Tag Archives: evening

Dunes and Mountains, Evening Shadows

Dunes and Mountains, Evening Shadows
Dunes and Mountains, Evening Shadows

Dunes and Mountains, Evening Shadows. Death Valley National Park. March 31, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Evening light on sand dunes, Death Valley National Park

I can photograph dunes at any time of day, but for me the evening hours are the most interesting. The scene goes through a sequence of transformations that fascinate me, even on evenings when I wonder if the magic will be there. IN Death Valley, during all but the coolest times of the year, the dunes can be hot places with stark light and washed out colors in the late afternoon — yet even this kind of scene has photographic potential. But soon the sun drops toward the horizon, the color of the light warms, and the shadows lengthen, revealing the textures of the dunes that are hidden in brighter light. As the sun sets the show continues but transforms again as the light takes on a blue tint (from open sky) and fills the shadows, now revealing colors that are not seen in the daylight.

This whole transition occurs relatively quickly, perhaps over the course of an hour and a half or less, and I often feel like I have to work somewhat quickly. This photograph comes from a point in time when direct sun was still on the dunes, though it was muted by haze from earlier sand storms on this evening. The light catches the higher parts of the dunes and gives them a warm color, but the lower areas have already fallen into shadow and have taken on the blue tones of light from the open sky.


G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist whose subjects include the Pacific coast, redwood forests, central California oak/grasslands, the Sierra Nevada, California deserts, urban landscapes, night photography, and more.
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Text, photographs, and other media are © Copyright G Dan Mitchell (or others when indicated) and are not in the public domain and may not be used on websites, blogs, or in other media without advance permission from G Dan Mitchell.

Dark Hills, Death Valley

Dark Hills, Death Valley
Dark Hills, Death Valley

Dark Hills, Death Valley. Death Valley National Park, California. April 1, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Dark hills contrast with surrounding salt flats and alluvial fans

I know that “dark hills” is not a very poetic description for this landscape… but it does seem, at least, to be accurate! These formations have intrigued me for a few years, and I’ve been surprised to be able to photograph them all alone — despite visiting them regularly, I have never encountered another person there. I’m not sure why, except that there are some better known icons nearby, and perhaps they attract all of the others in the area.

In the past I tried to find out more about the source of the formations and my recollection (which I was unable to re-verify this time) is that they are the result of some kind of ancient tufa-like deposits formed on the bottom of the lake that once filled the basin that is now Death Valley. Their darker color contrasts strikingly with the surrounding terrain, and the material of the mounts has a finely layered quality. This example sits on a small playa where pooling water seems to have left salt deposits behind, though similar forms can also be found in slightly higher terrain nearby. In the evening the low light from the west angles across these mounds and makes their textures and curves a bit more visible.


G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist whose subjects include the Pacific coast, redwood forests, central California oak/grasslands, the Sierra Nevada, California deserts, urban landscapes, night photography, and more.
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Text, photographs, and other media are © Copyright G Dan Mitchell (or others when indicated) and are not in the public domain and may not be used on websites, blogs, or in other media without advance permission from G Dan Mitchell.

Dunes and Mountains

Dunes and Mountains
Dunes and Mountains

Dunes and Mountains. Death Valley National Park, California. March 31, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Low dunes and the base of Tucki Mountain in evening light

At the end of my first full day photographing Death Valley this spring I headed out onto the nearby sand dunes to look for whatever might show up in the evening light. I was close to one of the most iconic dunes in the park, but I found an out-of-the-way spot far enough away from that landmark that I had this area of the dunes completely to myself. Interesting things happen to the light and colors on the sand dunes during the short period of time leading up to sunset and for a short time afterwards. The dunes pick up low angle light that makes the textures of the dunes more visible and the light changes colors — first going toward warmer colors before the sunset, and gradually transitioning toward softer and more blue tones shortly after the sun goes down.

At first I wandered straight out into the dunes — well, perhaps not quite straight, as I tend to follow my instincts and an observer might think that my path looked a bit aimless. At one point I found some higher dunes from which I could see a bit farther of toward the northeast and from which I could look down on the complex patterns of the sand. After photographing there I turned back toward the direction from which I had come, and I saw this section of lower dunes dropping toward the edge of the sand, with the background of the lower folds of Tucki Mountain in late light.


G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist whose subjects include the Pacific coast, redwood forests, central California oak/grasslands, the Sierra Nevada, California deserts, urban landscapes, night photography, and more.
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Text, photographs, and other media are © Copyright G Dan Mitchell (or others when indicated) and are not in the public domain and may not be used on websites, blogs, or in other media without advance permission from G Dan Mitchell.

Sand Patterns, Evening Light

Sand Patterns, Evening Light
Sand Patterns, Evening Light

Sand Patterns, Evening Light. Death Valley National Park, California. March 31, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Low angle evening sun highlights the patterns of a Death Valley sand dune

On my second day in Death Valley National Park — my first full day of photography there on this trip — I made a long journey down into the southern reaches of the place, driving out on some less used back roads and getting into some places I had not visited before. Death Valley National Park is a huge landscape, and getting from place to place there can become quite a production, especially if you get off of the main paved roadways and get into the back-country on the many unpaved roads. In terms of absolute mileage it probably would not seem like I went all that far, but the actual driving time was many hours. I first headed up a canyon toward an abandoned ranch and mine area, then went far to the south and took an alternative route back to the north, using a long unpaved road though high desert country.

Late in the day I made it back to my basic but functional camp at Stovepipe Wells, took a short break, and decide that it might be good evening for some sand dune photography. The closest dunes to this area are iconic and are perhaps among the two or three best known sites in the park. I don’t necessarily avoid photographing that well-known view, but I’ve seen that so many times that these days I’m a lot more interested in looking for other subjects in the dunes. For the most part I pay almost no attention to the icon here, instead preferring to wander off into lower sections of the dunes. I walk slowly, following my instincts, watching to see what might appear. In the end it could be a large view across vast acreage of dunes, or it could be some tiny subject at my feet. There had been a big wind and dust storm during the past 24 hours, and I found lots of newly made patterns in the sand. I photographed this subject in evening light, when the low angle sun highlighted the patterns of newly made ripples in the sand.


G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist whose subjects include the Pacific coast, redwood forests, central California oak/grasslands, the Sierra Nevada, California deserts, urban landscapes, night photography, and more.
Blog | About | Flickr | Twitter | FacebookGoogle+ | 500px.com | LinkedIn | Email

Text, photographs, and other media are © Copyright G Dan Mitchell (or others when indicated) and are not in the public domain and may not be used on websites, blogs, or in other media without advance permission from G Dan Mitchell.