Tag Archives: california

Video Surveillance

Video Surveillance
Warning sign on a doorway to an interior space, Chinatown, San Francisco

Video Surveillance. San Francisco, California. July 25, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Warning sign on a doorway to an interior space, Chinatown, San Francisco

When doing street photography I tend to “switch modes” as I photograph — one moment I might focus on people as individuals or in groups, and then my attention may shift to the “urban landscape,” the shapes and angles of the buildings and roads and sidewalks and more. At night there is always one more element, the unusual effects of artificial light on the scene. The light can be wildly diverse: Greenish from fluorescent lamps, yellow from sodium vapor, warm and saturated from tungsten, almost like daylight though perhaps cooler from LEDs, and occasionally the colors of dusk or the moon.

LED lighting, while wonderfully efficient, is not so wonderful for night photography. Since it mirrors the color balance of daylight so closely it takes away all of those color shadings. Some times it almost makes a night photograph look like day! I made this photograph shortly after I met up with a group of other photographers to walk through this section of San Francisco. At first I was focused in small things — windows, doorways, colorful business signs. As we descended one side street we passed this somewhat nondescript building, but in the nighttime light the interior glowed with an oddly colored light.


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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Couple, Night

Couple, Night
A couple out for the night in San Francisco

Couple, Night. San Francisco, California. July 25, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

A couple out for the night in San Francisco

Although it is not particularly apparent in this photograph, one of the things I like about photographing at night is the way that the darkness, lit by multiple artificial light sources, becomes magical. You’ll never see shadows like those on the wall behind this couple in sunlight! This light, and the responses to the night of the people who are out and about, make the nighttime environment very different from the daytime world, and places that might be mundane in daylight can become special at night.

This must have been a quick and spontaneous photograph… because I don’t even remember making it, much less precisely where I was! I think I may have been along Grant Street somewhere below Chinatown and getting closer to Union Square. In all likelihood, I saw the two of them and quickly lifted the camera to make an exposure and kept walking. I love the expression on the woman’s face.


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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Man With Flag

Man With Flag
A man with a flag organizes a group of tourists on a San Francisco street

Man With Flag. San Francisco, California. July 25, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

A man with a flag organizes a group of tourists on a San Francisco street

I think this is another “there’s more going on here than you might first realize” photographs. Yes, there is a man marching out of this store carrying a small flag, but why? The answer to that question is pretty easy — he is apparently leading a group of tourists through this part of San Francisco, and the flag is his way of letting them know who to follow. (You’ll see this phenomenon in almost any city or other area that is popular with tourists.) But there is something else interesting — at last to me — about this photograph. Many of the people in the scene have apparently just become aware of me and are looking my direction, apparently not quite certain how to respond just yet. (I’m discreet, so I probably didn’t have the camera to my face, and it isn’t a large camera.)

Pools of light like this one are prime spots for me when shooting urban areas at night. I love the way the light spills out onto the sidewalk, creating shadows leading away from the people. I can also play with this light. I might shoot straight into it and make shadow the main subject. Or I can sometimes get just a bit between the subjects and the light, and then it can light them quite beautifully, especially when there are multiple light sources. If I recall correctly, it was the light and then the bricks that first caught my eyes here, and then when the people appeared in the doorway the photograph was complete.


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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The Landing

The Landing
A brown pelican joins the flock on a rock along the Pacific coast of California

The Landing. California Coast. July 21, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

A brown pelican joins the flock on a rock along the Pacific coast of California

California’s brown pelicans are probably my favorite coastal birds, and I love to photograph them — from bluff tops which they pass as the coast along on Pacific winds, to the ocean as they skim just above the water, to places where they can be found resting between flights. These are large birds, with an almost prehistoric appearance, especially when a group of them floats by in a row, sometimes hardly moving at all. We spent a couple of days on the coast in mid-July, and on the last day as we headed home we passed a small, rocky island just of the shoreline. When we saw that it was covered with scores of these birds, so many that some had to land nearby instead of on the island, we grabbed our equipment and spent some time photographing them. I had tracked this pelican on its inbound flight. Most of them came from my right, passed the island, then turned to face into the wind before landing.

This photo also serves as a bit of a technical test, too. I made the photograph with my new Canon 5Ds R, using the EF 100-400mm f/4.5-f/5.6L IS II lens. To get a bit more “reach,” I added a 1.4x tele-extender, which made the longest focal length 560mm. Since this wasn’t possible on my previous camera (which could only autofocus at f/5.6, not the f/8 aperture produced by using the converter), I was interested to see how well this would work — would image quality be sharp enough and would the lens/extender combination focus quickly and accurately enough. In fact, it did work. Quite well, actually.


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.

Asian Styles

Asian Styles
People in front of a San Francisco storefront at night

Asian Styles. San Francisco, California. July 25, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

People in front of a San Francisco storefront at night

At about this time last year I made an important “discovery during a trip to Manhattan” — with newer cameras I can photograph at high enough ISOs that it is possible (and even easy) to do handheld night street photography. And since I use a small mirrorless camera for street photography, I can even do this sort of photography without carrying around a big camera and lenses. I’ve long been a night photographer, but generally the type to sets up a tripod and approaches this genre more or less the same way I approach landscape photography, but with longer exposures. Much longer! But this new development is tremendously liberating. Using a large aperture prime I can walk around and spontaneously respond to what I see, and I can capture brief and ephemeral moments in the wild and beautiful light of the urban night.

This photograph exemplifies one way that I’ve always shot street photography, though now adapted to the night. I begin by finding an interesting bit of urban landscape — buildings, light, color, texture, form. I find a composition that will work… and then I wait. Sometimes the wait is brief and sometimes it is long. I wait for people to populate this “landscape,” and to ideally configure themselves into some interesting combination. Since I don’t pose these photographs, I have to react quickly and take whatever the street serves up. This time it served up something special, I think. The storefront itself first got my attention, with its brightly colored merchandise, the light spilling out onto the sidewalk, the aqua windows on the left margin, and the red and yellow vending machine on the right. The small group of people just to the right of the doorway were my first target, and I think I have a photograph of just them taken shortly before this one. But very soon a wonderful and unpredictable conjunction occurred as the man walked out through the store doorway, the woman in blue passed in front of the vending machine, and the two men with the crying child in a stroller passed the store, followed by the woman with the bag.


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.