Dramatic Architecture in Black and White

Packard - Stanford - 2011

Over the holidays, I spent some time working through the post-processing techniques of Joel Tjintjelaar.

Joel’s a master of long exposure black and white images – along with dramatic architectural images. His techniques have evolved – from using lots of hard selections to now using a combination of a few hard selections along with luminosity masks to shape the light in his monochrome images.

This is an early example of my application of some of Joel’s teachings. It’s the David Packard Electrical Engineering Building at Stanford – captured with my tiny vest pocket Canon Powershot S95 almost five years ago.

Memories: The Chrysanthemums

Sometime this summer I was eyeing one of Stanford’s Continuing Education courses titled Short Story Masterpieces to be taught by Michael Krasny. For the course, Krasny was going to be using The Story and Its Writer: An Introduction to Short Fiction edited by Ann Charters.

While I knew I couldn’t devote the time required to actually enroll in the course, I hadn’t heard of the book before – so I thought I might enjoy just getting a copy. As it turns out, the book is priced like a textbook – but I still decided to get it. For the last couple of months it’s just sat on a bookshelf in my home office – until today.

This afternoon – looking for a pre-holiday relief from work work – I picked up the book and found a cozy place away from the office to begin exploring. I read the book’s Introduction and its explanation of the book’s structure (Stories, Commentaries on specific stories, Casebooks on specific authors, and an appendix with Charters’ discussions about short stories, the genre, etc.)

One of my favorite writers – ever – is John Steinbeck. There’s one story by Steinbeck in Charters’ book – “The Chrysanthemums“. The story, like much of Steinbeck’s work, is based in California’s Monterey County – and, specifically, in Salinas.

Steinbeck begins the story:

The high grey flannel fog of winter closed off the Salinas Valley from the sky and from all the rest of the world. On every side it sat like a lid on the mountains and made of the great valley a closed pot.

Many years ago I owned a small airplane and, from time to time, I would need to fly in actual instrument conditions to maintain my proficiency for instrument flight. I have vivid memories of one morning taking off and flying purposely to Salinas – which was fogged in at the time and, as a result, would provide me the opportunity to shoot an instrument approach into Salinas Airport in actual instrument conditions. Steinbeck’s story – and his opening sentences – brought those memories flooding back.

That morning was just as Steinbeck described – the fog was a lid on the valley. It was a closed pot. Approaching Salinas, I was in clear blue sky above but I needed to penetrate that fog to get below it and land at Salinas. As I was communicating with the approach controller, he cleared me for an instrument approach and I began descending into the fog – transitioning from clear blue sky to only flying from the instruments in the cockpit of my airplane.

My approach began normally – me feeling good about getting into actual IMC. But then something happened – the directional gyro suddenly began spinning. This was not supposed to happen!

The directional gyro provides the pilot with information on the heading the aircraft is pointed. It’s one of several important instruments which pilots need to continuously scan when they’re flying in the clouds. One of the risks pilots face when flying in instrument conditions is a failure of one of these critical instruments. So – here I was – in the fog, descending into Salinas, but with a spinning directional gyro.

Pilots are taught that maintaining the scan of all of the critical instruments is vital while flying on instruments. If one of the critical instruments fails, a pilot can become fixated on the failed instrument, stop scanning the others, and lose situational awareness. When I was flying, there were circular plastic covers with suction devices on the back that you could use to quickly slap over a malfunctioning instrument to prevent it from becoming your sole focus. I had a couple of those – but when the moment strikes they’re not handy – being tucked away in a flight bag in the back seat!

So I forced myself to just ignore the damn spinning directional gyro – and figure a way out.

The fog layer was perhaps 1,500 feet thick – maybe even less. I knew I had blue sky above me. If I could break off the approach, applying power and keeping the wings level, I could get back up to that clear blue sky air. And that’s what I did. I radioed Salinas Tower that I was breaking off the approach. He responded with “State your intentions” – and I cancelled my instrument approach as I climbed above the fog and headed back home. I never did land at Salinas that morning. I also never trusted that directional gyro again – and had it replaced.

As I read the opening sentences of Steinbeck’s story, the memories of my foggy morning encounter with Salinas came flooding back. In Steinbeck’s story, Elisa has her own challenges with the Salinas fog as a metaphor for her life. She lived there. For me it was just a close encounter. I made it back.

Looking at Krasny’s course syllabus, I think I’ll begin exploring the other writers he’s featured in Charters’ book – as I move beyond this initial Steinbeck story. The book is such a treasure trove of stories – I know I need – and want – to dive deeper. I’m sure more memories await!

Walk My Way – Ferry Building

Walk My Way - San Francisco - 2015

As the year is winding down, I’ve been looking back through the 14,000+ images I’ve taken this year – and culling through them to look for new possibilities. This image is a “multiple” – in this case two separate images have been merged together to create a single image.

I was sitting inside the Ferry Building in San Francisco – waiting for the 9:50 Larkspur ferry to arrive with my friend Doug Kaye. At certain times of year, like March!, the light is coming from the side at this hour – making for wonderful light and shadow combinations. In this image, the guy with the cart and the guy on the far right were both captured on one image – while the woman walking was from a second image. Both images were captured with my iPhone 6.

One Front Street in San Francisco

One Front Street - San Francisco - 2014

One in a while I see an architectural shot that I find interesting – and it’s the combination of structure and light that makes it so.

Here’s an image from last year – shot with my Fujifilm X100S on San Francisco’s Market Street – and processed in Nik Software’s Silver Efex Pro 2.

A hat tip to Joel Tjintjelaar for sharing some of his techniques in working on these kinds of black and white images.

Tour Saint-Jacques in Paris

Tour Saint-Jacques - Paris - 2014

I was looking back through my Paris 2014 photos last night and came across this image of Tour Saint-Jacques in Paris. Our small group spent about 30 minutes exploring the small park adjacent to the tower – capturing some wonderful people shots.

This 52-metre (171 ft) Flamboyant Gothic tower is all that remains of the former 16th-century Church of Saint-Jacques-de-la-Boucherie (“Saint James of the butchery”), which was demolished in 1797, during the French Revolution, – like many other churches, leaving only the tower.

I was shooting with my Fujifilm X-T1 with the 18-135 mm zoom – and shot this at about 96 mm (roughly 144 mm in terms of full frame equivalent. I love the white background with just a touch of sky breaking through on the left to add some visual interest. Sort of along the lines of other “white seamless” backgrounds – which work well with this kind of extreme architectural photography.

Union Square – San Francisco

Morning Glory - San Francisco - 2015

I had an early morning breakfast meeting this morning in San Francisco. I parked at the Union Square garage and came upstairs to some beautiful morning light.

I capture three images with my iPhone 6s – the one above and the two below. They couldn’t be more different. Enjoy!

The Wall - San Francisco - 2015

Christmas - Union Square

Back to Kolkata

School Girls - Kolkata - 2015

A few days ago the Wall St. Journal ran this story “Kolkata, India: An Insider’s Tour for Aspiring Photographers” – which brought back memories of my two visits to this city in West Bengal. The author notes “Yes, Kolkata can be overwhelming. Perhaps it really is the deep end of the pool. But once you jump in, the water’s fine.”

My most recent trip was in January of this year – and this image was one shot from my iPhone while driving through the city on my way to a walking tour. More images from my visit to Kolkata are here in my Flickr album.