Reading time for the article: about 4 minutes

Why and How Photographing Race Track Playa in Death Valley in California

As professional landscape photographer artist, we believe that Race Track Playa is an extraordinary place. Hidden in a small lost corner of the Valley of Death in California, United States, this dry lake contains a unique earthly treasure: the moving stones.

A sailing stone in the dry lake of Race Track Playa in Death Valley in California.
A sailing stone in the dry lake of Race Track Playa in Death Valley in California.

A Phenomenon That Took Decades to be Elucidated

For years, researchers have been trying to understand how magmatic stones from the surrounding slopes, mainly composed of feldspar-rich donut syenite, can travel for meters leaving a trail about 30 centimeters wide and 2 centimeters deep.

The mystery of the sailing stones phenomenon was clarified in August 2014. A time lapse video revealed that the stones were moving with the high winds over a thin layer of ice present on the dry lake.

Although the mystery is solved, the fact remains that Race Track Playa is a wonderful place to photograph.

A Dry Lake, Stones, Tracks, and Mountains

Creating interesting photos of the Race Track Playa sailing stones is not as easy as it sounds. During the day the lights are blindingly harsh, and there is no shade to be found. The contrast of the scene is nearly absent when the sun is high in the sky. We have learned that our best option is to arrive early in the morning or to wait until the end of the afternoon.

We made several trips to Race Track Playa before fully understanding how to capture the supernatural side of the natural scenes. Choosing a point of view is difficult because the stones are small. Fortunately, on our fourth trip, we understood how to position ourselves to properly manage the area containing the lake and the surrounding mountains.

Photographing a geological curiosity is a possible approach for this site. But we are photographers who create artistic photographs. We wanted to take a step beyond documentary photography; we desired a more symbolic approach by appealing to the imagination. These photos will contribute to our collection of art prints "Around the Mind".

These photographs are part of one of our collections of artistic photographs. We chose to present them in our "Shades of Blacks and Whites" style because the lake, stones, and mountains showcase interesting textures and details. The most demanding element involved managing the sky. Indeed, during our first trips, we have always had blue skies without any clouds.

Finally, our perseverance paid off. During one trip, we were fortunate to experience many incredible clouds. As we often say in our landscape photography workshops, clouds are the language of the sky. They allow us to accentuate the messages that we want to transmit in our photographs.

For these scenes, it is possible to use wide-angle lenses or long focal lengths, as the variety of subjects is unlimited. We also recommend using a tripod because and scene compositions can be difficult.

Photographs Are a True Reward

Photographing Race Track Playa is a true reward. It is necessary to have a 4x4 vehicle because the trip takes place across a track dotted with pebbles and stones.

Temperatures in Death Valley are often high. It is essential to bring plenty of water to prevent dehydration. In addition to the danger, no telephone signals are available. If a problem should occur during the three-hour journey from the nearest hotel, one would have to wait for the next car to pass by.

Race Track Playa is a place that can quickly become dangerous if you do not take the necessary precautions.


Photographing the sailing stones of Race Track Playa in Death Valley is a challenge because the conditions are challenging. However, it is important to understand that with the proper preparations, the trip will be worthwhile due to the result of extraordinary and unique photographs.

Click on a thumbnail to enlarge the image.

This page has been read 1355 times

If this page interested you, would you give it a note? (5 stars is the best one)?
(33 votes)

Written by
  1. Comments (0)

  2. Add yours
There are no comments posted here yet

Leave your comments

  1. Posting comment as a guest.
Attachments (0 / 3)
Share Your Location

Cookies settings


Functional Cookies

This site uses cookies to ensure its proper functioning and cannot be disabled from our systems. We do not use them for advertising purposes. If these cookies are blocked, some parts of the site will not work.

Measure of audience

This site uses cookies for measurement and audience analysis, such as Google Analytics and Google Ads, to evaluate and improve our website.

Social Networks / Videos

Plug-ins of social networks and videos, which exploit cookies, are present on this web site. They improve the user-friendliness and the promotion of the site thanks to various social interactions.

Other cookies

This Joomla CMS uses a number of cookies to manage, for example, user sessions.

I Want to Help You to Create Interesting Photos