Category Archives: Photographs: Central California

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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All media © Copyright G Dan Mitchell and others as indicated. Any use requires advance permission from G Dan Mitchell.

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.
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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.

American Avocet, Reflection

American Avocet, Reflection
American Avocet, Reflection

American Avocet, Reflection. San Joaquin Valley, California. February 27, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

American Avocet and reflection, San Joaquin Valley wetlands

I have written before — often! — about the tremendous numbers of birds in California’s Central Valley, especially in the winter when migrating birds overwinter here. It is easy to be most impressed by the birds that are the biggest, the most unusual, those that are found in almost unbelievable numbers, and those whose cries are most striking. Frankly, very few experiences can compete with the sound and fury of many thousands of geese taking to the air at once, the magic of squadrons of cranes gliding in at dusk, the grace and size of the slower-moving egrets and herons, and too many others to list.

I’ve never been the classic “birder” type — the guy with the scope who searches out and identifies any and all birds — though I have become much more sympathetic to the passions of such people as I have spent more time among these remarkable birds! More recently, as I have returned to these places more and more frequently, I have gradually become aware that there are many other birds besides the big, impressive specimens mentioned above. These include individuals such as the hawks and owls, small birds that also live in flocks such as red-winged blackbirds, and a bunch of smaller birds that hang out in and around the water… like the avocet shown here. At one end of a refuge where we frequently photograph there are some quiet ponds along the side of the access road. I rarely see the bigger birds here, but I have recently learned that there is a lot more going on here than initially meets the untrained eye. On one of our recent visits I spent some time photographing avocets against the mostly smooth water in the morning just after the fog had cleared.


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.

Whalers Cove

Whalers Cove
Whalers Cove

Whalers Cove. Point Lobos, California. March 15, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Whalers Cove at the Point Lobos State Reserve

People who head straight toward the ocean at Point Lobos, driving west through the park and then south, probably miss this spot completely since it is off to the side and down a hill a bit. It is very popular with divers and recently I’ve seen kayakers working out of the cove. It is also a good place to find various sorts of birds — on more than one occasion I’ve photographed egrets standing on seaweed and hunting for meal.

This time I hiked up the trail that climbs away from the cove and towards the north shore of the park with its cypresses and steep cliffs dropping to the water. From the early part of the climb I could look back over the cove and see the small meadow at its head and the layers of forest and hills beyond as they rise toward the ring of the coastal hills across and beyond the Pacific Coast Highway.


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.

Coal Chute Point

Coal Chute Point
Coal Chute Point

Coal Chute Point. Point Lobos, California. March 15, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

A bench on the bluff at Coal Chute Point, with inlet and peninsulas leading toward green hills, Point Lobos

A few days ago I needed to go make photographs, following a period during which that has not been possible, so I headed off towards the Monterey Peninsula with a vague plan that might have ended up here at Point Lobos or could have taken me further down the coast highway. It was overcast further north and inland, so I figured that by going south a bit I could find better light. In fact, I did, though it was not without its challenges — though the challenges of thin clouds (with their softened light) and haze usually appeal to me.

Without thinking about it a lot I ended up at Point Lobos, a place I have visited regularly since my family first came to California when I was four years old. Needless to say, this is familiar territory for me! I arrived shortly after the park opened and I headed straight to Whalers Cove and soon saw the peninsulas across this bay fading into atmospheric haze and finally to the “impossibly green” hills of the coastal range — and I knew that this would be my first subject for the day.


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.