Christmas, Historic Adobes | Monterey, California

Along with the Harbor Holiday Light Parade, Monterey, California has a particularly unique and charming December tradition – a walking nighttime tour of the historic adobe buildings scattered throughout downtown. One rainy night I joined a few friends to explore the lovely homes and government buildings that are lovingly restored and maintained as striking architectural reminders of the not-so-distant past of California.

Many of these historic sites include lovely gardens, and as we walked toward each stop on the self-guided tour, we were greeted by the glow of lights in the trees and the traditional painted angels that decorate the city of Monterey during the winter holiday season.

Each adobe had a slightly different story and seasonal decorations, often with a mix of old and new on display. Creaking wooden floors and subdued warm light lent each space a cozy sense of stepping back in time.

At the historic Custom House, dating back to around 1827, live music and dancing filled the main room. A Mexican flag on display pays respect to the role of this particular adobe building as the primary port of entry on the Alta California coast before the territory was claimed by the United States in 1846.

At a smaller building which holds the distinction of being California’s first theater, we were greeted by a musician on the front porch, and a decorated tavern space inside. The main portion of the theater, including the stage, has sadly fallen into disrepair and was not accessible. In the spring, the theater garden is one of my favorite secret spots in downtown Monterey.

Live music was a highlight of the evening, performed by volunteers at nearly every location. Even though some of the points of interest were a few blocks apart, it seemed that the holiday cheer filled the rainy streets in every direction, as we had only to follow the sounds of musicians and carollers to reach the next adobe.

City Hall was a bustling center of activity, with locals chatting on the steps and enjoying the decorated trees indoors and out. This building is still functional at the heart of the city, hosting several municipal offices and providing Monterey residents with a scenic park for casual gatherings.

Some of the larger adobes offered sweet holiday treats, cookies and cider, and at the historic building known as the Stevenson House (after Robert Louis Stevenson who lived there for a few months) a cheerful bagpiper roamed the rooms full of artifacts and notable art.

I had lived many years in Monterey before I took part in this lovely holiday tradition, and it was a memory I will treasure. The warmth and hospitality of Monterey and Californians in general was embodied in the welcoming cheer of these historic adobes.

The tour ticket fee benefits the California State Parks and their maintenance of the buildings, and I would highly recommend it to locals and visitors alike. For information and tickets, please visit the California State Parks website – Christmas in the Adobes.

To see the full set of my images from this magical holiday night, please visit the APK Photography Christmas in the Adobes gallery

Back to the basics

I was recently challenged to a ‘7 Days, 7 Black & White Photos’ exercise on social media. My path in photography started with black and white film, yet now it is usually an afterthought and simply a processing choice in the digital darkroom.

Shooting with black and white in mind is always a welcome return to the fundamentals of light, shadow, and composition. These particular images were captured with my phone, so the resolution is limited. The rules were basic: images of everyday life, no people, no explanations or captions.

I may experiment with printing a few of these, and returning to capture similar photos with the full resolution of the DSLR. More importantly, I am going to try to seek out more black and white photos as I shoot; creatively, such photography focuses my intent and prompts me to see the familiar with fresh eyes, which always provides a boost to other aspects of my life.

On the road, West coast wandering

Currently on a roadtrip, camping and sight-seeing along the Pacific Northwest coast and then driving inland to explore states and mountains I’ve never seen with my own eyes. I will be posting snapshots when possible to @photoapk on Instagram, and when I return to the digital darkroom I’ll be sharing fresh travel photography here on the blog. Happy trails!

A Photographer’s Guide to Car Week in Monterey, California

Ah, car week. Revving engines, gleaming chrome, throngs of automotive aficionados, and a complete range of events packed into every day, from pricey and exclusive gatherings to public downtown cruises, all offering plenty of photographic fun. Where are the best value photo-opportunities? What events are also just plain fun to experience? What kind of gear is best?

(Regarding gear: These three shots are from a Samsung Galaxy S5 – ye olde phone camera – the best gear is ALWAYS the camera you have with you. If you are packing an SLR kit, a wider-angle lens will work well at most of the more intimate events I note below, while a zoom or telephoto lens is an excellent tool for capturing races at the track.)

After living in the Monterey, California area for 14 years, I’ve seen nearly every car week event at least once, and I’ve learned a lot about photographing the larger scenes and delightful details of this car culture cacophony. Getting a traditional clean-shot of a car with no distractions in the background is tricky at nearly every event, and my single biggest piece of advice is to get comfortable with what the environment offers; as you’ll see in the photos below, the light during car week in Monterey is likely to range from overcast skies with diffuse daylight, to bright midday sun, to dusky dark urban street scenes, all packed with moving crowds of spectators. Be patient, be polite, and experiment with the added visual interest of the events themselves.

If you can afford to splurge on tickets and access to the headlining events, such as the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance, by all means, enjoy the show. For a free look at the same cars with the bonus of seeing them in motion, catch the Pebble Beach Tour d’Elegance which winds its way through several cities and scenic roads of Monterey County.

For a gorgeous and competitive spread of fine automobiles, a free-to-the-public option is the Carmel-by-the-Sea Concours on the Avenue, which allows attendees to get up close to the cars, speak with the owners, and watch the awards ceremony all in the quaint downtown setting of Carmel-by-the-Sea. The crowds can be thick at this event, and patience is key.

If homegrown hot-rods and the latest supercars are more your speed, Exotics on the Row is an accessible and fun event, held in the evening on Cannery Row. This gathering offers low-light photography enthusiasts a scene rich with glowing headlights and colorful Monterey nightlife, all free and walkable.

Around town, there will be an endless parade of interesting cars passing on the street, and adjacent to any event center or hotel hosting a car week auction, simply watching some of the rarest cars in the world get unloaded from transport trucks for their big moment can be a great photo-op. These shots are best found in the lead-up to the main week of events, or during the week following.

Finally, what has always proven to be a photographic goldmine, packed with unusual, interesting, and amazing cars with the added bonus of seeing many of them race around one of the most dynamic tracks in the world, is the Rolex Monterey Motorsports Reunion.

Laguna Seca classic car races
Vintage and classic cars ready to race at Laguna Seca racetrack in Monterey, California during the annual Reunion events of car week.

This is the event I’ve attended the most, and no matter which day one chooses to attend, a stroll around the paddock will provide even the most casual automotive photography enthusiast with plenty of colourful race activity and historic racecars.

Owners and drivers are happy to talk about their beloved vehicles and nothing beats a shot or two of the infamous Laguna Seca Corkscrew full of rumbling vintage cars barreling toward the finish line. Again, be patient, the paddock can be full of people taking it all in, and the most rewarding shots can come after waiting for a crowd to pass.

Over the years I’ve accumulated an extensive library of Car Week photography, all of which can be found in the Automobilia section of apkphotography.com. I will be cruising many of these events again this year, hoping to see some familiar automotive friends and new exciting cars.

I post frequently to Instagram during the week, please follow @photoapk for more inside angles on this amazing time of year in Monterey, and feel free to leave a comment if you’ve got any questions or advice to share.

Tandem

As the daughter of a pilot, it is nearly impossible for me not to look up when I hear airplane engines rumbling through the sky.  These two planes passed overhead while I was on a recent travel photography expedition, and while I only had a split second to catch them from my spot on the sidewalk, I am actually quite pleased with the unexpected composition of the powerlines and dramatic sky framing, before these two planes passed into the bright afternoon sun.

This sky photo is available as a fine art print here.

Client Work: Fringe Outerwear

Luxurious materials, bold colors, creative details, and that priceless handmade touch that true artisans bring to their work; Fringe Outerwear is a one-woman operation, and I recently had the pleasure of photographing some of her lovely knit and crochet items, some ready for sale now, some prime for personalized customization.  She even blogs!  Find a little something for yourself or someone you love, and see more of my lifestyle product photography in the Fringe Outerwear Etsy shop.

The best camera…

…is the one you have with you.  If you’ve been anywhere near the internet in the past several years, you’ve heard this phrase.  If you’re a photographer of any sort, from hobbyist to professional, you know without a doubt that it is true.

I’ve worked with SLRs since the age of seven, when my father entrusted me with a 35mm Minolta SLR body and a few lenses, providing an endless supply of black and white film for my early photography explorations.  I also had a Kodak point-and-shoot through which I must have run hundreds of rolls of color print film.  When it came time for me to start building my own SLR camera kit, it came in the form of an upgrade to an entry-level Nikon FM-10, which I still keep handy for those opportunities when a return to 35mm film for a few shots might be worthwhile.

With each camera, I learned very quickly to work with whatever equipment I had on hand.  Didn’t pack the right lens for the occasion?  I’d work with what I had thought to bring, and never regretted the lessons learned in those moments of artistic and technical problem-solving.

In the digital era, I once again found myself playing with the freedom and spontaneity of a newer Kodak point-and-shoot, while the bulk of my photographic work was created with a Nikon D80, which I managed to make effective in a wider-range of shooting circumstances than the manufacturers may have intended.  I worked with the D80 well past the reported limit of actuations, and as the image quality began to degrade, I knew my beloved DSLR body had helped me to build an extensive portfolio as I explored different shooting styles and challenges.

I have now made the ultimate upgrade, working with a Nikon D800, and the creative flexibility and power it provides has opened up new paths for me, through visual and technical experience.  It is an incredible piece of engineering, and I hope my photography will continue to evolve as I learn to make use of all that it offers.

What inspired this post, however, is a recent, smaller upgrade.  For nearly 4 years, I’ve carried around an iPod touch as my “pocket computer”.  I tend to be a late-adopter on principle, and did not see the need for an expensive data-hungry phone, when any wi-fi connection could connect me in an instant to the online world.  With the iPod, I started an instagram account and enjoyed the spontaneous world of snapshot sharing.  As the years have gone by, I have been keenly aware of how the quality of my low-resolution images compare to those made by newer smartphones and mobile devices.  Yet I continued to share my world and in-the-moment photos in low-resolution, because in many instances it was the only camera I had with me, and therefore it was the best camera for that moment.  I’ve now upgraded my phone, and while the camera can not compare to my DLSR, it offers me new creative opportunities as I share higher-quality images and may find myself even further inspired to capture those candid and intimate moments that every day has to offer.  Join me on the journey!

One Structure, Many Forms

Working through my archives, I recently spent some time processing a handful of cityscapes and architectural shots from a trip to San Francisco last year. These two images were shot on the same day, and depict different angles on the same windows and balconies of one building.

This image intrigued me, with looming rows of railings, the couple hidden in the shadows, and the layers of squared corners and circles at the top. The tone and texture of the building against the blue sky seems to add another layer of interest, as it is difficult to decide whether this building might be a modern experiment from years past, or some possibly futuristic structure.

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The second image frames one edge of the angular building in the heavy concrete of a foreground structure. I chose to work in black and white for this view, as the elements of interest are all caught up in the layered angles, and in the balance of light and shadow as the afternoon light settles across the skyline.

It is important for me to routinely challenge my eye with these comparisons, as it can take so little to bring an entirely new meaning to a photograph. Which interpretation of this building do you prefer?

Adrift in a jellyfish exhibit

I had the pleasure of an after-hours visit to the Monterey Bay Aquarium last week to view the new jellyfish exhibit. The previous jellyfish exhibit that closed a few years ago was a favourite haunt for photographing interesting movement and low-light compositions, and the new exhibit offers many opportunities to observe and photograph these beautifully surreal creatures.

Surrounded by moon jellyfish

This room in particular offers some exciting photographic challenges, as the cylindrical tanks are arranged in a room of mirrors, with tantalizing glimpses of infinity and interesting arrangements of light and shadow. Can you spot the photographer? It can be tricky to get out of the shot here!

adrift

These bright blue and white polka-dotted jellyfish are some of my favourites, with their intricate structures and vivid colours. To see more of these and other jellyfish, check out my archive of oceanic and aquatic animal photographs.

one truck, two treatments

Both of these photos were shot in the same hour, in the late summer heat of an early October afternoon. Sunlight filtered through the dusty rows of a seemingly endless walnut orchard, and this decaying old pick-up truck was interesting from every angle.

The first image was an early attempt at creative lighting and a found object, with off-camera flash and gels. I can think of so many other ways to play with this concept alone…might have to explore more of this kind of work. The second shot is the view I enjoyed from my tent in the orchard.

late afternoon

water + light

Feels a bit like time is slipping through my fingers lately – having completely rebuilt my archives of 30,000+ images, I’ve admittedly needed a little break from the digital darkroom and the endless queue of shots still waiting to be processed. An escape to the edge of the world, where dunes and sand melt away into endless ocean waves might be in order…

This particular sort of mix of light and water could keep me occupied for an eternity – it seems to me to be a place where that which should be easily described achieves a rather intangible quality, and even a simple walk along a beach with the steady flow and motorized hum of four-wheeling traffic can become something more ethereal from the right angle. Our relationship to these places is frequently overshadowed by all of the ways we try to impose a usefulness upon the landscape, when really, just being present at that intersection of time and space is the more fulfilling experience.

Echoes of the past

Some places have a special kind of nostalgia, often unexpected and off the beaten-path.  San Francisco’s Fort Point National Historic Site offers many angles on both the water and striking architecture, from a strategic spot beneath the Golden Gate Bridge at the entrance to San Francisco Bay.  A photographer’s dream location, the light is always interesting and the compositional opportunities are seemingly endless.  I have rolls of film shot here when I was a child, enthusiastically clicking-away in the echoing halls while sight-seeing with my family. I’d love to work with a model or two in this space sometime, but for now I’m content to explore these familiar arching passages and the dramatic setting for structure’s sake.

under the bridge

Explore this incredible spot a little further in my photo archives – and be sure to visit it yourself on your next trip to SF!