Tag Archives: water

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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Surf, Bluff, Sea Stacks

Surf, Bluff, Sea Stacks
Surf, a steep bluff, and sea stacks lead toward a foggy horizon, Big Sur Coast

Surf, Bluff, Sea Stacks. Big Sur Coast, California. May 1, 2016. © Copyright 2016 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Surf, a steep bluff, and sea stacks lead toward a foggy horizon, Big Sur Coast

I sometimes forget how long this coast has been a part of my consciousness, but a visit or two quickly remind me. I have lived in the San Francisco Bay area since I was four-years-old. Weekend and summer visits to the Monterey Bay beaches and the tide pools of Point Lobos were regular events, and the effect of those visits remains all these years later — and all it takes is a quick visit to remind me of what it means to live this close to the Pacific Ocean.

On this first day of May I made a morning visit to the upper Big Sur coast, getting to some of the best parts before the inevitable weekend crowds arrived. It was a beautiful day, at first looking like it might turn out to be “yet another blue sky day,” but soon becoming more interesting, at least from the photographic point of view, as thin fog began to form just about the meeting of the ocean and land. When I made this photograph looking south down the coastline, it was still early enough that the bluffs and coastal mountains cast shadows along the surf line.


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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Rocks, Wave, Horizon

Rocks, Wave, Horizon
Shoreline rocks, an incoming wave, and the Pacific Ocean horizon on a gray morning

Rocks, Wave, Horizon. Coastal California. May 13, 2016. © Copyright 2016 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Shoreline rocks, an incoming wave, and the Pacific Ocean horizon on a gray morning

I knew I wanted to photograph today, but the conditions in the Bay Area were perhaps less than inspiring, at least for the subjects I had initially thought to explore. It was a gray morning all up and down the coast and the high fog extended well inland, producing lots and lots of flat light. I stalled for a bit and then, after reading a weather forecast offering the hope of some breaks my late morning, I headed over the hills to the coast and began to work my way north from the Santa Cruz area. Some days the photographs just seem to appear almost of their own accord, but this was not going to be one of those days.

There are several ways to deal with this eventuality. One is, of course, to give up and go home — and, in truth, sometimes that is the most reasonable choice. There will always be another day with better conditions. A second option is to continue to look, holding out hope that something special will eventually happen. (I can tell plenty of stories of unpromising conditions that offered up astounding light surprises.) A third is to look for some completely different subject. For a moment today I thought about doing some urban photography. A fourth — and this may be the best in the long run — is to try to “see” the conditions as they are and find some way to photograph them, perhaps even going with the gray, so to speak. So that is what this photograph is — a very simple and quiet image that perhaps reflects the nature of this day.


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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First Light, Trees, Lake, and Ridge

First Light, Trees, Lake, and Ridge
Trees along a rock strewn lake as first morning light strikes a southern Sierra Nevada backcountry ridge

First Light, Trees, Lake, and Ridge. Sequoia National Park, California. August 8, 2008. © Copyright 2008 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Trees along a rock strewn lake as first morning light strikes a southern Sierra Nevada backcountry ridge

This was the scene on the morning of this fifth day or a trip of over a week across the High Sierra Trail, a trip that would eventually summit Mount Whitney before descending the east side of the Sierra. To me, this route feels like it is composed of several distinct sections. The first couple of days are the approach, reaching the first high country from a west side trailhead. The next few of days are the crossing of the Kaweahs and the descent to the ridges above Big Arroyo, a portion of the trip that has the distinct feeling of remoteness and of dropping down to much lower country. Then there is the march up the Kern and the ascent to meet the JMT, followed by the lateral over to a base camp below Whitney, with the finale being the ascent of this ridge and then the long descent to Whitney Portal.

This morning was in that post-Kaweah phase, at our second camp after crossing the Gap. This lake, a bit off the “official” route, is a quiet and forested place with a gentle feeling that contrasts the rough edges of the higher country. We awoke this morning and I was out before dawn, photographing the first light on this high ridge beyond the trees and across the lake.


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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Granite Cliffs, Alpine Lake

Granite Cliffs, Alpine Lake
Rocks from vertical cliffs line the base of a deep blue alpine lake

Granite Cliffs, Alpine Lake. Sequoia National Park, California. August 6, 2008. © Copyright 2008 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Rocks fallen from vertical cliffs line the edges of a deep blue alpine lake

As I write this tonight for posting tomorrow, winter is over and spring is a few hours old. It is perhaps for that reason — the start of spring and the inevitability of summer — that I found myself looking though some old photograph files from a summer about eight years in the past. There is a practical reason to revisit the old files from time to time; I often find photographs that now look pretty interesting that I apparently skipped over originally, for one reason or another. But it is also an opportunity to revisit the older memories as well, since looking at the photographs brings back the recall of many other details of such Sierra trips.

On this trip I crossed the Southern Sierra from west to east with a small group of long-time trail friends. I am not sure why, but I had not been back on this trail in the decades since my first visit — so I was excited to revisit this spectacular route. Today I began tracking the progress of the trip via the old photographs, starting on the first day and looking at photograph up through day three, when we climbed from a beautiful lake to cross the Kaweah Mountains and head east. I came to this photograph, which is a vertical orientation interpretation on a scene in another of my photographs that may be somewhat recognizable. At the time when I made the original print I think I must have committed to the horizontal format and, thus, put the vertical on the back burner. but today I decided that I like this version, too, with a bit less emphasis on the water and a bit more on the vertical thrust of the rocky walls.


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.

Sunrise, Marshland, Birds

Sunrise, Marshland, Birds
Thousands of migratory geese fly above foggy San Joaquin Valley marshland at dawn

Sunrise, Marshland, Birds. San Joaquin Valley, California. February 26, 2016. © Copyright 2016 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Thousands of migratory geese fly above foggy San Joaquin Valley marshland at dawn

On this late-February day we arrived at the wetlands well before dawn, slowed by heavy tule fog along the final miles of our route. The fog was thick but not deep, and while our horizontal view was obscured we could see that objects as short as utility poles extended above the fog layer. At our destination we finally stopped, and got out of the vehicle to set up camera equipment and to get the lay of the land.

Almost immediately flocks of geese began erupting from ponds and taking to the sky, thousands at a time. First a group nearby, then one far off to one side, then another at the distant edge of the refuge, and so on until the sky was filled with them. We thought that it was perhaps the greatest bird tumult that we had seen, and we had arrived just in time to see it. (Of course, only a few days later we experienced an even more monumental evening, with tens of thousands of geese and cranes.) At first we simply photographed the birds in the low light, but eventually I turned my attention to the landscape and made a few photographs across the tule ponds toward the first light developing above the Sierra crest far to our east.


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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Geese, Dawn Sky, Fog

Geese, Dawn Sky, Fog
Tens of thousands of Ross’ geese take to the dawn sky above San Joaquin Valley wetlands

Geese, Dawn Sky, Fog. San Joaquin Valley, California. February 26, 2016. © Copyright 2016 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Tens of thousands of Ross’ geese take to the dawn sky above San Joaquin Valley wetlands

We always hope for fog on our winter visits to these places where the Pacific Flyway migratory birds are found out in California’s Central Valley. Despite the attractions of clear and sunny mornings — especially when it comes to driving — the fog lends mystery to the landscape and works wonders with the early morning light. We were not disappointed on this morning, and the fog was very thick when we arrived. For a short time it was thick enough to make driving difficult, but as dawn approached the atmosphere cleared enough to let us see clouds above the airborne geese.

At this point in the season, the time when the geese depart for points (far) north is very close, and it seems like the geese must know. They seem to be much more active and they congregate in larger numbers, frequently taking to the air in astonishing clouds of thousands or tens of thousands of birds. Within minutes of our arrival on this morning, huge groups of them took to the air all over the surrounding landscape, starting out in tightly packed flocks that gradually expanded to fill 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.
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.