Ross’s Geese, Dusk. San Joaquin Valley, California. December 13, 2013. © Copyright 2013 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.
A group of Ross’s geese takes flight in hazy dusk light
I try to visit California’s San Joaquin Valley as often as possible during the fall, winter, and early spring months when migratory birds settle in for the cold season. The sounds of the birds and the sight of flocks of them setting in or flying overhead is addictive – so much so that I’m willing to go to somewhat great lengths to experience this. Most often this means getting up way before dawn, often on very cold mornings, and driving a couple of hours into the foggy landscape of the valley and then photographing for hours in the cold. I’m not complaining – I love doing this! I also have what has become an annual routine connected to my periodic Death Valley photography trips. I try to arrange my schedule on the last day in Death Valley so that I can do a morning shoot there, quickly strike camp and pack up, and leave soon enough that I can stop to photograph birds on the way home. (The two worlds – the dry, austere world of Death Valley, and the cold, damp, and bird-filled Central Valley – could not be more different.)
This photograph is one of several (well, OK, more than “several”) I made during a one hour stop at some valley wetlands at the end of the day on the long drive home. I arrived, did a quick reconnaissance around the area, discovered a large flock settled in along a gravel road in a pasture, and settled in to watch the evening’s events. I recall a time when I was disappointed when the light faded, since it eventually became too dark to maintain shutter speeds that would stop the motion of the geese as they flew in, out, and around. But it didn’t take long to discover that continuing to shoot in the fading light and accepting the slower shutter speeds led to motion blur would let me present the birds in a more abstract way, but one that is in many ways as true as isolating a moment of seeming stillness in a scene that is actually full of motion. I now look forward to this time of low light, when I can make photographs that might possess a bit more mystery.
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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