Photo Stories

A documentation of my photographic adventures.

Photowalk: Presidio Parade Grounds

Back in high school I was a member of the JROTC program, mainly because it was an alternative to P.E. and let's face it who likes having to dress for P.E. anyways?

The annual spring competition amongst the city's participating high schools was held on the Main Parade Grounds at the Presidio. For those unfamiliar the Presidio, it was once an army base in real life, and home to Starfleet Command Headquarters in the world of Star Trek. 

It's been over a decade since I've been to the parade grounds as I've no reason to visit since I've graduated. On this particular day our group had wanted to photograph the Golden Gate Bridge during golden hour, but as is the norm during the Summer months, sunset isn't until well after 8pm therefore we had a few hours to kill. Coincidently all of us went through the same JROTC program so for nostalgia's sake we decided to see the old drilling grounds.  

What was a giant plaza made of concrete have now been thoroughly paved over with real grass. I suppose the lawn is exponentially more colorful and useful than before, but it always hurts slightly when a piece of memory from childhood get converted to something else. We even had to pay for parking; back then it was free. 

Not a bad way to spend a date. 

Scattered about the vast lawn are these funky decorative chairs people can lounge on. Depending on which side you flip it to one can either sit upright or flat like a La-Z-Boy. The chairs are not bolted down, though it's big enough to render it difficult for someone to steal. As we found out it takes at least two person to carry them about, not that we were attempting any thievery. 

A bit dim for sunglasses, no? 

Some prefer to stroll on sidewalks. 

Having lounged to our content on those red chairs, we ventured off to survey the buildings surrounding the parade grounds. These used to be the living quarters for soldiers; nowadays it's rental space for small exhibitions. With real estate so prime and dear in San Francisco I wonder why these buildings haven't yet been redeveloped or at very least rented out. 

As the cliche goes, they don't build them like they used to. 

Let's only walk on flower roads. 

Seeing these buildings brings me back to when the JROTC program went to Camp Parks for a week of boot camp fun. Back then there were no smartphones and the barracks definitely lacked any sort of entertainment devices. During downtime we were "forced" to converse with each other; hang out in small courtyards like one pictured above.

In our hyper-connected world today I think we all could use some of that down-to-earth bonding with one another. It can be as simple as eating with a group of friends with our cellphones on silent and in the pockets. 

A bee hard at work. 

Some modernity grafted on to the old buildings. 

Armed with the G Master 24-70mm lens I was desperate for more reach in tracking this bee in harvest. 

If these were houses on the market it would no doubt be significantly into the multiple millions. 

A lot of people's imagined retirement probably looks similar to this. 

As you may have noticed from the pictures thus far the weather this day was not exactly conducive to golden hour shots of the Golden Gate Bridge: it was an overwhelmingly cloudy day. San Francisco played its usual trick on us because in my south-eastern side neighborhood it was positively sun-burn territory; seven miles westward it's a blanket of fog. 

We had thought it was a total bust and would have to return another day, but during our walk around the Presidio the clouds gradually receded somewhat. An hour ago from when the above shot was taken we were unable to see Alcatraz. Thinking since we are here let's try our luck anyways, we headed off towards the other side of the Bay. 

You know it's a crappy weather day when there's a dearth of people at Crissy Field.  

But not before we stopped briefly to check out this weird art installation, still within the greater Presidio:

It appears to be a collection of fallen tree trunks (sure hope it wasn't deliberately chopped off for the purpose) tied together into this enormous cone-shaped tower. It's difficult to comprehend the size from the photos; I had to stand relatively far away from the structure to get its entire height into frame. 

It's ready for Burning Man. 

I've taken photos of the Golden Gate Bridge from numerous vantage points, but there was one that have eluded me (out of sheer laziness, I'll readily admit): the vista point at Fort Baker. It's directly across the Bay from where we were at the Presidio, so there was no avoiding the hefty bridge toll.

After many years of this photographic hobby, this shot is finally in my collection. 

By this time it was an hour before sunset, and as you can see the clouds were simply too stubborn on this day: there will be no perceptible golden hour. Undeterred, I broke out the ND filters and proceeded to shoot some long exposure:

The silky smooth water effect achieved with an ND filter really is pleasing indeed. 

We took the opportunity to walk underneath the bridge as well: 

Human at the lower left corner for scale. 

Karl the Fog remains undefeated. 

The roar of traffic passing by above deck is surprisingly muted from down below here. 

After enduring the neck pain from staring high up we moved over to the lone pier that juts out from the shore. It offers a panoramic view of the entire northern side of San Francisco, from Bay Bridge to the Golden Gate. Sadly I did not take a panoramic shot of said panoramic view.

A commercial freight ship was on its way west towards the Pacific Ocean so as one does we snapped shots of it as it crosses under the famous landmark: 

In before the lock. 

One more attempt at long-exposure later, this time with the 3-stop ND instead of the 10-stop, and our day was done. I intend to return to this spot when the weather is fairer and with a steadier tripod because it was way windier than I'd thought.

Until then. 

Cutting Room

Photowalk: Apple Park Visitor Center

Apple's brand-new 'Spaceship' campus (properly named Apple Park) officially openned late last year and I've been remiss in making a trip to see the circular monolith. Unfortunately and expectedly the entire complex is securely walled-off so plebeians like me with no inside connection and not a technology journalist are relegated to admiration from a distance. 

Given the situation as it is, Apple built a Visitor Center on the lot adjacent to the main Apple Park complex so people making the pilgrimage will actually have something to see/do (or a public bathroom to use). Essentially an Apple Store, half of the architecturally stunning building is dedicated to showing off the majesty of the new campus across the street. 

The center has got plenty of parking above and below ground so everyone can drive their own car and just forget about carpooling. 

Give it another year or so for these trees to be completely grown and the courtyard should be properly lush.

Out of the parking lot the Visitor Center's courtyard greets you with its perfectly aligned trees and benches made of stone. Being less than a year old the greenery have yet the appropriate amount of time to mature so currently it's a bit sparse and the trees aren't doing much to provide shade. 

Stone slabs for bench seating is a good recipe for scorched bum on a sunny day. 

Like the Apple Park campus, the Visitor Center's outer wall is constructed entirely of huge glass sheets, with its roof-deck giving the illusion of being impossibly suspended above. There's lots of architectural cantilever trickery going on as the glass panels bear no load other than holding itself up. It's quite magnificent and gives the inner space a tremendous amount of natural light. 

Resembling the well-oiled wooden decks of expensive yachts, the roof design of the Visitor Center extends to the interior as well.

The magnificent floating roof. 

In addition to normal entrance doors, a few giant panes of glass on either horizontal side can swivel open to let in air and give the space a hybrid indoor-outdoor ambiance. 

I bet these can be moved with nary a finger's force. 

On one end of the first floor Apple have set up an interactive area featuring an enormous scale-model of Apple Park. Armed with dedicated iPads passed out by attendants, visitors can take an augmented-reality tour of the 'Spaceship' and adjacent buildings. Lacking the ability to tour the actual Apple Park itself, this AR experience is a convincing fascmile.  

Look at the guy on the right taking a picture of what's being shown on the iPad. 

The structures on the lower left are enormous parking garages. Even so, there aren't enough spaces to house a car for every employee therefore just as it were in the old One Infinite Loop campus, parking at Apple Park is at a premium and first-come-first-serve. 

As I walked away from the interactive space I was greeted with this beauty of a staircase. it looks spectacularly suspended and free-standing, and I love the way it appears as if it's hewn together from carved pieces of solid rock. Notice the intricate grab-rail that's directly inset into the railing.  

The middle portion of the Visitor Center resembles a typical Apple Store in its latest guise, dominated by the giant display mini-theatre setup in the center. Indeed guests are able to purchase the entire slate of Apple products, and also memorabilia bespoke to the Apple Park like mugs and t-shirts. One thing it hasn't got is a Genius Bar, so if you've got problems with your Apple device don't come here for a fix.

Advertise the HomePod all you want, Apple; it's tough to plop down $350 for a mono speaker no matter how awesome it sounds. 

Floating staircase. 

Ascending the artful stairs will bring you to the upper balcony that in theory should afford a good view of the 'Spaceship' campus. Unfortunately the structure is inexplicably blocked by a few tall trees. I'm not entirely sure why Apple made the effort to construct a viewing deck but then planted trees that obstruct the sightline. It was quite disappointing. 

Dear Apple: those trees are in the way. Please remove them. 

Back down to level ground on the other side of the building is the cafe, offering bite-size treats and the standard fare of coffee products. The coffee machines are obviously brand-new and looks super premium. iPads are used as menus, and if you're paying via any method other than Apple Pay you're simply embarrassing yourself.

Unlike the tech products sold in the room adjacent  the cafe prices are surprisingly reasonable. I bought a shot of expresso for $3. 

I simply could not stop admiring the ceiling deck. 

After enjoying the shot of caffeine, I decided to take a short walk circumnavigating the 'Spaceship'. To repeat the complex is completely walled-off and you can't see much inwards due to the sheer amount of greenery planted all around. However Apple did construct a lovely walkway that circles round the outer block, which on a fine day makes good opportunity for a stroll. 

Nothing much to see here. 

Overall, the inspiring architecture and the cup of coffee makes the Visitor Center at Apple Park a worthwhile trip at least once. 


Cutting Room

Photowalk: San Francisco 02/03/2018

This is a hopelessly belated photo story of the photowalk my friends and I did back in February, focusing on a few landmarks in San Francisco's Hunters Point and Chinatown neighborhoods. My friend did all the driving so the itinerary was at his discretion. First order of business in the morning was this particular set of artful stairs:

Called the Arelious Walker Stairway, it's one of many mosaic-tile step installations scattered throughout San Francisco. This set connects Innes Avenue up to Northridge Road in the Hunters Point neighborhood. My driving friend had already shot the other mosaic stairs and this one completes the set. 

The artist(s) must've been fans of the golden ratio. 

A photographer is spoiled for choice in angles and perspectives. 

Turn opposite the stairs and you'll be treated to this ensemble view of downtown San Francisco and the two Bay Bridges. 

After the colorful stairs we thought since we're in the neighborhood already, might as well pop down the street and have a look at the old naval shipyard. In recent years the place surrounding it have massively gentrified, but the old ghosts of ship-working still lie there dormant, awaiting its final fate: dismantlement for new housing. 

I had just recently purchased my first set of ND filters, and shooting the shipyard was the maiden attempt at long-exposure during the daytime. Due to being so far away from the water the smoothing effect isn't all that apparent so I'll be on the hunt for many lakes and waterfalls in the future.  

A missed opportunity that auto-crosses aren't held on these premises. The surface and space looks perfect for it. 

Abandoned shipyard sitting on super prime real estate. 

Cargo ship somehow stayed stationary on the water long enough for this 10-second exposure. 

After getting enough of the morning Vitamin-D at the shipyard, we motored on towards San Francisco Chinatown. The specific goal was to survey the many walls of mural art painted throughout the district. 

We simply had to take a stop at our childhood haunt: Chinese Playground on Sacramento between Grant and Stockton. I have fond memories of playing volleyball with friends here on the weekends.  

Memories of childhood. 

The Chinese Playground happens to play host to this particular mural: 

Indeed I can remember dressing like the guy on the left here back in the day. 

Famously steep streets of San Francisco. 

The hanging of traditional red lanterns throughout Chinatown have added a really nice flair. I'm glad these are hung year round and not just during festivals. 

This is America. 

The mythical Dragon is a major symbol in Chinese culture and no surprise the motif is widely utilized in the Chinatown murals. 

A Dragon and a lady lacking her skin. Not sure what's going on here but it's striking. 

This Dragon taking a swim in a pond of lotus lillies. 

The Buddha, Dragon, and Bruce Lee are great compliments. Look closer on Bruce's chest and apparently someone isn't fond of the famed graffiti artist Banksy. A nice Audi S3 on the left side, too. 

SF's Chinatown is full of interconnecting alleyways and side-streets, each with unique character and architectural interest points. Obviously they serve their innate utilitarian purpose quite well as we used them to traverse through the many blocks without needing to contend with motor vehicles.  

Build them sturdy. 

I got a Cuban/Latin vibe to this side-street connecting Grant and Columbus; really dig the colors here. The wall on the right belongs to the world famous City Lights Bookstore.  

Sad to see this mural getting peppered over by other graffitis. I would've loved to see it in its original form. 

During our escapades we ran into these two artists doing repair work to this art installation consisting entirely of Chinese red envelopes. 

We arrived at the intersection between Broadway and Stockton, and not being content with the long-exposure shot I did with the ND filters earlier in the day, I figured the busy crosswalk would be excellent to have another go:

A one-second exposure with the lens wide open using a 10-stop ND filter leaves a decent enough blur to the pedestrians crossing the street. 

Another alleyway. 

She's so sweet with that get-back stare. 

Half the time spent during photowalks is walking aimlessly hoping for cool stuff to materialize just around the corner. 

At one point we arrived at an elementary school, the playground of which was a film location in the Will Smith movie 'The Pursuit of Happyness". The school's upper basketball court set the scene for the film's emotional climax

Unfortunate for us it was Saturday and school was out,  so we couldn't enter the premises without resorting to trespassing. I had to settle for shooting from outside the fencing: 

Now that's not a bad backdrop for a school, is it? 

The piers aren't so far away... 

The day sadly came to an abrupt end when we went to the top of the Stockton tunnel to do some shots and unceremoniously - and much to do with my stupidity - my camera fell out of the tripod and onto concrete six-feet below. Day instantly over. Thankfully the camera body survived the tumble with only cosmetic blemishes. The lens however took the brunt of the impact and broke off its collar ring. 

At least I managed to get a few photos in before the incident: 

Final attempt of the day using the ND filter for daylight long-exposure. This one is at 1/8 second. 

A few weeks and 700 dollars poorer the broken lens was good as new. 


Cutting Room