a twenty-year gap last year was immensely rewarding and enjoyable; I then booked a trip to Bolivia for next May and have now just returned from a trip to the US which exceeded all my expectations, even if my plans were disrupted by severe weather.

I began planning this trip six months in advance and had a few specific locations and types of images that I wanted to lock in very early. The rest was up for suggestion, and I did get an incredibly generous amount of help, tips and advice from some great photographers, who I’ll acknowledge at the end of this.

A week before leaving, the weather forecast was ominous; severe winter storms were due to hit all of the locations I had planned to visit in Utah and Arizona, and it didn’t improve, getting worse soon after I arrived with an unprecedented atmospheric river of rain and snow hitting California and Nevada, thus hitting my ‘Plan B’ also.

I waited it out in Las Vegas for a few days; not an experience I’d recommend to anyone other than hedonists and deluded gamblers at least I had the mind bending distraction of seeing U2 in The Sphere, a simply incredible experience. So the day after, and with most of Utah still under snow, I headed north to California and Death Valley, without any research. I knew very little about this place and didn’t have any images in mind to make, so I was driving into the unknown.

Death Valley, Mud, Dunes and Mountain


Fortunately, sometimes it works out fine going into a place completely unaware of what awaits you. After a check-in to my campsite at Furnace Creek, I headed out to explore and found myself at Mesquite Sand Dunes. The late afternoon light was quite dramatic, but many people were out on the dunes, and footprints were everywhere. On the plus side, the recent rains had made walking around the dunes much easier as large areas were still moist and compacted.

During my stay’s research I learned that this place is of course is a very well-documented, filmed, vlogged and photographed location. Still, I had yet to gain prior knowledge of it, not realising that some great work I had admired over the years from various photographers was done here.

So this was all new to me and exciting. I could see possibilities for images everywhere. I relished the opportunity to work with the basics of form, shape, texture and light, something I rarely get to experience in the Irish landscape.


Death Valley Dunes

I spent the rest of the afternoon until it grew dark out on the dunes, which was hugely enjoyable. I managed to avoid crossing paths with other photographers and tourists, probably put off by the impending rainstorm tumbling down over the mountains, and headed our way.

These conditions provided some dramatic light late on, and the shoot ended when the drops began to fall. I walked back to the van, wondering if this was an even more ominous sign of things to come with rain in one of the driest places on earth.

Death Valley, Mud Cracks


Death Valley, Impending Storm


Death Valley, Mud Line


After a good night’s sleep in the busy but ultra-quiet campsite, the alarm went off at 5 am, and I set off on the drive to Badwater Basin. Ordinarily I would be excited about the prospect of photographing its hexagonal salt formations. However, they were now under 10 inches of water, and the normally dry salt bed was turned into a lake. This has been a massive draw for photographers and Instagrammers, marvelling at the sight. But to be honest.. to me, it just looked like any other lake, and the expected sunrise drama failed to materialise, so I made the most of it and then moved on as the light finally began to break through.

Badwater Basin Panoramic


Badwater Basin Sunrise

Badwater Basin Flooded


Not far from the roadside, I stopped and made several images of the hills and mountainside with the light falling nicely on the varying colours of rock and mud that make up these dramatic-looking slopes. Using my 135 mm TS lens that I hoped would be worth bringing and, even more so, the 100 – 500mm that I hired for the trip. The 135mm performed great, as did my other TS lenses paired with the Hasselbad X2D. But I was less impressed with the quality of the 100-500mm on my Canon R5. It made for interesting compositions but all just a little too fuzzy to be of any genuine interest to me.


Death Valley , Artist’s Drive Hills

Death Valley Natural Bridge Hills


Death Valley, Mud Hills



That afternoon, I drove towards Beatty on a seemingly endless road with the dunes to my left and the mountains to my right.
It was time for a proper hike, and I picked a spot with a large wash leading into a vast canyon to explore. The closer I got to these rock formations, the more I began to suspect they weren’t rock at all but vast mountains of mud, and as I began to climb up a ridge, I confirmed that was the case. Endless hills and small mountains made of mud in varying colours and layers made me aware of the footprints I was leaving in my path. Hopefully, the wind and rain will take care of them, but it was a fascinating place to explore, again without much else to work with except line, form, texture, and shapes. It was pretty arid and seemingly featureless, but I loved it, and soon, a couple of hours had passed before I headed back to the van to return once more to the dunes.


Death Valley, Broken Branch

The next morning, I returned to Mesquite Dunes, this time before sunrise, to be out and in position for that wonderful pre-dawn diffused light and then for the dramatic event itself, which didn’t disappoint.

Mesquite Dunes untitled


Immediately I was aware of the strong breeze which I had heard growing with occasional gusts throughout the night.  This was initially something I was delighted about as I could see not only was the wind smoothing out all the previous days footprints, it was also forming fantastic textured patterns in the sand itself.

Mesquite Dunes untitled


Mesquite Dunes untitled




By the time the sunlight flooded across the sea of dunes, the wind had picked up to become quite severe in gusts. My eyes were blasted, and all my gear was getting blasted with sand. It was proving challenging to make any images, but the light was so incredible that there was no consideration given to packing it in.  I did worry about getting sand in my gear especially as I am of those photographers that changes lenses regularly,  so there was lots of running up and down these dunes in and out of shelter all morning.


Mesquite Dunes untitled


Mesquite Dunes untitled

Despite the crazy conditions, which are impossible to convey in still images, I stuck it out whilst I saw other photographers retreat to their vans and trucks, I took refuge at times in sheltered hollows, popping up, and working as quickly as I could to make an image on an exposed ridge.
Eventually after four hours and two batteries completely drained I retreated back to the comfort of my van. By now, outside it had progressed into a full-blown sandstorm, and as I drove out along the valley, the scene behind me seemed apocalyptic.


Mesquite Dunes untitled

The wind was forecast to stay for a couple of days, and I had no desire to do battle with it and the sand again, so after breakfast and shower, I checked the weather and satellites and made the decision to make the long driver south and east.. and leave California for snowy Utah.   Along the drive all I could see were snow capped mountains and the thermometer gradually kept dropping until I reach my destination having gone from what is considered the hottest place on earth to a bracing – 11º C.


As I mentioned above I had some incredible help, tips and advice from a lot of other photographer who generously helped me out.  Please check out their work on Instagram

Sean Bagshaw : https://www.instagram.com/seanbagshaw/

Ben Horne : https://www.instagram.com/benhorne/

Matt Payne : https://www.instagram.com/mattpaynephoto/

Caroline Quinn : https://www.instagram.com/carolinequinn_landscapephotog/

Andy Mumford : https://www.instagram.com/andymumfordphotography/

A very special thank you to Todd Dominey who went above and beyond all expectations providing the most in-depth advice and help and checking in while I was travelling.  His work is beautiful and his YouTube channel is well worth checking out ,  thanks Todd !




If you got this far then THANK YOU !.. please leave a comment or questions below,  tech , location, van , anything .. I’d love to hear your thoughts so far !!

A selection of my work from this trip along with previous overseas trips will soon be available in my new collection TERRA

Click on the gallery below to see images in larger format


I'd love to hear your thoughts or questions ?

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