Geese, San Joaquin Valley Sunset. San Joaquin Valley, California. December 13, 2013. © Copyright 2013 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.
Geese fly toward the setting sun, San Joaquin Valley, California
Photographing these migratory birds involves an interesting combination of planning, intuitive response to the circumstances, and just plain raw luck. (In truth, that is the case with almost all photographs of almost all subjects, but that is probably a subject for a different post at another time.) All of those things were certainly at work in this photograph.
I often photograph in this general area at this time of year – ostensibly because of the migratory geese and cranes and other birds, but also because I love the diverse conditions of light and atmosphere here in the winter (and near-winter) months and the simple landscape. So the choice to be at this location at this time of day was no accident. (A bit more information: I was returning from Death Valley and I had organized this final day specifically so that I would have one hour at this location at sunset on the return trip.) In addition, when I found a large flock of geese in a field – in a place where I know there is a good chance I’ll find them – I positioned myself intentionally to the east of the flock so that the colorful light would be behind them as the day ended… or to their side. In addition, since I’ve photographed this subject before I have a pretty good idea of how to set up my camera to deal with the failing light combined with direct sun and birds in motion, even anticipating how I may have to work the images in post-production. But luck and intuition play an undeniable role in photographing this subject. While I can make some guesses about how the birds will act, I have no control over them at all – and I have to take what they give me. On this evening, they were mostly taking flight away from me and toward the mountains, though certainly not always with the sun behind them. Occasionally large groups would take to the air together, and I would simply track them and fire when it seemed best. Here is where another bit of intuition comes in. While I cannot control how the birds appear in relationship to their surroundings, I can manage to watch birds and landscape as both move in the viewfinder and think about composition even while everything is in fast motion – and, when it all works out, think about how momentary arrangements of the birds do or do not “work” with the light and the landscape. To end with an acknowledgement of how much I cannot control, it was simply fortuitous that this thick flock happened to wheel in front of the distant mountains just as the last edge of the sun was about to slip below the horizon.
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.