The Eastern Sierras

Return from SabrinaA week in the Eastern Sierras has given me a greater resolve to preserve and promote the natural beauty our world has to offer. This magnificent moment was captured returning from Lake Sabrina in The Inyo National Park. Magnificent!

Rich Smukler currently resides in Boca Raton, Florida. His works have been featured in numerous museums, galleries and private collections internationally. You can see more of his works at (Kick back and stay awhile).

If you’ll be in Alexandria, Louisiana, see Rich Smukler’s works at The Alexandria Museum of Art

Alexandria Museum of Art’s 27th Annual September Competition Exhibition

Date: September 5 – November 22, 2014
Location: The Alexandria Museum of Art, 933 Second Street, Alexandria, LA 71301Tea Time

Rich Smukler, from Boca Raton, Florida,  will exhibit his stunning black and white piece. “Tea Time”  which was captured in Rhyolite, Nevada, about 120 miles (190 km) northwest of Las Vegas near the eastern edge of Death Valley. The town started in 1905 is response to the discovery of gold in the nearby hills. It is reported that the population rose to near 5,000. Unfortunately, by 1911 the mine closed and the town soon died out. Smukler’s works have been featured in numerous museums, galleries and private collections internationally. This piece was recently exhibited at The von Liebig Art Center in Naples, Florida.

Any questions concerning the exhibition can be directed to Megan Valentine, museum curator and registrar. phone: 318-443-3458 or email at megan@the


Against the Traffic: Preparing for Death Valley

Getting ready for your trip into Death Valley is no simple matter. It requires careful thought and preparation.  Our first stop will be to Eureka Dunes, but we need to be on top of our game. There are plenty of good reasons. Death Valley is no simple jaunt to your neighbor’s garden party!


Death Valley is located in Eastern California and situated within the Mojave Desert. It is the lowest and driest area in North America. It holds the record for the highest reliably recorded air temperature on earth (134 °F (56.7 °C) at Furnace Creek on July 10, 1913). The previously-claimed world record air temperature, 136 °F (57.8 °C) was in Libya. Badwater Basin, which will be another of our stops, is the point of the lowest elevation in North America at 282 feet (86 m) below sea level. This point is only 84.6 miles (136.2 km) east-southeast of Mt. Whitney  (which was briefly mentioned in my previous post) and is the highest point in the contiguous United States with an elevation of 14,505 feet (4,421 m).


You may want to rent a high clearance vehicle. Be sure your rental car has a good spare tire. I know that when I first landed at the airport in Las Vegas and went to select my vehicle, I was so anxious to get on the road that I didn’t give as much thought to the process as I should have. Fortunately, my Jeep withstood the punishment meted out. The last 10 miles into Eureka Dunes are very rough; there is essentially no cell-phone service; no service stations for many many miles; you may drive for long stretches and never see another vehicle; you are pretty much on your own so give yourself the best chance to avoid chaos.

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Camera Equipment you will need includes but is not limited to: a backup camera body (always a good idea, but a must if you intend to use a second lens),  your camera manual, spare batteries, extra flash cards, a tripod and a polarizing filter. You may want a headlamp (exceptionally handy for your early morning shoots). I was introduced to a rubber eyepiece cup (only around $10) which clips over your LED and makes viewing under glare conditions so much more manageable. It has become an indispensible part of my travel pack.


Field Equipment suggested includes sunglasses, sunscreen, water bottles (2 quarts minimum; you should drink about 1 gallon/day to avoid dehydration), any food or meds that you might need that day (I always pack several energy bars and fruit for snacks), and extra layers of clothing.  You will need a lightweight pack to hold your field gear. 


Clothing.  Typical temperatures will range from possibly below freezing (it can be as much as 25 degrees colder than the valley at 5500 feet in the early morning wind at Dante’s View, (another of our locations), to an average daily maximum of 72-80 F and an average daily minimum of 46-53 F in Death Valley in late February.  Dressing in layers will allow you to adjust to a wide range of conditions.  I suggest a fleece jacket (or two), a fleece vest, gloves (see prior post), a warm hat, a sun hat, lightweight, loose fitting long pants and long-sleeved shirt, light hiking boots and hiking socks, and a parka or windbreaker that can fit over all your layers. Long underwear for early morning and high altitudes is a good idea.


Some stray tips. The park service provides a helpful Morning Report which has the daily weather forecast, yesterday’s temperatures and current road conditions; Death Valley National Park’s seasonal newspaper will help you make the most of your visit, and if you are without prior knowledge of the area or are not travelling without someone familiar with Death Valley, you can enhance your experience of Death Valley by joining a ranger guided tour.



OK OK! I know you are anxious to get out there and burn some gigs, so saddle up pardner as we are pulling up to Eureka Dunes! Yeehah!



Happy Shooting!


Against the Traffic: From Lone Pine to Death Valley, California

Lone Pine, California is a sleepy little town. For me it was a great jumping off spot for my journey into Death Valley. Before your trip into the park, do not miss Alabama Hills which is the subject of my next post. But first, let’s discuss Lone Pine.

It is located 16 miles (26 km) south-southeast of Independence, California at an elevation of 3727 feet. The town is located in the Owens Valley near the Alabama Hills. Since Death Valley is unbearable in the dead of summer, February was selected for this photographic adventure. Lone Pine and most of the Owens Valley have a high desert climate characterized by hot summers and cold winters. January temperatures range from the middle fifties to upper twenties. This information is critical in your preparation as you may be shooting in near freezing conditions, extremely warm conditions, early dawn and evening shoots as well extremely challenging high sun glare shoots, especially once you reach the dunes of Death Valley.

The town is small and quiet and provides ample affordable housing and restaurants. There are drugstores, markets, clothing stores, gas stations, etc. for provisions that might be needed.


I landed in Las Vegas and drove across the Amargosa Valley, through Death Valley and eventually arrived in Lone Pine some 5 hours later (approximately 240 miles). May I recommend that you rent as sturdy a vehicle with as high a clearance as possible. Some of the roads you will be taking once you are exploring the park can be extremely challenging. There are some locations where you will be without cell-phone service and with no AAA or gas stations for miles. Make sure to carry plenty of drinking water and snacks. Clothing should be carried to provide for extremely varying temperatures. Sturdy boots or walking gear a must. Sun glasses, sun block, compass, road maps and full camera gear should be carefully considered.

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If you are coming from the Los Angeles area, the trip is about 4 hours north on US 395.

Before our venture into the Alabama Hills, there are a couple of sites in and around Lone Pine that you might want to consider. Mount Whitney is the highest summit in the contiguous United States with an elevation of  4,505 feet (4,421 m). I am contemplating this as a future photographic adventure. Though only about 23 miles on US 395 S or 16 miles on Whitney Portal Road, the trip will still take about 1 hour 15 minutes as the roads are rough. It is home to the Lone Pine Film Festival, each October. This small, high desert community has much to offer. I will discuss more about the film festival in conjunction with The Alabama Hills as that is where most of the films were shot.

Down the road from Lone Pine is the National Historic Site of Mazanar. The somber, skeletal remains of Manzanar remind us of a shameful chapter During World War II. “Tens of thousands of Japanese-Americans were forcefully deported to various relocation camps throughout the nation.” During my stay in Lone Pine I observed many Japanese-Americans who had come to pay their respects. I personally visited Mazanar with the thoughts of capturing some interesting images, but found the site unyielding for me on that day. Perhaps I wasn’t seeing particularly well. Sometimes it just happens that way.

The Sierra Nevadas loom in the background and I was able to capture “Sierra Nevadas” which was one of my favorite images on The Road to Death Valley.

Let’s get to bed early as  tomorrow we will beat the dawn on our way to The Alabama Hills.


Happy Shooting

Rich Smukler




Over the years I have gone to hundreds of museums and galleries, studied the works of the masters, read the analyses and opinions of critics, seen and opined on the works of my fellow students and mentors. All the time, I am searching for a thread, a common denominator. What makes a piece of art wonderful, memorable or just plain awful? And within that question, I try to evaluate the body of work of that particular artist and ask whether or not this is the work of a fine artist?



George DeWolfe, in one of his master classes, fascinated me with his revealing analysis of paintings of the masters, such as Rembrandt, Degas, Cezannes, Pollack and others, as they related to development of the fine black and white photo. He took images of these paintings and reduced them to grayscale to better view the breadth of tonality in each of these pieces of art, even before photography was on the map. This was done to demonstrate some of the amazing qualities of these painters, all painting with color, but somehow fully understanding the quality of composition in its underlying tonality. They knew how to see well. Dewolfe went on to say that,


  “The masterful articulation of the grayscale in these paintings is not only the key to good color, but also the essential key to creating presence in the work – the foundational element of a masterpiece.”



This is as good a place as any to start our thought process.


I confess that often I’ll go to a museum and wander through the exhibits and unfortunately, not get it. I mean that I am not moved, wouldn’t want to own it, in fact, I am angry that I am wasting my time! And yet, these exhibitions, installations, or pieces of art are often heralded by the museum, or someone of credibility, as being significant and noteworthy. I shrug my shoulders.


What does impress me however, is when an artist has over the years developed a unique and consistent body of work; pieces that would be recognizable as being that artists’ artwork years after being produced, yet, in some way, different from the earlier work. I am sure we are all familiar with some exceedingly successful artists who have a signature style that is forever recognized as being special and unique. Some of these artists, unfortunately, get caught up in their success and are fearful of leaving an established comfort zone. Others display the guts and artistry to move forward with newer and more challenging work. I say SHAME on the former, and HATS OFF to the latter.



I am willing to allow the definition of a fine artist to remain somewhat undefined for the moment. I am steadfast, however, in my belief that a fine artist will create a unique and recognizable body of work that continues to evolve as the artist explores and builds on the past. We owe a debt of gratitude to those of you that adhere to these convictions. What are your thoughts?


You can see works of Rich Smukler at