Before The Coffee » Photography

Racetrack Playa, Death Valley Painting with Light

I wandered out on the playa lake around 10pm to shoot the stars and had to deal with strong winds. I could feel high speed vibrations in my tripod legs so rather than risk blurry shots I decided to head back to the car. I set the alarm for 2am and when I woke it was like the wind gods had flipped off the switch.

The milky-way was visible in all it’s glory and wow what a sense of peace and awe. I had a few hours before sunrise so I walked into the scene with my flashlight and tried to make some patterns. Painting with light takes some practice, there were quite a few bad shots that made no sense but eventually I got something I liked.

Night photo Racetrack Playa dry lake bed with prominent view of milky way and a flashlight pattern that appears as an orb in the distance. Death Valley

Be prepared for a rugged 20 mile drive to this location. With hard work the rewards are sweeter.


My wife, Tracy said she likes the shot without the flash light work. She felt the sky was powerful enough to stand alone and adding the light was a distraction. So here is the one she likes. I used a quick blip of the flashlight, as fast as I could turn it on and off, to add some light to the rock. Feel free leave a comment as to which you like better.

Night photo Racetrack Playa dry lake bed with prominent view of milky way. Death Valley

When light pollution is a minimum the milky way becomes a prominent band through the night sky.


  • Dave Henderson - December 6, 2012 - 12:25 pm

    Very nice! Amazing what can be captured if you’re willing to wake up at 2am πŸ˜‰

    I think I agree with your wife – it’s hard to beat the “au naturel” look.

    The first pic is definitely cool though – it looks like some UFO about to take off from another planet.

    Thank you Dave, The wife is always right, a good recipe for success!, FerrellReplyCancel

  • JB - December 7, 2012 - 8:03 pm

    I like em’ both! πŸ™‚ Hows that for being helpful? Not… Really enjoying your images Ferrell. Your work is tremendous!
    John, I enjoy your images too, thank you for stopping by. FerrellReplyCancel

  • Anna - January 6, 2013 - 6:05 pm

    I must say I’m relieved you weren’t abducted by aliens…ha.

    The light painting creates a surreal image, very cool. I love the alignment. I guess it’s not for everyone though.

    The sky is the star of this show; a cosmic amphitheater…ReplyCancel

  • Mac McDade - March 11, 2013 - 9:44 pm

    Ferrell, you know how much I enjoy and admire your work. You know that behind every good man there is a good woman and she is always right. Guess what, I agree with your wife about the image liking the image without the light painting. So your wife and I are both right. MacReplyCancel

  • Ron - May 6, 2013 - 10:16 pm

    I definitely like the second one the best. It doesn’t look as artificial.

    Me too, the second one highlights the beauty of nature and that’s why I made the trip there.
    Thanks for visiting!

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