I was headed out the door of my place in West Alameda planning to head off and photograph a nearby building. But I heard a mysterious humming sound, a sound I’d struggled to figure out what it was for some time in the past.
Heading over to Rockwall one day not long ago the mystery was revealed. Right across from the USS Hornet Museum I stumbled upon a small plane or large prop driven drone looking device.
Some research later and I found that that “drone” was actually a Google X project (or Alphabet, or the Artist Formerly Known as Prince, or whatever they are calling themselves now-a-days.)
Google bought this oddball alternative energy company in Alameda called Makani. Their project is what they dub an “energy kite” and it looks alot like a prop plane and blows around in windy areas and generates energy. Or that’s how I understand it.
But once again I wanted to get a little stock photography and video of the thing actually running. Unfortunately it seemed they were winding down as I got there, but it was a different looking “kite” this time.
Before working a gig I had a little while to get some stock photo shooting in. I don’t even remember the name of the event, it was a pre-party for a half marathon taking place the next day. In any case I had a few minutes to get some of those slightly aerial views I like doing so much. Not quite drone or quadcopter height, just a little higher than the human eye.
Just a medium turnout in Frank H. Ogawa Plaza, right in front of City Hall. In some of the shots you can see the Tribune Tower or the City Hall from the other.
Since Oakland appears to be finally sick with Dot-com fever, I’ve got the sense there’s going to be more need for stock photos.
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?
Google just announced the new Android OS: it’s Nougat. Sweet.
As per usual, the new sculpture was released at the Googleplex. Yours truly put on my editorial stock photographer hat and made a stop in Mountain View yesterday.
I also got a few stock photographs of the Android sculpture garden that has changed a bit since my last visit. It was also mobbed with kids and other visitors. Finally there’s a place to go to for some Silicon Valley tourism besides the small infrastructure that barely exists here.
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?
From the outside, Fremont is a sleepy suburban city in Silicon Valley. Well, honestly from the inside that’s more or less true too. Though with a few quirks that make Fremont a fun place to explore if you live in the area.
Dotted between the stucco homes and strip malls is a quirky views of America’s past and future.
My journies to the past this time included my first stop: the Pioneer Cemetery of Centerville. Centerville is a neighborhood in Fremont now, but I assume it was a town at one point judging by some of the headstone inscriptions listing place of death as Centerville. Frankly the place was a bit rundown- and there was a major construction site nextdoor preventing too much rest in that final resting spot. One headstone listed a guy who’s year of birth was in the 1700’s- something rarely seen on headstones here in the west.
From the cemetery I noticed what appeared to be an old train station behind me. Finishing up with the cemetery, I dragged my kit along to explore and low-and-behold it was a handsome little station that was converted to a cafe. The platform is still in use for Amtrak’s Capitol Corridor. On the other side of the tracks there’s a lovely little park with a covered historic railway waiting area.
All was good, well except for one thing. I was thinking about this- there has to be a series of Murphy’s Laws for photography. The rule in play here was the attraction of dirty, ugly or aesthetically unpleasant stuff to the most interesting landmark. It could be the workers in fluorescent orange jackets cleaning up, traffic cones, the strategically placed utility pole blocking the best view of a facade. However in this case, it was a pile of garbage in a shopping cart underneath the Centerville train shelter. Presumably left by a homeless person, who either abandoned it or was coming back at some point, the cart had a undersized adult bike (popular with the druggies) and most unfortunately a filthy large *RED* sleeping bag partially unfurled.
This really was a beautifully done park however aside from the crap and few druggies hanging out there. Wisteria draped off to the left and right of the shelter, and the old station was just across the way with a handful of waiting passengers. The sign atop the station and shelter reads: “Centerville – to San Francisco 40 1/10 m. – to Ogden 799 4/10 m. – Elevation 57 feet.“*
Otherwise the space was beautiful. I stopped in the cafe and got coffee and a snack. The lady inside said she recently bought the business. It was really cute inside as well, though empty- perhaps because the time of day- it was about noon on a workday. The coffee was really good, I’d definitely go back.
Next stop was the Shinn Park & Arboretum. My timing was off, this would have been much better had I arrived earlier when the sun was less harsh. This looks like a grand old farmhouse that lost its farm to suburban sprawl, but gained some gorgeous gardens. I was presented with the Murphy’s Law of Photography again when a city of Fremont truck drove up and the dude in the fluorescent orange jacket ran around cleaning up. I’m keeping the Shinn park in the back of my mind for a place to photograph again and maybe get a picnic in on one of the pleasantly shaded tables.
I headed back to familiar territory- Mission San Jose. Though I already have plenty in my photo library, I wanted to apply a few new techniques.
I headed back to Niles- more familiar territory and after a few snaps managed to find a happy hour sign. The restaurant- The Vine had a $2 off drinks on tap, and they had not just beer but wine on tap. I couldn’t resist. I walked in only to find a surprisingly empty restaurant. However continuing to the back I found a bustling patio and enjoyed a chat with a couple of locals with a glass.
My next journey was only a couple miles in distance but a huge cultural shift. If Fremont is known for anything it’s its South Asian population. There’s a substantial number of Afghanis and lots of Indians, Pakistanis and other nationalities and those with roots in the Subcontinent. I’d visited San Jose’s Gurdwara a number of times. In addition to being really interesting to look at and a pleasant variation from the middle American ‘burbs- the Sikh places of worship are great to visit. One major reason is that people are super-duper nice! And they are not camera phobic. Guys with turbans typically come up and say hi and tell me to feel free to photograph.
But in this case in the Fremont Gurdwara in addition to all this- a gentleman introduced me as Sing came up and asked me if I wanted to see inside and have a meal? Well why not? He put a head covering on and handed me a dollar bill to drop into the offering inside. We chatted while sitting on the floor while I asked all the dumb questions about Sikhism and he did his best to answer. He then took me to the cafeteria and we drank chai and he gave me a few Indian sweets balls of sweetened ground chickpeas. I was a bit shy about taking any photos inside and don’t have a lot to show for this photographically, but it was an experience I really enjoyed.
Next stop I stumbled upon the California Nursery Historical Park- I believe this is a city park still in progress. On the site was a rose garden, not in the best of shape with an old faux windmill themed storage closet at the center. A bunch of fenced off delipidated greenhouses were off in another corner. There was also the a Vallejo Adobe off in the corner. The adobe building was fenced off and locked (as was the restroom next door unfortunately as I would have liked to have visited both.)
I’d hoped to get some of the neon Niles signs but they weren’t on- so last stop was the big Niles gate sign and I packed up and went home. But I’ll be back – no question!
*This just reminded me, the presumably old train station sign gives the elevation- relevant to my previous post. The centerville sign reads 57 feet- and I checked with the tool from my previous post: 57.126 feet. Not a whole lot of sinking below sea level.
It’s no wonder Google is changed their name to Alphabet. Their business endeavors are a veritable alphabet-soup so as to have a hand in just about every subject under the sun. I’m a regular chaser of self-driving cars and do my share of stalking the Googleplex and document other Google’s fingers in various pies.
But Google also has a project within earshot of my house on my fair Island-city of Alameda. They bought out Makani- an alternative energy company that has an unusual way of generating wind energy. The concept basically is flying up a “wind kite” that once reaching a high-ish altitude where the wind is stronger and spins around sucking up more wind energy while tethered to the ground.
Today Makani was testing out one of their kites when I was driving back from a meeting at Rockwall. They even started up the engines- and I realized then the sound of which was one of the mysterious sounds we occasionally hear at our house!
I took the opportunity to get a few shots (and even some crappy stock video) of the tests in action. I spied a colorful Google bike way off in corner of the lot complete with a pirate flag and parked nearby to get a shot of the bike and kite together.
There I noticed a gal in a blue hardhat with a video camera and a dSLR pointed at the kite. She came over and we had a nice chat. I’m so used to the Google people shouting (figuratively) “get off my lawn!” So it was a pleasant change of events. In any case she introduced herself as Andrea and a quick search came up with her blog… check it out here.
Continuing with my stock photography coverage, I headed to Old Oakland’s Farmers’ Market. Historic Old Oakland is picturesque already, but the Farmers’ Market added to the photographic appeal. There’s something nice about a city where there’s no car traffic. And that’s one nice aspect to urban farmers’ markets. There are all the colorful produce and flowers to brighten the place up. Pedestrians filling the streets add to the aesthetic charm. And best of all, I can photograph from right in the middle of the road!