Tag Archives: clouds

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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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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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.
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Clouds at Dawn, Death Valley

Clouds at Dawn, Death Valley
Dawn storm clouds gather above Death Valley and desert mountain canyons

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

Dawn storm clouds gather above Death Valley and desert mountain canyons

From this high spot there is a true 360 degree panorama — east over Death Valley, stretching far to the north and south with more mountains beyond, south and north along the spine of the Panamint Range, and behind across mountains and valleys and eventually a few peaks of the Sierra Nevada. Many times when I have been here the conditions have been at least mildly challenging, often with wind and sometimes cold, and on at least one occasion snow. This morning was relatively benign with temperatures well above freezing and winds that didn’t start to truly howl until perhaps an hour after our arrival. The quieter conditions made the contrast between deep silence and immense landscape even more striking.

There was a brief burst of sunrise light when we arrived, but it quickly faded as thicker clouds from an incoming weather front blocked the light. But the clouds were moving and as the morning progressed they began to open up a bit. At the moment of this photograph the clouds still blocked the sunlight, but a narrow band of color remained above the far mountains and brighter skies were appearing through breaks in the clouds. Below a large wash snaked down the bottom of the huge canyon toward the playa of Death Valley far below.


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.

Salt Flats, Evening Shadows

Salt Flats, Evening Shadows
The evening shadows of mountains and clouds stretch across patterned salt flats.

Salt Flats, Evening Shadows. Death Valley National Park, California. March 29, 2016. © Copyright 2016 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

The evening shadows of mountains and clouds stretch across patterned salt flats.

The stark landscape of the desert is visually unique. Because there is little or no plant life (and what there is typically is sparse and small), the bare earth itself is revealed. Patterns of rock and soil and even water that would be hidden in a forested landscape are out in the open. In many cases there is little or nothing to provide a sense of visual scale — objects could be the size of baseballs or small cars and there is no way to tell. The landscape is often so large that haze and light play tricks, and cloud shadows play across the relatively plain playas and hills. Because the native colors are often subtle, any color from light (blue from shadows and warm tones in early and late light) can have a more profound effect.

Late on this day we visited the sunny side of this section of Death Valley, ascending the ramp of an immense gravel fan at the base of a canyon. The hills on this side of the valley were interesting, but looking back and across the valley very interesting patterns began to emerge. The far hills were already in the blue shadows of the oncoming evening, and the shadows of clouds raced across the nearer portions of the playa, which are here laced with their own patterns of flow channels and dried salt. Altogether these elements produced a landscape that seems more like an abstraction than a reality.


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.

Death Valley, Morning Clouds

Death Valley, Morning Clouds
Morning sun shines through atmospheric haze and clouds above Death Valley

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

Morning sun shines through atmospheric haze and clouds above Death Valley

Death Valley is a very big place, and getting to locations sometimes requires a lot of driving. Photographing there often requires a very early wakeup call, and I’m often on my way to some location in the park well before first light. Leaving during darkness, often for a place very different from where I’m staying, means I have to make some educated (and not so educated) guesses about what conditions might be like many miles away and at sometimes very different elevations. As result, I often do not know precisely what conditions I’ll find when I arrive at an early morning location.

Such was the case on this morning. The destination was more than 6000′ feet higher than where we were staying and many miles away. In the past I’ve arrived at this spot to find very strong winds and very cold temperature. This time the temperature wasn’t so bad but we did have winds. Just before arrival at the final destination the sky lit up briefly, so we halted and photographed from that location before continuing on… and watching the light die as the sun rose. We consoled ourselves — we had caught a brief bit of good light and it was a beautiful spot to be in, photographs or not. Since we were there we went ahead and made a few photographs, and as we did so the conditions began to improve in somewhat dramatic fashion. The earliest hint of the afternoon’s upcoming dust storm appeared in the distant milky haze through which beams of light passed. Higher clouds began to collect, and dramatic light cut across the face of the arid mountains below 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.
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.