Category Archives: Photographs: Ocean

Sleeping Elephant Seal

Sleeping Elephant Seal
An elephant seal sleeps among its kin on a California beach

Sleeping Elephant Seal. California Coast. July 20, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

An elephant seal sleeps among its kin on a California beach

Traveling up and down the California coast, it is hard to avoid eventually encountering the elephant seals. Historically they were once very common along this coastline, and their numbers have recovered considerably in recent decades. There are now several places where they are very accessible, and in large numbers — if you ever do the Big Sur Pacific Coast Highway you will certainly encounter at least one such area. In fact, that’s what we were doing on this July trip. We were mainly there to photograph landscapes and seascapes, but that didn’t prevent us from making a photographic detour to photograph these animals.

Here the coast highway comes very close to an elephant seal rookery, and the animals are more accessible than in any other location that I’m aware of. (At others you must walk long distances, and in some places they have hauled up on beaches so isolated that you can only watch from a great distance.) At first I was fascinated by their sparring and other more active things they do. The more I have photographed them, the more I have looked for and sometimes found ways to photograph them even when they are not active — and this specimen, sleeping among others of its herd, is anything but active!


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

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.

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.
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.