Tag Archives: light

Desert Wash and Mountains

Desert Wash and Mountains
A desert wash cuts though golden layers toward mountains and Death Valley

Desert Wash and Mountains. Death Valley National Park, California. March 29, 2016. © Copyright 2016 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

A desert wash cuts though golden layers toward mountains and Death Valley

I made this in another area of Death Valley where, despite its popularity, I have never really quite felt comfortable making photographs. The area is along a loop road that ascends the alluvial fan along the valley edge and then passed across and along some very beautiful washes, giving access to areas of strikingly colored rock formations. The formations are intriguing, but they don’t move be photographically. At least not yet — I won’t rule out the possibility that I’ll someday find a way to “see” them.

However, at one of the most popular stops, when I look the opposite direction, I see this absolutely lovely wash curving gracefully back and forth as it descends through golden rock and toward darker hills before taking a turn and heading down the giant alluvial fan toward the great basin of Death Valley. Late in the day, just before the sun drops beyond tall mountains in the west, there is a brief window of warm, golden light, even on a day like this one with distant clouds in the 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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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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All media © Copyright G Dan Mitchell and others as indicated. Any use requires advance permission from G Dan Mitchell.

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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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.

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

Desert Wash and Mountains

Desert Wash and Mountains
A golden desert wash descends toward distant mountains and a valley.

Desert Wash and Mountains. Death Valley National Park, California. March 29, 2016. © Copyright 2016 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

A golden desert wash descends toward distant mountains and a valley.

This beautiful wash is very (very!) close to one of the iconic Death Valley stopping places. I’ve never been able to warm up to that particular spot as a photographic subject. Fortunately, even time I go there I look in a slightly different direction — and I often seem to be the only person looking that way — and find this lovely view.

We visited near the end of the day, as afternoon sunlight begins to take on the warm tones of early evening and shadows start to stretch across the valley. Once again, I stopped at this well-known place. Once again I thought it was interesting, but not quite what I wanted to photograph. And, once again, I looked downhill and away to see this wash. The light highlighted the different colors of the geological deposits here, with yellow material lining the path of the wash and the middle distance hills darker and holding tones that are more reddish. The path of the wash winds sinuously back and forth as it descends between the lowering walls, with shadow on one side and sun on the other.


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.