Telescope Peak

Posted on 30 August 2014 | 2 comments

Telescope Peak

Telescope Peak

Telescope Peak. Death Valley National Park, California. April 1, 2014. © Copyright 2014 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Telescope Peak, the highest point in Death Valley National Park, in the distance beyond the rugged terrain of upper Titanothere Canyon in the Amargosa Range

This one has been sitting in my queue for months now, and it is finally time to send it out with the other photographs! I made the photograph back in early April, while spending a few days in Death Valley exploring a lot of higher elevation area in the mountains on either side of the Valley itself. At one point during this visit, we ended up spending nearly an entire day high up in the Panamint range, at times doing something very unusual — photographing Death Valley wildflowers during a snowstorm!

The distant snow-covered peak in the photograph is Telescope Peak, at over 11,000′ of elevation the highest point in the Panamint range and in Death Valley National Park. While we often think of Death Valley’s reputation for heat, this peak is often covered with snow during the colder times of the year. The location from which I made this photograph is high in the mountains on the other, east side of the Valley, a very arid and rugged region that presents a different appearance than the much lower areas of the Valley itself. Here there is a landscape of dry and rugged mountains and valleys, often receding one behind the other into the distance. I stopped at this spot, where I have photographed before, and was captivated by the conduction of three peak shapes — the nearly peak at upper right, the distant summit of Telegraph Peak, and the peak-like form of the clouds above.

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.

Photographing Icons — Pluses and Minuses (Morning Musings 8/29/14)

Posted on 29 August 2014 | 3 comments

Autumn Leaves, Reflection of a Monolith

Autumn Leaves, Reflection of a Monolith

When it comes to photographing “icons” (the famous things that everyone photographs when they visit certain locations) the disagreements can become impassioned and the points of view range from “Don’t do it!” to “That’s why I go!” After replying to a question about photographing a particular icon (Zabriskie Point in Death Valley) recently I thought a bit about how the answer to the “should I photograph them?” question is a bit trickier than either “yes” or “no.” So, here’s an off-the-cuff listing of some things to consider.

Pluses - Reasons to go ahead and photograph them:

  • If you are new to a location, you have to start somewhere. Even if your goal is to eventually develop a deeper and more thorough understanding of a place you will likely need to discover even the most obvious things about the location first, and your knowledge should include these elements as well.
  • There is usually a good reason that an icon has achieved iconic status. If you haven’t seen them before, they are not the “same old same old” to you, so go ahead and enjoy their newness. (I was reminded of this a few years back when I visited Arches National Park for the first time. I had not studied the place at all before going, and my response to the place was a very strong one — even though I didn’t know that I was, at least in some cases, responding to elements that are well-known.)
  • While you are very unlikely to create a wholly new and original photograph of a subject that has been photographed perhaps millions for times (Tunnel View at Yosemite, anyone?), at a certain point in your photographic development there is something to be said for trying to understand the ways in which others have photographed icons and the means (technical and aesthetic) by which they created their images. Consider it a form of distant apprenticeship.
  • Sometimes it is possible to photograph an icon in ways that are new and fresh. This often depends on being able to see past the obvious and on being sensitive to the times when something really special happens with them. It is extremely challenging to create a new way of seeing very familiar things, but it is sometimes possible.
  • If you are very serious about this photography thing, it isn’t a bad idea at all to have  some images of iconic subjects in your catalog for practical reasons.
  • In the right situation, in the right place, at the right icon, on the right day, there can be social value in being in such places. I once photographed Horsetail Fall on a beautiful winter evening in Yosemite Valley, and soon realized that the outcome wasn’t so much going to be photographic as it was realizing the miracle of joining hundreds of people from around the globe who gathered in mid-winter in snowy meadows to gaze upwards toward a high rock face in the hope of glimpsing a transitory and rare effect of water and light and rock.

Minuses – Reasons to be cautious about “icon fever,” and a few thoughts about alternatives

  • It is extremely unlikely that you are going to produce a photograph that is new or special beyond its potential to recall your personal experience of being there. The best photographs of such subjects are rarely made in typical conditions, but instead in truly exceptional light and atmosphere at just the right moment on just the right day in just the right season.
  • There is a risk of falling into the trap of “capturing” trophies — traveling from place to place with the goal being primarily or exclusively to bag shots of those icons. I would argue that this, in and of itself, ultimately is not going to be very rewarding.
  • Too much focus on icons that distract you from other wonderful and beautiful things in the vicinity of the icons.
  • I’ve seen people disappointed that the prospective iconic shot did not work in the light and other conditions that they had to work with — while that very light and those conditions were making other nearby subjects beautifully photographable.
  • Focusing too much on the goal of reproducing the view you already know from other photographs can blind you to other ways of seeing that very thing. What else is in the scene? What smaller element of the scene might make a photograph?
  • By focusing on the things that are iconic, it is possible to miss the fact that great photographs are often less about the objective existence and form of those things, and more about how we see.

Photographing icons has its place. Almost all of us have done it and almost all of us will continue to do so. But if you are at a point where that is your primary goal, I urge you to grow your photography by thinking outside of that box.

Your thoughts? Leave a comment below.

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.

N.Y. Chung Chou City, LLC

Posted on 29 August 2014 | Comment

N.Y. Chung Chou City, LLC

N.Y. Chung Chou City, LLC

N.Y. Chung Chou City, LLC. New York City. August 10, 2014. © Copyright 2014 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Bright lights of a Manhattan Chinatown shop on a summer evening

After dinner in New York’s Chinatown district, we went out to walk a very roundabout route to the subway. This was approaching my new favorite time for doing street photography — at night! With the newest cameras (I’m using a Fujifilm X-trans mirrorless for city shooting) the high ISO performance is good enough that I can crank it up, put on a f/1.4 lens, and shoot handheld in the urban night, working with only the ambient lighting. It wasn’t quite that dark here, but you can see that it was dark enough that the lighted interior of the shop was brighter than outside.

These scenes seem, to this west coaster, part of the culture and aura of New York City. There is a lot more going on here than might meet the eye, and I won’t even try to explain all of it. The ubiquitous plastic trash bags are an obvious feature. In my native part of the world, most neighborhoods appear to be places where trash doesn’t exist, but in New York everyone seems to just accept it as a part of the urban world. There is the odd matter of the cooler in front of the store entrance, which rests of a shelf and spews a stream of water onto the sidewalk. Between the light and the green awnings, the colors are fairly bright. And, at this early hour of the evening, a pool of light from the shop spills out onto the sidewalk.

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.

Calero Oaks and Summer Grass

Posted on 28 August 2014 | Comment

Calero Oaks and Summer Grass

Calero Oaks and Summer Grass

Calero Oaks and Summer Grass. Santa Clara County, California. August 17, 2014. © Copyright 2014 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Oak and grass-covered summer hills extending into late summer morning haze

This is a portrait orientation version of more of less the same scene I shared in an earlier photograph from the same mid-August morning hike through a familiar, long time favorite local hiking and photography location. It is an area full of grasslands and oak-covered hills, lush and green for a few months each winter and spring, and then California gold/brown for much of the rest of the year. I have hiked these hills and this specific trail for many years, though it had been several months since my last prior visit — it was good to be “home” again!

This morning was special for a few reasons. There was a wonderful feeling of returning to “my world” following a few months away from this place and my return, only days earlier, from a lengthy trip to the east coast that included more than a week in the very urban environment of New York City. It also turned out, a bit to my surprise, that this hike would bring my annual “autumn is just around the corner” experience — that day each year when something tells me clearly that summer is beginning to wind down and that the beauties of autumn are not far away.

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.

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