Tag Archives: morning

Dawn Arrival

Dawn Arrival
Winter geese fly in to a Central Valley wetlands pond at dawn

Dawn Arrival. Central Valley, California. January 1, 2016. © Copyright 2016 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Winter geese fly in to a Central Valley wetlands pond at dawn

Near the end of May I revisited some photographs from the past year, including a set that I made on an annual New Year’s Day visit to California’s Central Valley. For several years now a group of friends, photographers, artists, and more have greeted the dawn of the new year by going together before dawn to celebrate the new year and the annual spectacle of the winter bird migration into the valley. So, during the first week when the temperatures here in California rose into the nineties, I enjoyed recalling a foggy morning when they sat near freezing.

We arrived a half hour before dawn to find patchy, thinning fog. We set out trying to determine, in the half-light, where the birds might be, and soon some were spotted settling in on a nearby pond. We headed that way, and I lined up a view across the pond, past quiet foreground birds and past a row of trees toward the eastern sky, which was gradually beginning to brighten. I made this photograph as another small group of birds was flying in to join those already on the pond


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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Dunes and Mountains, Morning

Dunes and Mountains, Morning
Morning light on sand dunes and rugged mountains, Death Valley National Park

Dunes and Mountains, Morning. Death Valley National Park, California. March 31, 2016. © Copyright 2016 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Morning light on sand dunes and rugged mountains, Death Valley National Park

On our final morning in Death Valley this past March I got up before dawn one more time, loaded some gear in the car, and drove a short distance to a place from which I had decided I wanted to access sand dunes. I had been in the same area a few days earlier, and on that visit I spotted a likely looking area not far away — and that was my target this time as I walked alone across the quiet playa in pre-dawn light.

Out here the light arrives with surprising suddenness, despite the hints that it is coming, seen in light on peaks to the west and far up the valley. Silently the first light skims across dune tops, and within seconds the soft light is replaced by brighter highlights and darker shadows. Here I looked east across low dunes toward mountains along the eastern side of the valley at the base of the Amargosa Range. The morning haze and shadows on the mountains muted the their details. I photographed here for a few more minutes before packing and walking back to my vehicle, and within an hour we were on our way out of the park.


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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Dunes, Clouds, Morning

Dunes, Clouds, Morning
Curving dune forms beneath spring clouds, Death Valley

Dunes, Clouds, Morning. Death Valley National Park, California. March 30, 2016. © Copyright 2016 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Curving dune forms beneath spring clouds, Death Valley

This turned out to be a very productive morning for photography — from scenic photographs of beautiful light on the Cottonwood Mountains to abstract and expressive photographs of the dune forms. I had several conditions that appeal to me. The sun in this photograph was almost directly in front of the camera, creating a somewhat stark effect and producing myriad sparkles in the sand. There were clouds from a passing weather front, and in a typically cloud-free place like Death Valley it is wonderful to get them. Not only were there clouds that I could include in the composition, but at times other high, thin clouds softened the light.

When I made this exposure I was pretty certain that I was heading toward a monochromatic interpretation. I also had a mental image of layers stacked up vertically: the light-colored lower band of sand, the softer middle ground with the streak of light passing across the darker textured sand, and the clouds above. In the end, as I presumed from the start, black and white seemed more likely to let me take this image where I wanted it to go, emphasizing the abstract nature of the elements more than their objective nature. If it is somewhat difficult to see this as a purely “real” subject… I’m fine with that.


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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Desert Light and Shadow

Desert Light and Shadow
Morning light illuminates dust filled air above desert mountains and valley

Desert Light and Shadow. Death Valley National Park, California. March 28, 2016. © Copyright 2016 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Morning light illuminates dust filled air above desert mountains and valley


Please indulge me as I continue to engage in my obsession with a series of photographs of this scene made on a special morning earlier this spring, when dark clouds gave way to light across the valley from my position high on a desert mountain ridge in Death Valley National Park.

If nothing else, sharing the series of somewhat similar photographs (this one, others posted previously, and possibly one or two more still to come) might illuminate the process of refining the way of seeing a particular subject. (Of course, to do that more completely you would also have to see photographs of the same location from previous visits over a period of years.) While I was there and the light was evolving I was very aware that the I could “see” the scene in multiple ways: Did I want to focus on the sky with its spectacular clouds? Did I want to minimize their presence to allow the luminous glow of backlit haze below them to take precedence? How much presence did I want to give to the strongly contrasting shaded mountains below me. How do the color and monochromatic interpretations compare? I still do not have final answers to those questions, but this portrait orientation view gives the luminous mountains across the valley a larger place the overall image and may more clearly present series of parallel and contrary lines in the scene.

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.

Creosote Bush, Dunes, Morning

Creosote Bush, Dunes, Morning
A creosote bush among sand dunes, morning

Creosote Bush, Dunes, Morning. Death Valley National Park, California. March 30, 2016. © Copyright 2016 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

A creosote bush among sand dunes, morning

When I go to Death Valley I usually have a long list of places I want visit — ridges, canyons, playas, trails, and more. Even when I am there for a week, I usually run out of time before I run out of places. Perhaps for this reason I have sometimes not given enough of my time to the dunes. I have photographed them quite a few times, but they often end up being one thing on the agenda that is full of other subjects. However, on this recent trip I visited the dunes much more, walking out into them on three occasions and photographing them from greater distances, too. I photographed them at more or less all times of the day, and in conditions ranging from clear sky to clearing storms and even blowing dust.

I made this photograph on a morning when a weather front was moving past, leaving some clouds in its wake above the Amargosa range along the east side of the valley. We began photographing before dawn, and worked through the rapidly changing light as the sun rose above the mountains. Clouds periodically interrupted the light, but this meant that from moment to moment almost any kind of light was possible — full direct sun, light muted by thin clouds, the soft light from overcast — and that different light often appeared at different locations in the scene. When I saw and composed this photograph the light was initially very soft, but by the time I made this last exposure the sun was beginning to come out from behind clouds and highlight the textures, curves, and lines of the sand, and the play of light and shadow.


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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Desert Mountains, Morning Haze

Desert Mountains, Morning Haze
Desert mountains and morning light illuminating haze that is the first sign of a developing dust storm

Desert Mountains, Morning Haze. Death Valley National Park, California. March 28, 2016. © Copyright 2016 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Desert mountains and morning light illuminating haze that is the first sign of a developing dust storm

This is another “take” on roughly the same scene I shared in another recent photograph, also in black and white. When I made the photograph I was already thinking of it as a black and white image, and it obviously has ended up that way, more or less as planned. I was already familiar with the rugged foreground mountains from previous visits, but the light and atmospheric conditions on this visit were unique. The sky was fairly cloudy, though the ceiling was breaking up a bit, allowing light beams to break through. The atmosphere was extremely hazy. The positive aspect of this is that the light shining through it almost glowed. (In fact, that was probably what first attracted me to the scene.) The somewhat negative aspect is that the haze was the harbinger of a tremendous dust storm that would arrive later in the day.

The black and white rendition represents the result of a sort of pre-visualization. To my way of thinking, “pre-visualization” can mean a range of things. At one end of the spectrum it could mean almost literally “seeing” the finished photograph before making the exposure. In this case I knew I wanted the hazy light beams to glow, that I wanted to retain the dark mass of the foreground mountains, and that the final result would be black and white. But I don’t want to imply more certainty than I actually had. Despite my decent idea of where I was going, I did not know for sure what the exact best outcome would be and, in fact, I made some varied compositions and exposures. On a side note, although we didn’t quite realize it just yet, the haze that made the light so beautiful came from the first dust from dust storms that were building all around the area.


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.