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Bluffs and Morning Fog

Bluffs and Morning Fog
Coastal bluffs lead away into the fog along California’s rugged Pacific Ocean coast

Bluffs and Morning Fog. Big Sur Coast, California. May 1, 2016. © Copyright 2016 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Coastal bluffs lead away into the fog along California’s rugged Pacific Ocean coast

I am still astonished by how widely variable the appearance of a single scene can be along this Big Sur coastline. On a winter day this area could be raked by monumentally powerful Pacific storms, raising winds and surf. On a quite summer evening it could be warm and peaceful with sunset light bathing the cliffs. On another summer evening everything could be socked in completely by thick fog.

On this spring morning the light coming over the ridges of the coastal mountains was still casting shadows along the shoreline, while the tops of the bluffs were in sunshine. Oddly, on a morning that began clear, fog was beginning to form down low, hugging the coast just above the water. Despite the bright morning sun, along these bluffs the principle color was blue — the blue shades of ocean water and the subtler blue of haze and fog and shaded rock, with the landscape and water eventually disappearing into the distance, muted by the fog.


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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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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Great Blue Heron

Great Blue Heron
A great blue heron stands next to a Sacramento Valley pond

Great Blue Heron. Sacramento Valley, California. January 8, 2016. © Copyright 2016 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

A great blue heron stands next to a Sacramento Valley pond

As I prepare photographs to share via social media (in my continuing photo-a-day marathon, now perhaps the years old) I often have photographs lined up for posting days or weeks in the future. Occasionally one sits here on the computer for a long time before I finally share it. This photograph of a great blue heron is such a photograph — I made it almost four months ago, way back when we were in the middle of winter!

This past winter I decided to expand the range of my bird photography a bit. I’ve been photographing winter birds in Central California for the past few years, but mostly in a range from roughly Sacramento south. So it was time to connect a few dots on the map and travel out of that area a bit. One of the first extended visits took me a good distance up the Sacramento Valley on a cold winter day when snow topped the mountains to both the east and west. This specimen was hanging out along an irrigation ditch near the edge of a wildlife refuge, and it allowed me to get relatively close (“hidden” inside a vehicle) without taking flight.


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 Wash and Mountains

Desert Wash and Mountains
A desert wash cuts though golden layers toward mountains and Death Valley

Desert Wash and Mountains. Death Valley National Park, California. March 29, 2016. © Copyright 2016 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

A desert wash cuts though golden layers toward mountains and Death Valley

I made this in another area of Death Valley where, despite its popularity, I have never really quite felt comfortable making photographs. The area is along a loop road that ascends the alluvial fan along the valley edge and then passed across and along some very beautiful washes, giving access to areas of strikingly colored rock formations. The formations are intriguing, but they don’t move be photographically. At least not yet — I won’t rule out the possibility that I’ll someday find a way to “see” them.

However, at one of the most popular stops, when I look the opposite direction, I see this absolutely lovely wash curving gracefully back and forth as it descends through golden rock and toward darker hills before taking a turn and heading down the giant alluvial fan toward the great basin of Death Valley. Late in the day, just before the sun drops beyond tall mountains in the west, there is a brief window of warm, golden light, even on a day like this one with distant clouds in 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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All media © Copyright G Dan Mitchell and others as indicated. Any use requires advance permission from G Dan Mitchell.

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.
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.