Tag Archives: fall

Central Valley Trees and Fog

Central Valley Trees and Fog
Late autumn trees and fog, San Joaquin Valley

Central Valley Trees and Fog. San Joaquin Valley, California. December 6, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Late autumn trees and fog, San Joaquin Valley

I have had my eye on these trees for several years now. In fact, I have photographed them a few times, though I wasn’t quite happy with the results. They stand near a spot that I frequently visit during the late fall through winter months, when migratory birds live in the nearby wetlands and fields. In fact, that is why I was there on this December day. After a couple of hours of bird photography I looked over in the direction of the trees and thought that the light might be right for a photograph.

The light in this part of the Central Valley is astonishingly variable, especially in the winter and near-winter months. There can be high thin clouds, a Pacific weather front, general haze, or fog so thick that you can’t see 100 feet… unless you look up to see the stars and the moon! This day was quite variable, and that was part of the fun of photographing it. Fog was forming when we arrived before dawn. It stuck around a while, thinned and morphed into a sort of general atmospheric haziness. Above the fog there were high clouds that also muted the light a bit. Here and there, actual fog banks formed. This photograph has a little of all of these things: the light on the trees is muted, fog banks stand in the distance with high clouds overhead.


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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Blue Hour, Wetlands

Blue Hour, Wetlands
Late autumn evening clouds reflected in wetlands of the San Joaquin Valley.

Blue Hour, Wetlands. San Joaquin Valley, California. December 6, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Late autumn evening clouds reflected in wetlands of the San Joaquin Valley.

I have become a passionate photographer of winter migratory birds in California’s Great Central Valley, and I spend as much time as possible out there between late fall and the start of spring. For most of my life I was almost completely unaware of the great migration that takes place just a couple of hours east of my home and midway between there and “my” Sierra Nevada. For a few months this valley that seems primarily like farmland (at least to us coastal folks) for the rest of the year becomes a wildlife haven.

But it isn’t just about the birds. The birds may be the main draw, but they are certainly not the whole show, and the landscape itself fascinates me, especially with its surprising and varied effects of atmosphere and light. The ubiquitous fog creates mystery and the clouds of winter weather fronts produce beautiful skies. The dusk ending of a day out here rarely fails to produce some twilight magic.


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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Wetlands, Early Light

Wetlands, Early Light
Morning light and fog along a San Joaquin Valley levee.

Wetlands, Early Light. San Joaquin Valley, California. December 6, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Morning light and fog along a San Joaquin Valley levee.

I seem to have developed a ritual for photographing this favorite San Joaquin Valley location. Almost invariably I arrive very early in the morning, in the half hour before dawn. Often I meet photographer friends who have arrived from other places. We stop at an area near the entrance and greet one another, engage in a bit of small talk, marvel (again!) at the sound of tens of thousands of migratory birds just beyond out sight. We get in our vehicles and we start a circuit of the wetlands, first looking for a place to photograph the dawn. By now, after photographing there for a few years in variable conditions, we all have our favorite spots — this place if there is heavy fog, that spot if the birds are close by, another if it looks like we may have a clear view of sunrise.

On this morning I moved quickly past the first ponds to round a corner on the perimeter road and then stopped near a junction of several levees, at a spot that has often proved fruitful for my photography. There was a thin fog in the air and high, broken clouds were above the Sierra far to the east. Depending on which direction I chose to point that camera I found a range of subjects. Birds were nearby, the Sierra were in the distance, and in between was that flooded wetlands. As the first thin sunlight from the rising sun came through the fog I swung my camera back in the direction from which I had arrived and photographed along the levee route, past trees and brush to a long grove of old cottonwoods lying along the boundary.


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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Wetlands Dawn, Sierra Crest

Wetlands Dawn, Sierra Crest
The peaks of the High Sierra rise beyond San Joaquin Valley wetlands on an autumn morning

Wetlands Dawn, Sierra Crest. San Joaquin Valley, California. December 6, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

The peaks of the High Sierra rise beyond San Joaquin Valley wetlands on an autumn morning

In the late fall and winter, California’s Great Central Valley manages to provide some of the most diverse and beautiful effects of light and atmosphere that I know of. In a way this is ironic, since most of us probably tend to think of the place as a fairly boring, flat, and drab bunch of agricultural land that is too often smoggy and hot and dry in the summer. But in the winter, especially if you get away from the drive-through freeways, there is a lot to see here. This is especially true in the wetlands areas, with their wildlife, trees, ponds and fogs.

I arrived before dawn on this early December morning and, to be honest, I was not initially overly hopeful about the sunrise prospects. In fact, moments before I arrived I had driven past beautiful pre-dawn reflections on nearby marshes and decided to keep going toward my destination, only to arrive and find much less striking light. Sometimes the most brilliant sunrise light can blind me to more subtle beauties, but on this morning I found a quiet spot overlooking water and trees, stopped, and just photographed the beginning of the day. In this photograph the wetlands trees are reflected in the water as they march away into the slightly foggy distance, a few sandhill cranes fly past, and in the distance the crest of the Sierra Nevada rises toward the sky.


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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Marsh and Sky

Marsh and Sky
Late autumn sky above a flooded marsh, Central Valley, California

Marsh and Sky. San Joaquin Valley, California. December 6, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Late autumn sky above a flooded marsh, Central Valley, California

A winter ritual begins each year about this time. In the late fall the migratory birds return to California’s Great Central Valley and a band of photographers of which I am a part also heads out to the valley. The primary draw is the birds — geese, ibises, cranes, herons, egrets, and more — which gather by the thousands in the wetlands. But the valley itself also has its attractions at this time of year. The tule fog that slows drivers and obscures the sun also makes the landscape quiet and mysterious. The flat terrain is open to the sky and the clouds of winter storms create an overhead landscape.

A few days ago I made my first trip of the season to the valley, joining a small group of friends for a day of photography. We spent the first few hours focused on the birds — mostly geese and cranes on this visit — and then paused in the late morning. It was during this midday pause that I stopped along the edge of one of the marshland ponds and made this photograph of the expansive cloud-filled sky reflected in 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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September Rain

September Rain
September rain falls on a Yosemite backcountry lake

September Rain. Yosemite National Park, California. September 14, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

September rain falls on a Yosemite backcountry lake

Autumn in the Sierra is time of wonderful transitions — it is my favorite time of year to be there. For the most part the weather is still beautiful, with warm days and pleasantly chilly evenings and early mornings. The light is special — it is hard to put my finger on the precise quality, but somehow it feels warmer and softer than in the summer. Meadows turn golden brown and many plants take on their autumn colors. It feels like everything is slowing.

There can also be storms. These are not the brief afternoon thunderstorms of summer. They are the first harbingers of winter — the large Pacific weather fronts that begin to push in and which will eventually bring winter snow. We had such a storm — though it was a gentle one — on our visit, and it rained off and on for the final two days of our stay. I made this photograph along the shoreline of “our” lake, with fall colors in the foreground and a passing shower in front of the distant peak.


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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Autumn Shoreline

Autumn Shoreline
Autumn colors arrive along the shoreline of an Eastern Sierra lake

Autumn Shoreline. Eastern Sierra Nevada, California. October 4, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Autumn colors arrive along the shoreline of an Eastern Sierra lake

This photograph represents a bit of a step back from the more intense Sierra Nevada colors of some of my other fall color photographs. Here many of the colors are muted, and the light is soft. The upper trees have already lost their leaves — early, as a result of the drought — and the foreground plants lining the lakeside marsh have largely gone dormant. A few conifers and some sagebrush appear around the edges of the frame.

This lake in the Eastern Sierra is the location of some spectacular fall color, too. In fact, this photograph intentionally looks away from some peak colors that were occurring nearby on this morning. After photographing so much intense color for several weeks, I think I was enjoying the muted quality of autumn storm light as it began to rain and eventually rain on this beautiful and quiet October morning.


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.