Tag Archives: range

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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Dunes and Mountains, Morning

Dunes and Mountains, Morning
Morning light on sand dunes and rugged mountains, Death Valley National Park

Dunes and Mountains, Morning. Death Valley National Park, California. March 31, 2016. © Copyright 2016 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Morning light on sand dunes and rugged mountains, Death Valley National Park

On our final morning in Death Valley this past March I got up before dawn one more time, loaded some gear in the car, and drove a short distance to a place from which I had decided I wanted to access sand dunes. I had been in the same area a few days earlier, and on that visit I spotted a likely looking area not far away — and that was my target this time as I walked alone across the quiet playa in pre-dawn light.

Out here the light arrives with surprising suddenness, despite the hints that it is coming, seen in light on peaks to the west and far up the valley. Silently the first light skims across dune tops, and within seconds the soft light is replaced by brighter highlights and darker shadows. Here I looked east across low dunes toward mountains along the eastern side of the valley at the base of the Amargosa Range. The morning haze and shadows on the mountains muted the their details. I photographed here for a few more minutes before packing and walking back to my vehicle, and within an hour we were on our way out of the park.


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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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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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.

Photographer, Death Valley

Photographer, Death Valley
Photographer Patricia Emerson Mitchell at work in Death Valley National Park

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

Photographer Patricia Emerson Mitchell at work in Death Valley National Park

Patricia Emerson Mitchell at work in the desert landscape of Death Valley National Park in morning light. Our morning here started much earlier, well before sunrise, and we walked out across the playa and around the side of dunes before sunrise. We arrived at the dunes just as the first light arrived, hitting the mountains to our west and then working its way down to the valley floor and across to us. Landscape photography might seem like a rather leisurely pursuit — after all, mountains don’t move much! — but at these times of marginal light things can happen very quickly.

We continued photographing after sunrise, enjoying the chance to explore the nearly endless subjects among the forms and colors and textures of the dunes. Eventually the sun would rise high enough to diminish the beauty of the light and it would be time to leave. It was perhaps approaching that time when I stopped atop a low dune and saw Patty photographing across the landscape, with her long shadow extending in front of her camera and the distant mountains of the Panamint Range rising in 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.

First Light, Desert and Mountains

First Light, Desert and Mountains
First light on rugged Cottonwood Mountains and low Death Valley sand dunes

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

First light on rugged Cottonwood Mountains and low Death Valley sand dunes

The light was not always this lovely on this Death Valley visit — though it was always “interesting” — but on this morning we had it about as good as it gets here. The light on these hills can be fairly beautiful on just about any sunny morning as the first sunlight moved down across the face of the range, lighting up these usually drab hills. But because the sky is often pure blue and there is not variation in the light in those conditions, the maximum color appears only very quickly and often when it is good at one level on the mountains it is either too bright or in shadow elsewhere. But on this morning there were clouds, and just as the light on the mountains reached the valley floor the clouds made for a darker and more dramatic sky, their shadows dappled the upper ridge line, and the very first light slanted across the low plants and dunes.

This light is a very transitory thing and, to be honest, this scene only looks like this for a brief moment between pre-dawn shadow and daytime flat light. But that moment is glorious and magical. When we headed out to this spot before sunrise we weren’t quite sure where we would be at sunrise or what specific opportunities would present themselves. As we approached the edge of dunes, coming around to them from the side, it was suddenly clear that the light was about to arrive. No amount of hurrying would get us to a better spot in time, so we quickly looked around for subjects that we could photograph in this light — a now or never chance. I saw these very low dunes and a few scattered plants, framed a composition, and was ready as the light washed over 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.
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.