Tag Archives: range

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.
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.

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.
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.

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.
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.

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.

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.
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.

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.
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.

Dunes, Plants, Evening

Dunes, Plants, Evening
Evening light on a cluster of plants growing among sand dunes.

Dunes, Plants, Evening. Death Valley National Park, California. March 27, 2016. © Copyright 2016 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Evening light on a cluster of plants growing among sand dunes.

The sand dunes in the evening can be many things — the wind may blow or it may be still, glaring light transitions through golden hour to blue after sunset, in the right spot one may photograph alone. Above all, this is a time of transition in the light, and there is a sweet spot — perhaps just as the sun drops behind mountains or clouds to the west — when the light is still directional but when all the harshness disappears, soft light remains, and colors invisible in the daytime begin to appear.

I made this photograph on the first evening of our recent visit to Death Valley. We had arrived in the middle of the day, driven off to explore a less-traveled canyon, returned to get settled in to our accommodations, and then headed out into the late day light. Bypassing the crowds at the iconic turn-outs, we kept going, and as the sun dropped toward the ridge of the western mountains we grabbed equipment and headed out across the playa toward a quieter area of the dunes where we might find untracked sand.

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.