Tag Archives: morning

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 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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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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Desert Mountains, Morning Haze

Desert Mountains, Morning Haze
Desert mountains and morning light illuminating haze that is the first sign of a developing dust storm

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

Desert mountains and morning light illuminating haze that is the first sign of a developing dust storm

This is another “take” on roughly the same scene I shared in another recent photograph, also in black and white. When I made the photograph I was already thinking of it as a black and white image, and it obviously has ended up that way, more or less as planned. I was already familiar with the rugged foreground mountains from previous visits, but the light and atmospheric conditions on this visit were unique. The sky was fairly cloudy, though the ceiling was breaking up a bit, allowing light beams to break through. The atmosphere was extremely hazy. The positive aspect of this is that the light shining through it almost glowed. (In fact, that was probably what first attracted me to the scene.) The somewhat negative aspect is that the haze was the harbinger of a tremendous dust storm that would arrive later in the day.

The black and white rendition represents the result of a sort of pre-visualization. To my way of thinking, “pre-visualization” can mean a range of things. At one end of the spectrum it could mean almost literally “seeing” the finished photograph before making the exposure. In this case I knew I wanted the hazy light beams to glow, that I wanted to retain the dark mass of the foreground mountains, and that the final result would be black and white. But I don’t want to imply more certainty than I actually had. Despite my decent idea of where I was going, I did not know for sure what the exact best outcome would be and, in fact, I made some varied compositions and exposures. On a side note, although we didn’t quite realize it just yet, the haze that made the light so beautiful came from the first dust from dust storms that were building all around the area.


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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Basin and Range

Basin and Range
A long distance view across Death Valley and to distant mountains beyond

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

A long distance view across Death Valley and to distant mountains beyond

The landscape of Death Valley National Park is immense. The fact that it is the largest national park in the lower 48 states begins to penetrate my awareness the more time I spend there. A number of years ago I spent some time on a very long cycling trip in Alaska and the Yukon, and this desert landscape comes closer than any other I have experienced to evoking the same sense of huge distances and deep stillness and quiet. This landscape extends even further beyond the boundaries of the park, from the Sierra Nevada to the west to distant peaks of the basin and range country to the east.

This high elevation location opens to such a huge swath of terrain that it is difficult to get your mind around the scale of what you are seeing. For example, there is a road out there in the large valley. To get there from the place where my tripod was set up would take me hours of driving — and that would take me perhaps less than half way toward the most distant peaks. Enhancing the other-worldly quality of this morning was the unusual atmosphere. The clouds of a weather front were breaking up over the mountains and valleys, and their shadows were moving across the landscape. Meanwhile, in another valley far behind me, dust storm conditions (which would envelope this entire scene by the end of the day) were beginning to pick up, and already the atmosphere was getting that milky, hazy quality that precedes such weather. At the bottom of the scene is an immense gravel fan that has carried material down from these mountains, filling the valley in places to thousands of feet of depth.


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.

Dunes, Sky

Dunes, Sky
Sand dunes, shadows, and morning clouds

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

Sand dunes, shadows, and morning clouds

Another photograph from another morning among the dunes. Because of the daily wind and dust storms during this visit to Death Valley National Park, we had many opportunities to find sand dunes with no or few signs of other visitors besides those creatures that actually live there. We approached the dunes in a variety of ways during this visit, and I photographed them almost daily, sometimes more than one. But I always came at them from a direction that wasn’t the most popular or best known. This time I came around on a looping route from a side and swing around behind some low, sandy areas to photograph in early morning light.

There is a lot to see in the dunes, and I had a few ideas as we arrived at the edge of the dunes. (While I usually don’t begin with a specific photograph it mind, I often have some general conceptual ideas I want to explore, and I keep my eyes open for subjects that could work along those lines.) I started with some old dry playa textures in front of the valley floor leading of toward distant mountains as the sun rose, and then I climbed some short dunes to look for interesting curving shapes and conjunctions of lines and subjects. I photographed some creosote plants against sand patterns and eventually moved deeper into the dunes, seeing the rippling textures of wind-blown sand draped across hills and valleys. I stopped to photograph a bit of sand texture straight on, and when I looked up and to the side I saw this series of curving horizontal lines with the cloudy sky above and beyond.


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.

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.
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.