Tag Archives: landscape

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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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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Headlands, Cove, Coastal Haze

Headlands, Cove, Coastal Haze
Headlands stretch into the distance beyond a cove and beach, Big Sur

Headlands, Cove, Coastal Haze. Big Sur Coast, California. July 20, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Headlands stretch into the distance beyond a cove and beach, Big Sur

We just returned from a two-day jaunt along the Central California coast. This is familiar territory, as I’ve been visiting this part of California since I was a child, and I have been photographing it almost as long. (Some of my earliest photographic memories include using old film cameras borrowed from my father to make photographs at Point Lobos.) Most of my visits are on day trips, so it is special to be able to spend more than a single day at a time photographing here.

We had unusual conditions and we saw a number of unusual things this time. The remnants of tropical storm Dolores have affected the weather, bringing unusual amounts of tropical moisture to the state and setting of big thunderstorms. We had no such storms on the coast — though they had swept through a day or two earlier — but there was high humidity, a lot of clouds, and warm temperatures. The water was also unusual in several ways. The swell was coming out of the south rather than the typical northwest. Overall the water was relatively calm, and in many places the water’s surface was smooth enough to produce interesting reflections. Sea life seemed unusually abundant: we spotted whales in many places, and large numbers of fishing boats were lined up close to the shore south of Carmel. In the evening as we headed back north towards Monterey the coastal inversion layer began to reassert itself, producing a layer of incipient fog along the coastline and producing haze that enhanced the sense of distance as we looked past successive layers of coastal headlands stretching into the distance.


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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Dawn Fog and Haze, Tuolumne Meadows

Dawn Fog and Haze, Tuolumne Meadows
Morning fog rises from Tuolumne Meadows toward surrounding forest and ridges

Dawn Fog and Haze, Tuolumne Meadows. Yosemite National Park, California. July 14, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Morning fog rises from Tuolumne Meadows toward surrounding forest and ridges

I was up quite early on this morning, and with a plan to drive a bit to photograph a particular subject as it was struck by the first dawn light. In the dark I got dressed, crawled out of my tent, got in my vehicle, and quietly left the campground. Within a few hundred yards of the campground exit my plans changed. A low fog lay across almost the entirety of Tuolumne Meadows, shallow in places and deeper in others, partially obscuring trees and domes. In the pre-dawn light the quiet scene was one of very low contrast and not altogether interesting color, but I suspected that once the sun begin to come over the Sierra crest that it might strike the fog and create some interesting effects. So, out the window with the original plan, and now to see what I could make of my new plan.

I headed to the far end of the meadow where I figured that several potentially interesting things would happen. First, the fog was likely to be back-lit once the sun hit it. Second, I could shoot back across large sections of the fog-blanketed meadow and do so from a slight elevation. Third, I knew that I could position myself so that interesting ridges and trees might appear in the frame. In fact, it all worked out! As the sun rose high enough to illuminate the drifting fog, it began to rise and form more distinct patterns against the background of ascending ridges. I’m often somewhat surprised to find myself completely alone at this utterly beautiful times of day, when the sun is just coming up or when its last light is leaving the meadows. Tuolumne is an impressive place at any time, but it is often special in all sorts of ways during these beginning and ending of the day times. Yet most people, folks who I assume come here at least partially to seek out mountain beauty, miss out as they sleep in, linger over morning coffee, or head back to campfires before the day is over.


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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Landscape Not-Photography

It is no secret that I’m pretty serious about my landscape photography. I spend a lot of time going to interesting places, searching out subjects, and making photographs. In fact, this activity is undoubtedly the single biggest influence on the nature of my outdoor experiences.

Subalpine Meadow, Summer
Midday summer sky reflected in a subalpine tarn, Yosemite National Park

I embrace this effect and regard it as highly positive. I’m convinced that photography deepens my appreciation and understanding of these places and subjects. Like every photographer I know who shares my passion for these subjects, entering the natural world to make photographs focuses my perceptions in powerful ways. I slow down. I stop. I look. I ponder. I wonder. I indulge my curiosity and I see things that I would otherwise miss. I’m intensely aware of light, color, atmosphere, form, and subject.

But sometimes the photography gets in the way… Continue reading Landscape Not-Photography

Trees, Glaciated Ridge

Trees, Glaciated Ridge
A small group of trees in morning light atop a glaciated Sierra Nevada ridge.

Trees, Glaciated Ridge. Yosemite National Park, California. July 15, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

A small group of trees in morning light atop a glaciated Sierra Nevada ridge.

This photograph includes many of the things that say “Yosemite” to me: the broken granite ridge of glaciated granite, the bluish morning haze, the small group of trees with space between them, ridges receding into the distance. Other things say “Sierra Nevada” to me, but these seem closely connected to the high country of this particular part of the Sierra.

This is a location that I (and, no doubt, quite a few others) have photographed many times, in a variety of conditions of light, atmosphere, weather, and time of year. I almost always stop here when I cross the Sierra through the park. On this morning I wasn’t making a stop while in transit to another place — this area was my destination. I had several photographs in mind when I arrived, ranging from more distant landscape to intimate scenes of glacial erratics and granite slabs. I knew that if I walked a short distance up hill and climbed a small hill that I could get a higher vantage point and look back at these trees and across this ridge and the morning light illuminated them from behind.


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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Shoreline, Trees, Morning

Shoreline, Trees, Morning
Morning light on trees and granite slabs along the shoreline of Tenaya Lake

Shoreline, Trees, Morning. Yosemite National Park, California. July 14, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Morning light on trees and granite slabs along the shoreline of Tenaya Lake

I think this photograph combines several elements that I find attracting in my landscape work. I have written that I sometimes like to photograph along the “edges of the light,” the boundaries between shadow and sunlight that move across landscapes, especially when it is early or late in the day and/or when the landscape is surrounded by higher ridges. This photograph was made in early morning, in an area where the sunlight does not arrive until some time after dawn. When the light does come, it works its way down the granite slabs on the left as beams of light pass across the valley from the right. I also love to work with haze. (I often am baffled by photographers who always want crystal clear atmosphere — that can be beautiful, too, but it can also be stark and obvious.) There was plenty of haze on this morning, and the light shining through it partially obscures the background forest. And the photograph is rendered in black and white. While I don’t think of myself as a “black and white photographer,” I frequently find myself seeing scenes like this one in monochrome. Perhaps that goes back to my roots as a photographer.

There is something a bit unusual about this landscape, too — a road bed features prominently in the scene! This is the edge of Tenaya Lake along the Tioga Pass Road through Yosemite’s high country, and here the road (for better or worse) passes right along the shoreline. But for me the trees are the dominant feature, standing along the base of the granite slabs, trying to push their way up onto the slabs, and filling the background as forest ascends the slopes of this valley toward the granite ridges above.


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.