desert photo shoot

/ Death Valley NP, CA

A Spontaneous Road Trip to Death Valley & Desert Photo Shoot

Dune & Desert Photo shoot

Okay, Death Valley is a bit of an obsession for me. It might seem strange to be so passionate about a place with such a morbid name. But this National Park is just incredible. It’s the lowest, driest, and hottest place in North America. And the stark and graphic landscapes that seem otherworldly makes it one of my favorites. 

Check out our weekend road trip from Sacramento to Death Valley and Las Vegas, including a sunset sand dune desert photo shoot with my wife, Tessa. It not only was a killer weekend trip for us, but it gave me the opportunity to test and play with my new Fuji XT2 Mirrorless camera (which is totally awesome, by the way!). Scroll down to check out some the highlights, or scroll down to read about my trip.

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Road Trippin’

This probably doesn’t come as a surprise, but I love roadtrips. It is one of my favorite ways to travel. I’ve roadtripped across Hawai’i, through Iceland, up and down the Western United States and even in parts of Southeast Asia. My first notable roadtrip as an adult was from Paris to Lisbon when my wife and I started dating.

We both loved the freedom that taking our own transportation allowed – to go off the beaten path and explore new places on our way. Plus, it gave us hours of time to talk, admire the scenery, listen to music and connect together. It is still one of our favorite activities we enjoy as a couple.

Dramatic Eastern Sierras

Living in Sacramento, with family in the Foothills, we get up to Tahoe and the western Sierras a lot. But until this weekend, I had no idea the stunning landscapes that were waiting for me on the other side of the mountains. My brother-in-law recommended checking out Highway 395 which runs down the state on the California/Nevada border.

The stark contrast of the flat desert landscape with the jagged looming mountains as a backdrop was absolutely breathtaking. I couldn’t help but stop the car every few miles to take some snaps, especially with the crazy quality that my Fuji delivered. 

Nailed it: a spontaneous desert photo shoot

There were quite a few highlights that we were trying to squeeze into our weekend including the ghost town of Bodie, several stops at natural hot springs, Mammoth Lakes and others.

Well, the harsh winter had done lots of damage to roads in the high mountains, and as it turned out – we couldn’t get to many of the places we planned. It also ended up being WAY colder than we were expecting for a desert road trip in mid-May. Our thermometer was reading consistently in the 40s, and it even started snowing on us at one point.

Sleeping in the car that first night was super cold, but at least we got to check out some Hilltop hot springs at sunset before we turned in.

The Quiet Side of California

Since so many of our original plans went out the window, we decided to go ahead and drive a little further than we expected to check out Death Valley. I’ve been wanting to do a shoot in the sand dunes there for a long time! My awesome wife (an always willing subject) was game. She even humored me by hiking a good hour in the sand and up the  surprisingly steep dunes to get some great sunset shots. It was absolutely beautiful and totally worth it.

The next morning, after sleeping in our car again (this time with the windows rolled down because it was in the 90s – talk about and extreme weather change!) we got up before dawn to appreciate the sunrise over Zabriskie Point. Unbelievable! I could not get over the colors and textures of this amazing place. And of course, I grabbed some more shots with the beautiful background.

We somehow(!) ended up in nearby Las Vegas to enjoy some pool time and cocktails before heading home. All in all a pretty spontaneous, free and beautiful weekend in the desert. I hope you enjoy!

If you’re curious about any of the places we visited, or want to plan your own desert photo shoot, please hit me up and let’s make it happen!

Sebastien Bicard is a wedding and portrait photographer based in California. He specializes in international travel and intimate weddings worldwide.