20 Mule Team Wagon

A back lit sunset photo of the 20 Mule Team Wagon at Harmony Borax Works in Death Valley National Park.

A back lit sunset photo of the 20 Mule Team Wagon at Harmony Borax Works in Death Valley National Park.
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Winner in Industrial sunset Photo Challenge
Winner in Wild West Photo Challenge
Peer Award
Superb Composition
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Top Choice
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Absolute Masterpiece
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Outstanding Creativity
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All Star
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Magnificent Capture
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Superior Skill
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2 Comments | Report
traceymcdonald August 15, 2016
Congratulations! Great picture!
toxictabasco January 02, 2017
Thank you very much.
Fame_Bright_Photography Platinum
Fame_Bright_Photography January 16, 2021
Fantastic shot, love the thought that went into it as well - good planning and great result

Behind The Lens

This photo of the 20 Mule Team Wagon was shot in Death Valley National Park in 2015. It's part of the remains of Harmony Borax Works. This is not your avg Horse Wagon, it's really huge and stands almost 10 feet tall with large wheels. This wagon was pulled by large special breed mules to haul borax 30 miles out of Death Valley. Hence the name 20 Mule Team Wagon.
Being it was my first time in Death Valley, I recon the area during mid day around Furnace Creek area looking for a interesting location to shoot the sunset. I came across the Harmony Borax Works area where everything was spread out. Thus, I came back later at sunset to shoot in the good light. By then, everyone had left the area, and I had the place all to myself.
It was a wonderful sunset, the clouds had various colors something you just can't get in the middle of the day. Time was tight, and I had already been working the Harmony Borax Works area, capping several shots of other entities. As I headed down a hill next to this Wagon, I saw this iconic composition of the Wagon heading into the sunset. I had a few seconds to get the shot before moving on to another location in the area. Time was tight and the light was fading.
I used the Nikon D7100 and Tokina 12-28mm f/4 lens, on a 3LT Tony tripod. For this composition, I had to get real close to the wagon and use a small aperture to get it all in focus. Choosing not to use HDR, I underexposed the shot to keep the details in the sky. Knowing my cameras dynamic range ability I would be able to get enough shadow detail without a lot of noise in post processing.
At the time this composition was an afterthought. I had already been shooting on the other side of the wagon using the golden colors of the mountains as a backdrop. Then I had the idea of the wagon pointing into the sunset without the distracting mountains. To give it some perspective and create depth I used the wagon as the subject and to create leading lines into the sunset and valley.
As with all my photography I post process. For this high contrast shot, I needed to bring up the details in the shadows, and reduce the highlights of the sky. Fortunately, the camera was able to capture enough shadow detail for the processing. For the sky, I actually de-saturated the orange which was much too bold. I wanted the sky colors to blend and not distract from the wagon. Also, I did a little aspect adjustment to straighten out the wagon's vertical and horizontal lines, as well as final cropping for the ideal composition.
In my camera bag
For travel and landscape hiking I like to travel as light as possible. Hence the Nikon D7100, D3300, 2 lenses and 2 tripods. I normally carry 2 cameras. I set one up with a wide angle to shoot time lapse, And use the other to work the area and shoot panoramas. This gives me the ability to get the most out of a sunset.
The only advice I can provide is, shoot landscape in the good light. Plan it out like a vacation trip. Know where the angles of light will be. If it's your first time there RECON the area and find good compositions. Having as much knowledge about the area will give you an advantage over time, because the good light does not last long. I could have snapped this in the harsh mid day sun with bright blue sky and shadows all around. But, it would've been bland and boring with no challenge. Sunsets/Sunrise light provides a great canvas to create mood and drama as well as challenges with exposure. For me the more challenging a photo is to capture, the more rewarding it is.

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