The Lone Toilet

Found it! A few weeks ago I caught an episode of Bay Curious where they talked about “The Lone Toilet” — a mysterious outhouse hanging out all by its lonesome in the marshes off Sears Point. At the time the episode was recorded, the reason for the toilet’s existence was apparently a mystery to everyone. Who built it? When, and why?

I had a general idea of where it was, but nothing specific. Headed out to explore the marshes along Hwy 37, keeping an eye out, but couldn’t find it. Did find a bunch cool bridges and antennae, and mini-murmurations of Starlings, but had given up on the outhouse. Then, while taking a shot under a bridge, turned back to the car and spotted a structure off in the distance. There it was!

Trudging through, I eventually found a plank someone had left to help visitors cross a deep rivulet, and was able to make my way out here. Seemed to be about 100 years old or so, and surrounded by absolutely nothing else.

Last night, I googled it and found this article, saying the mystery has since been solved – built by an eccentric sailor name of Fresh Air Dick (because he liked to sleep out in the air on his boat), who made his living carving wooden duck decoys. At the time, there was a marsh town called Tubs Island around here, but its remains have long since sunk beneath the mud. The outhouse was built in the 1920s – why it still stands when everything else sunk, I do not know.

Images shot with FujiFilm X-T3. Follow me on Flickr!

One Year of Pandemic Photos

It’s been a hell of a year, everyone. The pandemic has affected everyone differently, but no one has been untouched by it. My personal therapy through the Quarantimes has been to explore the wonders of the Bay Area with a camera. 2020 was the year I finally made the switch from iPhone to proper cameras (for real this time). I put much of my spare time into learning about lenses, about the power and flexibility of the RAW format, and finally made the jump from Apple Photos to Lightroom. Also spent some of the time messing with editing apps like Snapseed, Tiny Planet, and RNI Aero. On the weekends, on hikes and bike rides, and on morning/evening dog walks, I explored every nook and cranny of this amazing place. I tried to make it a discipline to post one image to Flickr and Instagram in the morning before work, and another after work. Didn’t always succeed, but tried. Here are shots from Point Pinole, Albany Bulb, Berkeley Hills, Mare Island, Pt. Reyes, Guerneville, Alameda, Crab Cove, Tiburon, Morro Bay, and everywhere I landed. If you’re curious, yes, I’m very careful, always masked, almost always alone or well-distanced (I’m safe). Photography has been my therapy, my go-to, my geek-out, and a re-awakening of a long-dormant creative side. For better and for worse, here are some of the images I shot in the first year of the global pandemic. May all humans be vaccinated before we lose another soul. Can’t wait to see you all again.

I’ve gathered up most of the posted images from the first pandemic year in a Flickr album – a few samples embedded here.

Flickr Album Here

Industrial Brownhoist
Industrial Brownhoist at Mare Island
Forest service information station on the Pacific Crest Trail
Warming hut along the Pacific Crest Trail
Skimboarder at Crab Cove
Skimboarder at Crab Cove

Flickr Album Here

Richmond Shipyards / General Warehouse

One of the “buried treasures” of living in the SF Bay Area is discovering the strange remnants of WWII that still exist in remnant form. One of those I’ve been visiting lately is the Richmond Shipyards – an area spanning several acres of crumbling concrete piers and docs, old-school Mike Mulligan and the Steamshovel-era cranes, rusty tugboats, and the monolithic Art Deco / brutalist General Warehouse.

In their heyday, more warships were produced in these yards than anywhere else in America – as many as three per day (747 total). And the final stop before each ship set out to see was the General Warehouse – a four-story edifice full of ropes and stoves and beds and compasses and clocks and radar screens and everything else a ship needed to support a crew and carry out its mission.

Today, General Warehouse is still standing proud, though its sign has crumbled and there’s no getting inside (though one photographer did a few years ago). Anyway, a few shots from the yards one night last week. Amazing place.

Devil’s Slide Bunker

After an amazing hike with Dave at Mount Montara in Pacifica last weekend, headed off to Maverick’s to watch some big-wave surfing (it was flat, despite 6-foot waves farther up the coast!), then stopped at the bizarre Devil’s Slide Bunker on the way back up Hwy 1.

A teenager had figured out a way to climb inside (not obvious!), then up on top. Caught him in mid-air jumping down, before he ventured back in to help his little brother, who was temporarily stuck.

From a distance, I thought it was an abandoned attempt at a modernist home, but found this description in Atlas Obscura later:

“The bunker on Devil’s Peak was originally built during World War II as a triangulation and observing station and was once simply a piece of a much bigger set of buildings and facilities. When in service, a watcher equipped with a set of binoculars would keep watch out at sea and if they spotted any enemy ships they simply radioed a massive six-inch gun not far away which would sink them before they got close. Unfortunately, with the advent of more modern missile defenses the station became obsolete and the entire site was abandoned in 1949, leaving an empty bunker atop Devil’s Slide.”

Amazing piece of history, and a local wonder.

In Defense of Flickr

Update: This post has been substantially updated and re-posted as the Medium article “Flickr Is No Ghost Town” – please read that version instead of this one!


Original post:

People like to say flip things like “Flickr is dead” just like they’ve been saying “Apple is dead” for decades. It’s true that Flickr’s heyday has passed, but there are still hundreds of thousands (millions?) of photographers posting there daily. Interaction is lively, there’s an interest group for every photography niche you can think of, and users are really supportive with the compliments and CC. Flickr still has upwards of 75 million accounts, and can receive up to 25 million photo uploads on a good day (stats).

Sunset at Berkeley Marina

Flickr dominated the online photo sharing scene for around 15 years. But as Facebook’s popularity rose, FB became the world’s dominant photo sharing platform, eclipsing Flickr’s numbers (which were already astounding). After a recent brush with financial ruin, Flickr was purchased by SmugMug, and they’ve been great stewards of the platform so far, with improvements being released on the regular.

Sunset at Berkeley Marina

Somewhere in there, along came Instagram to soak up much of the remaining photographic juice in the room. Everyone is on it, so you’d be nuts not to use it, right? I use it too.

So why not just use Facebook and Instagram and call it a day? A bunch of reasons!:

  • Instagram images are tiny postage stamp versions of the images you’ve put so much work into. It’s almost an insult to your photos to display them so small with no full-size web option. But we all do it because we have to (and it’s fun).
  • Instagram has hashtags, but no real “groups” – no organized photo communities.
  • Facebook does full-screen, but they still compress and rewrite your images on upload, even if you enable the HD mobile setting.
  • Not everyone is on Facebook. Millions of people won’t use it for either personal or political reasons (I’m sure we’ve all seen numerous friends leave the platform in the past couple of years). People without FB accounts simply can’t see your work here. Out of bounds. Walled gardens have their place, but I don’t want my photos in one.
  • What if you decide to leave Facebook in a couple of years? What happens to all the work you posted here? Or will the fact that your photos are on FB prevent you from leaving the service even if you want to for other reasons? You’re “locked in.” Putting your images on Flickr instead means your images are decoupled from your social network, which gives you freedom.
  • Both Facebook and Instagram strip out all of your EXIF data, while Flickr does not. I really enjoy studying the EXIF data for other people’s images, or reminding myself of settings that were used on my own.
  • Only Flickr provides full and detailed statistics — not just of likes, but for all views, since the beginning of time (just realized my account is coming up on one million total views since I started there in 2005, wow!)

On Flickr, your images are available in super high resolution, with a wide variety of copyright options. There’s a huge number of interest groups, and detailed statistics. The challenge of getting an image into “Explore” (Flickr’s homepage featuring the best images on the service, changing constantly) is ongoing, and so rewarding when it happens. Discovering great new photographers daily is inspirational. Flickr is photo paradise to this day, IMHO.

Protester returning home, El Cerrito

All of which makes me wonder why so many photographers I meet aren’t using it. It seems like the best of all the options (yes there are other options, but they don’t compete with Flickr IMO, except maybe SmugMug (I’m curious about the features and community there too, honestly – promising).

Tower of Power

Are you on Flickr? And if not, why not?

FWIW #1: I usually post the same image to Instagram and Flickr at the same time, but only share the URL of the Flickr version, since it’s high-res. I only post images on Facebook occasionally, and just for the audience of my friends, rather than for the photo community.

FWIW #2: No I’m not a Flickr employee! Just a long-time user who never fell out of love.

FWIW #3: I’m shacker on Flickr and would love to follow you if you’re there too.

COVID-19 shopper at Trader Joe’s

Honest Photography

Almost no one posts images straight out of the camera (SOOC) — there’s always work to do, improvements to be made. But how far can you go before crossing an ethical line?

As our photo editing tools grow artificial intelligence, and tricks that used to be difficult become progressively easier to pull off, photography forums continue to erupt in debates over what kinds of edits cross the line from acceptable and unacceptable? How far can you before an image becomes untrue? I just posted this in the /photography subreddit, on a topic titled “No It’s Not Cheating“:

There is only one question that matters as far as I’m concerned (but several ways to ask it): Is this an honest photograph? And by that I mean “Is the viewer being intentionally deceived?

If you convert to b/w, the viewer is not deceived. If you add a frame the viewer is not deceived. If you focus stack, the viewer is not deceived. If you modify saturation or contrast, the viewer is not deceived.

On the other hand, If you remove a blemish from a human face the viewer IS deceived. If you replace out the sky, the viewer IS deceived. If you change skin tone in such a way as to misrepresent, or “heal” out a passing airplane, the viewer IS deceived.

The difference between acceptable and unacceptable editing is easy when looked at this way. Does this photograph still tell the truth, or does it now tell a lie? Am I attempting to deceive or not? For me, this makes it easy to tell the difference.

I’m shacker on Flickr and Instagram if you want to follow along.

Bird in a Bush

The “doldrums” describes the area around the equator where wind sometimes doesn’t blow for weeks, and sailors get stuck, motionless, for long periods of time. Was just thinking about how being on lockdown is kind of like getting stuck in the doldrums. At least we can still get out to exercise, and we have entertainment, but the motion of life is pretty much on hold and out of our hands. Imagine what it was like to be a sailor stuck in the doldrums at any point in the past millennium, just staring out to sea, making up head games to pass the time. We’ve got it good. Maybe it’s time to write a new shanty.

Meanwhile I’ve been doing a lot of photography, and a lot of messing with photo tools and apps, just exploring and experimenting. Yesterday I spotted this little bird in a bush while out walking the dog, and later did this treatment of it in BeCasso.

Sync’ing Photos Between Computer and Phone (etc.)

Here are a few questions that come up over and over on photo forums. To me, these all amount to the same question. Or, at least they all have the same answer:

  • How can I post photos from my DSLR to Instagram (how to get DSLR images onto my phone?)
  • I have a computer, a phone, and a tablet. How can I transfer images between them?
  • If I delete or edit a photo on one device, how can I get those changes over to my other device?
  • “What do you all use for storage? An external hard drive?”

They’re good questions, and every new photographer has come up against them at some point. What surprises me is how many seasoned photographers still don’t have a good answer to them — surprising because I consider them a totally solved problem.

It’s 2020. All of your photos should live happily together in one library. That library should live in the cloud, so that when you add to or delete from or edit an image on one of your devices, that change is reflected on all of your devices. When you add an image from your DSLR to your photo collection, it should appear on your phone a few seconds later, ready to post to Instagram or whatever. You shouldn’t have to think about it – it should just work.

Equally important: No one should be having to keep photos in a bare folder somewhere, then drag them into Photoshop or Lightroom or whatever. All (pretty much all?) editing should happen directly in your Digital Asset Manager (DAM) – the tool you use to organize your photos into albums, and give them titles and descriptions and tags, to do all of your editing, organizing, sifting, sorting, importing and exporting to and from.

As far as I can tell, the best-integrated solution for this “one shared backing store” workflow is iCloud Photo Library from Apple. It works inside the Photos apps for MacOS and iOS, but changes the storage arrangement so that “master” copy of each image lives in the cloud, not on your hard drive (of course you must download the full-resolution master image to edit them, but that is a seamless process.

This makes some people feel nervous. We’re so used to controlling and backing up our own hard drives, it can be hard to hand over control. But think about it for a minute: How susceptible is your hard drive to fire, theft, or flood? How religious are you about backing it up? If you’re backing up off-site, what are you paying for that service? Do you really trust your little $100 hard drive and your own habits more than you trust a company holding the fate of hundreds of thousands of photographers’ work in their hands? If they made a mistake that bad, they’d be out of business. You can bet their backups are taken many times a day and distributed around the globe. And if you delete something by accident, you have a 30-day rolling Trash Can to fall back on. Seriously, I feel way safer with my photos in Apple’s hands than I did before.

At the risk of sounding like a fanboy, it’s hard to overstate just how liberating it is to have all of your synchronization issues just go away one day. The questions at the top of the page are just no longer questions. Use it for a few days and you’ll never want to go back.

$10/month, or $15/month for your whole family, is chicken scratch — you can hardly buy lunch for $10 these days. Great how-to guide here.

I jumped into iCloud Photo Library the day it was released and it solved all of the multi-camera / multi-computer problems I’d been banging my head against for years.

Other Options?

If you’re worried that the Photos app won’t be good enough to replace Lightroom, you might want to have another look at the the advanced editing tools in Photos — they’re extremely good! (I’d be curious to know whether there’s still anything you can do in Lightroom that you can’t do in the free Photos app?). Plus Photos supports plugins — I run Skylum Luminar not as a standalone app, but as a plugin for the Photos app. It’s mind-blowing what Luminar can do.

I believe that Windows users can also use iCloud Photo Library, but the integration workflow is a little less elegant. If you use Photo Library on Windows, please leave a comment and let us know what you think.

If you just feel super-married to Lightroom, the good news is that they now offer a cloud storage option as well, but I have no idea whether or how well it integrates with the Photos collection on your iOS or Android phone (if you know, let us know?)

Bottom line for me: Life is too short to be messing around with some of the convoluted workarounds people come up with to post their DSLR images on Instagram, or to deal with any of the other questions up top. You shouldn’t have to think about it – it should just work!

The Sky Is a Lie

The first image below is real – I shot it on the Bay Trail, riding through Pt. Isabelle into the fog last weekend. The rest of these are total lies – I made them from the original in about five seconds each. Most images you see in the world are retouched in some way, but the community of Luminar users has rightly erupted into controversy over the “AI Sky Replacement” feature in Luminar 4, which was just released. Already there’s a growing marketplace of “sky packs” you can purchase as plugins. The line between retouching and total fabrication of truth gets more blurry every year. We’ve always had Photoshop, but what changes is the access and the ease of photo and video manipulation tools. It used to take real skill to lie with photos; now it’s effortless.