Faux Chateau & The Cats

Villa Montalvo, Saratoga California (M Halberstadt/SiliconValleyStock.com)
Villa Montalvo, Saratoga California (M Halberstadt/SiliconValleyStock.com)

Probably not fair to call Villa Montalvo a Faux Chateau, it really is a beautiful place. This formerly second home to three term San Francisco mayor  James Duval Phelan was transformed into a public park and center for the arts. I’ve been here a few times in the past- but I was intimidated by the “NO COMMERCIAL PHOTOGRAPHY” sign displayed very prominently in front of the building. Of course this isn’t “commercial” photography. But it’s been my experience that the way such rules are enforced are by somebody who knows nothing about photography looking at how big a camera I have. It’s one reason I sometimes still prefer to use my little Sony NEX cameras which have “professional” image quality and are tiny enough to fit in a pocket. I don’t think I’d get far trying to explain the difference between editorial and commercial with most folks.

Villa Montalvo, Saratoga California (M Halberstadt/SiliconValleyStock.com)
Villa Montalvo, Saratoga California (M Halberstadt/SiliconValleyStock.com)

In any case the grounds are beautiful. It so happened that they were hosting a private breakfast for Netapp, so I took a quick walk around a very short trail and explored behind the mansion for a while. The wisteria was in full bloom and the weather really cooperated undulating between lightly cloudy and sunny.

Villa Montalvo, Saratoga California (M Halberstadt/SiliconValleyStock.com)
Villa Montalvo, Saratoga California (M Halberstadt/SiliconValleyStock.com)

Some fellow and I came upon the gate surrounding, what later research is being referred to as the “Love Temple” and gardens. It wasn’t clear to either of us why there was a gate, I let him go in first and test the waters.  When no alarm sounded or crazed employees chased him, I followed suit. As I guess what now is obvious, I’ve really been harassed by security enough to be very self conscious!

Villa Montalvo, Saratoga California (M Halberstadt/SiliconValleyStock.com)
Creepy Statues at the “Love Temple”, Villa Montalvo, Saratoga California (M Halberstadt/SiliconValleyStock.com)

The garden does a good job at what I assume was its intention: mimicking those of wealthy Italian estates. The fountain in the “Love Temple” was off, as we are in a serious drought condition right now. But I’d have to say it displayed some of the creepiest statues I’d seen in some time. Behind the temple was a small cactus garden and some sort of woodcutting exhibit in progress.

Los Gatos, California (Michael Halberstadt)
La Cañada Building at night, Los Gatos, California (Michael Halberstadt)

From Villa Montalva in Saratoga I meandered to Los Gatos. Strange for a town named after them, I don’t recall having seen any real cats. There were a couple architectural ornaments if you look really closely at the Deco facade of the Los Gatos Theater but that’s all I saw.

Los Gatos has been on my stock photo radar for a while.  The theater came up as a request on one of the stock photo sites: Image Brief or Photographers Direct I think not too long ago. It’s also one of those very affluent areas that needs illustration in various publications regularly. It’s even more affluent than I remember, they even have a Bently dealer in town.

Los Gatos, California (Michael Halberstadt)
Apparent scene of an early wheel theft ring, outside the former Forbes Mill Museum, Los Gatos, California (Michael Halberstadt)

My primary goal was to get a few good shots of the theater and the Old Town sign. I waited a long time for the light to get where I wanted it. While I waited in addition to having coffee and cake at a local coffee shop, I did a little walking around town. I went looking for the Forbes Mill Museum. I was thrown off by the fact that the sign led me down a private road and part of a condo association. But walking down the hill and around the corner a handsome stone historic building appeared. But it was closed permanently.

Los Gatos, California (Michael Halberstadt)
Lone Jogger on a bridge along the Los Gatos Creek Trail. Los Gatos, California (Michael Halberstadt)

The shuttered museum did lead to another POI: an overpass that promised to connect to the Los Gatos Creek Trail. Why not, I had time to kill. So I wandered looking for a some good views. I try to get people in the photos without looking too creepy. That can be a balancing act, I don’t want closeups of people but more like the lone jogger above to give a sense of scale and not make the place look too abandoned.

Los Gatos, California (Michael Halberstadt)
Los Gatos Theater, Los Gatos, California (Michael Halberstadt)

Eventually the theater got where I wanted it. You know where interior building lights and neon were about as bright as the sky above it- “golden hour” ish.

Los Gatos, California (Michael Halberstadt)
Los Gatos Old Town Sign (M Halberstadt/SiliconValleyStock.com)

The Old Town sign wasn’t as cooperative. It’s rusted brown, with tall trees behind it. I was counting on the “christmas lights” separating the sign from the background, but I didn’t notice that they only covered the decorative metal above the letters. Oh well.

With a few more destinations check off the list, I feel like I’m making progress.

Stop Me if You’ve Heard This One Before

(With my apologies to The Smiths)

Autonomous car being tested in Silicon Valley parking lot (Michael Halberstadt)
Autonomous car being tested in Silicon Valley parking lot (Michael Halberstadt)

It’s kind of like being a Paparazzi- only I’m stalking Google X-projects.  Once again I trawled the usual spots looking for that adorable little Google Self Driving Electric Car with the irritated at my presence Googlers inside.  Sorry guys, your project is interesting to me and billions of others. Besides, you are testing in a public parking lot!

The car just parked in the same place for a long time. I went out to photograph other stuff in the neighborhood and it still hadn’t moved. Eventually I figured I’d just drive up and get a few closer up shots.

Autonomous car being tested in Silicon Valley parking lot (Michael Halberstadt)
Autonomous car being tested in Silicon Valley parking lot (Michael Halberstadt)

<begin rant>One thing that really gets me….. Google, the folks who sent two security guards to intercept me before I could reach the “Visitor Entrance” to ask if they had tours, the company that sends cars with giant cameras recording huge swathes of things public and private from the roadway….the company that knows more about you and me than the NSA….the company that has more money than god….

Google Busses in Public Parking Lot, Silicon Valley, California (M Halberstadt/SiliconValleyStock.com)
Google Buses and bikes in Public Parking Lot, Silicon Valley, California (M Halberstadt/SiliconValleyStock.com)

Well, they whine and complain when I take photos of them and their very newsworthy Google X project. Mind you I’m not stalking them to be irritating, they are involved in very newsworthy activities, like changing the way the world drives. At the same time they (Google and other extremely wealthy tech companies ) appropriate public spaces for private uses. By now most people have heard of Google and other tech companies using public bus stops in San Francisco and Oakland for their private buses without permits. The defacto control a huge public parking lot weekdays in Mountain View too.

Google Busses in Public Parking Lot, Silicon Valley, California (M Halberstadt/SiliconValleyStock.com)
Google Busses in Public Parking Lot, Silicon Valley, California (M Halberstadt/SiliconValleyStock.com)

</end rant>

 (M Halberstadt/SiliconValleyStock.com)
(M Halberstadt/SiliconValleyStock.com)

Eventually I moved on to track down some items on my stock photo map of Silicon Valley. I figured somebody is going to have to write about @Walmartlabs at some point, and I had an address for them also in Mountain View.  So I headed over to the address I had listed, 444 Castro Street only to find that it’s a huge office building with no signage. Later research showed that Walmart Labs appears to once have been located there, but has moved on. There are plenty of other important and perhaps soon to be important companies at that address, so I reckon this wasn’t a complete waste of time.

Stanford University Campus (M Halberstadt/SiliconValleyStock.com)
Lorry I. Lockey Laboratory on the Stanford University Campus (M Halberstadt/SiliconValleyStock.com)
Stanford University Campus (M Halberstadt/SiliconValleyStock.com)
John Stauffer Laboratories for Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, Stanford University Campus (M Halberstadt/SiliconValleyStock.com)
Stanford University Campus (M Halberstadt/SiliconValleyStock.com)
Hewlett-Packard Teaching Center, Stanford University Campus (M Halberstadt/SiliconValleyStock.com)

Why I keep headed back to Stanford is another question. Don’t I have enough coverage? Apparently not. Technically, Stanford is actually its own place, not part of Palo Alto as I lump them together in my stock photo library.

I tried to get a few shots of the more modern, lesser touristy but more valuable in the stock photo sense, like a few of the laboratory facades, some boring stuff etc before I headed back to the Quad.

It was a good opportunity to try out a new set of equipment I have. My Canon was acting weird which forced me to rush and buy a camera I’ve wanted for some time. The Sony A7r has a few advantages over the Canon that came in handy on this shoot. The obvious are the much larger images – which open up at about 100 mb in Photoshop vs my Canon’s 60 mb. The less obvious is that the EVF is capable of displaying the camera’s level status both left & right as well as up & down. If you want architecturally correct photos, which I usually do, with a shift lens- that’s hard to do without a tripod. No more…. and avoid the tripod gestapo that routinely chase me around.

Stanford University Campus (M Halberstadt/SiliconValleyStock.com)
Hoover Tower/Stanford University Campus at night (M Halberstadt/SiliconValleyStock.com)

Now on to the pretty stuff. This reminds me that I should drag “Baby Genius” (my daughter) and her friends out here for a field trip sometime. She seemed to enjoy our trip to the Berkeley campus.

One major reason I think Stanford seems so pleasant isn’t just its retro architecture. The fact that there are basically no cars removes alot of the noise and hubbub that makes people anxious. It makes me wonder what cities were/would be like without car traffic. After the sun went down, but before it was really dark, I strolled past the memorial church. The glow from within matched the light outside and I could faintly hear music practice from inside the “Round Room”. Truth be told, I’m an atheist…but the Memorial Church is one of the more beautiful buildings in the Bay Area as far as I’m concerned.

Stanford University Campus (M Halberstadt/SiliconValleyStock.com)
The Chapel at Night Stanford University Campus (M Halberstadt/SiliconValleyStock.com)

Driving South (in praise of GPS)

Pacific Grove Seascape (M Halberstadt/SiliconValleyStock.com)
Pacific Grove Seascape (M Halberstadt/SiliconValleyStock.com)

For personal reasons I usually need to head down to the Monterey Peninsula about once a week. As beautiful as it is down there, it doesn’t really factor in to the Silicon Valley Stock shtick. But when I can I do stop along the way and take a few snaps. In fact the circa one hour drive from “Silicon Valley” is a good reminder of what the real world actually looks like.

San Jose, CA (Michael Halberstadt)
Silicon Valley Sign, San Jose, CA (Michael Halberstadt)

Indeed, as I drive pass “Silicon Valley Boulevard” at the southern reaches of San Jose, the scenery has already drifted from the small “urban” core of San Jose’s downtown, to the vast suburbs, to rolling hills, farmland and faux chateaus of the new rich. Typically this part of California, and in fact most of California’s cities are framed in by dry grass hills or grassland. The velveteen hills of the east San Jose foothills are for this short period green and punctuated by California Poppies and other wildflowers.

Chitactac-Adams County Park, Gilroy, CA (M Halberstadt/SiliconValleyStock.com)
Chitactac-Adams County Park, Gilroy, CA (M Halberstadt/SiliconValleyStock.com)

It’s common to hear “Luddlites” disparage GPS. But for me it’s the greatest liberator on a trip. Rather than forcing me to use the most efficient route as detractors argue, it allows me to wander aimlessly without fear of getting lost and with a continual reminder of how long it will take me to get to my end destination. As such, I now dart off the freeway regularly in search of the perfect landscape with no fear of being late or getting lost.

So I did veer off course a few times and found some nice little corners of the world I’d never heard of. Past the vineyards of yet another California Wine Country, I stumbled upon a cute little park in Gilroy: Chitactac-Adams County Park. Not the best time of day for lighting, and nearly completely empty. But I made a quick walk around. Ignoring my GPS, I turned where I hoped to find good scenery with occasional success.

Getting lost is fun so long as you can find your way back!

Unusually Green Landscape of California near Gilroy, California (M Halberstadt/SiliconValleyStock.com)
Lone Cow and Unusually Green Landscape of California near Gilroy, California (M Halberstadt/SiliconValleyStock.com)
Unusually Green Landscape of California near Gilroy, California (M Halberstadt/SiliconValleyStock.com)
Wildflowers, Rocks and Unusually Green Landscape of California near Gilroy, California (M Halberstadt/SiliconValleyStock.com)

Bizerkely

University of California Valley Life Sciences Building (VLSB) (Michael Halberstadt)
The Pterodactyl like thing looks about ready to eat my wife! University of California Valley Life Sciences Building (VLSB) (Michael Halberstadt)

For those not familiar with Berkeley, it’s a college town with a reputation for one of the best public Universities in the world, left leaning politics, counter-culture (though many of the hippies are approaching Social Security age.) Depending on your perspective, the place is often lauded or disparaged as “the People’s Republic of Berkeley”, Berzerkeley. And researching this entry there’s another nickname I’ve never heard: The Athens of the West. I’ve been to Athens recently and will concede the city does bare some similarities albeit not just the positives. The campus is beautifully situated at the base of the eastern foothills. Off campus is hit or miss with some pretty gritty areas and homeless activities along with the usual bars, foreign food outlets, book and music stores etc. Pretty much as you might expect from a big college town.

South Hall Building, Berkeley, California (Michael Halberstadt)
South Hall Building, Berkeley, California (Michael Halberstadt)

My teenage daughter Ella (whom I often refer to as “baby genius”) is so interested in college, that she wanted to go out shopping for Cal Berkeley apparel. So the other day we made a trip out to Berkeley. We found a parking spot and moved on to the “colorful” Telegraph Avenue buying a hoodie and moving on.

T-Rex Cast, Valley Life Sciences Building (VLSB) (Michael Halberstadt)
T-Rex Cast, Valley Life Sciences Building (VLSB) (Michael Halberstadt)

My wife and I thought it would be good to take a look at the campus with our baby. So we strolled past the Sather Gate and made our way to the Life Sciences Building. Not sure what was open to the public, and being uncharacteristicly bold as I had my peeps with me, we opened the door only to find a fun exhibit full of  Dinosaurs. Cool.

University of California Valley Life Sciences Building (VLSB) (Michael Halberstadt)
University of California Valley Life Sciences Building (VLSB) (Michael Halberstadt)

We mosied through the library. There were bands of  what should have been dusty books given their age from Europe and Australia as well as modern. It was nice to just be able to pick up and look at a hundred year old foreign science volume and thumb through the pages.

Berkeley, California (Michael Halberstadt)
Buddhas for Sale, Berkeley, California (Michael Halberstadt)

What does one eat while in Berkeley? Indian of course! We made our way to House of Curries for a surprisingly bland Chicken Tikka Masala. Our last stop was some hippie-dippy shop with all sorts of knick-knacks like Buddhas, insects preserved in plastic, and pot smoking paraphernalia.

Aruba Networks, East Foothills, Apple’s Campus II, and the Dish Loop

View of Silicon Valley from the East Foothills (Michael Halberstadt)
View of Silicon Valley from the East Foothills (Michael Halberstadt)

HP had just acquired Aruba Networks and I figured that would be newsworthy. Also one of my clients pointed out a new park with a view within the city limits of San Jose. With the rain there would finally be a brief window of clean air in the otherwise smoggy Silicon Valley Basin- so I rushed down to take full advantage. I came down with a plethora of tools for a few days of stock shooting: my bicycle, four camera bodies, my panorama machine, a video camera, I never know where these shoots will end up.

Sunnyvale, California, 02 March 2015: Hewlett-Packard is acquiring networking company Aruba Networks (Michael Halberstadt)
Sunnyvale, California, 02 March 2015: Hewlett-Packard is acquiring networking company Aruba Networks (Michael Halberstadt)

Driving down it started to pour by the time I reached Fremont. To kill time I stopped at Weird Stuff Warehouse, a computer surplus store full of antique computer sludge and last year’s crop of gadgets. After that I grabbed a bite at Una Mas right around the corner from Aruba Networks. Then the clouds broke and I went on with the Silicon Valley shtick grabbing my little Sony kit and hopping on my bike (the office parks intentionally bock out public parking).

The rain did in fact temporarily clear the schmutz from the air and I headed up the East Foothills towards the park in question. However, I didn’t make it all the way there, as I found a couple of pull-outs along the way with great views of The Valley below. Recently my Canon 6d started acting up and in a panic I bought Sony A7R. The Sony really proved itself for the dusk stock photos shoots of this sort. Not only is there a whole lot more resolution (36mp vs 21mp), but the dynamic range really shines as the sky goes dark and the city lights twinkle.

Silicon Valley Skyline from the East Foothills (Michael Halberstadt)

So I didn’t manage to make it to the park that evening, but decided to check it out the next morning, if only to get an idea what the value would be for stock photography the next time. Turns out, it has a spectacular view – to quote our former governor “I’ll be back.” But when I was there in the late morning the visibility wasn’t what it could have been. In fact when I looked off the left to the unusually green hills, clouds and light haze, I was reminded back to my travels in my school days in Europe. I could imagine myself being on any old trail in Switzerland, Austria or Germany. Usually our hills our brown and our sky is blue with a dingy brown ring. It was a pleasant change- not that I don’t like the tan and blue hue.

Unusually green rolling hills above Silicon Valley - San Jose California (Michael Halberstadt)
Unusually green rolling hills above Silicon Valley – San Jose California (Michael Halberstadt)

After a morning of conspiring with my dad over coffee- about adding his old slides of San Jose and tech companies from the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s to the archive I eventually found my way to Cupertino. Apple is in the process of building their Sir Norman designed Foster Apple Campus II. This is where the bicycle really came in handy. At present, it’s just a huge building site. For those of you not familiar with Silicon Valley, we’re basically just a huge suburban area similar to most North American cities. Many affluent towns never bothered with sidewalks, their residents don’t walk anywhere, they drive. But after decades of stop and go traffic and pressure from environmentalists and their own hipster fixie bike rider employees, there are now bike lanes all over the place. Now using a bike is a critical tool to loop around the 175 acre site. I was able to find one hole in their amazingly high construction fence (wall might be more apt as it’s solid.) And on the other end of the construction site I found another way of seeing past the fence: the bike lane is the only way to stop on that side of the freeway overpass. So I stopped as close as I could to the apex of the unobscured section of road and could get a few clear shots.

Where my bicycle did not come in handy was at my next destination. I rolled up to the Stanford Dish Loop, setup my bike complete with tripod and extra lenses in the paneers and peddled to the entrance. Inside the gate was a long list of rules, including NO BIKES. Pain in the A$$! So I peddled back, rerigged my camera bag with as much as I thought I could practically carry and resumed where I left off. The scenery was amazing: dramatic clouds, nice warm late afternoon winter light. As I slowly schlepped my way along the trail snapping away, I watched fit young college students zip past me. I got a bunch of nice stock shots. What I didn’t get is the way out of the maze that is inappropriately named “loop.” I went to the exit and headed back in what I hoped was the way back to my car. After about an hour of walking in a bike lane as it was getting dark and busy with commute traffic, I finally saw familiar signs that I was on the right path. When I got there I had to “take care of some business” and I think I may have freaked out a young woman as I returned from the bushes next to my car. Ooops.

 (Michael Halberstadt)
Stanford Dish Loop Trail (Michael Halberstadt)

My feet were killing me. It was time to return to my home base in Downtown San Jose and grab a bite and a beer. Having done some work for the new Whole Foods near downtown, I’ve been itching to try their house brewed beer and grabbed a slice and headed up to the brew room. Oddly enough, I ran into a young man trying to find the end of the line, or at least the etiquette to ordering at the bar. He said he was from Europe, which I almost took as a ploy to jump the line. We ended up chatting and he told me he was from Italy. Opening up, I told him that when I was a bit younger than he was I too was a Student in Europe. “Where” he asked…. And I answered Bodensee/Lake of Constance assuming he’d have no idea what I was talking about. But instead he said he replied he’d studied in Sankt Gallen, right on the other side (Switzerland) from where I was living. He was Italian, but from the small German speaking South Tirol region. Small world I said as we went back and forth in a mix of English, Schweitzerdeutsch and High German. Despite my aching feet, that was a fun and productive evening!

California is Full of Beans!

Warning: This post actually has nothing really to do with Silicon Valley!

Outline of the State of California (Michael Halberstadt)

Some time ago I ordered some cookie cutters with the intention of making some stock photo artwork. The idea was to shape other objects into the shape of states.  I had a list of things I thought would make for a cool juxtaposition, but not all really worked as planned.  My studio lighting setup is less than ideal, and our studio is a bit of a mess much of the time, which also kept me from finishing up this idea.

Recently my studio mate needed to darken our windows for one of his projects and it so happened that I just got an LED video light. So “painting with light” seemed like a good way to approach this subject.  If you aren’t familiar with the concept, you can take a long exposure and move a constant light source around your object for a unique result. I’m pretty happy with the lighting, though I hadn’t factored in the reflections from the metallic sides.

What did seem to work easily were a few agricultural products that fit nicely in the state frames. I poured a few different types of beans with varying success- coffee and pinto seemed to work best.

I have a list of other ideas what to stuff to frame up in the shape of California, and other geographic boundaries. But until you see them here, I’m gonna keep ’em secret.

From the Archive: San Francisco Oakland Bay Bridge From the Middle Lane

Almost Impossible: Long Exposure from the Center Lane of the Bay Bridge
Almost Impossible: Long Exposure from the Center Lane of the Bay Bridge

I still have to pinch myself. Did this really happen? Right before the official opening of the new Eastern Span of the Oakland – San Francisco Bay Bridge a friend let me in with his special access.

Bay Bridge Stock Photo

We drove around on an almost empty bridge free of all but construction and CHP traffic. We stopped pretty much wherever we wanted. Nights we could even set up our tripods right in the middle lane of the bridge and make long exposures.

Bay Bridge Stock Photo

My friends at Oakland Magazine previously got me press access onto the Bay Bridge on a wet and windy night to document the LED art installation. We could setup our tripods for this access, which was nice. But since there was still auto traffic, the bridge shook and long exposures were fruitless.

San Francisco - Oakland Bay Bridge (Photographer: Michael Halberstadt/Michael Halberstadt)
San Francisco – Oakland Bay Bridge Press Event for LED Light Installtion (Photographer: Michael Halberstadt/Michael Halberstadt)

I could have kept shooting there for weeks if they let us. These are the views photographers like me find so beautifully frustrating: so beautiful, yet unattainable. It’s what we see stuck in traffic and think if only I could just park my car and pull out my camera.

Bay Bridge Stock Photo

My parting shot was a long exposure disturbed by a CHP call to “leave now” minutes before the official opening.

The CHP came by and said get off now- we're about to open to the public. I picked up my tripod and headed to the car while still exposing. (Photographer: Michael Halberstadt)
Parting Shot: The CHP came by and said get off now- we’re about to open to the public. I picked up my tripod and headed to the car while still exposing. (Photographer: Michael Halberstadt)