Tag Archives: sky

Winter Dawn, Sacramento Valley

Winter Dawn, Sacramento Valley
Winter clouds at dawn above the Sacramento Valley

Winter Dawn, Sacramento Valley. Great Central Valley, California. January 8, 2016. © Copyright 2016 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Winter clouds at dawn above the Sacramento Valley

Today it is close to the end of June, the start of the hot season in California, and it has been nearly 100 degrees where I live and hotter than that where I made this photograph. It is, at it is every year, hard to believe that it was only months ago that I was out in this spot on a freezing January morning, with snow-covered peaks to my east and west, watching the first dawn light on these spectacular clouds and listening to the sounds of early morning flights of migratory birds across the wetlands.

For this I will get up at 3:00 am and drive three hours in the pre-dawn darkness. I had not visited this location before, and as I turned off of Interstate 5, the main artery up this valley, and headed east on a two-lane road I wasn’t sure what I would find. The sky was beginning to glow and it seemed that sunrise was coming soon — perhaps too soon for my arrival. I turned off onto a gravel road and headed into this refuge, passing the entrance and heading out onto the perimeter road just in time for this astonishing morning light show.


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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Morning, Mountains, Desert Canyons

Morning, Mountains, Desert Canyons
Cloud-filled sky at first light above desert mountains and canyon, Death Valley National Park

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

Cloud-filled sky at first light above desert mountains and canyon, Death Valley National Park

As I post this photograph on the summer solstice, this location is perhaps not a place you would want to be right now. I understand that temperatures in Death Valley National Park have been in the 120 degree range already this summer. But back on this March morning the scene was a lot different — clouds from a passing Pacific weather front obscured the dawn light, and there was a pleasantly cool wind at this location high in the Panamint range as the morning light arrived.

This view looks down through one of the many gigantic canyons of the Panamint Range, a sight that reminds us of just how important the flow of water has been in the creation of this remarkable landscape. In the middle distance the salt flats of Death Valley are visible at the base of the Black Mountains, and above that the demarcations between mountains and clouds and sky and light are hard to see, and the terrain of the rugged Death Valley landscape almost merges with the ephemeral terrain of this 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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SFMOMA, Cloud

SFMOMA, Cloud
A cloud above the new SFMOMA building

SFMOMA, Cloud. San Francisco, California. May 20, 2016. © Copyright 2016 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

A cloud above the new SFMOMA building

I think my landscape photographer instincts went to work on this photograph, despite its thoroughly urban subject. But imagine a valley floor, a vertical granite cliff, peaks beyond, and a cloud floating past and I think you might see the analogy. But this is a distinctly San Francisco street/architecture photograph.

I was on foot in The City, spending the better part of a day wandering around in an area bounded by the Embarcadero and the Bay, Market street more or less, and Fourth Street. I was headed south on a less crowded street, traveling more or less toward the newly remodeled SFMOMA (museum of modern art). I had been looking a the tall building on the right and the bit of the new portion of the museum poking out to its left when the solitary cloud appeared from behind the building and began to move from right to left. Having very little time to contemplate, I framed up this vertical composition and made the photograph “street” style, using the prime lens already on the camera and simply shooting handheld


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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Barred Window

Barred Window
Reflections and shaded interior beyond a barred window, San Francisco

Barred Window. San Francisco, California. May 20, 2016. © Copyright 2016 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Reflections and shaded interior beyond a barred window, San Francisco

Walking along the waterfront near the South Beach Harbor I noticed a walkway going out to the end of a pier than I had not noticed before. This time a gate was open, so I walked out onto the pier and passed many small temporary (or so they seemed) businesses and shops that were set up behind the sliding metal doors, now open for the day. My goal was the end of the pier, where I figured I might be a good, clear view straight into the morning light coming across the bay or possibly back across the boats tied up in the harbor.

Passing one small metal-sided building, I noticed the odd combination of objects — a bird cage behind a sort of “human cage” of the barred windows. The right window provided a visual and subjective contrast with these objects, since it reflected the open blue sky and the upper portions of the masts of the nearby sailboats.


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.

Desert Mountains, Clouds

Desert Mountains, Clouds
Clouds from a passing weather front and the beginning of a dust storm above desert mountains and valley

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

Clouds from a passing weather front and the beginning of a dust storm above desert mountains and valley

If you follow my daily photographic posts, you just might recognize this scene — given that I’ve been posting variations on it for the past couple of weeks! (As you may have gathered, my daily shared photographs are not the same as my “Best of…” work. Instead they are, among other things, a way to stay “on assignment” and work out and try a variety of ideas.) So far, the variations on this general subject have included both monochrome and color versions and vertical and horizontal formats.

There were several challenges with this scene on location, some technical and some esthetic. Technical challenges included the extreme variations in the light, from the brilliantly lit clouds to the left foreground canyon in deep shadow. This was a challenge for which I realized that part of the solution could come in post, as long as I was careful with the highlights in the exposure. Compositional questions included how much of that dark foreground mass to include (with the presumption that some detail could be retained there), where to place various lines relative to the edges of the frame, and how much sky to include. While I first wanted to keep the hazy light on the mountains on the far side of the valley very brightly luminous, it seemed that their detail could be lost against the large dark areas. In any case, this is one of the current “finalists” among the group I’m considering.


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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All media © Copyright G Dan Mitchell and others as indicated. Any use requires advance permission from G Dan Mitchell.

Desert Mountains, Clouds

Desert Mountains, Clouds
Clouds from a passing weather front and the beginning of a dust storm above desert mountains and valley

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

Clouds from a passing weather front and the beginning of a dust storm above desert mountains and valley

The light and atmospheric effects in the desert can be quite varied, though we are perhaps most familiar with the least interesting conditions, the heat and clarity of midday. (Even that has an appeal, but for me it often isn’t photographic.) But go there often enough and at different times of year, and you will witness an astonishing diversity of conditions. I’ve been at this location in extreme heat, gale force winds, snow, light rain, quite evening light, and more. The conditions on this morning were not unprecedented in my experience, but the combination was marvelous.

We arrived at this ridgeline location just before sunrise and, as is often the case, there were clouds above the ridges far to the east that would block the light of the rising sun. Such clouds can be a photographic blessing (when the light up the right way) or a curse (when they simply block the light and leave everything gray). After a very brief bit of color along the distant horizon it looked like this was going to be a gray morning. Fortunately, we stuck around! Since the light on the grand landscape was “challenging,” we turned out attention to closer and smaller things, and while we were thus distracted the landscape and sky were transformed. A weather front was passing by, and beautiful clouds began to stack up above us and to the east. A milky haze across the valley gave the first hints of a monumental dust storm that would arrive by the afternoon. The light everywhere was a luminescent blue and it illuminated the stark forms of the dry wash running up into the desert mountains beneath us.


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.