Tag Archives: tree

Winter Morning, Sacramento Valley

Winter Morning, Sacramento Valley
Winter clouds and morning fog, Sacramento Valley, California

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

Winter clouds and morning fog, Sacramento Valley, California

I’ve been driving through California’s Great Central Valley (composed of the northern Sacramento Valley and the southern San Joaquin Valley) for decades, on my way too and from the Sierra and on travels north toward the Pacific Northwest and south toward Southern California. I confess that for many years it was just a place to pass thought on the way to someplace else, though years ago I began to develop an affinity for the sensations that came from driving across on a hot summer evening on the return from the Sierra or from slowing down for the winter fogs on the way to/from ski trips. And then I became away of the winter migratory birds, almost by accident, and I started regarding the winter valley as a destination rather than a route, and I have gradually come to appreciate the place itself.

This has also been (yet another) opportunity for me to relearn an important photography lesson, namely that it isn’t so much about going to distant exotic places (though I’ll do that, too, when I can) as it is about slowing down and paying attention to what there is to see wherever your are. And once I did that, this place that was little more than “the place I drove through” has become the subject. This photograph came on a short trip that I made with the goal of pushing out the boundaries of my experience in the Valley a bit. This time I headed further north up the Sacramento Valley to visit some areas that, frankly, I didn’t know existed until I started researching a bit. This area shares a lot with the more familiar locations where I photograph birds and landscapes every winter — the birds, the immense sky, the flat landscape, water everywhere — but it turns out to have its own personality, too. The birds are similar but not identical. (I photographed bald eagles here for the first time in California.) I saw snow-covered hills to my west in the dawn light. A small and isolated group of mountains rose to the east. And there was water everywhere, far more than where I photograph further south, and a surprise to anyone who has ever visited this area during get hot, dry summer months.


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 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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Dawn Flight of White Pelicans

Dawn Flight of White Pelicans
A dawn flight of white pelicans above San Joaquin Valley wetlands

Dawn Flight of White Pelicans. San Joaquin Valley, California. December 6, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

A dawn flight of white pelicans above San Joaquin Valley wetlands

I’m going with a bit of mystery and mood in this photograph — I could probably lighten things if I wanted to, but I prefer the darker rendition. I made the photograph very early on a late-fall morning, when thin fog had settled above the wetlands and high clouds partially obscured the sky above the summit of the Sierra Nevada far to my east. As soon as there is any light the birds begin to take to the air. These very early moments are probably my favorite of almost any day in these wetlands.

This photograph and the series like it posed some interesting technical and aesthetic challenges. The general light level was quite low, especially with the thin fog, and because I was handholding a long lens I had to keep my ISO somewhat high. As the birds passed from left to right in front of me they passed from near obscurity in dark sky and fog through brilliant light as they crossed in front of clouds lit by the first light of the sun.  I panned with the birds as I kept watch for landscape elements that might give some definition to a composition and kept an eye on the birds, waiting for a group to stretch out in a beautiful line and to pass in just the right area of illuminated 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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Autumn Ferns, Tree, and Gully

Autumn Ferns, Tree, and Gully
Boulders, autumn ferns and a small tree line a Yosemite back country granite gully

Autumn Ferns, Tree, and Gully. Yosemite National Park, California. September 12, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Boulders, autumn ferns and a small tree line a Yosemite back country granite gully

For me, intimate scenes like this one define the Sierra Nevada experience at least as much as do alpine ridges and grand scenery. While those subjects are highlights, the feeling of smooth granite, stepping across half-buried rocks and through grasses, finding my way up or down a gully are the core experiences of the place. I wonder if I’m the only person who, when he starts thinking about the sensor experience of the Sierra, mostly recalls these things, along with the sound of gravel beneath boots, echoing off of the rock walls, water flowing in creeks, wind in trees and always the light.

This little spot is probably not one that would get the attention of too many people, unless perhaps they spent a week camped a few minutes from such a gully, crossed it daily on travels around a lake, and often paused to look up and eventually decided to explore a bit. A first glance told me that there was a gully. Another look and I began to see the colors of the rocks and their curve. Returning a few more times I noticed the little spruce tree and the ferns growing among the rocks. And after a week this spot become one more piece of the Sierra as I know it.


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.

Snag, Sky

Snag, Sky
An old, twisted snag against a gray and cloudy Sierra Nevada sky

Snag, Sky. Yosemite National Park, California. September 13, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

An old, twisted snag against a gray and cloudy Sierra Nevada sky

Old dead snags can be some of the most compelling sights in the High Sierra. They are everywhere —on the glaciated granite slabs, high atop ridges, within the first, lying in meadows. They are the other end of the life cycle begin by small trees at the edges of meadows. Sometimes to me they seem almost closer in spirit to rocks than to other living things, and some that die in dry rocky places continue to stand for a long time before finally decaying and fading away. Because they are stripped of small branches and needles, the reveal the complex and twisting shapes of the inner tree.

I came across this snag high in an area of granite slabs above a lake where we were camped. I visited it several times, intrigued by its shape and challenged to figure out a way to photograph it that did not include the surrounding living trees. Finally I found an angle that I could photograph with a long lens, tightly cropping a section of its form against the gray of a cloudy sky. In the end I decided on a monochrome rendition, feeling that it better captures the abstract from of the trunk and branches.


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.

Aspen Tree Trunks

Aspen Tree Trunks
Aspen tree trunks in the first morning light

Aspen Tree Trunks. Eastern Sierra Nevada, California. September 26, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Aspen tree trunks in the first morning light

Frankly, aspen trees are fascinating in a huge range of ways, in all seasons, and in many kinds of light. At the current time of year most of us focus, with good reason, on the annual spectacle of their fall colors — blankets of yellow, gold, orange, and red. But aspens are beautiful when they are bare and they are beautiful when new leaves appear in the spring, and they are beautiful in the middle of summer when their leaves shimmer in the breeze.

The trunks in this photograph are those of “fall color” aspens, and you can see a bit of that color in the background. However, there is another aspect of color in this photograph that I like to consider, namely the range of colors and textures in the bark of these trees. Ideally, we often think of aspen bark as being white. With the right trees and the right light it can, in fact, seem quite white. However, in most cases the bark colors are much more varied, ranging from gray to green to brown. The textures are also quite something — the trees can be almost perfectly smooth or they can be very rough and rugged. The pair of foreground trees in this photograph are an interesting case, especially if you think of aspen trunks as being white. A closer look reveals that the tree on the right has strong yellow-brown-golden tones while the one right next to it is covered with interesting red patterns!


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.