Dunes and Mountains, Last Light. Death Valley National Park, California. April 2, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.
The last rays of evening sun on the lower slopes of the Amargosa Range above Death Valley sand dunes
I walked out into these low dunes, as I often do, an hour or so before sunset. It had been a hazy day, with the remnants of two days of dust storms muting the light and colors a bit, and the haze continued on into the early evening. At this time of day it often first seems like there is plenty of time to photograph — the light is changing, but the changes are still so slow that it takes many minutes to notice them. I looked up and judged the angle of the sun above the mountain tops to the west, and five minutes later when I looked again the change was hardly perceptible. I continued to follow a path through the dunes that was almost entirely the result of seeing things to photograph, photographing them, seeing other things, and moving on.
Shortly before the sun drops behind the ridge, the light begins to change quickly. As the last warm-colored light slants across dunes, their textures are highlighted and subtle colors begin to appear. I’m often struck by how silent the change is — it almost seems that the sound should change, too, but the transition happens quietly and with incredible speed. When I sense it is about to start I pick a spot and a subject and simply try to watch closely enough to time things right. I picked this composition for several reasons. It entirely excluded any living things, leaving only sand and mountains. The patterns caught the light in interesting ways, and created a sea of subtle color and tonal variations as the last direct light gradually worked its way up the face of the more distant mountains.
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.