Category Archives: Photographs: Abstract

Geese, Twilight

Geese, Twilight
Geese, Twilight

Geese, Twilight. San Joaquin Valley, California. January 25, 2015 © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Abstract photograph of low-flying flock of geese in twilight

It has been a while since I share a fuzzy goosescape, so I’ll try to make up for it with this one. Late in the evening of a long day photographing migratory birds and the San Joaquin Valley landscape, after the sun had set, I made this last photograph of the day in very low light. As we photograph on into the evening — typically with the camera off the tripod when photographing birds — we try to keep up with the fading light by opening up the aperture, raising the ISO, and gradually lengthening the shutter speed.

Eventually there comes a point where the light is so low that this won’t allow sharp photographs of moving birds any more. I actually look forward to this end-of-the-evening time and I happily switch over to intentional motion blur photographs. I lower the ISO, close down the aperture, lengthen the shutter speed and try for soft, blurring photographs. A lot of this work is rather experimental, since you can’t completely know what you’ll get ahead of time. You do have some control — shutter speed controls just how much blur there will be; by panning the camera you can get moving subjects to be defined enough to recognize; by moving the camera you can control the angles and curves of lines of blurred light. And when it all works out just right the result can be quite beautiful and, in some ways, more suggestive of the feeling of this place at twilight.


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.

Winter Dusk, Three Birds

Winter Dusk, Three Birds
Winter Dusk, Three Birds

Winter Dusk, Three Birds. San Joaquin Valley, California. January 1, 2014. © Copyright 2014 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Motion blur abstraction of a winter scene with three birds landing

Near the end of the day, well along into the dusk hour, with light fading fast, I decided to take advantage of the poor light and “play” a bit with very slow shutter speeds and intentional camera motion. By moving the camera in various ways during the exposure I can control to some extent the angle, length, and linearity of the blur. In some cases it is enough to just track the birds — and give the less fuzzy image of the three central birds, I am pretty certain that is what I was doing here. In other cases I can basically ignore the motion of my subjects and simply think about how to move the camera to create patterns in the motion blur.

I’ve often felt that working for sharply focused, stopped motion images of birds is not the only way to depict whatever it is that attracts me to them. The camera lets us see birds in ways that we really cannot usually see them with our own eyes. When birds are in motion it is almost impossible — at least with many types of birds — to clearly see them. They move too fast and the motion of wings is essentially impossible to track visually. And when we do stop them with a fast shutter speed, while we get to see them with a kind of clarity that isn’t otherwise possible, we may also sacrifice that sense of constant motion. So I started playing with the idea of intentionally avoiding sharp focus, allowing camera motion to come into play and using slow shutter speeds to allow the birds to blur and to blur their surroundings as the camera moves. To me, this sometimes evokes more strongly the feeling of the fast motion that I observe among these birds, and creates a different sort of honest portrayal of them.

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.

Two People, Railing, Walls

Two People, Railing, Walls
Two People, Railing, Walls

Two People, Railing, Walls. New York City. December 29, 2013. © Copyright 2014 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Two figures seen through a gap in walls at the top of a stairway.

There is probably not too much to say about this photograph, though I could probably say a lot about it if I got started. During a rainy day visit to a New York City museum, I saw the gap between walls at the top of this stairway and the effects on color and luminosity of the various different sources of reflected light in this space. I lined up with the scene to leave a slender gap between the corners of two walls so that people passing by in the hallway would momentarily show up in this gap. I tried a variety of focus points – on the people, on the edges of the walls, on the railings… but in the end I liked the version that doesn’t really focus on anything specific.

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.

Paint on Metal Wall

Paint on Metal Wall
Paint on Metal Wall

Paint on Metal Wall. Brooklyn, New York. December 27, 2013. © Copyright 2014 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Colorful patches of spray paint on a metal wall, Brooklyn, New York

While wandering around in the DUMBO area of Brooklyn, between a walk in one direction on the Brooklyn Bridge and a walk back in the other direction on the Manhattan Bridge, we walked up some streets under the flyover at the Brooklyn end of the Manhattan Bridge. This is not what you might think of as a “special” area, being beneath a bridge and containing at least some of the expected forms of urban decay. Surprisingly though there were some interesting things to see here – nice light on this day and some urban/street subjects.

As we walked up one narrow street we passed, as I recall it, some storage yards and similar that were fenced off from the roadway and sidewalks. I think this was part of a section of metal fencing along the sidewalk. I remember looking at this very bizarre pattern of colorful paint and wondering how it got there. There were no signs on the wall at this point, but it looked like someone must have spray-painted some objects in front of the wall, and done so more than once and with a wild variety of colors – blue, hot pink, fluorescent green, several shades of hello, orange, black, and more. This accidental art seems to be the result of the creation of something else that was nowhere to be found.

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.

Flight of Geese, Twilight

Flight of Geese, Twilight
Flight of Geese, Twilight

Flight of Geese, Twilight. San Joaquin Valley, California. December 18, 2013. © Copyright 2013 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

A huge flock of Ross’s geese takes to the sky in the twilight

I probably don’t really need to point out that geese to not look like this, at least not in the objective sense, and that this image is about a subjective impression of these birds and their world. When photographing geese, at least the geese I work with in the California’s Central Valley, long periods of sitting around while not much happens are periodically punctuated by moments when the world goes nuts. For reasons that are often not at all clear, a flock of many thousands of geese that has been on the ground feeding will suddenly lift off as one in a maelstrom of sound and flapping wings. They often head off in some direction, and the group turns in this and that direction and spreads out… and after a few minutes returns to the ground, often in the same or nearly the same spot they just left. After this wild flight ends everything returns again to relative calm.

In the evening as the light fails, I often continue shooting as long as I can, gradually raising camera ISO, opening the aperture all the way, and pushing the shutter speed lower and lower… until there is no longer any way to continue to shoot in the normal fashion. On this evening I finally looked down at my camera to note that I was shooting wide open and ISO 3200 and at 1/5 second or longer… with a handheld 400mm lens! By this point one (at least this one) can no longer really even see the geese with clarity, especially on a typical Central Valley evening when the air is thick with haze and incipient fog. While it might seem like a good time to put the camera away and go have some dinner, at this point I look forward to one final and very special photographic opportunity during this marginal dusk time between sunset colors and blue hour light. I go with the slow shutter speeds and the impossibility of clearly seeing the birds, much less stopping their motion with fast shutter speeds and perfect focus, and I instead play with camera motion and soft focus and the motion blur of the birds themselves. And given that this cannot in any way produce objectively accurate and clinically precise depictions of the birds, I instead go for a sort of subjective truth that represents their wild and only have visible flight through twilight sky.

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.

Geese Take Flight in Dusk Sky

Geese Take Flight in Dusk Sky
Geese Take Flight in Dusk Sky

Geese Take Flight in Dusk Sky. San Joaquin Valley, California. January 1, 2013. © Copyright 2013 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Motion-blurred photograph of a flock of Ross’s geese taking flight in dusk sky above the San Joaquin Valley, California

This is another example of what I’ve taken to referring to my “blurreds in flight” photographs. (Yes, a bad pun on the common subject of “birds in flight,” also known as “bif” photographs.) Very early morning or dusk seem like good times to experiment with this, as the very dim light often pushes the ability of photographer and gear to continue to shoot as ISOs rise, apertures enlarge… and eventually one runs out of maneuvering room. Just lower that ISO and let the birds blur!

But that’s not really why I do these. While I suppose that I’m just as interested in trying to produce very sharp images of birds frozen in flight by high shutter speeds and accurate autofocus, I sometimes feel that this more clinical approach isn’t the only way to capture or express the qualities of these animals and what I can observe of their lives. In a sense, the still camera “lies” about what we can actually see of these birds when we are there and watching them. In low light, often observing from a distance, when a group of Ross’s geese suddenly takes flight in a wild maelstrom of honking and flapping wings, we really cannot see all of the specific details of each feather and the impression we have is more often one of wild motion and surprise. While I don’t think a photograph can ever fully or accurately depict this, allowing the motion to become visible by using slow shutter speeds might evoke a sense of these animals that the razor-sharp, stop-action photographs might miss.

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.

My Kitchen Window

My Kitchen Window
My Kitchen Window

My Kitchen Window. San Francisco Bay Area, California. March 16, 2013. © Copyright 2013 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

The view through blinds hanging outside my kitchen window.

Yup. My kitchen window. Why, you might wonder, did I make this photograph? I think there might be three reasons.

First, I’ve often said that I believe that I can find something to photograph within a few feet of anyplace I might find myself. A few photographer friends could tell you stories about me shooting from basically one spot for, on occasion, hours. Right now I’m recalling a meeting with a friend in Death Valley. We went to photograph a beautiful canyon area that I had overlooked and which she wanted to show me. We set up to shoot – I was on top of a small rise. As she ran around discovering this and that and the other fascinating thing, I continued to shoot from my original spot, perhaps for as long as an hour. It’s not that I don’t like to move. I can hike as well as the next photographer. But sometimes I can find so much in a small area that I don’t want to move. And I sure didn’t have to move much at all for this shot. I didn’t even have to leave the house!

Second, and speaking of house, there is a bit of a tradition among some photographers of making photographs in their immediately living environment. Here I’m thinking of a post from, if I recall, Cole Weston that I saw recently in which he shared photographs from seemingly mundane places… including his house and maybe even his bedroom. I believe that Huntington Witherill made the initial photographs for many of his beautiful digital manipulations of flowers in a spot in his home. And on and on. So, what the heck, a shot from my home. (Compared to these other photographers, I have to admit that my “home-grown” photographs have a way to go!)

Third, I had a new camera and I was anxious to try it out. The camera is a bit of a departure from the gear I usually use. (Typically I shoot with a full-frame DSLR system.) Because of some situations in which I want to travel and shoot light and fast, I decided to pick up a Fujifilm X-E1 along with a small set of lenses. This is a small mirrorless “rangefinder style” camera with similarly small lenses. (You can read more about the camera and my initial impressions here: “Fujifilm X-E1: From DSLR to Mirrorless. Hint: I like it.”) So this was probably just about the first photograph I made with that camera.

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.