Death Valley

Posted by on Apr 30, 2015 in Projects | 86 Comments
Death Valley

I still remember the day when my friend Elan Cohen from Richard Photo Lab asked me if I would like to attend WPPI this year and do an interview at their booth. I felt incredibly humbled and excited, and I instantly jumped on the opportunity. I couldn’t wait to meet their team in person and so many other photographers that I had been networking with online.

What I didn’t really think about was the logistics. WPPI takes place at the beginning of March in Las Vegas, which is about 12 hours on the plane from Ireland, where my wife and I currently live. We also had to be back in the United States at the end of March. So we did what every photographer in their right mind would do – we made a road trip out of it.

We really enjoyed the convention in Las Vegas and made a lot of new friends. After the trade show we used our hotel as a home base and day tripped to Red Rock Canyon, Zion National Park and Death Valley. Then we saw Sierra Nevada and drove up to Mammoth Lakes and Yosemite. We stayed there for two days before we went on to San Francisco, followed by Los Angeles for a couple of days. We ended our trip in New Orleans where we spent time with Rebecca’s wonderful family.

We covered about 15.000 miles in 6 weeks of travel on this trip and I cannot express how incredible this experience was. We saw so much, and I am so thankful for what I’ve seen. The United States is really such a beautiful place, and a country of very strong contrasts. And while I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the past six months spending more time being away than being home, I am really looking forward to a quiet summer this year.

I would like to start with sharing my pictures from Death Valley as this was one of my favorite parts of the whole trip. It’s very hard to put the dimension and the feel of this place in words. If you live in the United States and are somewhat close by, I can only encourage you to go visit one day. The desert is nothing short of breathtaking. I couldn’t help but feeling like I was in a road movie from the ’70s the whole time.

A selection of prints from this series is available for purchase at Aspen Gallery. All color images below were taken with the Hasselblad 503CW and the Carl Zeiss Planar T* 2.8/80 on Kodak Portra 400, all B&W images were shot with the Leica M-A and the Leica Summicron-M 50mm f/2 on Kodak Tri-X 400. All images scanned and processed by Richard Photo Lab in California:





























  1. Ivo
    30. April 2015

    Stunning work, Johnny. I totally agree with your feelings for Death Valley. It’s a very special place, no doubt. And as always, your visual storytelling is gorgeous and sweet to enjoy. Love it!

    All the best,


  2. Johnny
    30. April 2015

    Thank you so much, Ivo.

    I’m really happy to hear that you enjoyed the post and that the pictures resonate with you and reflect your own feelings and impressions. I can’t wait to go back and be there again!

  3. Rebecca Lily
    30. April 2015

    I’m so happy to see a new post from you, Johnny. These are really beautiful and very cinematic pictures and take me instantly back to being on this road trip through the desert with you.

    I remember all the washed out colors, the wide open space where you could see for miles, the bright light during the day that became very soft in the evening with long long shadows. And I remember stories with a lot of these pictures. Like you stepping over an electric fence right past a PRIVATE PROPERTY: NO TRESPASSING sign to get one of these shots, or chasing that skinny cow through the desert for his (her?) picture. I remember how proud the car mechanics were of getting their portrait taken by a European travel photographer. And you driving the Challenger 55 mph on an empty road in the middle of nowhere and wondering what’s the point of a fast car in this country…

    It was a great trip and we did see a lot, but I know you missed home. I’m happy that we’re back so that you have time to post all of these beautiful pictures from our travels.

    P.S. Next time we need to try that Really Good Fresh Jerky.

  4. Johnny
    30. April 2015

    Rebecca, thank you very much. For the wonderful trip, our memories and your kind words.

    I really struggled putting my feelings about Death Valley into words. It’s overwhelming when you see it for the first time. The sheer size of it, the smell and how quiet it is there. I loved the light and how the colors of the landscape change over the day. Everything seemed so cinematic, I couldn’t stop the little movie scenes that played in my head.

    I don’t remember passing a “no trespassing” sign, though. I must have been too excited about taking pictures in this beautiful place. ;)

  5. Jason de Plater
    30. April 2015

    The appeal of Nevada for me is the timelessness and epic size of the place. I feel that your photos have really captured its true spirit without losing your personal touch. For a place that has been photographed by many others, you have left us with something honest and unique to your experience. Your talent with photos and words truly make you a great storyteller, Johnny!

  6. Johnny
    30. April 2015

    Thank you, Jason! That really means a lot to me. :)

    I know it’s very difficult to take pictures of a place that has been photographed so many times before. Death Valley is so iconic and I could clearly sense a strong influence of preconceived ideas from movies I watched growing up. For me that was the very part that intrigued me most: being there in person and seeing that everything is exactly how I always pictured it in my mind.

    Thank you again for your kind feedback!

  7. Robert-Paul Jansen
    30. April 2015

    Really great post Johnny. It’s so inspiring to see that even a great photographer like you grows with every blog post. That, to me, is the great thing about photography, it’s a never ending road filled with adventure.

    I especially see a great eye in these photos which are beautiful. I keep saying it to you, these are one of your best!

  8. Johnny
    30. April 2015

    Robert-Paul, that’s really so incredibly kind of you. Thank you very much!

    I completely agree with you, photography is a lifelong journey. There is so much to learn and so much to discover. Every time you think you’ve learned something, you realize that you only comprehend a fraction of what there is to comprehend yet – and that even a whole lifetime isn’t nearly enough to master this craft.

    For me that’s a very humbling experience and one of the aspects I love most about it.

  9. Neill
    30. April 2015

    Hey Johnny,

    Great post as always, enough to make me want to shoot more film and travel.
    The journey sounded like a dream.


  10. Johnny
    30. April 2015

    Thanks so much, Neill.

    We really enjoyed the trip a lot! I’m so happy to hear that you feel inspired to travel and shoot more film. You live in a country that I would definitely like to explore too one day! :)

  11. Marco
    30. April 2015

    It’s not like I didn’t already want to go there all my life. Your beautiful photos made this desire even stronger now! :)

  12. Johnny
    30. April 2015

    Marco, thank you very much. I would be so curious to see your pictures from Death Valley! :)

  13. Shawn Hoke
    30. April 2015

    Absolutely stunning photos, Johnny. So in love with the Motel and Tires shots. Must have been a fantastic trip! I’m doing Palm Springs in the fall and plan to get out into the desert a bit. Your shots have inspired me!

  14. Johnny
    30. April 2015

    Thank you so much for your kind feedback, Shawn.

    This was definitely one of my favorite trips, we always wanted to do a road trip in the United States. I’m sure you’ll enjoy Palm Springs a lot. Can’t wait to see what you bring back!

  15. Atle Rønningen
    30. April 2015

    These are my favorite of yours Johnny. Outstanding photography! Would love to go here some day.

  16. Johnny
    30. April 2015

    Thank you kindly, my friend. That’s so wonderful to hear!

    I would love to see your pictures from the US, I love photographing there so much. :)

  17. Olivier Vanbiervliet
    30. April 2015

    Love the emptiness and washed out colors. Fantastic set, bring on more please!

  18. Johnny
    30. April 2015

    Olivier, thanks very much. Glad to hear you enjoyed these! I can’t wait to share more pictures from this trip.

  19. Kenzo
    30. April 2015

    Very beautiful pictures, Johnny!

    It seems to be a timeless place, where the life goes slowly.
    The dry weather, and the cold tone of the pictures make it so special.

    Congrats again!

  20. Johnny
    30. April 2015

    Thanks so much, Kenzo.

    The color palette in Death Valley was very special. Depending on the light the mood changed drastically and something that seemed bleached out before got very vibrant just hours later, depending on the light. Incredible!

  21. Urban Hafner
    30. April 2015

    Beautiful shots, Johnny! And what an incredible journey that must have been!

  22. Johnny
    30. April 2015

    Urban, thank you very much! It really was and we loved every minute of it! :)

  23. David Mantripp
    30. April 2015

    This is a fabulous, dreamy set. I’m particularly taken by the first “Hotel ->” shot with the “20 ->” in the corner. A very astute composition. But they’re all great.

    The colour is perfect, dare I suggest you tweaked the saturation up just a tiny notch from your usual look? Or is it just the light? And when’s the book coming out??

  24. Johnny
    30. April 2015

    David, I appreciate your kind feedback. Thank you!

    I’m really happy to hear you enjoyed the post, I loved being there. Great that you like how the colors came out! The saturation is not tweaked or altered at all. I overexposed the images quite a bit and that changes the look noticeably.

    I hope I will be able to publish my book some time next year. Thanks very much for asking! :)

  25. Alex
    30. April 2015

    Great pictures! How did you meter for the backlit B&W portrait?

  26. Johnny
    30. April 2015

    Thank you, Alex! Glad to hear that you like it.

    I rated the film at half box speed and metered for the shadows. Have a look here if you like.

  27. Cindy Loughridge
    30. April 2015

    Absolutely beautiful shots, Johnny! The color and B&W tones are spot on. Thank you for carving out a little time from your trip to meet up with us. We are planning on a UK visit next August. Ireland here we come! :)

  28. Johnny
    30. April 2015

    Cindy, thank you so much! :)

    I’m very happy to hear that you enjoyed the pictures. I’m always so curious to hear what someone from the United States thinks about what I shot there, especially if they are also photographers.

    It was our pleasure to meet you, Seth and Olive (I hope her crocodile is well!). Thank you again for making time. Rebecca and I really love that you became friends in real life and we cannot wait to welcome you in our corner of the world. Please let us know when you’re around! We would love to meet up with you guys again.

  29. JB White
    30. April 2015

    Death Valley has been on my bucket list for a long time. I love the simplicity that the West offers.

    Did you happen to stay at the Amargosa?

    Amazing shots as always!

  30. Johnny
    30. April 2015

    Thanks so much, JB.

    We sadly didn’t stay at Amargosa, we just happened to drive past it but we didn’t plan anything ahead of time. I would love to go back and experience it, though. Such a beautiful place.

  31. Giovanni
    30. April 2015

    Thanks as always for these tasty sweets!



  32. Johnny
    30. April 2015

    Giovanni, thank you for your kind words and your feedback. Glad to hear you enjoyed the pictures! :)

  33. Joey Pasco
    30. April 2015

    Wow, Johnny. I can’t say I’m surprised, this work is beautiful. Every time I look at one of your blog posts I’m filled with the urge to visit the places in your photos!

    Looking forward to seeing what you’ve got coming up from your road trip (especially your take on New Orleans, one of my favorite places).

    Great work, Johnny!


  34. Johnny
    30. April 2015

    Thank you kindly, Joey! I think that one of the nicest things you could possibly say to a photographer is that looking at their pictures of a place makes you want to go there and experience it. Makes me so happy to hear that!

    I loved spending time in New Orleans. I think it’s in very many ways similar to Paris, but with a southern twist. And just like Paris, one visit is barely enough to touch the surface.

  35. Ryan
    1. May 2015

    Love it when I see a new post from Johnny P. pop up on my Google Now. Gives me something special to look forward to after a long day at work.

    You never fail to impress. Keep it up, Johnny! You have something special in the making.


  36. Johnny
    1. May 2015

    Thank you very much, Ryan. That’s wonderful to hear! I’m so glad you like the pictures!

  37. Hamish
    1. May 2015

    Lovely stuff!

    I have a friend who has just travelled across the States in a move from the east to west. His family and possessions all packed into a big car. He’s not a photographer, and whilst I would never go as far to say it’s a shame he isn’t – he would have got his own pleasures out of the sights without the need to capture them – I do wonder what he saw.

  38. Johnny
    1. May 2015

    Thanks very much for your feedback, Hamish.

    Maybe you could convince your friend one day that it’s worth documenting your life. With a camera or an iPhone. :)

  39. Chris
    1. May 2015

    Stunning images!
    I have to go there.


  40. Johnny
    1. May 2015

    Thank you, Chris! Much appreciated. And you do!

  41. Dan Hawk
    1. May 2015


    These photos do what great photos should. I get a sense of what it felt like to be there. Well done!

  42. Johnny
    1. May 2015

    Dan, thanks very much! That’s really great to hear. :)

  43. Antoine
    1. May 2015

    Johnny, this set is a strong emotional experience.

    In addition to being technically excellent, the photos really carry something that makes you stop, think, and enjoy. I would add that Rebecca’s comment is a very relevant “add-on” to your post, really empowering its point.

    Congrats, good job!

  44. Johnny
    2. May 2015

    Thank you very much for your kind words, Antoine.

    I’m very happy that you enjoyed the pictures! I agree, Rebecca’s words added a lot to the post. I had a very hard time verbalizing my feelings about Death Valley, even weeks after the trip.

  45. Stefan Nilsson
    4. May 2015

    Beautiful photos. Really love the colours.

  46. Johnny
    4. May 2015

    Thanks very much, Stefan!

  47. Rick van der Klooster
    5. May 2015

    Outstanding photographs! I really love the black and white photo with the Desert Inn building. Great atmosphere.

  48. Johnny
    5. May 2015

    Rick, thank you very much. I’m happy that you enjoyed the pictures.

    The mood in Death Valley was amazing. I really enjoyed shooting color and B&W both for their different feels.

  49. Mary Smyth
    8. May 2015

    Some of your best work Johnny. Loved each & every one of them.

  50. Johnny
    9. May 2015

    Thanks so much, Mary! That’s so wonderful to hear! :)

  51. Constantin
    18. May 2015

    Everyone writes about the obvious: the stunning images!! That’s what they really are… stunning!

    But I would also like to say this as a car enthusiast: great Dodge! ;-)

  52. Johnny
    19. May 2015

    Hahaha, thank you Constantin! Glad to hear that you enjoyed the post.

    I really loved driving the Challenger. We had booked an economy size car and got it as an upgrade in Las Vegas. Looking back, I can’t even imagine this trip without it! ;)

  53. Constantin
    19. May 2015

    Oh, I thought a Challenger is an economy size car in the US! ;-)
    Yes I believe it… with a muscle car it becomes a real relaxed American-style roadtrip. :-)

    Fits perfect with the look of the pictures… fantastic!

  54. Johnny
    20. May 2015

    Yes that’s true, I really enjoyed it too. Thanks again, Constantin! :)

  55. Victor
    20. May 2015

    Wondering if the EXIF data is available for these images? As a student of photography, I find myself looking to learn from the technical details behind wonderful shots like yours – a teaching moment for me. Perhaps will be great to include them in future posts? Thanks for sharing your work here. Inspiring.

  56. Johnny
    21. May 2015

    Thanks for your kind feedback, Victor.

    These pictures were all shot on film, so there is no EXIF data available. But they were all shot wide open, probably around 1/125 – 1/500 at f2.8 for color on medium format and 1/30 – 1/125 at f2.0 for B&W on 35mm.

  57. Abby
    1. June 2015

    I NEVER comment on blogs really but your work has taken my breath away! I have recently gone back to film and was exploring articles on metering and stumbled on your work. Inspiring! How do you get such amazing depth of field in your landscapes at 2.8! Stunning! -Abby

  58. Johnny
    2. June 2015

    Abby, thank you very much!

    I really appreciate your kind words and I’m glad to hear that you enjoyed my work. I really love how the depth of field transitions with medium format too. I hope you found the blog post about metering helpful!

  59. Andrew
    7. June 2015

    Hi Johnny, these shots are wonderful. I love the atmosphere and feel of them with wonderful compositions and light. Very refreshing work.

  60. Johnny
    8. June 2015

    Thanks so much for stopping by, Andrew! :)

    It made me so happy when I saw a comment from you this morning. It’s been a while. I thought about you so many times since we talked last and wondered how you’ve been. I saw that you’re shooting a Bronica and a Hasselblad now, fits you really well. Please be in touch when you find the time. All the best for you and your family!

  61. James
    8. June 2015

    Hi Johnny,

    These are beautiful, although I must admit that I prefer the colour, as somehow the slightly muted tones and square format suit the subject matter well to my eye! I know what you mean about this place- I did a very similar road trip to many of the places on your itinerary in my late teens (1993) and have never been anywhere which begged to be photographed more.

    Sorry for a boring question, but are you able to hand-hold the Hasselblad for these types of shot, or are you always using a tripod?

    Cheers for the lovely work, a pleasure to look at.

    Best wishes,


  62. Johnny
    8. June 2015

    Thank you very much, James. It’s great to hear that you enjoyed the pictures!

    I agree, Death Valley is definitely one of the most incredible places I’ve visited and photographed in my life. I cannot wait to go back to the US and see more of the Southwest.

    No worries about your question. I don’t own a tripod, I shoot everything handheld.

  63. Marc
    26. June 2015

    Congrats Johnny!

    Stunning pics as usual. If you are heading to SoCal, shoot me an email so we can grab a coffee and a few beers. ;-)

    Take care,


  64. Johnny
    26. June 2015

    Marc, that sounds great! :)

    Glad you enjoyed the pictures! Thanks very much for your feedback.

  65. Robert Quiet
    26. July 2015

    Wow! I love the cow shot! And the trailer shot. And the post boxes shot. And the shot of the two gentlemen. Ok, easier – I like all of them!

    The tones, the framing, great work. This is a road trip I would like to make sooner or later, better sooner… time flies.

    Thanks for this post Johnny.


  66. Johnny
    26. July 2015

    Thanks so much, I’m glad to hear that Robert. :)

    I hope you’ll be able to see this all in person. I couldn’t think of a better place for an American road trip than Death Valley. Thanks again for your visit!

  67. John Carter
    30. July 2015

    Thanks for the above set of images.

    I’ve been reading your blog and have been re-enforced by your metering comments and some of the other techniques you use.

  68. Johnny
    31. July 2015

    John, thank you kindly! That’s really so wonderful to hear. I’m happy you enjoyed the images too.

  69. Crystal
    4. August 2015

    These are really, really fantastic!

  70. Johnny
    5. August 2015

    Thanks so much, Crystal! :)

  71. Ryan Parker
    7. August 2015

    Hi Johnny.

    Your work on this one is incredible. Well done! You have inspired me to shoot film against the odds, and every time I see a new post I get even more fired up. Thanks for your frank and open tutorials too – you’re a scholar and a gentleman.

  72. Johnny
    8. August 2015

    Thank you for your kind feedback, Ryan. That’s so great to hear!

  73. Ben
    25. September 2015

    Johnny, every time I open one of your blog posts, I’m immediately drawn to the fridge to remove a fresh roll of film to stick inside of a camera.

    Thank you.

  74. Johnny
    27. September 2015

    I couldn’t wish for a nicer compliment, Ben. Thank you very much! :)

  75. Bennie
    29. April 2016

    Hello Johnny, picture 15, looks like this building also appears in a movie. Tarantino, with David Carradine, Kill Bill? Is that right? Greetings!

  76. Johnny
    30. April 2016

    Thanks for your question, Bennie.

    I had to look that up, I think what you mean is the Sanctuary Adventist Church. I photographed the Amargosa Opera House.

  77. Louis Sousa
    9. May 2016

    Wonderful images. You have been a great inspiration to me.


  78. Johnny
    9. May 2016

    Thank you so much, Lou! That’s so wonderful to hear.

  79. Alexandre
    16. June 2016

    Pure awesomeness!

    I’m absolutely in love with your Portra results. Beautiful contrasts, beautiful colors, but not those colors I always think about. Portra colors.

    Is that the straight scan from the film? This could one of the best ads for Kodak ever, congrats!

  80. Johnny
    17. June 2016

    Alexandre, thanks so much for your feedback and your kind words. I’m happy to hear that you enjoyed this post.

    Yes, all of my pictures are straight scans. :)

  81. Pim
    9. September 2016

    Hi Johnny,

    I adore your work and everything that you posted. It’s very educational as well easy to understand.

    I love your point of view conveying through your images. I recently started to shoot film and I wonder if you could share some tips of how you achieve the delicate look and muted colors so consistently throughout the collection.

    Are you on Instagram?

    Thank you so much,


  82. Johnny
    9. September 2016

    Thank you so much for your feedback, Pim. I appreciate your kind words.

    You can find everything you are looking for in the tutorial section of my website.

    I am not on Instagram, but I have a Twitter.

  83. Jules
    4. January 2017

    Lovely pictures, Johnny. I’m curious, do you use a tripod with the Hassie, or are they all handheld?

    I’m guessing there’s enough light in California you can stop down a lot and still get good shutter speeds, but I’m struggling under London’s grey skies…

  84. Johnny
    5. January 2017

    Jules, thanks for your question.

    I don’t own a tripod, I shoot everything handheld. I always shoot wide open and 1/60 of a second is usually not a problem with the Hasselblad. I lived in Ireland and I’ve shot in the UK many times – I know the light there can be difficult.

  85. Dick Lind
    14. August 2017

    I don’t know what to say more than that your photographs are totally amazing, so beautiful – they touch something inside of me.

    Thanks for posting them!

  86. Johnny
    15. August 2017

    Many thanks, Dick. I appreciate your kind words! :)

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