Category Archives: Commentary

Dark Hills, Death Valley

Dark Hills, Death Valley
Dark Hills, Death Valley

Dark Hills, Death Valley. Death Valley National Park, California. April 1, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Dark hills contrast with surrounding salt flats and alluvial fans

I know that “dark hills” is not a very poetic description for this landscape… but it does seem, at least, to be accurate! These formations have intrigued me for a few years, and I’ve been surprised to be able to photograph them all alone — despite visiting them regularly, I have never encountered another person there. I’m not sure why, except that there are some better known icons nearby, and perhaps they attract all of the others in the area.

In the past I tried to find out more about the source of the formations and my recollection (which I was unable to re-verify this time) is that they are the result of some kind of ancient tufa-like deposits formed on the bottom of the lake that once filled the basin that is now Death Valley. Their darker color contrasts strikingly with the surrounding terrain, and the material of the mounts has a finely layered quality. This example sits on a small playa where pooling water seems to have left salt deposits behind, though similar forms can also be found in slightly higher terrain nearby. In the evening the low light from the west angles across these mounds and makes their textures and curves a bit more visible.


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.

Musician Photographs (2/2/15)

Here is another group of photographs from my three-year project to photograph classical musicians. This set includes musicians from Symphony Silicon Valley.

All photographs © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.


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.
Blog | About | Flickr | Twitter | FacebookGoogle+ | 500px.com | LinkedIn | Email

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.

Mount Hamilton Road, Santa Clara Valley

Mount Hamilton Road, Santa Clara Valley
Mount Hamilton Road, Santa Clara Valley

Mount Hamilton Road, Santa Clara Valley. December 14, 2014. © Copyright 2014 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

The expansive panorama from the summit of Mount Hamilton, including Mt Hamilton Road, Santa Clara Valley, and the distant San Francisco Bay

I have a long and deep relationship with the terrain shown in this photograph — a photo that may not mean much to people who don’t share this experience, or at least know similar California coastal and inland terrain. I made the photograph late on a winter afternoon at the summit of Mount Hamilton as a Pacific weather front was just nosing in over the San Francisco Bay Area. Mount Hamilton is the tallest peak in the Bay Area at just over 4000′, and it is also the site of the historic James Lick Observatory. The view from the summit takes in a huge swatch of California — on clear days you can see a good chunk of San Francisco Bay to the northwest, Monterey Bay to the south, and the line of Sierra Nevada summits far to the east.

I’ve visited this peak since I was a youngster and my father took us there to visit rare Bay Area snow. (The road closes these days when there is snow, but that was not the case in the past.) We also traveled there to tour the observatory and visit the telescopes, which was a powerful experience for young kids. Later as an avid and serious cyclist Mount Hamilton was a regular destination for training and other rides. I climbed the road twisting among the hills in the photograph many times, and I could descend it at speeds that would likely scare most people. Eventually I and my cyclist friends came to know the road like the backs of our hands, and as we entered one turn we would already be mentally setting up for the next couple of turns after that, trying to maintain as much speed on the descent as possible. Today when I drive the road I’m still running over the deep memory of the turns, how they bank, what lies ahead, the width of the road, as I descend… at a much more sedate and prudent speed!


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.
Blog | About | Flickr | Twitter | FacebookGoogle+ | 500px.com | LinkedIn | Email

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.

Merry Christmas 2014!

Merry Christmas 2014! (Two Cranes, Sunrise)
Merry Christmas 2014! (Two Cranes, Sunrise)

Two Cranes, Sunrise. © Copyright 2014 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

I hope you have a wonderful holiday and a great new year! (And, yes, this photograph is the kind of scene I think of during this season in California.)


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.
Blog | About | Flickr | Twitter | FacebookGoogle+ | 500px.com | LinkedIn | Email

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.

Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II Lens — A First Look

(Note: Updated 12/24/14 to add thoughts about “who should buy” this lens.)

Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS IICanon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II

Canon recently released the successor to their venerable 100-400mm telephoto zoom lens, the new EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens. I have relied on the older model for some time now… but my copy of the new lens arrived a few days ago. Now that I have used it for a day of wildlife and landscape photography I would like to share some first impressions

Four Sandhill Cranes
Four Sandhill Cranes

Four Sandhill Cranes. San Joaquin Valley, California. December 22, 2014.
© Copyright 2014 G Dan Mitchell — all rights reserved.

First, a few technical details. The new lens covers essentially the same range as the older model — a focal length range of 100mm to 400mm and a variable aperture range of f/4.5 (at 100mm) to f/5.6 (at 400mm). Both lenses use a zoom mechanism that extends at longer focal lengths. However, there are some technical differences:

Continue reading Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II Lens — A First Look

Misplaced Focus (Morning Musings 12/3/14)

Family Portrait
Family Portrait

From time to time I adapt things that I wrote elsewhere and re-share them on the blog. The following is something I contributed to a discussion about a question from a newish photographer who wondered how important it would be to upgrade his camera. 

I’m all for better image quality — which contemporary cameras, software, and printing processes provide in spades. And there is no question that, all else being equal, a photograph captured on a larger film or sensor format can potentially resolve more detail, and may improve other image parameters including dynamic range and noise.

As they say, “So stipulated.”

But the question (which was about choosing a sensor format) deserves a more nuanced and contextual answer than that. Fortunately, the most accurate and useful answer involves quite a bit of that nuance. I think it really comes down to something like, “Will replacing my cropped sensor camera with a full frame camera make my photographs look better?”. The best answer begins with, “It depends.”

As to the question (which also came up in the original discussion) of what is important in a photograph, image sharpness is not unimportant in many cases. (Though there certainly are photographs whose “goodness” is perhaps at least partially because they are blurred — softness and blur are not always things to be avoided.)

I think the issue in photography discussions is frequently about the balance among issues that affect the quality and effectiveness of a photograph. Here, it is not uncommon for some folks to exhibit a misplaced focus on the technical stuff, accompanied by insufficient attention to other things that are more important to their success as photographers. Continue reading Misplaced Focus (Morning Musings 12/3/14)

Holding an Artifact

Holding an Artifact
Holding an Artifact

Holding an Artifact. Wildcat Hill, California. September 28, 2014. © Copyright 2014 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Holding a Brett Weston negative — “Brooklyn Bridge, New York, 1946”

During our visit to the Weston Home at Wildcat Hill in late September, Kim Weston shared a wide range of photographs and photographic objects , and accompanying stories, with us in his studio. (That’s him at the lower right of the frame.) He shared and talked about work by many of the Westons, from Edward Weston to himself. He even passed around various photographs and objects for closer inspection, including this negative of a very important Brett Weston photograph, “Brooklyn Bridge, New York, 1946.”

And — no surprise! — he has a lot of stories to tell. If I have this one correct, it goes sort of this way. Brett Weston’s photographs are very much about the print and the initial image in the negative served as source material for the final interpretation. That interpretation was the thing — not the negative. As I understand it, he wanted the prints, not the negatives, to remain as his legacy, and he had announced that we was going to destroy the negatives for many great photographs. He discussed this with Edward (?) Weston, who did not feel the same way about limiting editions and who apparently convinced Brett to let him pick a few negatives to save. Brett agreed, Edward chose, Brett went and brought back the selected negatives… which he had defaced with a hole punch. (You can see the holes near the four corners of this negative.)


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.
Blog | About | Flickr | Twitter | FacebookGoogle+ | 500px.com | LinkedIn | Email

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.