Category Archives: Ideas

Gray Areas

This post derives from something I wrote elsewhere in a discussion about a photograph that included something that wasn’t originally in the scene, a discussion that became rather polarized. 

“Not everybody trusts paintings but people believe photographs.” 
― Ansel Adams

Imaginary Landscape - Death Valley
An imaginary landscape derived from subjects photographed in Death Valley National Park.

All photographs lie. But all photographs carry a burden of reality.

Except for photographers who overtly and obviously manipulate reality in major ways as a central concept of their work — see Jerry Uelsmann, for example, or some work by John Paul Caponigro, among others — viewers come to photographs believing that the images had their genesis in the real. Photographers can respond to this basic presumption in photography in a number of ways, and perhaps in landscape photography the response has even more implications.

Let’s say you are Caponigro or Uelsmann and a major point of your photography is to produce visual art that derives from and references the landscape but then combines it with non-landscape elements or takes those elements and fundamentally rearranges them so that they intentionally no longer can be taken to represent the real landscape. These photographers openly embrace and build their work on creating imaginary fantastical worlds out of materials derived from the real landscape, creating what I refer to as “imaginary landscapes.” The photographer and the viewer are on exactly the same page here – both accept and embrace the fantasy and the sometimes more ambiguous line between the real and the imagined. This work seems completely honest and genuine.

On the other hand, let’s say you are a photographer who builds and bases a reputation not on the creation of visual fantasies — things we all know are not and cannot be real — but instead on going to great lengths to travel to “special places,” often telling stories of finding special places and special conditions that less focused and dedicated photographers do not find. Continue reading Gray Areas

DSLR & Mirrorless: Flexibility and Adaptability

(Note: This is one of those occasional posts adapted from something I originally wrote elsewhere. This one came from an online discussion of the relative merits of DSLRs and mirrorless cameras and their abilities to work with various lenses and photographic subjects. I have edited the original slightly for its re-use here.)

With all of the recent (justifiable!) interest in new mirrorless camera developments from Sony, there are factors that may persuade some photographers to go slow on giving up DSLRs for mirrorless. (It may also convince them to do what I did — I augmented my DSLR system with a second mirrorless system.) As good as mirrorless cameras are becoming, in particular the full frame Sony A7r and newer A7rII, they have their pluses and minuses when it comes to real-world photography. They can do some things quite well – there are advantages in some cases to the electronic viewfinders, Sony sensors provide state-of-the-art dynamic range, the bodies are compact, and more. They do some things less well — native lenses are few, other lenses require adapters, the autofocus systems are slower than DSLRs, there are still latency issues with the viewfinders, and so on.)

In this context, I recently realized that one of the nice things about the new Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II Lens and the newer Canon bodies (like my 5Ds R, which is very similar to the 5Ds)  is that they now autofocus (AF) quite well at f/8. The 100-400 len’s maximum f/5.6 aperture at the long end is no longer a barrier to getting 560mm out of the lens by adding the TC.

I’ve only tried the combination on one occasion so far, when the opportunity to photograph wildlife came up on a recent photography venture along the California coast. I put the 100-400 version II and the Canon 1.4x TC on my 5DsR and photographed two wildlife subjects, elephant seals lounging on a beach and pelicans doing everything from flying past to landing to sitting still. (For those who want more information than I can provide here, I wrote about the initial results in a another article.)

While I do not recommend that people whose primary photographic focus is birds in flight rush out and get a 5Ds or 5Ds R, a 100-400 v2, and a 1.4x TC as their primary setup, it does work decently and in some cases extremely well.  Most importantly, it means that my primary landscape photography setup and can also work very effectively with non-landscape subjects, including wildlife — a task that will severely challenge the best current mirrorless options.

The Landing
A brown pelican joins the flock on a rock along the Pacific coast of California

The combination focuses well and provides good resolution, even with moving subjects — though, obviously, not as well as using something like a 1Dx with a 300mm f/2.8 prime. It is good enough that I can track birds in flight and catch sharp photographs of them in motion. Continue reading DSLR & Mirrorless: Flexibility and Adaptability

Landscape Not-Photography

It is no secret that I’m pretty serious about my landscape photography. I spend a lot of time going to interesting places, searching out subjects, and making photographs. In fact, this activity is undoubtedly the single biggest influence on the nature of my outdoor experiences.

Subalpine Meadow, Summer
Midday summer sky reflected in a subalpine tarn, Yosemite National Park

I embrace this effect and regard it as highly positive. I’m convinced that photography deepens my appreciation and understanding of these places and subjects. Like every photographer I know who shares my passion for these subjects, entering the natural world to make photographs focuses my perceptions in powerful ways. I slow down. I stop. I look. I ponder. I wonder. I indulge my curiosity and I see things that I would otherwise miss. I’m intensely aware of light, color, atmosphere, form, and subject.

But sometimes the photography gets in the way… Continue reading Landscape Not-Photography

“Photography and Luck” in Extraordinary Vision Magazine

Extraordinary Vision Magazine — Issue 24
Extraordinary Vision Magazine — Issue 24

My article, “Photography and Luck” appears in this month’s edition of Extraordinary Vision Magazine, available for iOS and Android platforms for free. This is a great photography publication that features images and writing by a wide range of photographers.

Download links:


(Post originally shared on December 25, 2014.)

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+ | | 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.

Social Media and the Death of the Web (Morning Musings 9/27/14)

Dan Mitchell 1977 Website Screenshot
Dan Mitchell 1977 Website Screenshot *

How many of us have considered the ways in which popular social media services — which admittedly are hugely appealing in many ways  — are doing an effective job of killing the world wide web and undoing the early promise that it offered of direct and open access, along with visibility proportionate to quality, and critical disintermediation?

A few years back there was this astonishing, exciting, powerful, accessible thing called the world wide web, on which virtually anyone could share their story, their creative work, their business — and we saw the beginnings of the great disintermediation as boundaries were broken and the middlemen who had stood between content producers and consumers began to disappear. This was a world filled with promise. Those who produced valuable and interesting content (as differentiated from those who simply channeled it) could connect directly with a world of people who found that content compelling, and those looking for content could easily find it and follow it. Word got around, and it did so fairly directly, with little or no intermediation by those who had controlled traditional media.

Social media applications are seductive things, especially during their start-up phase, when the typical approach has involved giving away (or at least appearing to give away) a great deal of access by means of what seem like very open platforms. In fact, many who jumped onto these platforms early on did manage to leverage their initial power to their advantage. However, virtually without exception, these applications have morphed in directions that do not enable our own control over what we see and who we connect to, but which instead take control out of our hands and begin to determine for us what we will see, most often based on generating advertising revenue — a old model that takes us back to (to coin a term) nondisintermediation. Continue reading Social Media and the Death of the Web (Morning Musings 9/27/14)

Quotations and Photographs (Morning Musings 9/21/14)

Self-portrait with Friedlander Poster - SFMoMA
Self-portrait with Friedlander Poster – SFMoMA

With partially ironic intent, I’m going to begin this Morning Musings post with two quotations. I snagged from the web by doing a quick search on “quotations about quotations” and, in line with common web practice, I simply present them for what they appear to be — I have not checked to validate the sources. Hey, it’s the internet! ;-)

“In the garden of literature, the highest and the most charismatic flowers are always the quotations.”
― Mehmet Murat ildan

“He wrapped himself in quotations – as a beggar would enfold himself in the purple of Emperors.”
― Rudyard KiplingMany Inventions

I’ve thought about this quite a bit, largely in the context of the (increasingly?) common practice of attaching quotations to photographs. I think that there are things about this practice that seem useful and beneficial, but there are also some aspects that seem a bit problematic, at least to me, and I’d like to briefly explore this in an entirely incomplete way.

I can call up a few relevant quotations pretty quickly when necessary. Some of you may have seen me post a favorite John Muir quote as a way of acknowledging that I’m heading of into the mountains: The mountains are calling and I must go.  Continue reading Quotations and Photographs (Morning Musings 9/21/14)

I’m Amazingly Humbled! Not. (Morning Musing 9/17/14)

OK, this “morning musing” post is a) not really being posted in the “morning” (though I was musing about it then), and b) about as totally unrelated to photography as possible. Hey, its my (humble) blog!

Recently recipients of high honors or acclamations have been responding to these honors by saying, “I’m humbled.”

Probably not.

I just grabbed one definition of the word “humbled” off the web — from the Free Dictionary:

tr.v. hum·bledhum·blinghum·bles

  1. To curtail or destroy the pride of; humiliate.
  2. To cause to be meek or modest in spirit.
  3. To give a lower condition or station to; abase. See Synonyms at degrade.

Imagine that the recipient of high honors and acclaim stood in front of those conferring the honor or award and announced:

“Your award humiliates me and destroys my pride. You have reduced me to a lower condition and station, and I am abased. You have degraded me. You make me meek. Your award demotes and dishonors me and devalues me.”

Actually, you don’t have to imagine. That is essentially what it means when a person claims to be “humbled” by an honor!

If you want to have even more fun with this, see some of the synonyms and related words listed in one  of the comments following this post. Using them, our recipient might add:

Thank you for demeaning and discrediting me, humiliating me, and bringing me shame. It is wonderful to be taken down and dishonored by a group such as yours. I am embarrassed and grateful that you have castigated and diminished me in this way. I thank you for your ridicule and bad-mouthing disparagement and for presenting me with such a slanderous public affront.

I think that the people misusing the word “humbled” in this context actually mean well. They are trying to express gratitude and to not seem fat-headed or egotistical — and those are good things. However, there are better words to convey what they likely want to say. How about: “I’m grateful. Thank you. You have honored me. I never thought that this would happen. I deeply appreciate this. I want to thank all of the people who have supported me. I hope I can live up to your expectations. This means a lot to me.”

And thus ends my humble rant. ;-)

Morning Musings are somewhat irregular posts in which I write about whatever is on my mind at the moment.

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+ | | 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.