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.

Framing a vision for a better Bay

Bay Bridge
The summer fog rolls in from the west and over the City by the Bay.

Picture this: You wake up before sunrise and head out the door with your camera in one hand and a half eaten breakfast burrito (with avocado, of course) in the other. You’re heading for an unexplored destination that you’ve googled the night before.  As the dark blue and black hues of night give way to a morning sky, your adrenaline rushes you toward your destination. Upon arrival you grab your belongings, find the perfect spot to set up your shot, and wait. You wait for the “golden hour” when the rising sun gently illuminates the landscape and paints the world in those vivid, breathtaking colors only nature can produce.

Landscape photographers, does this “hurry up and wait” drill sound familiar to you?

This begs the question, why do photographers do this? Is the opportunity to capture a beautiful photograph really worth waking up early, traveling long distances, and enduring the cold, rain, snow, or wind?

By no means do I consider myself a professional photographer, but I’ve learned over time that the best photographers have mastered the virtue of patience. In other words, it’s worth waiting for the right shot regardless of the elements.

On the first day of my high school Black and White Photography course, my teacher showed the class an iconic photograph of Yosemite National Park’s Half Dome and the Merced River taken by outdoor landscape photography guru Ansel Adams. After a quick critique of the photograph, she then asked us to describe how it would feel to be Adams the moment he took the picture. 

I initially thought about how cold it must have been, yet peacefully quiet. The river was still. The reflections, perfect. The warm winter sun peering through the snow-covered trees must have been a welcoming sensation. Ultimately, to me, this setting looked like heaven on earth — a place worth protecting and preserving for future generations to enjoy. Of course this image is now synonymous with Yosemite National Park, but here in the Bay Area we have our share of iconic images as well.

Even in the midst of today’s highly urbanized setting, it is still possible to take a picture of a raw, wild San Francisco Bay. However, this may not be the case in the near future with looming climate change impacts and more immediate threats including stormwater pollution and reckless shoreline development. The truth is, the beauty of our Bay is in jeopardy each day.

I always feel a deeper connection and appreciation for our home region when shooting photographs outside or scrolling through a series of beautiful bay images online. And I know that your photographs can elicit that reaction too.

The still images — documented moments frozen in time — we all capture help preserve memories and tell inspirational stories. Like Yosemite, the Bay is another slice of heaven on earth that needs to be protected and preserved for generations to enjoy. Allow your photographs to live on in Save The Bay’s website, social media platforms, and future campaigns.

Who knows, your work may inspire someone else to think about what you felt, smelled, heard, and saw the moment you snapped your photograph. And this may be just the motivation they need to take on the environmental issues we face.

Even if its just for a moment. That’s all it takes.

Guest Post | A Birder’s Perspective on the Bay

Alameda resident Rick Lewis has been a Bay Area birder and a wildlife photographer for more than 30 years. His gorgeous photos often grace Save The Bay’s calendars, email communications, and website. Rick is passionate about preserving bird habitat in the Bay Area, so he created and narrated the slideshow below  to convey the beauty of Bay Area birds. Through his photos, poetry, and this blog post, he hopes to remind Bay Area residents how fortunate we are to live in this region, and to inspire everyone to advocate for wetland restoration and habitat preservation–for future generations of people and birds to enjoy.

There are good birding spots five minutes away. That’s not exactly correct – if I simply open the front door I can watch towhees, black phoebes, warblers, sparrows, crows, and various raptors. Skunks, squirrels, raccoons, and gopher snakes sometimes visit. This isn’t the ‘country’, this is Alameda. From here I can smell low tide. It’s all about habitat around the bay.

Despite urbanization, San Francisco Bay is recognized as a Western Hemisphere Shorebird Reserve Network—a place of hemispheric importance that impacts the entire state and has global implications. Birds are an indicator species and reflect the overall health of the region. The numerous accounts of falling bird populations being the result of human activity is an alarm all should heed. We are not separate from them; there is no separation. Connectivity binds us all and what we do here will certainly have ramifications felt far and wide. As Muir said, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”

Many years ago I was photographing a pair of young Brown Pelicans at the Berkeley Aquatic Park. They were quite chummy with each other and were enthusiastic subjects. Time and again they would walk towards me to investigate the camera. I would back up and they would rub bills inquisitively. This intimate encounter sealed my fate as a life-long birder and left me charmed, thrilled, and honored.

We almost lost pelicans, but they came back from the brink of extinction once we banned DDT. The story of the pelican indicates our positive influence when we decide to act. And also the resilience of nature. There are dozens of other stories like this out on the marsh. Take note of the wintering waterfowl and shorebirds near the base of the bay bridge as you approach from Oakland. The birds are content to feed and loaf as they ignore the traffic and surrounding activity. It is imperative that we preserve and restore what little habitat these birds have amidst the bridges and the cars. We just need to act now.

I believe that our very existence depends on the ability to experience nature close to our homes. Photographing birds along the shoreline is what I thrive on. I hope everyone who lives here will find something that inspires them in the wildness just beyond their doorstep. I am happy to share my inspiration through my slideshow and poetry. Please take a moment now to tell the Bay Restoration Authority to put a measure on the ballot to fund Bay restoration.

I have ever heard,
and listened to, the song
of birds.
Be it day, or
eve, or morn,
or the darkness we perceive
The song prevails, loud
And clear, breaking through
the mist of perversity
A beacon, a light,
a thing of utmost beauty
Dawn has come
and with it
life, illumination
and a joy too
sublime to calculate
and that is its

Thank you for all you do for the Bay.
Rick Lewis


News of the Bay: March 14, 2014

Check out this edition of News of the Bay for breaking news affecting San Francisco Bay

National Wildlife 1/27/14

Harbor Porpoises’ Remarkable Return
On a blustery California August day, researchers are studying some of San Francisco’s least-known residents from an unlikely laboratory: the Golden Gate Bridge. Below in the bay glides a parade of boats—fishing vessels, a tall ship, a slow container barge packed with colorful boxes like giant Legos. Behind the scientists, tourists pause to snap pictures, unaware of the ongoing hunt. Through binoculars, Bill Keener suddenly spots his quarry: a harbor porpoise, its dark gray dorsal fin appearing briefly before resubmerging. Keener predicts the porpoise’s course and, just as it surfaces again, photographs the animal before it disappears. “Got it,” he declares triumphantly.
Read more>>

News of the Bay

Daily Camera 3/8/14
Boulder: Disposable bag use down 68 percent in wake of 10-cent fee
Six months after Boulder instituted a 10-cent fee on disposable grocery bags, use of plastic and paper bags has fallen 68 percent, city officials said.
That figure is based on a comparison of estimated bag use before the fee was implemented in July and the number of bags paid for by shoppers in the last six months, said Jamie Harkins, business sustainability specialist for the city.
Read more>>

Sacramento Bee 3/10/14
E-cigarettes face restrictions as cities update smoking ordinances
The electronic cigarettes flooding the U.S. market don’t technically emit smoke, but many cities have decided they’re not much different from ordinary cigarettes.
Last week, Rancho Cordova became the latest local government to pursue restrictions on e-cigarettes; the City Council directed staff members to treat them like regular smokes when they draft amendments to city code sections governing smoking. The Los Angeles City Council also voted last week to restrict e-cigarette use where tobacco smoking is restricted, including restaurants, parks, bars, nightclubs, beaches and workplaces. Similar measures have been approved in a number of Bay Area cities, along with New York and Chicago.
Read more>>

Reuters 3/13/14
In drought-stricken California court rules smelt fish get water
A California appeals court sided with environmentalists over growers on Thursday and upheld federal guidelines that limit water diversions to protect Delta smelt, in a battle over how the state will cope with its worst drought in a century.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a lower court should not have overturned recommendations that the state reduce exports of water from north to south California. The plan leaves more water in the Sacramento Delta for the finger-sized fish and have been blamed for exacerbating the effects of drought for humans.
Read more>>

Meet Local Hero Florence LaRiviere

Every section of the Bay shoreline has a story….A story of what could have been, a story of future potential, a story of conflict and inspiration. Behind many of these stories is a powerful 90-year-old Palo Alto woman named Florence LaRiviere.

California, Palo Alto, Florence and Phillip LaRiviere, Wildlife Refuge advocates

Florence and her late husband Philip first fell in love with the marshland as a young, married couple. They’d take a picnic down to the water’s edge to near the old Palo Alto Marina with their children to catch a breeze on hot days. They’d watch the tides wave in and out of the cord grass, and feel the gentle breezes. It was their special place, but it was in danger of being paved over and lost forever. Though they weren’t activists at the time, they would spend the next half-decade of their lives fighting for such places.

Some of the protected places we take for granted wouldn’t exist without Florence. The Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge is one such place. The refuge covers 25,902 acres and spans a large part of the South Bay from Redwood City to Fremont. It’s the largest urban wildlife refuge in the country in an area that could easily have become an ugly mass of parking lots, convention centers, and tract housing.
After over 50 years of working on behalf of San Francisco Bay, what advice would Florence give to ordinary citizens who want to make a difference in their communities?

“You need to know what goes on in City Hall. Everyone thinks decisions are made in Washington or California so we elect people to local councils and boards who have no sensitivity to the land. We don’t know how important their votes will be to us and the people who live here after us.”

Take a look at what Florence and fellow citizens have accomplished by acting locally:

• The old Palo Alto Marina and its destructive dredge were shut down, and now that area is the Palo Alto Baylands Nature Preserve, which covers approximately 1,940 acres in both Palo Alto and East Palo Alto. Hundreds of species of wildlife live there and it’s considered to be one of the best bird-watching sites on the West Coast.

• LaRiviere marsh near the Don Edwards Visitor Center in Fremont was once a series of crusty salt ponds. Today it’s lush with native marsh plants and home to endangered species like the California clapper rail and hundreds of other migratory birds.

• As the leader of the Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge, Florence was instrumental in expanding the Refuge boundaries to include Bair Island, the Redwood City salt ponds, and the remaining wetlands into the refuge. The recent restoration and reopening of Bair Island to public access is an inspiring example of what can be accomplished when people work together.

There’s still much more to accomplish. For the past two decades, the Citizens Committee to Complete the Refuge has been fighting to defeat the City of Newark’s plan to pave over a large section of restorable baylands in the South Bay for an 18-hole golf course and luxury houses. This area is within the expansion boundaries of the Refuge, home to crucial wildlife habitat, and adjacent to a harbor seal pupping site at Mowry Slough. You can help defeat the plan by signing onto our petition Florence asking the Water Board to deny permits for this development.

As Florence says, “If you see something that upsets you, you have to do something about it.”