Tag Archives: sky

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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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 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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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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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.

Wetlands Dawn, Arriving Birds

Wetlands Dawn, Arriving Birds
A flock of geese prepares to land on a foggy wetlands pond at dawn

Wetlands Dawn, Arriving Birds. Central Valley, California. February 5, 2016. © Copyright 2016 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

A flock of geese prepares to land on a foggy wetlands pond at dawn

Another California winter day and another trip to visit the Central Valley and search out migratory birds and fog and atmospheric light!  Back in early February the bird action was beginning to pick up, and we would consistently find at last some geese (and often many more and other birds, too) when we arrived. Fog is one variable. I love thick fog, especially in these locations, and we often got precisely that. But on this morning the fog was thinner and earlier to dissipate, here already thin enough before dawn to let us see the winter sky.

As we watched the fog drift and thin and the sky begin to get lighter, groups of birds (mostly Ross’ geese) began to arrive, circling a bit and then landing on the ponds. The arcing curve of this flock’s flight, descending towards the right and then beginning to circle back, is visible in this photograph if you look closely. A few earlier arrivals float on the pond in an area lit by reflected 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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All media © Copyright G Dan Mitchell and others as indicated. Any use requires advance permission from G Dan Mitchell.

Twilight Birds

Twilight Birds
A flock of geese against twilight sky above the Central Valley

Twilight Birds. Central Valley, California. February 5, 2016. © Copyright 2016 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

A flock of geese against twilight sky above the Central Valley

February was mostly a very good month for photographing migratory birds in the Central Valley this winter. This was a relief, quite honestly, after the past four years of drought and increasingly dire conditions in the Valley and throughout the state. In normal times, the wildlife refuges where I often photograph can be filled with water and life in the winter — flowing creeks and flooded fields where thousands of birds collect. But much of this water comes from sources that are not local, and as they dried up the refuges also began to shrink the acreage that was under water. It was sad to see locations that I’ve thought of as ponds become plain, dry fields. And at times the birds seemed to suffer a bit, too, or at least change their habits. Back in the late fall, before the course of the winter season became clear and Northern and Central California received rain again, we were concerned about what would happen this year.

But in most of California the rains came, at times heavy, and water flows once again. The birds returned, and sometimes it seemed that there numbers were exploding with the return of water. By February it wasn’t uncommon to find many thousands of birds in the refuges, and by late in the month the scene was downright wild, with all kinds of geese, huge numbers of cranes, and much more. In the evening things become active, and as the light fails I often continue to photograph, but at longer shutter speeds that allow me to work with the moving poetry of blurred birds in flight against dusk 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.
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.