Tag Archives: coast

Headlands, Fog, Ocean

Headlands, Fog, Ocean
Gathering fog along rugged Big Sur coastal cliffs

Headlands, Fog, Ocean. Big Sur Coast, California. May 1, 2016. © Copyright 2016 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Gathering fog along rugged Big Sur coastal cliffs

One more photograph from my May Day quick visit to the Big Sur Coast and the lower Monterey Peninsula. I visited fairly early in the morning — not as early as dawn, but certainly before most of the tourists showed up along this popular coast on this weekend day.

I started with a plan to visit Point Lobos — and I did later end up there — but I was distracted by the formation of thing fog right along the waterline. More typically I would expect to see thick fog in the early morning, left over from the night before, with murky conditions until some clearing happens later on. But on this morning the pattern seemed reversed. It started out clear and then as the morning wore on the weather changed and a beautiful misty quality appeared along the coast, in places leading to the formation of fog.


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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Surf, Bluff, Sea Stacks

Surf, Bluff, Sea Stacks
Surf, a steep bluff, and sea stacks lead toward a foggy horizon, Big Sur Coast

Surf, Bluff, Sea Stacks. Big Sur Coast, California. May 1, 2016. © Copyright 2016 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Surf, a steep bluff, and sea stacks lead toward a foggy horizon, Big Sur Coast

I sometimes forget how long this coast has been a part of my consciousness, but a visit or two quickly remind me. I have lived in the San Francisco Bay area since I was four-years-old. Weekend and summer visits to the Monterey Bay beaches and the tide pools of Point Lobos were regular events, and the effect of those visits remains all these years later — and all it takes is a quick visit to remind me of what it means to live this close to the Pacific Ocean.

On this first day of May I made a morning visit to the upper Big Sur coast, getting to some of the best parts before the inevitable weekend crowds arrived. It was a beautiful day, at first looking like it might turn out to be “yet another blue sky day,” but soon becoming more interesting, at least from the photographic point of view, as thin fog began to form just about the meeting of the ocean and land. When I made this photograph looking south down the coastline, it was still early enough that the bluffs and coastal mountains cast shadows along the surf line.


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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Rocks, Wave, Horizon

Rocks, Wave, Horizon
Shoreline rocks, an incoming wave, and the Pacific Ocean horizon on a gray morning

Rocks, Wave, Horizon. Coastal California. May 13, 2016. © Copyright 2016 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Shoreline rocks, an incoming wave, and the Pacific Ocean horizon on a gray morning

I knew I wanted to photograph today, but the conditions in the Bay Area were perhaps less than inspiring, at least for the subjects I had initially thought to explore. It was a gray morning all up and down the coast and the high fog extended well inland, producing lots and lots of flat light. I stalled for a bit and then, after reading a weather forecast offering the hope of some breaks my late morning, I headed over the hills to the coast and began to work my way north from the Santa Cruz area. Some days the photographs just seem to appear almost of their own accord, but this was not going to be one of those days.

There are several ways to deal with this eventuality. One is, of course, to give up and go home — and, in truth, sometimes that is the most reasonable choice. There will always be another day with better conditions. A second option is to continue to look, holding out hope that something special will eventually happen. (I can tell plenty of stories of unpromising conditions that offered up astounding light surprises.) A third is to look for some completely different subject. For a moment today I thought about doing some urban photography. A fourth — and this may be the best in the long run — is to try to “see” the conditions as they are and find some way to photograph them, perhaps even going with the gray, so to speak. So that is what this photograph is — a very simple and quiet image that perhaps reflects the nature of this day.


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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Cliffs, Ocean, Fog

Cliffs, Ocean, Fog
Cliffs, Ocean, Fog

Cliffs, Ocean, Fog. Big Sur Coast, California. May 1, 2016. © Copyright 2016 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Rugged cliffs drop into Pacific Ocean surf along the foggy Big Sur coastline

In some ways, cliffs like these are a “dime a dozen” along the California coast — and isn’t that wonderful!? From the north to the south, with the exception of places where the land drops right down to the ocean, spectacular headlands are almost the rule. If you don’t see them where you are at the moment, a reasonable drive north or south should find some.

This set of headland bluffs, dropping abruptly to the edge of the great Pacific Ocean, is located on the upper Big Sur coast along the Pacific Coast Highway south of Monterey. I’m fortunate to live a short drive away, and this time I had headed down that direction in the morning, initially planning to visit a particular spot but spontaneously modifying my plans when I saw the combination of surf and fog forming along the cliffs. Since I know this spot well, I only stopped briefly, but I knew I wanted a photograph of this morning-shadowed terrain marching off to the south.


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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Bluffs and Morning Fog

Bluffs and Morning Fog
Coastal bluffs lead away into the fog along California’s rugged Pacific Ocean coast

Bluffs and Morning Fog. Big Sur Coast, California. May 1, 2016. © Copyright 2016 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Coastal bluffs lead away into the fog along California’s rugged Pacific Ocean coast

I am still astonished by how widely variable the appearance of a single scene can be along this Big Sur coastline. On a winter day this area could be raked by monumentally powerful Pacific storms, raising winds and surf. On a quite summer evening it could be warm and peaceful with sunset light bathing the cliffs. On another summer evening everything could be socked in completely by thick fog.

On this spring morning the light coming over the ridges of the coastal mountains was still casting shadows along the shoreline, while the tops of the bluffs were in sunshine. Oddly, on a morning that began clear, fog was beginning to form down low, hugging the coast just above the water. Despite the bright morning sun, along these bluffs the principle color was blue — the blue shades of ocean water and the subtler blue of haze and fog and shaded rock, with the landscape and water eventually disappearing into the distance, muted by the fog.


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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Bixby Bridge, Big Sur Coast

Bixby Bridge, Big Sur Coast
A spring morning along the upper Big Sur coastline above Bixby Bridge.

Bixby Bridge, Big Sur Coast. Pacific Coast Highway, California. May 1, 2016. © Copyright 2016 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

A spring morning along the upper Big Sur coastline above Bixby Bridge.

Living in the greater San Francisco Bay Area region, I’m spoiled by the wealth of visual opportunities within a day’s drive. It has been a busy few weeks since I returned from Death Valley near the beginning April, and I was overdue for a day of photography — so I decided to pick a relatively local area and head out. I had two possibilities in mind. The first was Point Reyes, north of San Francisco, and a location I’ve been trying to get my photographic mind around for some years now. The other option was to head south towards the upper section of the Big Sur coastline, perhaps with a stop at an old favorite, Point Lobos.

Initially my plan was, in fact, to start at Point Lobos. However, as I crossed the Carmel River and soon got my first look at the ocean I saw that fog was beginning to form. For me, that is a good sign! I’d much rather photograph in “interesting” conditions than in perfect blue sky weather, and I’ve often found low coastal fog in the morning to produce some stunning lighting. So I bypassed Point Lobos and headed on to the south. This point was my turn-around, on a high bluff looking back up the coast to the north past Bixby Bridge and a series of additional ridges dropping to the Pacific, with that low fog starting to gather further along. Yes, it is a familiar icon… but, yes, it is also quite beautiful.


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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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.
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.