Category Archives: Photographs: Central California

Fog, Water, Light

Fog, Water, Light
A beam of light on water below fog, Pacific Ocean

Fog, Water, Light. Pacific Ocean Coast, California. July 212, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

A beam of light on water below fog, Pacific Ocean

Living very close to the Pacific coast of California for nearly my entire life, the ocean has always “been there” — just on the other side of coastal mountains, hardly more than a half hour away, bringing cooling evening breezes on hot summer days, and producing periodic morning fog where I live. On one hand I am more familiar with this landscape than most people, but in recent years I began to feel that I know much less about it than I should. These photographs made with the camera pointing straight out to see are something of a them of mine, not as frequent as photographs of mountains perhaps, but important nonetheless. They might include fog or winter swell or clearing storm clouds or simply the brilliant light on the water from the western sun. To me they are all a bit mysterious.

We had spent a couple of days along the Big Sur coast photographing (and eating!). The main part of the visit was over, but we had a full day to get home, and home was only about an hour and a half away. So we took our time and followed the coast almost all the way north to San Francisco before turning inland. During much of the drive we were in the sun, but north of Santa Cruz the fog began to appear, and eventually we arrived at that point where the offshore fog bank was substantial enough to form a virtual wall against the light. We stopped and I photographed as the eastern edge of the fog picked up a bit of light and the sun broke through a few clearings to illuminate the surface of the water.


G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist. His book, “California’s Fall Color: A Photographer’s Guide to Autumn in the Sierra” is available from Heyday Books and Amazon.
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The Landing

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

The Landing. California Coast. July 212, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

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

This photograph has appeared here at my website and in subsequent social media posts already, but merely as an example in a post I shared about some slightly technical matters related to a camera I use. (More on that in a moment.) Since I feel like the photograph stands not only as an example of how a lens and a camera work, but also as a photograph, this time I’m sharing it for the latter reason. We had spent a couple of days in the Monterey and Big Sur area, photographing along that spectacular coastline, and now we were headed home. We decided to work our say north along the coast, eventually turning inland just south of San Francisco.

Just before that homeward turn we passed a small, rocky island just a few yards off the actual coast, and I realized that it was covered with many scores of brown pelicans. I love photographing these birds, and it is somewhat unusual to see so many in one place, so we stopped and walked out to the bluff to make some photographs. The light was challenging since it was coming from almost directly behind the birds — but in this case that worked well as there is a light fringe around the bird, some light comes through its wing feathers, and additional light reflects back up from surf and rocks as this pelican lands. Oh, and that technical article? I made this photograph with a pretty unusual “birding” setup — the 50.6MP Canon EOS 5Ds R with a 100-400mm zoom lens with a 1.4x teleconverter attached!


G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist. His book, “California’s Fall Color: A Photographer’s Guide to Autumn in the Sierra” is available from Heyday Books and Amazon.
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Monsoonal Clouds, Pacific Ocean

Monsoonal Clouds, Pacific Ocean
Monsoonal clouds above the Pacific Ocean, Big Sur coast, California

Monsoonal Clouds, Pacific Ocean. Big Sur Coast, California. July 20, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Monsoonal clouds above the Pacific Ocean, Big Sur coast, California

Driving along the central California Big Sur coastline in mid-July we experienced a very unusual coastal summer day. Summers in this area typically feature morning and evening fog and relatively cool temperatures, interspersed with clearer days when the temperatures might rise to near 70 degrees. But for a few days this July, California was affected in an unusual way by a dissipating tropical storm and the early phase of El Niño, and we had unusual manifestations of light and atmosphere and more. There were thunderstorms, some of them quite heavy. The ocean was smoother than usual and the swell came from the south rather than the north. Layers of unusual monsoon clouds filled the sky.

This photograph belongs to what I categorize as both minimalist and imaginary landscapes. I wrote more about this in my previous post, so I’ll keep it short here. The idea is to work with simple materials and often not with an obvious central subject, to focus on some kind of subjective reality rather than creating the illusion of objective depiction.


G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist. His book, “California’s Fall Color: A Photographer’s Guide to Autumn in the Sierra” is available from Heyday Books and Amazon.
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Pacific Ocean, Clouds

Pacific Ocean, Clouds
Monsoonal clouds above the Pacific Ocean horizon, Big Sur, California

Pacific Ocean, Clouds. Big Sur Coast, California. July 20, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Monsoonal clouds above the Pacific Ocean horizon, Big Sur, California

This photograph and the one that will follow it belong to a small sub-thread in my photography, but a thread that means a lot to me. I think of these photographs as both imaginary and minimalist landscapes. They are “imaginary” in that they are about the subjective experience of the place and an invented or focused way of seeing it, and they are “minimalist” in that they are about simple forms and patterns, and because they often include large “empty” or near empty areas. These are not remotely photographs that are attempting to show the objective nature of places. They are photographs that are about some subjective way of seeing things. I often say that “all photographs lie,” but it might be more honest to say that “all photographs have a point of view.”

I’m not sure that the specific location or subject is all that relevant to this photograph, but since it is my habit to say something about that when I share photographs online, here goes. We spent a few days along the central California coast in mid-July. This is a very familiar place, but several things were unusual this time — and they may have put me in a somewhat different perceptual state. Monsoonal moisture was streaming up the coast from a Pacific Ocean tropical storm near Mexico and bringing clouds and even heavy rain to parts of California, a very unusual situation here. An anomalous plankton bloom turned big areas of the ocean and Monterey Bay an unusual blue-green aqua color. (That is probably the source of the light patch in the water in this photograph.) The swell was out of the south rather than the more typical northwest, and the water was much smoother than is typical, creating unusual reflections of sky and coastal bluffs.


G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist. His book, “California’s Fall Color: A Photographer’s Guide to Autumn in the Sierra” is available from Heyday Books and Amazon.
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Headlands, Cove, Coastal Haze

Headlands, Cove, Coastal Haze
Headlands stretch into the distance beyond a cove and beach, Big Sur

Headlands, Cove, Coastal Haze. Big Sur Coast, California. July 20, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Headlands stretch into the distance beyond a cove and beach, Big Sur

We just returned from a two-day jaunt along the Central California coast. This is familiar territory, as I’ve been visiting this part of California since I was a child, and I have been photographing it almost as long. (Some of my earliest photographic memories include using old film cameras borrowed from my father to make photographs at Point Lobos.) Most of my visits are on day trips, so it is special to be able to spend more than a single day at a time photographing here.

We had unusual conditions and we saw a number of unusual things this time. The remnants of tropical storm Dolores have affected the weather, bringing unusual amounts of tropical moisture to the state and setting of big thunderstorms. We had no such storms on the coast — though they had swept through a day or two earlier — but there was high humidity, a lot of clouds, and warm temperatures. The water was also unusual in several ways. The swell was coming out of the south rather than the typical northwest. Overall the water was relatively calm, and in many places the water’s surface was smooth enough to produce interesting reflections. Sea life seemed unusually abundant: we spotted whales in many places, and large numbers of fishing boats were lined up close to the shore south of Carmel. In the evening as we headed back north towards Monterey the coastal inversion layer began to reassert itself, producing a layer of incipient fog along the coastline and producing haze that enhanced the sense of distance as we looked past successive layers of coastal headlands stretching into the distance.


G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist. His book, “California’s Fall Color: A Photographer’s Guide to Autumn in the Sierra” is available from Heyday Books and Amazon.
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All media © Copyright G Dan Mitchell and others as indicated. Any use requires advance permission from G Dan Mitchell.

Cormorants, Coastal Rocks

Cormorants, Coastal Rocks
Cormorants nesting on rugged coastal rocks at Point Lobos State Reserve, California

Cormorants, Coastal Rocks. Point Lobos State Reserve, California. May 3, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Cormorants nesting on rugged coastal rocks at Point Lobos State Reserve, California

Following a significant bit of photography near the end of April and the beginning of May, I had hardly picked up my camera for nearly a month — and I was itching to get out and make new photographs. Time was still tight, but I found a free day and headed off to the coastal areas of the Monterey Peninsula and the northern reaches of the Big Sur coastline, ending up at Point Lobos. Frankly, as much as I wanted to make photographs, I also simply wanted to get outside for a bit, and a morning of hiking and photographing here fit the bill perfectly.

The rock in the distance on which some cormorants are nesting is actually an island — an island that at some times of year is covered with many hundreds of all kinds of shore birds. This time there were far fewer. It could have been a seasonal thing, or it might be related to the changes in ocean temperature that have caused harm to marine mammals this season. In any case, I thought it would be interesting to juxtapose the small group of black birds with a landscape of rugged rock, so I wandered a bit until I found this camera position that put nothing but rocks between me and the island.


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.

Ross’s Geese, Evening Sky

Ross's Geese, Evening Sky
Ross’s Geese, Evening Sky

Ross’s Geese, Evening Sky. San Joaquin Valley, California. March 1, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

A flock of Ross’s geese head west against the clouds of a winter evening sky

This may well end up being one of my final migratory bird photographs of the 2014-15 season. It seemed to wind down early this year, at least from what I saw. I suspect that this probably has something to do with the very unusual weather this winter in California. The temperatures were far above normal. In some places there averaged ten degrees higher than usual during the first three months of the year. Precipitation has also been way out of whack. There were some early indications of a possible wet year, then things seemed to be put on hold… until some serious rain (at my elevation) in December, which brought back memories of what winter used to be like in California. Then the tap seemed to be shut off with the new year, and where I live we went nearly 50 days with no rainfall whatsoever at what should be the wettest time of the year. It finally rained again, but not much. More troubling, the Sierra experience roughly 10% of typical precipitation levels, and this is the fourth year of below normal precipitation.

Despite the climate challenges, the season did produce some truly wonderful days of bird photography in the Central Valley. One thing that helped was a long period of tule fog in the Valley, which I find picturesque. Eventually the birds showed up, and we had a great stretch of geese and cranes and more up through the middle of February. At the end of the month we headed to the Sierra for an exhibit at the Yosemite Renaissance, stopping on the way to visit the birds. We didn’t see many at all, and when we stopped again on the way back things hadn’t changed much. Late in the day we did find a group of Ross’s geese on a pond, and I caught groups of them as they departed to the south and west.


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.