Tag Archives: california

A Photograph Exposed: San Francisco Skyline, Winter Fog and Haze

(“A Photograph Exposed” is a series of posts looking more closely at the background of some of my photographs.)

San Francisco Skyline, Winter Fog and Haze
San Francisco Skyline, Winter Fog and Haze

San Francisco Skyline, Winter Fog and Haze. San Francisco, California. December 18, 2009. © Copyright 2009 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Fog and haze obscure the winter skyline of downtown San Francisco, California.

It is unlikely that any view of San Francisco will be entirely unique, but I haven’t seen many other photographs of the City’s skyline that look quite like this one. It isn’t unusual for people who see the photograph (especially as a print) to ask, “Is that real?” It is as real as a photograph gets, and the conditions actually occurred — the only time I have seen them quite like this, with quite this soft and subtle atmosphere and light. (The post-processing on this photograph was relatively minimal, and a lot of it was about controlling the brightness of that bright cloud high in the sky.)

Living in the San Francisco Bay Area, I frequently drive north over the Golden Gate Bridge to photograph in the redwoods, along the coast, or at Point Reyes National Seashore. This usually means leaving home well before the sun rises, and depending on where I’m headed, I usually cross the bridge right around dawn. The plan is to pause and look at the scene in the early light and decide if something really interesting might happen — and it that seems probable I’ll photograph here for a while before moving on.

The light and atmosphere on this winter morning were special enough to get me to pause. Continue reading A Photograph Exposed: San Francisco Skyline, Winter Fog and Haze

Death Valley, Evening

Death Valley, Evening
Evening light on the playa of Death Valley, with lower slopes of the Panamint Mountains rising beyond

Death Valley, Evening. Death Valley National Park, California. March 30, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Evening light on the playa of Death Valley, with lower slopes of the Panamint Mountains rising beyond

Since I’ve been traveling to and around Death Valley National Park for more than 15 years now, I’ve seen a lot of the park — but I most certainly have not see all of it, nor have I completely learned how to see everything in it. This is a huge place, varying greatly by location, terrain, season, weather and more. Frankly, the experience of coming to know such a place over time is one of the things I value most about such locations. While I love to “discover” a place that is completely new to me (and Death Valley was that place in the late 1990s for me), the longer process of learning the place and its rhythms more deeply is also, I think, more rewarding. It is wonderful to see a desert gully in evening light for the first time, but it may be even more beautiful to come back to it and recognize an old and familiar friend.

Along these lines, a few years ago, as I continued to push out my own boundaries of experience and knowledge in Death Valley, I began to think more about how to make photographs of things that I might have not thought worthy of a photograph before. I realized that many of these things that don’t scream “photograph me!” are otherwise a core part of the experience of this place: a vast and quiet “empty” landscape, midday sun, haze obscuring great distances, the edge between the last vegetation and a barren playa, a beam of light slanting across an alluvial fan. And if they are central to the sense of the place, it seems that there must be a way to photograph them. And that is a new challenge for me in my Death Valley photography.


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.

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.

Dunes and Mountains

Dunes and Mountains
Low dunes and the base of Tucki Mountain in evening light

Dunes and Mountains. Death Valley National Park, California. March 31, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Low dunes and the base of Tucki Mountain in evening light

This is a different interpretation of a photograph that I have previously posted. Here I have simply tried a different crop, one that eliminates some areas of from the top and bottom of the earlier photograph in order to focus more on the horizontal sweep of the shallow dunes and the more distant wash sloping up to the base of gigantic Tucki Mountain, here in nearly the last light of the evening.

I think that when we are in this place, one of the most iconic in Death Valley National Park, our attention is more likely to be drawn to the tallest dunes, which are located more or less behind me at this camera position. But there is much else to see here, ranging from the intimate landscape of ripple sand and small plants to the rugged slopes of Tucki Mountain just to the south, and including the many long views across the huge spaces of the valley. Here I had been mostly photographing an expanse of dunes leading off toward the northeast, when I turned around to see this view of the edge of the sand, with low dunes curving toward the sparse plant life at their edge.


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.

Turkey Vultures

Turkey Vultures
Turkey vultures on coastal rocks, Point Lobos State Reserve

Turkey Vultures. Point Lobos State Reserve, California. May 3, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Turkey vultures on coastal rocks, Point Lobos State Reserve

Let me begin by pointing out that I did not go to this place to shoot turkey vultures. In fact, of all the things that I might have expected to see and photograph here, such critters were at the bottom of the list if they were even on it at all. Point Lobos is one of my local “go to” places when I have a half day or a day to photograph. I’ve been going there for literally decades, and I know many parts of this beautiful little park very well. (On the other hand, I hardly ever fail to discover something new when I visit, even after all of these years.) So I had gone there hoping to photograph things like morning fog, the conduction of rocks and surf, the coastal trees, and so forth.

I pulled into a parking lot along the main road and got out without my camera so that I could just look around a bit. As I scanned my surroundings I was surprised to see some large birds on rocks above the surf, birds that I did not immediately recognize. I soon was even more surprised when I realized that I was looking at a group of five turkey vultures — a bird that I’m more accustomed to seeing airborne, coasting on updrafts along inland coastal hills, and often seen alone. I didn’t have any good photographs of these birds, so I grabbed camera, long lens, and tripod and rectified that commission! In flight, these can be rather impressive birds — they are large and they coast quietly overhead. Yet their heads are a gaudy red color, and generally very wrinkled — this almost seems out of character with the rest of the bird. This group stood still for a few moments before, one by one, they gradually took to the air and departed.


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.

Dust Storm, Dunes

Dust Storm, Dunes
An afternoon desert dust storm obscures sand dunes

Dust Storm, Dunes. Death Valley National Park, California. April 1, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

An afternoon desert dust storm obscures sand dunes

Where there are dunes, there will be sand storms and dust storms. The dunes are largely the result of geography that interrupts prevailing winds and causes them to drop their load. When unusually high winds blow through these areas and through dry playas, they inevitably pick up the loose sand and dust and it becomes airborne once again. The immediate effects on a visitor to such places at these times are several. There is dust and sand everywhere — you simply cannot escape it. The night before the wind and sand came through my camp. Fortunately I use a very strong mountaineering when I visit Death Valley since I’ve seen these winds and what they can do. So I used every stake I had, attached stabilizing lines to the tie-out points on the fly, and zipped everything up tightly. I heard the wind and the sand, but my tent was snug and secure. Others were not so lucky (or so prepared?) and all night I heard people outside in the campground trying to tie down flapping tents, recover blowing gear, pound in more tent stakes… or giving up and crawling into their cars. As tight as my tent is, in the morning there was a thin coat of dust everywhere inside.

The next day I headed up into the mountains where I figured it might be less windy. I spent a lot of the time in a deep canyon, and I did escape the wind. In fact, I was pretty much cut off from the outside world — and, therefore, a bit surprised to emerge from the bottom of the canyon into Death Valley to find that the dust was still blowing like crazy. The air was so thick that mountains on the far side of the valley were almost completely obscured, and as I drove south down the valley there were strong cross-winds and blowing sand. I stopped at this slightly elevated spot off to the side of some dunes, put on a long lens (in the relatively dust-free confines of my vehicle) and photographed the dunes, aiming the camera straight into the blowing dust. Yes, this is what a sand storm looks like. (And, yes, I’ve seen worse. Much worse.)


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.

Hikers in the Badlands

Hikers in the Badlands
A group of hikers is dwarfed by arid badlands terrain near Zabriskie Point, Death Valley National Park

Hikers in the Badlands. Death Valley National Park, California. April 4, 2007. © Copyright 2007 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

A group of hikers is dwarfed by arid badlands terrain near Zabriskie Point, Death Valley National Park

In the midst of all the recent Death Valley photographs, with this photograph I reached back into the archives to pull up an older image that had not previously made it out of the collection of raw files. Various things impel me to dig back into the older photographs to see what I’ve missed, and in this case it was a random visit to my website that I noted in my server log — someone had linked in to a photograph of some photographers in Death Valley from this 2007 trip. When I saw that I thought to go back and look at that particular photograph and update it just a bit, and then I got side-tracked and wandered off into that raw file collection.

I recall this photograph rather clearly. For some reason I had stopped at Zabriskie point on a morning that I probably expected to produce an exceptional sunrise — at least that’s my guess based on the kind of clouds in the photograph. If I recall correctly, the morning did produce some interesting soft light, but not the stunner that I thought might happen. (I rarely stop at Zabriskie, but I make an exception if the conditions look like they might produce something unexpected — but you never know until you actually go there before dawn and see what happens.) I remember looking down toward Gower Gulch and the trail to Golden Canyon and spotting this string of five hikers. It isn’t that unusual to see people on this trail, but they stuck close together as the wound along its twisting route, and I thought that this might produce some interesting photographs and reveal the scale of this landscape.


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.