Tag Archives: water

Fog, Water, Light

Fog, Water, Light
A beam of light on water below fog, Pacific Ocean

Fog, Water, Light. Pacific Ocean Coast, California. July 212, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

A beam of light on water below fog, Pacific Ocean

Living very close to the Pacific coast of California for nearly my entire life, the ocean has always “been there” — just on the other side of coastal mountains, hardly more than a half hour away, bringing cooling evening breezes on hot summer days, and producing periodic morning fog where I live. On one hand I am more familiar with this landscape than most people, but in recent years I began to feel that I know much less about it than I should. These photographs made with the camera pointing straight out to see are something of a them of mine, not as frequent as photographs of mountains perhaps, but important nonetheless. They might include fog or winter swell or clearing storm clouds or simply the brilliant light on the water from the western sun. To me they are all a bit mysterious.

We had spent a couple of days along the Big Sur coast photographing (and eating!). The main part of the visit was over, but we had a full day to get home, and home was only about an hour and a half away. So we took our time and followed the coast almost all the way north to San Francisco before turning inland. During much of the drive we were in the sun, but north of Santa Cruz the fog began to appear, and eventually we arrived at that point where the offshore fog bank was substantial enough to form a virtual wall against the light. We stopped and I photographed as the eastern edge of the fog picked up a bit of light and the sun broke through a few clearings to illuminate the surface of the water.


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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Monsoonal Clouds, Pacific Ocean

Monsoonal Clouds, Pacific Ocean
Monsoonal clouds above the Pacific Ocean, Big Sur coast, California

Monsoonal Clouds, Pacific Ocean. Big Sur Coast, California. July 20, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Monsoonal clouds above the Pacific Ocean, Big Sur coast, California

Driving along the central California Big Sur coastline in mid-July we experienced a very unusual coastal summer day. Summers in this area typically feature morning and evening fog and relatively cool temperatures, interspersed with clearer days when the temperatures might rise to near 70 degrees. But for a few days this July, California was affected in an unusual way by a dissipating tropical storm and the early phase of El Niño, and we had unusual manifestations of light and atmosphere and more. There were thunderstorms, some of them quite heavy. The ocean was smoother than usual and the swell came from the south rather than the north. Layers of unusual monsoon clouds filled the sky.

This photograph belongs to what I categorize as both minimalist and imaginary landscapes. I wrote more about this in my previous post, so I’ll keep it short here. The idea is to work with simple materials and often not with an obvious central subject, to focus on some kind of subjective reality rather than creating the illusion of objective depiction.


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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Pacific Ocean, Clouds

Pacific Ocean, Clouds
Monsoonal clouds above the Pacific Ocean horizon, Big Sur, California

Pacific Ocean, Clouds. Big Sur Coast, California. July 20, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Monsoonal clouds above the Pacific Ocean horizon, Big Sur, California

This photograph and the one that will follow it belong to a small sub-thread in my photography, but a thread that means a lot to me. I think of these photographs as both imaginary and minimalist landscapes. They are “imaginary” in that they are about the subjective experience of the place and an invented or focused way of seeing it, and they are “minimalist” in that they are about simple forms and patterns, and because they often include large “empty” or near empty areas. These are not remotely photographs that are attempting to show the objective nature of places. They are photographs that are about some subjective way of seeing things. I often say that “all photographs lie,” but it might be more honest to say that “all photographs have a point of view.”

I’m not sure that the specific location or subject is all that relevant to this photograph, but since it is my habit to say something about that when I share photographs online, here goes. We spent a few days along the central California coast in mid-July. This is a very familiar place, but several things were unusual this time — and they may have put me in a somewhat different perceptual state. Monsoonal moisture was streaming up the coast from a Pacific Ocean tropical storm near Mexico and bringing clouds and even heavy rain to parts of California, a very unusual situation here. An anomalous plankton bloom turned big areas of the ocean and Monterey Bay an unusual blue-green aqua color. (That is probably the source of the light patch in the water in this photograph.) The swell was out of the south rather than the more typical northwest, and the water was much smoother than is typical, creating unusual reflections of sky and coastal bluffs.


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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Shoreline, Trees, Morning

Shoreline, Trees, Morning
Morning light on trees and granite slabs along the shoreline of Tenaya Lake

Shoreline, Trees, Morning. Yosemite National Park, California. July 14, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Morning light on trees and granite slabs along the shoreline of Tenaya Lake

I think this photograph combines several elements that I find attracting in my landscape work. I have written that I sometimes like to photograph along the “edges of the light,” the boundaries between shadow and sunlight that move across landscapes, especially when it is early or late in the day and/or when the landscape is surrounded by higher ridges. This photograph was made in early morning, in an area where the sunlight does not arrive until some time after dawn. When the light does come, it works its way down the granite slabs on the left as beams of light pass across the valley from the right. I also love to work with haze. (I often am baffled by photographers who always want crystal clear atmosphere — that can be beautiful, too, but it can also be stark and obvious.) There was plenty of haze on this morning, and the light shining through it partially obscures the background forest. And the photograph is rendered in black and white. While I don’t think of myself as a “black and white photographer,” I frequently find myself seeing scenes like this one in monochrome. Perhaps that goes back to my roots as a photographer.

There is something a bit unusual about this landscape, too — a road bed features prominently in the scene! This is the edge of Tenaya Lake along the Tioga Pass Road through Yosemite’s high country, and here the road (for better or worse) passes right along the shoreline. But for me the trees are the dominant feature, standing along the base of the granite slabs, trying to push their way up onto the slabs, and filling the background as forest ascends the slopes of this valley toward the granite ridges above.


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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Tuolumne River, Evening

Tuolumne River, Evening
Evening clouds dissipate above the Tuolumne River, Yosemite National Park

Tuolumne River, Evening. Yosemite National Park, California. July 12, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Evening clouds dissipate above the Tuolumne River, Yosemite National Park

For the past few days I’ve been photographing in the Yosemite high country. When arriving at some familiar places in the Sierra Nevada I tend to follow certain rituals. I often arrive in the middle of the day and whenever possible on the day when the largest number of visitors are leaving — this makes it a bit more likely that I’ll find a campsite. That’s how it worked out on this Sunday, when I was able to grab a tent campsite at Tuolumne Meadows, even though it is the start of the peak season. As usual, I spent an hour or so getting my basic camp set up, then sat for a while, resting up from the drive and eating lunch and thinking about where I might photograph later in the day. I finally came up with vaguest of vague plans: I would simply start out by driving back down the road a ways to see what I could find. This turned out to be fortuitous decision.

In some ways it was a typical high country summer evening, with clearing clouds from recent monsoonal rain softening the light a bit. I passed a beautiful clump of trees that were dramatically lit by the low-angle sun but there was no place to pull over. I continued on up the road a ways, finally turned around, and as I headed back I decided to pull over where I could take in the wider view. There were two vehicles in the pull-out already and as I pulled in I wondered if I was going to startle the woman getting out of the one right in front of me. I took another look and soon realized that she was my friend Claudia, and that the other car was her husband Michael’s vehicle. (It still astonishes me how often I run into friends in the Sierra.) After greetings we decided to wander out along the Tuolumne to see what evening would bring. They set out across the meadow and a few minutes later I followed. As I walked I became vaguely aware that another couple was following in the same direction and when we met up at the far side of the meadow we realized that there were Charlotte and Gary, yet another couple I know! Joining “forces,” now we wandered down the river this beautiful area of small trees, open views, granite slabs, and flowing water.


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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Drake’s Estero

Drake's Estero
Summer sun penetrates clearing fog over Drake’s Estero, Point Reyes National Seashore

Drake’s Estero. Point Reyes National Seashore, California. June 27, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Summer sun penetrates clearing fog over Drake’s Estero, Point Reyes National Seashore

I took my camera for a hike this week. Or at least that’s how it felt. I have to confess that Point Reyes, a place I visit somewhat regularly, has always been a photographic challenge for me. I can’t quite put my finger on why that is. I certainly have good results with seascape photographs from other areas along the California coast. As I hiked today — an eight mile round trip to the entrance to Drake’s Estero* — I pondered this what might explain it. Because the point extends out into the ocean, it is often foggy. This fog is not the mysterious sort that hangs along the ground and partially obscures trees and hills. It tends to be the cold gray fog that hovers a few hundred feed up, simply blocking and flattening the light. Although I’m intrigued by this landscape, much of it can be quite barren. There are forests, but they often consist of slender trees growing closely together, often with dense undergrowth. It is difficult to find the things that attract me to the landscapes of the Sierra and the desert — rugged rocky forms, tall cliffs (there are some of these at Point Reyes), light-filled forests, bare and rocky ground. Oh, and did I mention the wind!?

But I keep going back, frequently returning with only a few photographs. This was one of those days. I very much like the place I hiked — a route that alternates between forest, tramping along the waterline, and traversing high bluffs above the estero. I walked four miles out past the end of the trail, to a place where I could walk along a narrow band at the base of cliffs that front the estero, and across the relatively still water were sandbars with birds. Beyond that the surf broke outside of the entrance to the estero. At this far end of the hike I was completely alone, and I found a rock to sit on and quietly take in this scene before turning around to retrace my steps. The photographic challenges on this walk were primarily the strong winds and the gray light. As I passed along the top of one of the bluffs, the sky cleared enough to produce beautiful, soft light on the water and the far peninsula, providing an opportunity to make my one good photograph of the day.

  • “Drake’s Estero” is, as you probably guessed, an estuary — but here I’m using the word that the park service uses for this feature.

G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist. Blog | About | Flickr | Twitter | FacebookGoogle+ | 500px.com | LinkedIn | Email


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Bricks, Reflection

Bricks, Reflection
Bricks and water reflecting urban sky.

Bricks, Reflection. San Francisco, California. May 29, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Bricks and water reflecting urban sky.

Walking up Market Street in San Francisco I was watching out for anything that could be photographically interesting — architecture, people, vehicles, light — when I looked down and saw this little vignette of… not much at all really. Perhaps someone had been cleaning the street earlier, and now a puddle of water covered some sidewalk bricks and flowed over the gaps between others.

I stopped, more or less in the middle of the sidewalk, likely forcing a few people to take a path around me or perhaps just wonder what I was photographing with my camera pointed straight down. What I saw was, first, the water itself. Then I saw the narrow vertical band of lighter tones, where there was a break between reflected buildings. I only paused for a moment to make a couple of exposures, and then I continued on.


G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist. 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.