Past the Mc Mansions, the few remaining horse and cattle pastures, way up in the Eastern Foothills above the City of San Jose and Silicon Valley is an Open Space Preserve. The Sierra Vista Open Space Preserve affords fantastic views in two directions.
Looking down to Silicon Valley there’s a panoramic view only obstructed by what for a brief moment in this drought are emerald green hills. Look the other direction and you’ll see some what much of California looks like, or at least looked like before urban sprawl- rolling hills dotted with oaks.
I’ve been up here a few times, and have really fallen in love with the place. And as it happens it’s the perfect location for making extra-large stitched panoramas. For example, one of the images in the group is stitched from 48x21 megapixel photos. Opened up in Photoshop as 8bit that’s about 5 gigabytes of data. Of course much of that is honed down – overlap is required to successfully stitch all those images together.
Making these photos requires a few things. Patience, time, a subject that doesn’t move and lots of memory on my cards. Fortunately I had all four of those. The end result are images that could be enlarged to extremes. One file would print interpolated (not upresed) to 36’ x 8’ (ca. 10 x 2.5 meters) @100 ppi.
Now all I have to do is find a client that needs to make a really really big print.
As mentioned in an earlier post, one of my clients suggested I check out Sierra Vista open space. It’s a park perched above San Jose with panoramic views of the South Bay. I did a quick recon of the site a little while back.
This isn’t my technical blog: Lensbusters.com- but from a technical standpoint, Murphy’s Law snuck up on me. As is usual when I come upon a particularly good photo op I don’t bring all my equipment with me. Invariably I find myself missing whatever I didn’t bring. So I found myself wishing I had my panorama machine- this is pano heaven (aside from the wind of course!) And given the wind and clouds it was a rare opportunity to do long daylight exposures. Only the lens I wanted to use, my 100mm required a filter adapter to use either of my super duper dense filters (the 70-200mm would have been good too but I didn’t bring it!) But I then remembered that I did bring my little kit that included the plastic-fantastic 100mm Vivitar that uses a 49mm filter, and I had my Hoya 8 stop and Tiffen 4 stop filters that let me take 15-30 second exposures in daylight. That’s what gives the clouds the “smear” look.
Another technical problem I noticed later as I was downloading my images at English Ales in Marina was a small scratch in my graduated filter. Most problems were barely visible but that led to a few duds. Time to buy another set of Cokin P filters.
On returning from Monterey I spent the later half of the day up in the hills again. The clouds were gone. But it was pretty clear by Silicon Valley air quality standards. And I had the time to spend this time ’round. So I hiked up to the lone tree I photographed the day before. The panoramic views were amazing. And worthy of me coming back with my pano setup. Hidden behind the large rocks in my earlier photo was also a picnic table- another great idea for a return trip.
Killing time, I hiked along parts of the trails below. Think of the contrast between green open spaces, the grazing cattle that would have looked similar for millennia with cities and towns below- San Jose, Santa Clara, Cupertino, Mountain View, Palo Alto. The places credited with the most modern of technology.
A less pleasant contrast also exists in the Silicon Valley foothills. For one, there are the types you’d expect to find out along a trail, nature enthusiasts, fitness buffs, photographers and the like.. But you can also see the traces of those folks you were trying to avoid by heading up here. There are piles of trash near most pullouts along the road. Occasionally a loud car would pull up and rowdy folks would yell and scream. And the same idiots on Harley Davidsons that terrorize the city below with the roar of their meth-and-mullet culture. I cracked a joke with a couple of hikers: “love the peace and quiet and fresh air” after a kid on a “rice rocket” burned rubber and blew tire smoke towards us.
And another downside as far as photography is that they close up right after sunset. So after we were booted out, I desperately looked for a legal pullout to photograph. The light really gets good just about the time the park closes. But then again, I found a few other great spots.
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.
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.
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!