Tag Archives: clouds

Evening Storms

Evening Storms
Evening rain clouds and dust storm above the Panamint Mountains, Death Valley National Park

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

Evening rain clouds and dust storm above the Panamint Mountains, Death Valley National Park

This was a wild evening in Death Valley. While the clouds were generally moving toward clearing, we first saw extreme weather of several types. Down close to the ground there were big, billowing clouds of sand and dust being lofted above the Valley floor. High above that wildness huge weather front clouds built above desert mountains.

In the evening I decided to go our for one more photographic chase, even though the weather hardly seemed conducive to photography. In this case I resorted to an approach that I’ve used before in storms like this one, namely to put on the long focal length lens and shoot into the maelstrom from a distance. It this case, two storms were present at once: While high winds whipped up the sand and dust storm closer to the ground, overhead the monumental clouds of a rain storm towered over the desert mountains.


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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Morning, Mountains, Desert Canyons

Morning, Mountains, Desert Canyons
Cloud-filled sky at first light above desert mountains and canyon, Death Valley National Park

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

Cloud-filled sky at first light above desert mountains and canyon, Death Valley National Park

As I post this photograph on the summer solstice, this location is perhaps not a place you would want to be right now. I understand that temperatures in Death Valley National Park have been in the 120 degree range already this summer. But back on this March morning the scene was a lot different — clouds from a passing Pacific weather front obscured the dawn light, and there was a pleasantly cool wind at this location high in the Panamint range as the morning light arrived.

This view looks down through one of the many gigantic canyons of the Panamint Range, a sight that reminds us of just how important the flow of water has been in the creation of this remarkable landscape. In the middle distance the salt flats of Death Valley are visible at the base of the Black Mountains, and above that the demarcations between mountains and clouds and sky and light are hard to see, and the terrain of the rugged Death Valley landscape almost merges with the ephemeral terrain of this sky.


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.

First Light, Cottonwood Mountains

First Light, Cottonwood Mountains
First dawn light descends the eastern face of the Cottonwood Mountains and touches the desert floor

First Light, Cottonwood Mountains. Death Valley National Park, California. March 30, 2016. © Copyright 2016 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

First dawn light descends the eastern face of the Cottonwood Mountains and touches the desert floor

A morning like this on the desert flats, surrounded by arid and rugged mountains, waiting for the sun to rise, is very special. We arrived in the dim, pre-dawn light and set out across the flats toward the edge of dunes, passing across scrubby desert plants and over rocky and sandy ground, listening to the steady crunching of footsteps in the silent landscape. We probably should have started a bit earlier, but we lingered a bit too long over coffee, and as we approached the edge of the dunes the sun began to move down the face of the mountains to the west.

The light on the mountains  was set off against a sky darkened by the clouds of a passing weather front, and thin clouds intermittently shadowed the dawn light. It worked its way down from the ridges to the base of the mountains and then it very quickly began to light the terrain around us, first with gently cloud filtered light and soon more intensely. We quickly stopped walking and looked around for any nearby subject that might serve as a canvas for this light — I found a few long plants nearby growing in sand and moved to position them in front of the mountains as the soft light touched them.


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

If you follow my daily photographic posts, you just might recognize this scene — given that I’ve been posting variations on it for the past couple of weeks! (As you may have gathered, my daily shared photographs are not the same as my “Best of…” work. Instead they are, among other things, a way to stay “on assignment” and work out and try a variety of ideas.) So far, the variations on this general subject have included both monochrome and color versions and vertical and horizontal formats.

There were several challenges with this scene on location, some technical and some esthetic. Technical challenges included the extreme variations in the light, from the brilliantly lit clouds to the left foreground canyon in deep shadow. This was a challenge for which I realized that part of the solution could come in post, as long as I was careful with the highlights in the exposure. Compositional questions included how much of that dark foreground mass to include (with the presumption that some detail could be retained there), where to place various lines relative to the edges of the frame, and how much sky to include. While I first wanted to keep the hazy light on the mountains on the far side of the valley very brightly luminous, it seemed that their detail could be lost against the large dark areas. In any case, this is one of the current “finalists” among the group I’m considering.


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

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

Creosote Bush, Dunes, Morning

Creosote Bush, Dunes, Morning
A creosote bush among sand dunes, morning

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

A creosote bush among sand dunes, morning

When I go to Death Valley I usually have a long list of places I want visit — ridges, canyons, playas, trails, and more. Even when I am there for a week, I usually run out of time before I run out of places. Perhaps for this reason I have sometimes not given enough of my time to the dunes. I have photographed them quite a few times, but they often end up being one thing on the agenda that is full of other subjects. However, on this recent trip I visited the dunes much more, walking out into them on three occasions and photographing them from greater distances, too. I photographed them at more or less all times of the day, and in conditions ranging from clear sky to clearing storms and even blowing dust.

I made this photograph on a morning when a weather front was moving past, leaving some clouds in its wake above the Amargosa range along the east side of the valley. We began photographing before dawn, and worked through the rapidly changing light as the sun rose above the mountains. Clouds periodically interrupted the light, but this meant that from moment to moment almost any kind of light was possible — full direct sun, light muted by thin clouds, the soft light from overcast — and that different light often appeared at different locations in the scene. When I saw and composed this photograph the light was initially very soft, but by the time I made this last exposure the sun was beginning to come out from behind clouds and highlight the textures, curves, and lines of the sand, and the play of light and shadow.


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.