Calling all Bay photographers


A message from Save The Bay’s Staff Photographer:

As a photographer and manager of Save The Bay’s social media pages, one of the best parts of my job is to share your photos of San Francisco Bay on our Instagram feed. I personally think your Bay photos have the power to inspire and frame a vision for a cleaner, healthier Bay. That’s why I’m inviting you to enter our 2017 Save The Bay Calendar Photo Contest!

Whether you’re an avid photographer with a professional set up or a master phone photographer, I’m sure you have some great shots. And I’d love to see what you’ve captured!

Before you snap and submit your San Francisco Bay photo, here are a few things to keep in mind:

The subject matter:
Your submissions may include landscapes, wildlife, or recreation on the Bay; they can focus on open water, shoreline, or tidal marsh—from San Jose to Sonoma and anywhere in between. All we ask is that your photo connects with Save The Bay’s mission to protect, restore, and celebrate San Francisco Bay.

What’s in it for you:
The fame and glory of potentially having your photo published! And knowing that you contributed your photo to helping protect and restore our Bay. Along with copies of the calendar, featured photographers will receive a Save The Bay t-shirt, tote bag, a prize of $50, and cool gear from our friends at REI!

The technical aspects:
All photos should be landscape orientation and should be 3300 x 2500 pixels or larger. Please see terms and conditions outlined on our webpage. All photos must be submitted by April 15, 2016 for consideration.

How do we choose the winners?:
After the April 15, 2016 submission deadline, Save The Bay staff will select the top twelve photos that will be featured in the 2017 calendar. But, we still need your help in deciding which photo will grace the cover!

Phase two of our contest will take place on our Facebook page. Each day we will post one of the twelve photos on social media. Your Facebook likes, wows, and loves will all be counted as YES votes. The photo with the most combined votes wins. We will announce the cover photo winner May 1, 2016.

Mike Oria Photography

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Bay Area photographer Mike Oria  captures beautiful images of the San Francisco Bay. His photograph, “Sunrise from Sausalito” won the People’s Choice Award for our Calendar Photo Contest and will be the cover art for our 2016 Save The Bay Calendar.

How long have you lived in the Bay Area and when did you get started photographing the Bay ?

My wife and I have been in the Bay since ‘94. We moved from Texas to California and we lived around the Bay a bit—South Bay, Peninsula, and now we’re out in Brentwood. I’ve been doing photography for seven years. I would say the last two or three years have been pretty intensive for me as far as just really diving in 100% and learning as much as I can to hone my skills.

What inspires you and why are you so drawn to the San Francisco Bay? 

First of all it is such a large area, teeming with people, activities, wildlife, and amazing visual stimuli. The mountains, the grasslands, the water—just everything about the Bay to me is like a picture. It is a work of art and so I guess I am inspired by that to try to capture a piece of that into a photograph.

I know a photo can never come close to being able to portray exactly what I am seeing when I am standing there enjoying a great view, but at the same time it evokes a memory of a moment in time for me. It is a way to freeze that moment and later when I look back at the photo that I’ve taken, I go right back to that memory. I remember the smell of the salt air, I remember the seal barking, or the way the flowers were blowing in the wind—you know, things like that. So it is something that is very organic, very stimulating, and of course the challenge as a photographer is how to do that justice and put it into a picture?

Walk me through a day of shooting out on the Bay. What is your approach and how do you capture such amazing images?

Well I found that I very much prefer shooting sunrises and after dark so when the conditions are right for a colorful sky and some beautiful clouds, I find that the ideal time to capture it is twilight—morning or evening twilight. I typically plan my days of shooting around this and what the conditions will be and I do a lot of research before I even go outside. I get on the computer and I know where the sun is rising or setting, I know where the moon is, what time it will rise or set, when twilight is, I know the predicted tides and if there is a low tide, which I favor.

I like to shoot at low tide because more of the underwater coastal treasures are revealed, instead of being covered up by water. I also check wind because a lot of my images are anywhere from ten seconds to two minutes in length and so I am opening my shutter for a long time. If you’re dealing with 35 mile per hour winds up in the Marin headlands your pictures could get blurry.

I also research when the fog is coming in before I get out there and then I try to study the satellite images, such as Google Earth to find a place I’ve never been before and get there in time to try and find a nice foreground subject. Then I’ll just set up and watch what happens. Just wait for the light to change. If I get there before dawn, l’ll sit in darkness and hope that there is something good to look at based on the research I’ve done. That is often frustrating but occasionally I may get lucky. I wait for the first bit of light and color to start and I’ll start shooting. Since there is so much pre­planning involved and the “good light” is often very brief, I may return from an outing with only one, sometimes two keepers, but that keeps me going back out for more, I suppose.

Do you have a favorite site along the Bay?

I don’t get a lot of pictures of this because it’s hard to access, but right at the mouth of the Golden Gate looking through to the Bay from Point Bonita where the Bonita Lighthouse is—that spot and the whole area around there (Bonita Cove) looking into San Francisco is a beautiful location and probably one of my favorites. There’s the cliché of the gateway or mouth of the Bay opening to reveal all the beautiful treasures, and of course it is where all the people live. The massive complex of Bay Area cities are a figurative sea of humanity. Being out there on the Marin coast, just outside the Bay, you have so much of just pure nature: cliffs and rocks and birds and other wildlife. It is largely untouched by humans. I like that—being outside it, in unspoiled nature, looking back toward the city.

Do you have any upcoming projects that our readers might be interested in learning about?

I do a lot of night photography and I teach workshops to all levels of photographers from beginners to professionals. I have a workshop series called “Night Eyes Photo Workshops” that I teach with one other instructor and currently we take a group of students out once a month on a Saturday night and we will spend several hours in San Francisco and Marin. We also have a coastal class where we go along the coast from Half Moon Bay down to Santa Cruz. I also shoot commercial work for local businesses and wineries.

Mike Oria creates artistic captures of California’s most compelling locations. His photography has appeared in international publications, calendars, album covers and websites. Prints may be purchased at:

South Bay Salt Pond Photography

Using a kite to fly a radio-controlled camera to great heights, photographer Cris Benton brings the intricate details of the South Bay’s salt ponds into focus. Cris’s aerial photographs have aided in the restoration efforts of the salt ponds and have been utilized by our habitat restoration team.

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Can you describe your process for kite aerial photography?

The idea is to take photographs from somewhere between head height and 400 ft. above the ground. To lift the camera I use single line kites selected for stability, often taking a quiver of six to eight kites when I head out to photograph.  After watching the wind, I select a kite that matches the breeze. After launching the kite I fly it up to steady air.

After the selected kite reaches steady air I fly it for about 10 minutes to establish that the wind is reliable and the kite is performing well.  And then, a hundred feet or more below the kite, I attach a little string and pulley suspension called a Picavet. Below the Picavet cross you attach the camera. Controlled by a handheld radio transmitter, the airborne cradle can point the camera in any compass direction, tilt it from straight down to the horizon, and with the flip of a switch change from portrait to landscape format.

Once the equipment is rigged to the kite line you just let out more line, the kite flies higher and pulls the camera cradle up after it. In the South Bay I have hiked five miles along the levees with the camera aloft taking photographs as I go. I frame each photograph by watching the camera, imagining what it would “see” and using the radio to pan and tilt. After the shot is composed, I wait for camera to be still and then press the shutter button to make the exposure. It only takes a few seconds per image and it’s great fun.

How has your work progressed in kite aerial photography (KAP)?

My first forays into KAP sprang from the confluence of longstanding interests in photography and radio-controlled sailplanes. In 1995, after playing with mounting a camera on one of my planes I made a shift to kites, which tend to be stable, self-tending platforms. Since switching to kites I have progressed through three photographic stages.

The first stage, lasting several years, involved sorting out how to fly kites, mount the camera, compose the photographs, and keep my lofted gear from crashing. During my middle period, again lasting several years, I traveled broadly with my KAP gear in a quest for aerial images compositionally worthy of display. This was a fine period of honing technique and skill that yielded satisfying work, the placement of images in publications, coverage in the press, and a few exhibits.

I am now well settled into my third period, the use of kite aerial photography in sustained studies of specific landscapes. The best example is my project examining the South Bay salt pond landscape. I came across the salt ponds while taking a series of hikes with microbiologist Dr. Wayne Lanier during my sabbatical at the Exploratorium.  On these hikes Wayne would photograph through his field microscope while I took overhead views of the sampled environment.

Not knowing much about the South Bay I was struck by the otherworldly colors and textures present in what was once marshland. This was intriguing territory to photograph. After learning more about the current day South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project, I developed a proposal to continue photographing the South Bay landscape in service of the restoration efforts. The Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge and the California Department of Fish & Wildlife issued Special Use Permits providing permissions conditioned on seasonal restrictions to protect wildlife. This project, still underway, has blossomed into a major undertaking.

What is the nature of this South Bay project and what has it accomplished?

I started by photographing the colors and textures associated with the various salinities of salt ponds in the South Bay. Curiously, you can see little of a pond’s color or bottom detail while hiking on the ground due to sky reflection from the pond’s surface.  Happily, an aerial vantage point reduces surface reflection to allow a view of pond colors and bottom detail. This advantage, afforded to airline passengers landing at SFO, is also realized by a kite-lofted camera.

I was having a great time bagging new colors, as though trophy animals, when I realized that many of my aerial images contained vestigial remnants of the marsh channels that once served square miles of South Bay marsh. Looking more closely I also found traces of old boat landings, 19th century salt works, and curious patterns left by over a century of dredging and duck hunting.

What began as a photographic romp through a visually compelling landscape slowly shifted toward documenting the landscape’s history and deciphering traces of it evident in my aerial photographs. My aerial images often presented puzzling artifacts. These fueled visits to libraries, map rooms, and local experts. Then it was back to the field for more photographs. After photographing for several years, I came to appreciate that the landscape was still in transition, and rapid transition at that, as the salt pond restoration project gained stride. This realization has lent a sense of urgency to the project.

Over the last ten years I have made about 250 trips to photograph the South Bay. The South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project has used my images for outreach and in support of science projects guiding the restoration. For instance, my low-level aerial images of Drawbridge were used to “ground truth” the locations of invasive vegetation as predicted by the analysis of satellite data. My photographs of the project have also been used by over three-dozen non-profit agencies, including Save The Bay. I have mounted several exhibits of the South Bay work including a permanent display of sixty images at the Exploratorium and large panoramas in the Oakland Museum’s 2014 exhibit Above & Below: Stories from Our Changing Bay.

Cris Benton is a retired professor of architecture and former department chair at the University of California, Berkeley. He uses kite aerial photography as a technique for documenting several Northern California landscapes.

Painting Photos with Light

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Many artists work closely with the San Francisco Bay and draw inspiration directly from the Bay. Stefanie Atkinson is a professional photographer and creative designer. Stefanie’s Birds in Flight series captures light and movement along the Bay. She creates unique visual imagery for cross platform use in print, mobile, web, television, and video. Her fine art work has been in many group and solo shows and is available for purchase.

How long have you lived in the Bay Area and when did you starting photographing the Bay?

I’ve lived in the Bay Area since 1998. I started photographing around the Bay and estuaries when I moved out to Mill Valley in 2006.

What inspires you and why are you so drawn to the San Francisco Bay?

We are very lucky to be surrounded by water and protected open space here in the Bay area. I have always loved being around, on or in the water. Water and light inspire me and are an integral part of my work.

How would you describe your style of photography?

I would describe my style as naturalistic impressionism. It really stems from my curiosity about the way I see and the way other species and people see. For me it’s really about sharing how we all see differently.

My interest is in capturing in camera — I don’t manipulate the image afterwards. To me, I am painting with light. When I’m capturing the birds I’m playing with time, depth and movement. My finger is not on the button like it’s a trigger.  I’m moving with it. It’s more like the stroke of a brush. It’s like a dance to me. I love having an idea of what I am going to get and then the great mystery that comes with it.

Walk me through a day of shooting out on the Bay. What is your approach and how do you capture images for you Birds in Flight series?

I love waking up very early in the morning so I have time to be out before the sun and people rise. I like to see and hear the birds and animals when they are not affected by us.

I enjoy walking by the Bay. I also sit still, listen and just watch. There is so much going on when I sit quietly with it. Being by the water brings such a sense of peace. I just love seeing how every day is so completely different on the surface of the water. To me, the water is like a mirror – it’s easy to see how everything is constantly moving and changing. I photograph along the way.

Do you have any upcoming projects that you are working on?

Yes, I have a few projects that I am working on right now. They all involve my interest in Biomimicry and Biofeedback. Looking through the lens of how nature solves some of our human challenges is fascinating and offers much to learn, teach and share. There is much to do and I enjoy doing my part in it.

Another one of my projects involves UV light and water. I am photographing around the Bay. It’s very illuminating how much more there is to see and I love learning to see differently as it opens up whole new worlds of possibility and wonder.

The Envelope Please: Save The Bay’s Calendar Contest Wraps Up

Photographs by local photographers Mike Oria, Hank Christensen, Karen Eul, Dave Gordon, Nancy Parker, Fred Rowe, Steve Zamek, Jill Zwicky will be featured in our 2016 calendar.

Thank you to everyone who submitted photographs to our 2016 Save The Bay Calendar contest sharing with us their unique perspectives on our Bay.  We had an amazing 194 photographers submit photos ranging from landscapes highlighting Chrissy Field  and McLaughlin Eastshore State Park to photos featuring birds including the Long Billed Curlew and Marbled Godwits.

I’m pleased to share the winners of the 2016 Calendar Photo Contest. These photos highlight the unique, inspiring and strikingly beautiful images of San Francisco Bay. Each one of these pictures reminds me why I’m passionate about protecting, restoring and celebrating San Francisco Bay.

The Votes Are In:

Since May 19th, votes have been coming in via our Facebook page on who will be the People’s Choice Award. Hundreds of people voted for the cover shot of the 2016 Save The Bay calendar. Our fans have spoken! Congratulations to Mike Oria and his photo “Sunrise from Sausalito” for winning the People’s Choice Award.

Photo of a sunrise over San Francisco Bay the city. By Mike Oria.
Sunrise from Sausalito, California. Photo by: Mike Oria

The team and I will be working to produce the 2016 Save The Bay calendar in the coming weeks. Please stay tuned from an update from me when the calendars are ready to be unveiled.

Many thanks again to all the generous and talented photographers who entered this year’s Calendar Photo Contest. Thank you all for helping to visually tell the story of why our Bay is so important!