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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
At this point, pretty much everybody has ordered from Amazon.com by now. But after growing by leaps and bounds they’ve been adding other services. They have grocery delivery in some US Markets now. What I didn’t realize until stumbling upon it the other day, is that Amazon also has pop up stores in malls. Not that I spend much time in malls, or I would have known it. But after a stop at Westfield in San Francisco I got a few photos for my stock photo library. Nothing fancy, but likely to be used to illustrate a news story judging by what else sells.
After a gig in the South Bay I made a few stops to the regular hotspots today. First stop was Intel in Santa Clara. They’re basically the visitor friendliest tech company in Silicon Valley. Just happened I was driving past and thought for lighting reasons and to test out one of my lenses it might make a good stop.
My day started out a bit earlier than usual, and due to the angle of the sun and slight overcast, I thought it would be a good day to revisit the “Birthplace of Silicon Valley”, the HP Garage in Palo Alto. And once again I looped by the Googleplex, and found the cute little autonomous car nearby. And as usual they didn’t like me photographing/filming. I find that whole bit kinda funny- one of the world’s richest companies, testing their new product in a public parking lot. And not just any product, but a self driving car, news about which would interest a substantial portion of the world’s readership. Ironically given all the controversy of the Google Buses, there was a sign (I wish I photographed) prohibiting them. And Imagine if you or I were to drive a car with no plates in a public lot to test out ____?! Guess if you have billions of dollars you can close off a disused public parking lot and do pretty much anything 😉
In any case (and pardon my rant), it seemed today they were testing the new Google X car for bike and pedestrian safety. A couple of young women were apparently pretending to text and ride a Gbike in the path of the car. Another young lady appeared to pretend to be texting as she crossed an imaginary intersection. I’d be very curious to hear how all that works, not that they’ll discuss any of it with me. Like how can the car can figure out how fast a bike’s trajectory could enter the path of the self driving car.
Next stop was Facebook. I wanted to get a few shots of the sign from a few different angles. Not too exiting, but that’s my life.
Finding where my photos end up being used can be tricky. I license photos directly, but also through third parties. I found this photo used in the Swiss newspaper Der Bund. It’s a photo of a street sign that leads into Google in Mountain View.
The title of the article in English reads “Half of the Jobs Disappeared”. It is an article interviewing the German journalist Christoph Keese about a book he wrote about Silicon Valley. Interestingly he was an exchange student in Silicon Valley in the 1980’s- I grew up in Silicon Valley and was an exchange student in Germany in the same time frame. Small world 😉
In between two gigs in Fremont, I had some time to kill. So while eating lunch at California Craft Beer pouring room (with a sandwich from the Cheese Deli next door,) I opted to get a few stock photos in.
After a nice beer sampler, I got some exterior photos of the Mission San Jose across the street. After dropping $5 I got in and made some interior photos of the alter, chandeliers, and the cemetery in back.
The suburbs can be more interesting than we give them credit for.
I’m still working on my video skills, sorry they’re crap right now. But here’s a short snippet I caught of the new Google two seater self driving car in a Silicon Valley parking lot. Fortunately I did get some decent stills (see here.)