For family reasons I found myself in Vallejo for a couple days. I wanted to do some photography on Mare Island, an area I spent a lot of time when living in Vallejo a decade ago.
While taking a few stock photos of St Peter’s chapel a classic car came up and parked right out front. Looking at the photos it looks like a Buick 8 coupe from the 1940’s in spectacular shape. The owner must be quite a character, he came out in military dress clothes and walked a tiny dog.
Years, make that decades ago while shopping at Streetlight Records in San Jose, I recall a punk album spoofing the “San Jose is Growing Up” theme title “San Jose is Throwing UP.” That reminded me of the original slogan- which rings more true than then. San Jose is finally getting some real big developments downtown.
This became especially evident as I was walking around Saint James Park in Downtown San Jose. A giant crane (apparently operated by the company Bigge based on the signage) was setting up a huge crane.
I saw an opportunity to get some nice silhouettes of the base of the crane being assembled. First I whipped out my 100mm lens, the longest lens I had in my bag. It so happened that I had my newish Sigma Contemporary 150-600mm in the car so I headed to go grab it.
On my return I noticed a unique juxtaposition with the steel base of the frame of the crane assembly and the iconic Bank of Italy (or as the kids now call it Bank of America) building. Depending on the framing, it looked as though the crane was dwarfing the tower of the BOA building, but that’s only an illusion based on my location.
I did a little research, but am not sure what’s being built on the spot. But it looks like it’s gonna be tall whatever it is!
Truth be told, I was really out testing a new lens. I had just received a Sigma 150-600mm Contemporary lens and wanted to get a few test photos with my Sony A7RII and MC-11 kit. Uncharacteristically the weather here in Silicon Valley has been very wet and I had little chance to play.
So I made a quick trip to the Alameda side of Oakland Estuary, a spot with great views of the Port of Oakland with all the containership and tugboat traffic.
But being a weekend- there wasn’t too much going on.
So I headed over to Alameda’s “Booze Alley” a row of alcohol themed businesses facing past the old NAS runway with spectacular views of the San Francisco skyline. I was just in time for the sun to drop past the almost finished Salesforce Tower (tallest building on the West Coast- or so I have read.) Standing on a bit of concrete debris I was able to get my new large lens over the fence in the Faction Brewing Company parking lot.
I made a point of framing for type- leaving room on the sides or top hoping for a future magazine or book cover.
After the sun went down, I drove further along the waterfront on the old decommissioned base and managed to get a few long exposures in.
Continuing my Oakland focus (and seeking appropriate subjects that also work for VeryHighDPI.com) I headed out to the historic Dunsmuir Mansion. To be honest, I knew almost nothing about it other than having seen photos of the building and thought it looked nice.
So I drove out there – turns out there is further away than I thought out in the outer reaches of Oakland near the zoo and near the San Leandro border. When I arrived, the gate was closed and I went online only to find that the place didn’t open until 11am- another half hour or so.
I sat in the car and perused maps, a travel app TravelWithMe which came with my Maps.Me app and Foursquare. I figured I’d use the time to see what else is out there. And low-and-behold I found another location deeper in the burbs. There’s a beautiful mansion in Hayweird I’d never even heard of: Meeks Mansion.
Well, my time had come, it was 11am and I drove to the gate which was still closed. And I waited 10 minutes or so assuming the gate would open. But it didn’t. So I called the number on the webpage and a lady informed me that there are two gates. Alright, problem solved I guess- though I’m not sure why there’d be a gate with a big sign reading Dunsmuir Mansion on it that stays closed and an entrance that says Dinkelspiel House that’s the actual entrance, but hey, whatever.
This is yet another unexpected Oakland experience. The Dunsmuir Mansion is a handsome bit of architecture. And it’s about as un-urban as you could imagine- on a quiet and lush ground with only the hum of the freeway in the background.
So I got a few shots and panos in of the Dunsmuir mansion and booked it over to the Meeks Mansion about 20 minutes away in Hayward. I’d add that hashtag that I’ve been playing around with: #thesuburbsaremoreinterestingyouthink.
Sure, San Francisco has the bulk of the attractions in the Bay Area. But it has far more than its share of tourists. For those seeking a slight detour from the beaten path, some of these suburban gems might make more sense than being trampled by camera wielding outsiders.
I’ve been plotting and scheming – trying to showcase stock photographs I have that are unique in one way or another.
So I’ve put together a few new galleries. There are a couple of topics to disseminate:
Unique Technique: Unique slightly aerial perspective This is looking slightly down using a special secret technique) I’m calling that Looking down at ______. I’ve got a gallery setup in that category for Silicon Valley and Seattle (and environs.)
Unique Technique: Very, Very large files I’ve been working on expanding my really large files library. I can also do custom shots as needed. I’ve got a few photos that are in the gigapixel range.
I’m tempted to overdramatize this process as I found here with this Bentley ad. Basically it’s a bunch of bullshit, here’s a snippet of how they make their technique sound interesting:
Impressive, eh? Bentley created the massive photo by stitching together 700 separate photos using NASA’s panorama stitching technology — the same kind used to create panoramas of Mars shot by the Curiosity rover. In all, the project took 6 months to plan, 6 days to shoot, and 2.5 months to retouch.
“An incredible 4,425 times larger than a typical smartphone image, this extraordinary photograph is made up of approximately 53 billion pixels (or 53,000 megapixels),” Bentley writes. “The result, if reproduced in standard print format, would be the size of a football field.”
But this is using the same gear I’ve got. Plus it’s not sharp, except the car. And the car shot has so much detail it has to be fake. If the photo was made as they claimed almost a kilometer away in an area where there’s also always wind, this just isn’t possible. The photographer here was Simon Stock (the photographer equivalent of a “porn name”- a surname “stock.”) I guess the lesson to learn here is that gross exaggeration (or worse) is how to sell yourself and product.
Unique Technique: Long Exposure My setup allows me to take really long exposures, even during the day. This can make for a really unusual look- especially when the main subject is stationary: architecture, landscape etc and also includes motion: water, clouds, etc.
Unique Access: This is where I’ve been able to photograph with special access. For example I managed to gain access to some high rises in San Jose and Oakland and get some really unique shots, or the San Francisco Bay Bridge during construction and BART with a tripod.
And of course there’s all the usual stock photo stuff. Let me know if you don’t find what you’re looking for. I added a new item to the SiliconValleyStock webpage to make photo requests. Due to some changes at my old stock photo library to which I contributed, I’m gonna have to be much more proactive about selling my own work.
As I recall, Gertrude Stein famously said about Oakland: There is no there there. In researching my present subject, the Tribune Tower in the center of Oakland, I read that they actually put a “There” sign on the tower to make light of Stein’s comments.
In any case, I’d wanted to photograph the tower with some dramatic angles and clouds for a while. In photographing in much of Oakland I find myself somewhat torn between the beauty that is Oakland’s urban core and the chaos and lawlessness it’s known for. Tribune Tower has also been in the news alot lately, I think there’s some sort of bankruptcy issues with the (former) owner.
I had a reasonably good experience in that regard during this shoot. My perch was the spot on Broadway right next to the 12th Street Bart entrance. With my Sony A7r on a tripod I got a few looks: some friendly, some suspicious. I got a few really dumb comments like the usual, “What, are you some kind of terrorist or something?” “Yes”, I replied, “I’m going to blow up that building with this magical camera” hoping in vein the idiot who made the comment might notice how dumb his question was.
I did see my fair share of bad behavior while doing my thing. There was a group of about a dozen people across the street congregating in front of the Burger King for nearly the entire time talking very loudly- occasionally shouting to other people (in a friendly manner) across various street corners. The kid in the bunch was bouncing his basket ball off the transom windows of the historic building.
In that entire couple hours I think I saw one police cruiser despite the fact that the main police HQ is a very short distance down Broadway, the street I was on. At one point there was a guy on a dirt bike, with no license plate. He started doing wheelies in the center of the intersection, then went off the wrong way on a one way street, only to reappear on the sidewalk. Even after dark, he was riding around in violation of most of the vehicle code and with no lights in front or back (not just not on, but there was no light on the bike, period.)
But despite all the complete lack of first world order, I managed to photograph without being hurt or seriously threatened. And I got a few good shots too.
Many of the photos I did employed one of my fun tricks: long daylight exposures. The trick is that I put a really dark grey filter in front of the lens, allowing exposures up to about 30 seconds during the daytime. The end result is that stationary objects, like in this case the Tribune Building tower remain stationary (of course) but the clouds move and leave streaky patterns. This is hit or miss- you knever know for sure what’s going to happen in the next half minute or so.
Another thing I’ve been trying to do is frame for book covers. I thought of this as a potential book cover project. For a complete book jacket, the subject has to be on the far right and have room on the left for a spine and the back. Seems at some point somebody’s going to be writing another book on Oakland and need a cover.
But you be the judge. I think some of these came out quite well. What do you think?
For years I’ve noticed an interesting building from highway 880 but never got around to viewing it up close. Finally I made the short detour only to find that this handsome facade is both a) really cool for photography and b) scheduled for demolition.
The area will soon be home to a ginormous development project dubbed Brooklyn Basin.
Pity that such a historic landmark will be demolished, but what are you gonna do?
Living in Alameda as I do- I have a tricky relationship with Oakland. For those not familiar with Oakland and Alameda let me give you the Cliff Notes version.
Oakland is a city about half the size of, and located across the bay facing east from San Francisco. It’s a beautiful city, full of architectural treasures and bustling urban textures and cultures. Oakland also suffers from a very high crime rate. By contrast Alameda is sleepy suburban island city that was separated from Oakland artificially to make way for a shipping channel for the Port of Oakland. Alameda is known for being very different from Oakland, despite being minutes away from Oakland’s urban core.
I really love Oakland, but am apprehensive of letting down my guard and drag my expensive camera gear along. Not in some areas- including some of the most beautiful: the hills, Mountain View Cemetery, Jack London Square. After signing up for a bunch of extra insurance and splitting up my camera kit, I’ve opted to venture into Oakland’s urban core and start documenting whatever we call the state of the city of Oakland now- between poverty and gentrification, dilapidation and renaissance, beauty and destruction.
Another area I’d covered in the last few days is around Lake Merritt. I’d done some research to find there are a few points of interest I was unaware of. For example, there’s a bonsai garden there. It happened to be closed (despite the stated hours) the first day I went but open the next. Also around Lake Merritt is Children’s Fairyland and the WPA gem of a Alameda County Courthouse.
I’ve got plans to go back, there’s so much to cover!
A few years ago, I managed to get access to a few tall buildings in Downtown San Jose. In migrating my images from my old Zenfolio account to my present Photoshelter site, I managed to miss most of the “from above” photos taken in 2010.
I don’t know how I managed to miss them, but I was searching for a few of them for another project and their absence came to my attention. On the plus side, reprocessing the same images has some benefits. My Lightroom skills have improved over the last half decade as has Lightroom.
Looking at these images also reminded me I have to update my library. The winter solstice is coming up – perhaps the best time of year to arrange for more such shoots. Usually photographing from somebody else’s building requires a representative to be with me while I work. That’s a bit of a hassle in the summer when twilight is almost bedtime. Plus the smog that typically envelopes the south bay gets washed away semi-regularly in winter.
So no I need to figure out how I can update my picture library. San Jose has been growing and the skyline has changed a lot in the interim. If you know of any residents or property managers at any of the high rises in or around downtown, please hook me up!
To see some of the photos in the Above San Jose series, follow this link: HERE.
Despite the reputation for cutting edge technology, Silicon Valley is pretty backwards in a number of ways. One of the most evident is the built environment. Fortunately some tech giants are finally trying to make a splash with their new digs. San Jose’s new Samsung USA headquarters is on that list.