China

China had long been on my top 10 list of travel destinations to visit. This year brought an unusual confluence of events that made it a possibility. It arose at a time of year that is good weather for China and we were able to get virtually free flights from Janice’s sister who works for United. We spent two weeks traveling to Shanghai, Xian, and Beijing. We took the high-speed (300kn/h) bullet trains from city to city and I’ve got to say that they rekindled my enthusiasm for high-speed trains in the USA.

China was an amazing mixture of one of the oldest civilizations and the ultra-modern 21st century. It has one of the longest standing palaces: The Forbidden City and Shanghai’s Pudong district where 28 years ago it was farmland and now is a well-designed skyscraper-scape including the world’s second tallest building: Shanghai Tower. It was strikingly spotless; there wasn’t a piece of litter or a bit of graffiti to be seen. The people were very friendly and very helpful when asked a question. English is commonly understood in these cities and most of the attractions, street signs, and even mass transit signs were also in English. Security was abundant and the issues we were warned about, spitting, smoking, crowds, and air pollution were all non-issues. In fact, we only had one day that was a bit smoggy.

The challenges we ran into were a little unexpected. First among them was the amount of walking we did. The short distances, under 2 miles, are commonly walked by the Chinese. No taxis would consider picking up a fare for a shorter distance. Therefore, for instance, we walked from our hotel in Dong Chen to The Forbidden City entrance, 2.5 miles then walking around the complex is another 8 miles, and then another 2.5 miles back. Over the course of the trip, we walked an average of 12.5 miles a day which is a bit more than we normally do. Fortunately, the mass transit was easy to navigate, fast, and very extensive.

The other issues were minor but perhaps a warning never goes to waste. Eating was not as easy as we thought it was going to be. In the medium to lower end restaurants English was not widely spoken. Although the menus were full of pictures they did not describe the ingredients very well. We obviously eat and did so well, but we did more searching than we thought we would do. Finally, we did not see a single laundromat in our travels and when we asked the hotels they looked at us with a bit of confusion. Whether such a thing existed or not, we ended up doing our laundry in the hotel room sink.

Overall, China is a remarkable country and there’s so much more to see than just these three cities. I’m amazed by the sheer scale of their monuments and buildings. Their infrastructure, their art, and their commitment to preserving their history and culture are equally as impressive. Whether it was Deng Xiaoping’s opening of economic reform or any combination of events, China can certainly take its place among the most Interesting travel destinations and well worth a visit or two.

For those of you who may have more time on your hands or are just a glutton for images, there is a more extensive slideshow here: China 2018

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1500 Mt. Diablo Boulevard

A new client: Mark Davis Design, hired me to shoot a project of his, located at the corner of Mt. Diablo Blvd. and Main street in Walnut Creek. It’s a beautiful new building with retail and restaurants.  As beautiful as it is, it presented a number of challenges to photograph it.

First, the common area inside consisted of a three-story starirway. This striking wood and metal staircase is located in narrow, vertical channel sharing space with an elevator that leads to the restaurants. The illumination of the staircase comes from a combination of a cluster of long pendant incandescents hung 10-30 feet from the ceiling and a vertical window rising almost as high, directly across from it. This extreme verticality and narrowness posed problems in getting a good view of the staircase and overall space. Therefore, we decided to depict it in a number of photographs including some Dutch (oblique) angles I wouldn’t normally shoot as an architectural photographer. In the end, I think we were able to catch enough views to get a sense of the space and show off a lot of the details involved.

The exteriors too were a bit of a challenge. Mount Diablo and Main is a very busy intersection, both for cars and for pedestrian traffic. In addition, the building is about a block long on the Mount Diablo side making it a long clear for the sidewalk. We overcame this my shooting multiple exposures from the same tripod-mounted position and painted out the pedestrians and cars that were in our way. As if that were not enough, the umbrellas on the rooftop were being blown around by gusts wind -almost all of them had to be corrected in post.

Finally, the twilight shots were towards the Northwest and the sky was a milky, overexposed mess so we did a complete sky replacement in post to give us the look and feel we felt worked for the building.

Although it required a bit more work and planning, the shots turned out very well. Sometimes architectural photography can become more of a problem-solving exercise than an art.

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July 4th Parade

Gary at the 4th of July parade

Several July 4ths ago I got this shot of my neighbor Gary. He’s a very patriotic guy and is a fixture in all the July 4th parades here in Alameda. I always liked the shot because it evoked a certain sense of sadness. At the time Obama was still in office and I’m certain Gary (a diehard Republican) wasn’t feeling too excited with the direction of the country at the time. Yesterday, I too felt this despondency in the opposite direction and rediscovered this photograph in the dark recesses of one of my hard drives. I was always very happy with this shot and decided to share it.

Gary and I don’t agree upon much, but we do agree to disagree without being disagreeable. Besides, He’s full of great trivia including the fact that Alameda’s 4th of July Parade is not only the largest 4th of July parade but also the 3rd largest parade in this country just behind Macy’s Thanksgiving and the Rose Parade in Pasadena.

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The Star on Park

The Star on Park interior

Under the heading of unusual restaurant venues, Star Pizza chose to take over an old bank building in Alameda to open their latest location. Truth be told they were not the first to start a restaurant there. Before Star took it over the previous tenant embraced the bank theme by opening a restaurant called Capone’s Speakeasy which closed within a few short years. We all hope Star will have better success and if their deep dish, Chicago style pizza is any indication, they will do very well.

The building presented a few challenges for my client architect: Stephen Elbert. It is a historic building and therefore much of the exterior could not be changed without going through an extensive design review. In addition, as it was a bank with a few old-style reinforced vaults, gutting the interior would have been an enormous and immensely expensive task. In fact, they did have to cut through one of those two-foot, reinforced concrete walls to make the kitchen more usable. That task took a team of professionals from Southern California a complete day. But fortunately, the owners embraced the bank theme and even found that the vaults became a convenient place to store their impressive wine and liquor collection.

For me, the challenges were how to light a very tall, very long, open space filled with light sucking dark-wood paneling. The only way was to set up a bank of Dynalite strobes at the entrance to get a general light on the space, then take a strobe out into the space illuminating sections of the interior that were too distant to be illuminated by the Dynas (curse you inverse square law). Move the light to another area and take another frame. Eventually, I used 6 frames to create this one interior carefully painting myself and the lamp out of the shot and blending it with the others. Digital photography makes this technique not only possible but reasonably easy to do.

Stephen, in his dry sense of humor, reminded me that this technique was not new and had been used in the pre-digital age. However, it did involve the photographer dressing in a total black suit and constantly moving as to not resolve on an incredibly long shutter speed. I was happy enough to do this in my current photog uniform of a tee shirt, shorts, and white tennis shoes😉

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The Perch

New multi-family residence in Dublin, CA

I was hired to get some aerials of a new multi-family residential complex in Dublin, CA. We were able to get several angles that were not possible with anything other than a quadcopter. The client was very impressed with the results …as were we.

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Oakland Panorama

Areal panorama of downtown Oakland with San Francisco in the Background

I was hired to shoot a picture for the new construction in Oakland which had to include landmarks like Lake Merritt, Grand Ave. the Bay Bridge and San Francisco. My quadcopter has a wide-angle lens but even it was not sufficient to get this all in one shot. Backing up wasn’t an option as St. Paul’s towers were in the way. Thankfully, we were granted permission to launch from the roof deck of those towers and positioned the aircraft significantly to the right of the towers and took 3 shots, rotating the aircraft about 30° from that fixed position. The quadcopter is satellite tracked which allows it to maintain a solid position while in the air. We then stitched this beautiful Oakland Panorama in Photoshop.

It’s amazing the amount of new construction in Oakland these days!?!

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Channing Way Video

A colleague of mine hired me to shoot some video of a new refurbishment of a Berkeley house that was being converted into apartments. It presented some issues in that it was unfurnished and had very little light of its own. However, the budget didn’t call for a lot of lighting and all three units needed to be completed in a day. So I took a single LED fixture and my fluid head tripod and just did the minimum in movements to capture the spaces.

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La Jolla Modern

Stephen Dalton Architects

 

Not all beach houses have to be located right at the beach. Although this modernist-inspired, 2300sf, 3 bedroom/3 bath house is about 6 blocks from the Pacific, it sports those amenities specific to the beach house including an outdoor shower. Its design is a light and airy open plan with a central steel and wood staircase which forms the separating element between the spaces. The living room features a tall ceiling, a fireplace and a sliding panel to conceal the TV. But by far the stand out feature in this room is the large glass-paneled swing out garage door which maximizes the seamless indoor/outdoor experience common with modernist design. Stephen used “volumetric projections” to create a composition of rectilinear masses to avoid flat, boring walls.  The downstairs spaces are further separated by changes in ceiling heights, elevations of the flooring and some sliding African mahogany panels rather than doors or walls. In concert with the owners, Stephen concentrated on using reasonably priced and durable materials such as concrete, stucco and fiber cement panels which are virtually maintenance free. The interior is a tasteful combination of cedar, maple, birch, steel, drywall, concrete and unpainted, formed cement. The owners did it right by completely clearing the old structure, building up the lot with additional soil and starting from scratch. As a result, everything is square and all the doors have a neutral swing.  A new build allowed them to incorporate some of the small extras which really enhance the experience like recessed lighting, built-in sound and data system, laundry shoots and casework. Other features include a separate arts and crafts space and guest house. It also doesn’t hurt to have a roof deck with a view of the entire La Jolla Bay. This is a great case study in a casual San Diego Modernist beach house design.

 

 

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2017 Eclipse

 

It was my first total eclipse and it lived up to the hype! At 10:18 am day turned to night from our vantage point on the soccer field at Linn-Benton Community College in Albany, OR. Although the real dark shadow lasted about 30 seconds, it was quite a spectacle on this picture perfect day.

For photo geeks, here’s the tech data for the shot: ISO 640, 560mm, F/8, 1/250th second with no filter. This image is cropped in quite a bit.

 

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Belvedere by the Water

A roofing client needed to show off his prowess with a project right on the waterfront. I was a perfect project for a quadcopter as you can see by these shots on a great day.

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