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.
One of the most beautiful and unique places in the Bay Area is the Mountain View cemetery in the Oakland Hills. The sprawling historical cemetery is home to a handful of well known figures. Looking at “Millionaire’s Row” there are lots of names Bay Area residents will recognize- if not for the person entombed, then for the institutions, products, street signs that bear their names.
For example Chabot, for whom the Chabot Science Center in Oakland, J. A. Folger, founder of Folgers Coffee, Domingo Ghirardelli, namesake of the Ghirardelli Chocolate Company, Henry J. Kaiser, father of modern American shipbuilding (and I think somehow related to the Kaiser Building and insurance?), Charles Crocker of Crocker Bank fame, etc.
One lesser known fact casual visitors won’t likely know, is that the landscape architect of the cemetery has a few other projects you may have heard of. Mountain View cemetery was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, if you haven’t heard of this cemetery, you likely are familiar with New York City’s Central Park, another one of his projects. He’s also responsible for two more Bay Area gems: Stanford and UC Berkeley campuses.
I thought it’d be fun and go out and photograph a few versions of the same thing, like on a theme. I’ve also been exploring Oakland a bit more for the stock photo biz. So I opted to check out something new to me in Oakland. The theme I intended to follow was Rose Gardens from Oakland to Walnut Creek. But plans don’t always work out. My intended reconnaissance mission was then to see what I could of the secretive GoMentum automated car testing grounds in nearby Concord.
There are so many cool and hidden pockets of Oakland to surprise even those of us who’ve lived nearby for ages. The Morcom Rose Garden was yet another surprise for me. It was a WPA (Works Progress Administration) project, which I find particularly cool. If it weren’t for Republican resistance, I think we could have had a modern wave of building innovation after the economic collapse that started under the Bush administration a decade or so ago.
In any case, Morcom has that WPA look. The buildings have that sort of Mission Revival ? style and the gardens are terraced in nicely symmetrical. Though I’m reasonably happy with some of the photos I took, this wasn’t the ideal time of year- I should come back in summer next year.
So, on to the next rose garden on the list. This was in Berkeley. Unfortunately for photographic purposes this was something of a bust. The lighting was less than ideal when I arrived. But more importantly some renovation was underway, so there were vehicles and orange plastic fencing etc ruining the aesthetic.
Ces’t la vie.
So next stop I had planned was Walnut Creek or Concord- I didn’t care what order. But as is often the case, I got sidetracked. From highway 4 I saw the signs for the John Muir National Historic Site. I was relieved to see a “free entry” sign at the front and went on in. Again, the lighting for the exterior was far from ideal.
Inside however there were a few fun finds. The ranger inside said to go on up to the top bell tower and ring away if I wanted. And I did. I got a bunch of bell photos thinking that they would be a good geo quiz type image. And though I had no tripod, I couldn’t help but shooting a few interiors.
It was late afternoon and I hadn’t had lunch or much of a breakfast, so I tried finding something in Martinez. But instead I found the handsome buildings downtown including a historic courthouse and post office and photographed them.
And then moved on to Concord, still hungry.
I drove around the Gomentum/old military base but didn’t see many gaps or any self driving cars. I’ll have to do more research. And I never made it to the rose garden in Walnut Creek. Guess that’s for another day.
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.
These are some recent photos, but I was perusing my Lake Merritt gallery and found a few more I’m pretty happy with. I plug a few of those below too.
<rant> On a related note, I’m gonna get on my stock photo soapbox and trash a competitor. I was researching locations, keywords and such and stumbled upon Getty Images. They are the 800 pound gorilla of the stock photo market.
I did a search for Oakland California and was shocked at what I found. For one, there was some professional looking content. But many of the photos looked way over processed, HDR’d and generally of the “b” grade material found on Flickr.
Surprise number two was how shallow their selection was. The search was for Oakland California – a very picturesque and newsworthy city half the size of and right across the bay from San Francisco. The New York Times was calling it Brooklyn West or something as I recall- I’m assuming because of the increase in hipsters. Their “creative” content only had about 3,500 hits, and including news just shy of 7,000.
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?
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!