Tag Archives: california

Dunes, Clouds, Morning

Dunes, Clouds, Morning
Curving dune forms beneath spring clouds, Death Valley

Dunes, Clouds, Morning. Death Valley National Park, California. March 30, 2016. © Copyright 2016 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Curving dune forms beneath spring clouds, Death Valley

This turned out to be a very productive morning for photography — from scenic photographs of beautiful light on the Cottonwood Mountains to abstract and expressive photographs of the dune forms. I had several conditions that appeal to me. The sun in this photograph was almost directly in front of the camera, creating a somewhat stark effect and producing myriad sparkles in the sand. There were clouds from a passing weather front, and in a typically cloud-free place like Death Valley it is wonderful to get them. Not only were there clouds that I could include in the composition, but at times other high, thin clouds softened the light.

When I made this exposure I was pretty certain that I was heading toward a monochromatic interpretation. I also had a mental image of layers stacked up vertically: the light-colored lower band of sand, the softer middle ground with the streak of light passing across the darker textured sand, and the clouds above. In the end, as I presumed from the start, black and white seemed more likely to let me take this image where I wanted it to go, emphasizing the abstract nature of the elements more than their objective nature. If it is somewhat difficult to see this as a purely “real” subject… I’m fine with that.


G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist. His book, “California’s Fall Color: A Photographer’s Guide to Autumn in the Sierra” is available from Heyday Books and Amazon.
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Dunes, Evening

Dunes, Evening
Evening light comes to desert sand dunes, Death Valley National Park

Dunes, Evening. Death Valley National Park, California. March 27, 2016. © Copyright 2016 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Evening light comes to desert sand dunes, Death Valley National Park

I made this photograph on the evening of our arrival in Death Valley this past March, when we spent the better part of a week photographing in this desert park. We took a slow drive into the park from Ridgecrest, stopping at Trona and then in the Panamint Valley before crossing Towne Pass and dropping into Death Valley itself. It was early enough that we decided to take a “little” side trip to some slightly remote canyons in the afternoon and go for a short hike. We returned to the Stovepipe Wells area and then headed out along the dunes in the evening.

The evening light, especially when softened a bit by clouds or else just after the sun sets, paints the dunes and the surrounding terrain in marvelous and subtle colors. Mountains that are blue-gray in daylight and dunes that are almost colorless take on the colors of the haze, the sky, and the evening light, with shades of pink and yellow and blue and purple and more. This little vignette adds the green of the lush plants growing atop this sand dune, though the dead plants at the right betray the harsh conditions that are found her much of the time.

G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist. His book, “California’s Fall Color: A Photographer’s Guide to Autumn in the Sierra” is available from Heyday Books and Amazon.
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Desert Light and Shadow

Desert Light and Shadow
Morning light illuminates dust filled air above desert mountains and valley

Desert Light and Shadow. Death Valley National Park, California. March 28, 2016. © Copyright 2016 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Morning light illuminates dust filled air above desert mountains and valley


Please indulge me as I continue to engage in my obsession with a series of photographs of this scene made on a special morning earlier this spring, when dark clouds gave way to light across the valley from my position high on a desert mountain ridge in Death Valley National Park.

If nothing else, sharing the series of somewhat similar photographs (this one, others posted previously, and possibly one or two more still to come) might illuminate the process of refining the way of seeing a particular subject. (Of course, to do that more completely you would also have to see photographs of the same location from previous visits over a period of years.) While I was there and the light was evolving I was very aware that the I could “see” the scene in multiple ways: Did I want to focus on the sky with its spectacular clouds? Did I want to minimize their presence to allow the luminous glow of backlit haze below them to take precedence? How much presence did I want to give to the strongly contrasting shaded mountains below me. How do the color and monochromatic interpretations compare? I still do not have final answers to those questions, but this portrait orientation view gives the luminous mountains across the valley a larger place the overall image and may more clearly present series of parallel and contrary lines in the scene.

G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist. His book, “California’s Fall Color: A Photographer’s Guide to Autumn in the Sierra” is available from Heyday Books and Amazon.
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Desert Mountains, Clouds

Desert Mountains, Clouds
Clouds from a passing weather front and the beginning of a dust storm above desert mountains and valley

Desert Mountains, Clouds. Death Valley National Park, California. March 28, 2016. © Copyright 2016 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Clouds from a passing weather front and the beginning of a dust storm above desert mountains and valley

The light and atmospheric effects in the desert can be quite varied, though we are perhaps most familiar with the least interesting conditions, the heat and clarity of midday. (Even that has an appeal, but for me it often isn’t photographic.) But go there often enough and at different times of year, and you will witness an astonishing diversity of conditions. I’ve been at this location in extreme heat, gale force winds, snow, light rain, quite evening light, and more. The conditions on this morning were not unprecedented in my experience, but the combination was marvelous.

We arrived at this ridgeline location just before sunrise and, as is often the case, there were clouds above the ridges far to the east that would block the light of the rising sun. Such clouds can be a photographic blessing (when the light up the right way) or a curse (when they simply block the light and leave everything gray). After a very brief bit of color along the distant horizon it looked like this was going to be a gray morning. Fortunately, we stuck around! Since the light on the grand landscape was “challenging,” we turned out attention to closer and smaller things, and while we were thus distracted the landscape and sky were transformed. A weather front was passing by, and beautiful clouds began to stack up above us and to the east. A milky haze across the valley gave the first hints of a monumental dust storm that would arrive by the afternoon. The light everywhere was a luminescent blue and it illuminated the stark forms of the dry wash running up into the desert mountains beneath us.


G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist. His book, “California’s Fall Color: A Photographer’s Guide to Autumn in the Sierra” is available from Heyday Books and Amazon.
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Sand and Shadow

Sand and Shadow
Patterns of light and shadow on desert sand dunes

Sand and Shadow. Death Valley National Park, California. March 31, 2016. © Copyright 2016 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Patterns of light and shadow on desert sand dunes

This was just about the last photograph I made during this year’s spring photography trip to Death Valley National Park. Our plan was to get up and be on the road to the Los Angeles area in the morning, but I couldn’t resist one more early awakening, so I was up and down the road before sunrise, parking my vehicle a half hour away from a location I had been thinking about for some time. I headed out across the flats in the pre-dawn semi-darkness and hiked toward low dunes as the sky began to lighten. It was very quiet and the air was still as I arrived and climbed up onto low sand hills and dunes.

I was surprised to find the wind blowing stiffly in the dunes, and as I photographed the foot or so above the sand was filled with blowing sand, occasionally muting the otherwise distinct patterns of rippling sand. I began by photographing some longer views across ranks of dunes rising toward the east, but I gradually shifted my attention to closer and smaller subjects, looking for interesting patterns and conjunctions. This deep shadow fell across a low spot in the sand, and contrasted starkly with the higher dunes that were already in full sun, creating a sort of yin-yang pattern. A few more minutes of photography, and then I packed up, walked back the way I had come, returned to our lodgings, and soon we were on the road once again.


G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist. His book, “California’s Fall Color: A Photographer’s Guide to Autumn in the Sierra” is available from Heyday Books and Amazon.
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All media © Copyright G Dan Mitchell and others as indicated. Any use requires advance permission from G Dan Mitchell.

Buildings, Venice Beach

Buildings, Venice Beach
Venice Beach buildings in midday sun

Buildings, Venice Beach. Venice Beach, California. April 1, 2016. © Copyright 2016 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Venice Beach buildings in midday sun

Finally. A photograph that is not Death Valley. Don’t worry, there are still more Death Valley photographs, and this one did come from the same trip. On our return from Death Valley we swung through the LA Basin to visit our daughter and son-in-law, replacing natural pleasures with the distinctly urban experiences of Los Angeles. On April 1 we went to Venice Beach to visit the G2 Gallery, where photographer friends exhibit from time to time. (We enjoyed the gallery quite a bit — some lovely photographs by Clyde Butcher and Jack Dykinga were featured that week.)

Out of the gallery and on the street I had an opportunity to play with a new camera, my Fujifilm X-Pro2, which had arrived shortly before we left for Death Valley. The street being the perfect place for such a camera, I pulled it out and made a few photographs. Initially I expected that this would be a color photograph, but as I worked on it in post I began to feel that it had potential in black and white.


G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist. His book, “California’s Fall Color: A Photographer’s Guide to Autumn in the Sierra” is available from Heyday Books and Amazon.
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All media © Copyright G Dan Mitchell and others as indicated. Any use requires advance permission from G Dan Mitchell.

Exposed Playa, Dunes

Exposed Playa, Dunes
Old playa surface exposed among sand dunes

Exposed Playa, Dunes. Death Valley National Park, California. March 30, 2016. © Copyright 2016 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Old playa surface exposed among sand dunes

I recall being fascinated by these old (how old I do not know) bits of old playa surface that poke out from under shifting dunes in Death Valley from the first time I wandered in the sand dunes. Walking toward the dunes from the roadway, the route almost invariably passed among these features. (I usually try to step between or around them, as many of them are quite fragile.) Although they appear now in places where it seems very unlikely that we will find water, the cracked mud surface betrays the fact that it was here once.

This example was a bit of a surprise. We had photographed around the periphery of the dunes at sunrise, and then walked up the sand to photograph their textures, forms and colors. Mostly I look for juxtapositions of the curving shapes of dunes, and contrasts between sunlit and shadowed areas, especially where the wind has created fine rippling pattern. Wandering a bit further into the dunes I came over a sand ridge and saw a group of potential photographs, with this outcropping sticking out from under the sand at the bottom of a low spot surrounded by higher dunes.


G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist. His book, “California’s Fall Color: A Photographer’s Guide to Autumn in the Sierra” is available from Heyday Books and Amazon.
Blog | About | Flickr | Twitter | FacebookGoogle+ | 500px.com | LinkedIn | Email


All media © Copyright G Dan Mitchell and others as indicated. Any use requires advance permission from G Dan Mitchell.