Autumn Aspens, Broken Boulders

Autumn Aspens, Broken Boulders
A group of autumn aspen trees grows in jumbled and rocky Eastern Sierra Nevada terrain.

Autumn Aspens, Broken Boulders. © Copyright 2012 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

A group of autumn aspen trees grows in jumbled and rocky Eastern Sierra Nevada terrain.

Aspen trees frequently grow on what we might regard as less-than-optimal soil and terrain, at least in the Eastern Sierra Nevada. While some manage to find a home in canyon bottoms and other places with good soil, many trees live their lives in dry, rocky, and exposed places. Often the trees seem to adapt — perhaps remaining quite small or maybe maintaining more space between them. The trees in this photograph are growing on truly rocky terrain. The trees are rooted in little more than cracks in the granite, and around them are solid rock and a field of broken granite.

Dealing with color when photographing aspens in locations like this can be tricky, especially since I much prefer to photograph them when they are shaded. (Direct sunlight on these trees can be quite harsh.) The light in shadows can be extremely blue, mainly because the main light source is that giant blue light panel we call the say. On the scene, our human visual system adapts and we register the rocks as gray. But the camera is, to an extent, more objective, and the intense blue color of those “gray” rocks is revealed in a photograph. With that we are faced with a subjective, interpretative question: where should be set the colors along the continuum stretching from the objective blue to what we recall in our mind’s eye? Here, as I often do, I shifted the color away from blue to produce colors that are more like what I recall — and even here those rocks seem quite blue to my eyes. Fortunately, there is no one right answer to this question, and I’ve seen effective interpretations that were strikingly blue along with others that used much warmer colors.


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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Made of Sky

Made of Sky
Reflections in the windows of the One Front Street Building, San Francisco.

Made of Sky. © Copyright 2012 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Reflections in the windows of the One Front Street Building, San Francisco.

Perhaps a decade ago I noticed that urban walkers, especially those from out of town, were adopting a new posture on big city streets. Many tended to walk along with heads forward and angled down, staring intently at smartphones, either reading messages or perhaps trying to navigate using the phone’s map application. In a previous era the popular image of the out-of-town visitor to the “big city” was that of someone walking along a sidewalk, oblivious to other walkers, and staring upwards toward the tops of the tall buildings. I have a phone. I use it. But I still gaze upwards.

I have photographed this building quite a few times during my San Francisco Walks. It is an interesting building in general, but if you get up close the “open books” (climbers term…) of glass produce remarkable patterns of overlapping reflected patterns, all colored blue by the sky. To make this photograph I got about as close to the building as I could while still including some lower floors and the top of the building.


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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Cloud Shadows and Fog

Cloud Shadows and Fog
Cloud shadows on the surface of the Pacific Ocean off of Point Reyes National Seashore.

Cloud Shadows and Fog. © Copyright 2012 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

A cloud shadow on the surface of the Pacific Ocean off of Point Reyes National Seashore.

This is a rather subtle landscape or seascape photograph, perhaps to the point of minimalism. I made it on a foggy afternoon along the interior of Drakes Bay at the Point Reyes National Seashore. The fog had thinned a bit by this time, but it was obstinate enough that it had not lifted even in the afternoon. Some light was coming though the cloud deck but it was extremely diffused — though it had enough directionality and the fog enough luminosity to lay a subtle shadow across the water below a thicker line of clouds.

Days like this one are slow, quiet, and mysterious along the Pacific Coast. The scale of the landscape diminishes to some extend and the “clear to the horizon” views are gone, as is the dome of the sky. From high locations such as the one from which I made the photograph, even the sound of the surf is muted.


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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Three Aspens, Granite

Three Aspens, Granite
Three autumn aspen trees standing against a granite wall, Eastern Sierra Nevada.

Three Aspens, Granite. © Copyright 2012 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Three autumn aspen trees standing against a granite wall, Eastern Sierra Nevada.

Those of us who have spent a lot of time in the Sierra — and the story is similar for other locations — gradually accumulate “personal spots” that might not make much of an impression on others but which we greet like old friends each year. Mine include a particular rock outcropping in Tuolumne Meadows, a particular flat rock in the Yosemite backcountry where I’ve frequently placed my cook stove, a small grove of trees nestled in a bend along an Eastern Sierra road, a high and barren lake in the Southern Sierra, and quite a few more. I’ll bet you have a few such places of your own.

This little group of three slender aspen trees set against a jumble of rocks s is one of those spots. It is very accessible, but there’s an excellent chance that if you were nearby you passed without noticing. Yet virtually every autumn I end up stopping and photographing them again. (Yes, there are other photographs of them in my collection.) They are “the same,” yet they are also different every time I visit — the leaves may be green, yellow, a combination, or gone. The light may be intense in the morning or soft and blue in late-day shadows. So I return, and I photograph them again, and I mark another season with each return.


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 | FacebookEmail

Links to Articles, Sales and Licensing, my Sierra Nevada Fall Color book, Contact Information.

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All media © Copyright G Dan Mitchell and others as indicated. Any use requires advance permission from G Dan Mitchell.

G Dan Mitchell, photographer and visual opportunist. Posting daily photographs since 2005, along with articles, reviews, news, and ideas.