Christmastime is here…when I first saw this image and captured it, I saw it as a contrast between the crass commercialism of Christmas displayed in the department store window and the reality of what actually exists for many people on the streets everywhere. However, after stepping back from the image for a while, I came to realize that it was less an image of contrast and more of one of connection. When I was growing up in the mid-1960s and into the 70s, the Christmas season for me didn’t begin until Charles Schultz’s wonderful program, “A Charlie Brown Christmas”, had aired on CBS. I recall the feeling of watching the Peanuts gang ice skating and dancing to the music of Vince Guaraldi, Snoopy decorating his doghouse, and Charlie Brown’s quixotic quest for the perfect Christmas tree. But the highlight of the show was Linus’ eloquent discourse on the true meaning of Christmas. He confronted that crass commercialization of the season by pointing out that its real meaning lies with the celebration of the birth of a man who ultimately sacrificed his life in the helping of others in need. This image – the homeless military vet sitting next to the cheerily decorated Peanuts-themed department store window – had transformed in meaning to represent the connection between a powerful message of hope and charity and the very people for whom that message was meant to service. (From the “Chicago, December 2015” series)
Aside from its world famous fleet of cable cars, San Francisco operates another fleet of historic transportation vehicles – streetcars from all over the world. These vintage streetcars make the round trip primarily from the Castro District along Market Street to The Embarcadero and up to Fisherman’s Wharf and back. I have even seen some run south past AT&T Ballpark into China Basin, along the same line of trackage where the MUNI’s T Line (Sunnydale) runs.
The “F” Line, as the streetcar route is known, was born from the San Francisco Historic Trolley Festivals that ran from 1983 to 1987. This festival offered an alternative to the cable car fleet, shut down for two years beginning in 1982 for renovation. In September 1995, the permanent “F” Line route was opened. The vintage streetcars that ran the route were painted to represent some of the streetcars that once served several North American cities. Other streetcars from different countries were added later. The “F” Line proved to be very popular.
While not having the same panache and popularity of the cable cars, it is a very nice way to get to the wharf and back. The streetcars don’t tackle San Francisco’s hills like the cable cars, but you do get a good look at downtown activity and the wharves north of the Ferry Building. And end the end, the streetcars get you to Fisherman’s Wharf like the cable cars do – with a much shorter waiting time and for a lot cheaper. You just can’t hang onto the sides, though.
Check out my more comprehensive images of streetcars and cable cars on my website at http://www.jimwatkinsphoto.com/San-Francisco-Cable-Cars-and-t/.
I have a streetcar set on my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.603367749773568.1073741924.246777948765885&type=1
You can find page with great information on individual historic streetcars at http://www.streetcar.org/streetcars/.
There is beauty in this world, and then there is breathtaking beauty. Many people have experienced many places that qualify in the latter description, even myself. Few, however, in my opinion, can compare with the stunning landscapes I saw in Lake Tahoe.
Lake Tahoe, one of the deepest lakes in North America, is located high in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, straddling the California/Nevada state line. Practically the entire area is a paradise for landscape photographers like me! I had the opportunity to go there the week after the Labor Day holiday. The pristine blue of the water is a sight to behold. Clear blue skies offer a magnificent backdrop for towering gray granite peaks and soaring green ponderosa pines. Beaches ringed by majestic mountains are dotted with the bright colors of beach umbrellas and kayaks for rent. It’s hard to put down your camera with all this visual stimuli around.
After nearly a full week of clear skies, the rain came; with that rain came the most dramatic skies of my short visit to Lake Tahoe. I was fortunate enough to capture a few of those cloud formations.
My only regret was that I was there too late in the year to capture the waterfalls in the area. The only one whose feed hadn’t dried up – Horsetail Falls, a tall waterfall about 20 miles south of Lake Tahoe near Highway 50 – was 1 1/2 miles up the Pyramid Creek Trail. This city boy lost that trail less than a half mile in. When you lose a trail and know you have to cross into an area known as Desolation Wilderness, you turn around! I’ll try it again the next time I’m in Lake Tahoe, perhaps in the spring when all the waterfalls are flowing.
My camera and I cannot wait! Stay tuned for my next Lake Tahoe installment.
You can see my full portfolio of Lake Tahoe images at http://www.jimwatkinsphoto.com/Lake-Tahoe-California-Nevada/
I had the privilege of visiting the 2014 Wings of Freedom Tour when it stopped by Moffett Field in Mountain View, California. The tour stopped here over the Memorial Day weekend with five vintage World War II aircraft. What a thrill to see these planes up close.
Three bombers were on display, including the B25J Mitchell, the B-17G Flying Fortress and the B-24J Liberator. It was interesting boarding these craft and getting through the tight squeezes when traversing from one end of the aircraft to the other. The skin of the planes seemed razor thin, and they had to be to conserve fuel. No protection from 20mm rounds from an enemy aircraft. You really get an appreciation for what these men went through.
There also was a P-51 Mustang on display, as well as an AT-6C Texan.
Several World War II veterans were on hand to answer any questions about the aircraft. They all had experience in flying or maintaining these craft. It was great to hear their stories.
All in all, it was a fascinating day, and a fitting tribute to the very brave men that served in these aircraft. Try and catch the tour if it comes to your area. If your shell out the big bucks, you can reserve a flight tour on a few of these planes. Check out the tour schedule at http://www.collingsfoundation.org/cf_schedule-wof.htm.
Check out the full complement of images from the day at my Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.535830213193989.1073741912.246777948765885&type=3
Also, check out my website at http://www.jimwatkinsphoto.com
What the hell?
How could the State of California let this happen?
Look at this mess!
These were the thoughts that initially barreled through my mind as I approached the beach at San Gregorio for the first time. From the parking lot, the place looked like the aftermath of a wild party, like 6am on Bourbon Street the morning after Fat Tuesday. It seemed unbelievable. As I got closer, however, I realized that it wasn’t garbage strewn over the beach. It was actually piles of driftwood, lots of it all over the place. Some of the wood was stacked neatly to construct temporary shelters here and there. There was even a small stream that emanated from an inland river and cut a swath across the beach before it flowed into the Pacific. My righteous indignation turned into profound curiosity as I eagerly navigated the small dirt path leading down from the parking lot to beach level.
Of all the beaches I have explored along the California coast thus far, this one intrigues me the most. San Gregorio State Beach hugs the coastline near the tiny town of San Gregorio, about 11 miles south of Half Moon Bay. Photographically, this beach offers great opportunities to work with strong leading elements, interesting foreground/background juxtapositions and a landscape constantly in transition. There are also challenges: precariously shifting sands in a stream that often cuts off a good part of the beach; narrow avenues of escape in extreme high water situations; and the bogeys of all beaches, changing weather conditions and the ever-dangerous “rogue” waves. Remember: Never turn your back to the sea!
There is also an interesting historical footnote to this beach. In 1769, Captain Gáspar de Portolá and a party of Spanish explorers left San Diego in search of Monterey Bay. Traveling overland, they missed the fog-shrouded Monterey Bay and wound up here. They camped by San Gregorio Creek for three days to rest and treat the sick (California Historical Landmark 26).Afterwards, they journeyed on and became the first documented Europeans to see what is now San Francisco Bay.
My last two visits to San Gregorio were under vastly different conditions. The first of those two visits (April 14, depicted above) were under foggy, wet conditions. Although it looks rather innocuous in the image above, the stream is visible cutting across the foreground was wide and fast, with the flow action quickly eroding away the soft, wet sand. I attempted to ford it, but the sand beneath my feet started to give away; it felt like walking in quicksand. I immediately aborted that plan! Beyond the stream in the mid-background, you can see some of the structures built from the beach driftwood. Beyond that, there are the cliffs disappearing into the fog. I wanted to go there, but good sense ruled the day. Besides, I just had to turn around for a good shot.
Even in this lousy weather, the sandstone cliffs of San Gregorio yielded some beautifully haunting images. The sharper foreground rocks in the images above were a perfect offset to the marginally fog-obscured background cliffs and sky. This countered the overall flatness of the light and carried a sense of depth throughout the photographs. A slight enhancement of the colors in the foreground rocks in post-processing also helps to achieve this feeling of depth.
Another way to add punch to your beach image on days like this is to include interesting foreground elements, and San Gregorio has no shortage of this. There is a little of this in the image immediately above, as the black sand tends to form a perceptible pathway leading into the foreground rock. However, the foreground elements are more prominent in the two images above it. In the top image, the thin film of water left by the receding surf allows for a nice reflection of the cliff – this leads your eye directly to the birds looking for food in the mid-frame. In the middle image, the orientation of the rock in the tide pool leads the eye to the cliff in the right of the frame. This again adds to the feeling of depth in the flat light.
I made a return trip to San Gregorio State Beach a couple of weeks later. In contrast to my prior visit, it was bright and sunny this morning. This time the estuary had dried up enough to allow easy access to the southern end of the beach. This is the part where the beach derives its “primordial” character. Here you get to pick your way around the piles of driftwood deposited on the beach by the estuary. Some industrious souls have used some of this woody debris to construct primitive beach shelters, pyre-like stacks and other structures. A few of the shelters are actually well appointed; I found one three-stump dwelling (the stumps are substitutes for easy chairs) that was actually quite comfortable. These structures and the loose woody debris strewn about offer a wealth of opportunities for capturing interesting imagery. The beach at San Gregorio is a compositional nirvana, a target-rich environment for leading elements and subjects alike.
Now for an interesting side trip. The town of San Gregorio lies about a mile inland, so I decided to drive down California Route 84 (alternately known as San Gregorio Road and La Honda Road) to check it out. I drove and I drove…and drove some more. I knew I had driven more than a mile, but never saw anything of a town. I turned around and headed back to the coast. A little while later I finally saw it; San Gregorio is tiny to say the least. There is a general store and a few other buildings where 84 intersects with Stage Road. That was pretty much it.
I decided to go into the store for something to drink, but this place was something more than just a grocery stand. This was a throwback to another era, like walking through a time portal. I wandered around in amazement at this cool stuff filling the store, from lanterns to hats to wine, cast iron cookware to…well, almost anything! They even have live music performances at this place. If you ever visit the beach, the general store is a must-stop. (http://www.sangregoriostore.com)
San Gregorio State Beach is an interesting stop for any traveler, especially for us photographers. This beach provides a different set of opportunities and challenges to create compelling images. Worth the trip!
Visit www.jimwatkinsphoto.com; contact directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
Information: Directions: San Gregorio State Beach is located right off of California Highway 101 (Pacific Coast Highway), roughly 10.5 miles south of Half Moon Bay and 38 miles north of Santa Cruz. Further Information: http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=529
In my humble opinion, Stanford University has one of the most beautiful college campuses I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been to plenty (Duke University in North Carolina is one that rivals Stanford in this regard). There most certainly may be others perhaps even more beautiful, but I’ve yet to see them. Stanford’s campus in Palo Alto, California boasts of some stunning architecture – a harmonious blend of the old and the new – dominated by the Hoover Tower in the middle of campus. In the western backdrop, the Santa Cruz Mountains rise majestically between the campus and the Pacific Ocean. Lush green and vivid red flora can be found all over campus, with the smell of cedar, pine and redwood permeating the air. The intoxicating energy of student activity during the week is replaced by an almost overpowering sense of tranquility on a beautiful Sunday morning, literally daring you not to relax. Can a place like this get any better?
I recently found out that the answer to that question – for me, at least – is yes. Debbie Caminiti, a friend of mine that runs the Bel Bacio Café in San José’s Little Italy (350 W. Julian if you’re ever in the city), told me I should visit “The Farm” on the outskirts of the campus. Being one of those supremely curious people who have to see everything, I took her up on that. This had to be one the best decisions I’ve ever made.
The old Palo Alto Stock Farm, now the Stanford Red Barn Equestrian Center, sits on the southwest portion of the campus just off the Campus Drive Loop. This was the vision of Governor Leland Stanford who, in 1876, began acquiring land in the area, including an area for breeding and training trotting horses. For a cool history lesson, British photographer Eadweard Muybridge made the first moving picture here in 1878. He shot a series of still photographs of a running horse and placed them in sequence; when viewed as such, it appeared the horse was moving (the old post-it trick, remember?). Now the Stanford Red Barn offers classes and boarding for those students who can’t part with their horses. It also a fun time for a visitor to watch these athletes with their horses go through their paces.
I knew as I approached the Victorian Red Barn that I was going to like this. The farm smell for a born-and-raised city boy like me is still exotic, like a waiting adventure. I paused in front of the Barn for a moment and watched as a couple of students brought their horses onto the outdoor arena and trotted around the fence. After a few minutes of this, I went inside. I was a little hesitant at first, not knowing how much access I was going to have. I mean, the horses were right there in their stalls. Was I allowed past the entry area and to the stalls with the horses, up close and personal? Was this for staff and students only?
A very nice staffer alleviated my concerns almost immediately. She beckoned me into the barn, assuring me that I was welcome anywhere in the facility. Relieved, I wandered up and down the aisles between the stalls, peering into rooms the size of large closets that were stacked floor to ceiling with saddles, and generally trying my best not to be a nuisance. Horses occupied most of the stalls; some watched me closely as I passed by their stall, while others appeared completely oblivious to my presence. I’m not necessarily a horse guy, but being so close was a great experience.
I slipped out one of the side entrances and explored the outdoor paddock area. Here I was closer to the horses, but the narrow pathways between the paddocks made this city boy slightly uneasy. Someone who knows horses, on the other hand, would be in hog heaven out here. I’m sure they can be unpredictable (which is why I kept a comfortable distance), but you can really have a more personal experience with the horses out here.
After walking around here for a bit, I wandered back over to the large outdoor arena. This time I sat in the small bleacher area on the side opposite the Red Barn. There were more riders now taking their horses through the paces. Among them was an instructor managing the traffic, barking out directions and keeping the obstacles in good order. The riders themselves – all women at this moment – sat tall in their saddles as they circled the arena, occasionally diverting towards one of the wooden jumps set up inside the circuit. It was quite a scene for me, surprisingly relaxing with galloping horses and an occasional instruction the only sounds I heard.
However, the biggest thrill for me was yet to come. After hanging around the outdoor arena for quite some time, I ventured behind the Red Barn to see what was up. It wasn’t long before a came upon three guys hard at work shoeing horses. This was the stuff of the old westerns I grew up watching. The head guy, Steve, walked up to me and asked me if I wanted to take some pictures. He explained that they were about to shoe a horse. “You can stand here, or you can go into the next stall for a close-up, or you can get behind the stall”, he said as if he were directing a photo shoot. “There’s gonna be a lot of smoke! My name’s Steve, by the way.” With a friendly smile, Steve extended his hand. I think I had a goofy grin on my face as I shook his hand, not believing my good fortune.
I eagerly took up a position in the next stall. Steve secured the horse’s hoof between his legs and waited until I was ready. When he applied the red-hot shoe to the hoof, the smoke came thick and quick. I got a chance to fire off a few shots before the smoke completely obscured his hands.
And to top it all off, it turns out that Steve, the head guy in this operation, used lived on the northwest side of Chicago. He used to work about a mile away from where I lived after I left college. On the tract of land where he once worked in a stable now has a Red Lobster Restaurant that I used to frequent; my son practically grew up in it. Talk about a small world! Now that I’ve discovered and enjoyed the Stanford Red Barn Equestrian Center (www.stanford.edu/group/set/barn/index.htm), I plan to go back again and again. It is possible for non-affiliated members of the community to partake in community or private lessons at the center. If I go often enough, I may even be tempted to take the reins myself. However unlikely that may be, the sheer relaxation in watching these talented riders take their horses through the paces is worth the trip. Check it out and enjoy what is truly an integral part of Stanford University’s history.
You can see the full range of photos I’ve taken here at the Jim Watkins Photography Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.522858457824498.1073741907.246777948765885&type=1).
Directions from the 101: Exit at University Avenue west towards Palo Alto. Continue past El Camino Real and onto the Stanford University campus to Campus Loop Drive. Turn right and follow Campus Loop to Electioneer Road. Turn right and continue until the road ends at Fremont Road. Turn left onto Fremont for a few yards and enter the parking lot to the right of the road.
Also, check out my website at: www.jimwatkinsphoto.com
Ever since my wife and I moved to the West Coast I’ve been drawn to California’s central coastline. Living in the Midwestern United States all my life, I had seen the Pacific Coast as the stuff of exotic vacations, views shoehorned in with city visits, amusement parks, wine tastings and redwoods. Now, living out here so close to the coastline allows for more intimate explorations into finding those picturesque, narrow beaches tucked between massive seaside cliffs and the vast Pacific Ocean.
California Highway 1, otherwise known as the Pacific Coast Highway (or “PCH”), is the artery that has thus far taken me as far north as Stinson Beach in Marin County and as far south as Big Sur. The drive can be a little treacherous, as the views are so breathtaking at some points they become quite the distraction. One must try to remain reasonably focused when navigating the PCH, but it can be difficult. Stunning vistas that literally demand your attention open up around a curve; you’ll want to screech to an immediate halt to gawk at the view. In my opinion, many of the best spots for photography along the coast are so well hidden from the road that you’d have to know ahead of time that where they are in order to stop. Often the only clue from the road is an unpaved stretch of turnoff or a small parking lot. It can be a pain, as the signs designating the beach area are also concealed at times. Once you discover these hidden gems, however, you’ll keep coming back. I’ll discuss two of them in this posting.
One of those spots that I keep coming back to is Pescadero State Beach, about 14.5 miles south of Half Moon Bay near the quaint little town of Pescadero. The main part of the beach is very visible from PCH, but there is another access a little further north that’s worth the stop. I love the interesting cliff formations at this point looking north, a seemingly endless formation of rock that disappears along the coastline. The long, narrow beach seems to call to you, especially if it’s only you and the crashing waves. The cliffs are the star here, and a foggy day can turn your image into a painting. I wouldn’t go with too wide a lens here; a focal length above 28mm would do nicely. You could still get the cliffs and the surf at the proper distance.
Now right here I have to pause and admit to something. I’m sometimes wary of following the call of these narrow beaches, as I’ve heard of the occasional rogue wave surging up onto the beach and washing helpless wanderers out to sea, never to return. In my first few months here on the West Coast, I’d heard of three such incidents. I haven’t heard of any since, but my instincts of survival have been strongly influenced by these terrible events. If I do muster up the courage to wander alone down one of these deserted beaches, I always remember the old saying, “never turn your back to the sea”. I take that advice to heart, and you should too.
Another great beach for the photographer is Shark’s Fin (or Shark’s Tooth) Cove just south of Davenport. Unlike Pescadero Beach, this is a tricky one to find. Except for the small turnout along the road, there’s nothing to indicate the existence of this beauty. The access down to the beach is a little treacherous. You have to slip under a drainpipe and navigate a steep, rocky trail to get to the water (my first time there, I slipped twice on the trail). Once down, however, you’ll see the effort was all worth it. The rock for which the beach is named rises above the surf like a giant sail, with waves crashing against the nearby cliffs. It’s a photographer’s delight. A great time to go is near sunset, when you can silhouette the Shark’s Tooth against the waning light. A wide angle lens here can yield some great effects, especially with flowing surf. Wander closer to the cliff wall where you can see a rivulet surging and receding with the waves. Make use of slower shutter speeds to get some cool motion blur here.
These are just two of many spots along the Central California Coast that I love. I’ll examine more in future postings. In the meantime, if you have any suggestions of more spots for me to visit, I want to hear about them.
Visit www.jimwatkinsphoto.com; contact directly at email@example.com