Category Archives: Photographs: Nature

Goose-Filled Sky, Dusk

Goose-Filled Sky, Dusk
Thousands of Ross’s geese fill the dusk sky above California’s San Joaquin Valley

Goose-Filled Sky, Dusk. San Joaquin Valley, California. February 5, 2016. © Copyright 2016 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Thousands of Ross’s geese fill the dusk sky above California’s San Joaquin Valley

The light and the photographic subjects pass through a series of stages at the end of the day in these wetlands areas. The nondescript late afternoon light takes on a warmer tone as the sun drops toward the horizon and shadows lengthen, and often clouds in the distant west may momentarily mute the light. There is still plenty of light for traditional bird photography, as the direct sunlight has not yet disappeared. Before long comes the last bit of direct sun, golden in color on the bodies of white geese, and then it is twilight.

At this transitional moment all sort of light magic can happen. As flocks of birds wheel around in the night sky they take on different colors — the gold of reflected sunset, the blue of the eastern sky that is transitioning towards night, and sometimes they simply are black against the sky. And the sky shifts colors, too. Sometimes the effect is wild and gaudy, but more often it is subtle, with tones of pink and blue and purple and more. By the time I made this photograph the light was becoming quite dim, and it was dark enough that I could no longer maintain a shutter speed that would stop the motion of the birds. So I no longer tried! I use a longer shutter speed and pan, watching for the flocks to compose themselves in interesting ways, always in constant motion, and against the colors of the evening sky.


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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In Flight, Dusk

In Flight, Dusk
Ross’s geese in flight above San Joaquin Valley wetlands in dusk light

In Flight, Dusk. San Joaquin Valley, California. February 5, 2016. © Copyright 2016 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Ross’s geese in flight above San Joaquin Valley wetlands in dusk light

This was a beautiful mid-winter day in the San Joaquin Valley. It began with a two-hour pre-dawn drive from home, starting earlier than a month ago now that the days are beginning to lengthen again. I drove in clear weather and it remained so as the sky began to brighten as I entered the valley, but as I got closer to my destination I was pleased to encounter for — thin at first but within minutes so think that I had to slow and turn on fog lights. I arrived at my destination a half hour before sunrise, and began photographing, working all morning before finally taking a break for lunch.

My friends Claudia and Michael had dropped a hint in an email that they might be out that way later in the day, and I was pleased to find them there when I came back from my break. We greeted one another, took a quick trip around the area to scout the birds for evening photography, and then ended right back were we started. Big groups of sandhill cranes and geese (mostly Ross’s but with a few other interlopers mixed in) were active in newly turned fields nearby, so we found a good vantage point and watched as the evening light came on. Eventually the light became so dim that it was no longer really possible to make sharp stop-motion photographs of birds in flight. This is, in a way, one of my favorite times of day, when I switch over from a more typical kind of bird photography and begin to go with the darkness, using slow shutter speeds and panning along with the motion of flocks, and making photographs that work with the motion blur of low light and slower shutter speeds.


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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Forest, Lake, and Haze

Forest, Lake, and Haze
A hazy late-summer day at a subalpine Sierra Nevada lake, Yosemite National Park

Forest, Lake, and Haze. Yosemite National Park, California. September 10, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

A hazy late-summer day at a subalpine Sierra Nevada lake, Yosemite National Park

With all of the recent urban and street photography I have been posting — which is a bit seasonal pattern, given my travel tendencies — I’m also making an effort to go back through some older photographs from last year to find landscape photography that escaped my notice on the first pass. This always happens with photographs — for some reason certain images don’t make sense right after I make them, but when I come back to them later on with a fresh eye I see potential that I missed. Right now I’m revisiting late-summer photographs from a week-long backcountry stay at a Yosemite lake.

For me, this photograph holds many of the subtler elements of the High Sierra experience — not the spectacular grand vistas, but something deeper and ultimately perhaps more powerful. In this beautiful late-season time of year, the meadow grasses around this quiet lake have finished the wild growth phase of summer and have already turned golden-yellow in preparation for autumn and then winter. Lower angle light comes over the shoulder of the granite ridge whose base is visible beyond the trees. Widely spaced trees stand at the edges of the meadow and even trace weaknesses in the granite slabs on the higher slopes.


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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Subalpine Lake, Morning Reflections

Subalpine Lake, Morning Reflections
Morning light and reflections on the rocky shoreline of a subalpine Sierra Nevada lake

Subalpine Lake, Morning Reflections. Yosemite National Park, California. September 12, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Morning light and reflections on the rocky shoreline of a subalpine Sierra Nevada lake

A wonderful thing about making photographs is that I get to travel backwards and forwards in time almost at will. Here it is in the middle of winter, and by looking back a few months in my archive I can go right back to a beautiful late summer week spent photographing around a Yosemite subalpine lake with a couple of friends. All of the sensory memories come right back: the stillness of the morning lake as the first sun worked its way through high clouds and haze, the memory of carrying my camera around the perimeter of that lake every morning as I looked slowly of subjects, the first colors of Sierra autumn.

We camped here for a full week, working intensively to photograph in and around one small area. If you haven’t done this you could be forgiven for wondering how in the world one could spend an entire week in area not much larger than a mile or two across. In fact, I still have those doubts at the start of any trip like this. All I can say is that, inevitably, the end of such a week comes too soon, I depart with many things left unphotographed, and I often return to these places again and find even more to see and photograph.


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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Great Egret

Great Egret
A great egret in flight against cloudy sky

Great Egret. Sacramento Valley, California. January 8, 2016. © Copyright 2016 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

A great egret in flight against cloudy sky

This particular egret and I shared a few brief seconds of photography as the bird suddenly emerged, already in flight, from a brushy area along the edge of a pond at a Sacramento Valley wildlife refuge. In most ways, the egrets are at their most graceful while in flight, but this is when they are also the most difficult to photograph. Usually they take off and fly away from the photographer, and they are soon too far away to photograph. This one, however, flew parallel to my position and gave me a good side view. I only had a brief interval to raise my camera, find the egret in the viewfinder, and track it as I squeezed of a sequence of photographs.

I shared another one a few days ago. I interpreted that one in black and white, so I thought I’d work this one out in color. There was a great deal of softness in the original image — while parts of the wings are in focus, the large aperture and motion of the bird left other parts soft. So I decided to go with that soft effect and, in fact, amplify it and to then also go with a bit of a high key treatment, further emphasizing the brightness of the bird against a bright, cloudy sky.


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.

Big Creek Bridge, Big Sur Coast

Big Creek Bridge, Big Sur Coast
Evening light on the Big Sur Coast and the Big Creek Bridge

Big Creek Bridge, Big Sur Coast. Pacific Coast, California. January 24, 2016. © Copyright 2016 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Evening light on the Big Sur Coast and the Big Creek Bridge

I have to admit that when it comes to available photograph subjects… I am spoiled. I knew I was going to go make photographs today, but when I awoke well before dawn I had not decided for sure where I would go. I considered going north across the Golden Gate to Point Reyes National Seashore, but it sounded like a weak weather system was going to pass through that area late in the day. I thought about heading to the Central Valley where my favorite winter subject, migratory birds, can be found — but I generally prefer to go there when I think there will be at least some fog. So I headed south, beginning my morning with a few hours at the Point Lobos State Reserve and then heading further south down the Big Sur coastline.

When I arrived at Point Lobos the light was interesting and the surf was still huge. Over the next few hours the surf diminished a bit and a thin overcast drifted in overhead and began to thicken. I figured that I might get somewhat clearer light a bit further south, so off I went on the Pacific Coast Highway. On the way south I stopped at this spot and considered it as a possible subject for the sunset hour, and then I continued on down the coast. Later I checked the time, estimated I had enough to make it back to this spot before sunset, and headed back up the road, arriving here perhaps ten minutes before the good light arrived. The bridge, dwarfed by the immense landscape of coastal mountains and ocean, spans the outlet of Big Creek.


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.

Winter Geese, Morning

Winter Geese, Morning
Thousands of migratory geese take to the air at dawn above San Joaquin Valley wetlands

Winter Geese, Morning. San Joaquin Valley, California. January 1, 2016. © Copyright 2016 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Thousands of migratory geese take to the air at dawn above San Joaquin Valley wetlands

Before dawn on New Year’s Day, when a group of friends, artists, and photographers arrived for our annual celebration of the literal dawn of a new year, this wildlife refuge area, a favorite of ours, was oddly quiet. More typically we exit our vehicles to the raucous sound of thousands of birds — geese, cranes, and more. But we heard almost no birds in the morning twilight. We split up and went off to find out where the birds were and several of us eventually ended up outside the refuge along the passing roadway, where there are some large ponds. At least there were some geese here.

We never know what we’ll find. It might be the most astonishing day of tens or thousands of birds in the air, in the fields, on the water, in and among trees. Or it might be quiet. Either will work — when the birds are more scarce we tend to turn to the landscape. These thoughts were going through my mind as we tried to photograph the small flock of geese on the pond outside the fence. But soon, and somewhat unexpectedly, large groups of Ross’s and/or snow geese began to arrive from the south, coming in above a row of winter-bare trees, circling a bit, and then landing on the pond, and at times filling the sky above the wetland landscape.


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


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