Tag Archives: Nikon Coolpix 4300

Of Flexible Light, French Vanilla Umbrellas, Hot Chocolate, “Ridgetop” & a River of Rain


Good Morning:

1. Multiple personalities in the sky.

Walking up Van Ness Avenue in front of the west entrance to City Hall: brilliant lapis lazuli sky overhead, sunshine on my back, a rainbow to the west–and rain dumping on my 52″ umbrella from the east.

Welcome to San Francisco.

2. Flexible Light.

I did not know how else to describe it.

During another one of our seasonal rainstorms, the weather suddenly broke and the sky lightened, although still overcast with an even layer of clouds. But the eastern part of the building across from us on Redwood Alley (the Superior Court building) remained shrouded, whilst the western half brightened considerably. But the same sun shone down equally upon the east and the west. Why did one part of the same side turn bright and the other remained dark? One of my co-workers, an excellent photographer, joined me at the window to discuss the odd phenomenon.

“What do professional photographers call this?” he asked.

“I don’t know. Perhaps ‘flexible light?'” I replied.

Flexible light. I do not know the correct term for the rest of the universe, but “flexible light” feels like the correct term for San Francisco.

Cigarette Break in the Rain, Redwood Alley, San Francisco

Cigarette Break in the Rain, Redwood Alley, San Francisco (taken with an iPhone 4, I deliberately pixelated the picture by cropping and blowing up the digital file to create almost a pseudo-watercolor effect)

3. The French Vanilla Umbrella.

You might have noticed that I have an enormous umbrella; 52 inches at full expansion is huge and requires 16 ribs to hold it together. Even in San Francisco, I do not often see its like, and still more rarely do I see its like in something other than black. Therefore, I noticed the 52 inch light yellow umbrella, rather like French Vanilla ice cream, also with 16 ribs, black, at the westbound bus stop at Haight & Divisadero.

But it wasn’t raining.

In fact, the young woman in her twenties who had opened her umbrella stood in the bus shelter; even if it had rained, she did not need her French Vanilla umbrella. But this five foot eight inch tall woman with an olive Mediterranean complexion kept her light yellow umbrella open behind her head, highlighting her long wavy black hair, olive complexion and wide smiling mouth.

She looked magnificent.

City Hall During a River of Rain, Black & White

City Hall During a River of Rain, Black & White

4. Hot Chocolate.

I am not a snob of hot chocolate. If you use a mix to create one of the best reasons and excuses for a winter day, I will not excoriate you with verbose bellicosity or ever worse, use subtly ironic demeaning sarcasm as an assassin uses a stiletto. You don’t have to create hot chocolate from scratch, as wonderful as that tastes and feels. I have a few favorite mixes myself, from Penzey’s and Lake Champlain Chocolates.

But I must insist upon milk.

“Just add water” just doesn’t work. Have you seen that junk? It’s grey chemicals. You dissolve grey chemicals in hot water and then pour them down your throat. Yuck! Pardon the high-falutin’ language. And those grey chemicals are not even the beautiful underrated shade of grey that I like so much (see here and here); this grey looks toxic.

If you do not want to risk ruining hot chocolate by accidentally boiling the milk (I like to add half-and-half or cream for extra richness), and you lack the patience to stir the chocolate constantly, a simple solution exists. Use a double boiler. The double boiler is one of my favorite tools in the kitchen, one I use for roux, cheese sauces, Alfredo sauce, and especially for hot chocolate.

Hot chocolate mix, milk, double boiler. Paradise indoors.

5. Music for a Grey Day.

Jesse Colin Young enjoyed a brief vogue in my Connecticut high school during the early Seventies for his solo albums Light Shine and Song for Juli. He should have enjoyed huge worldwide success on a par with other California artists and groups of the era, but never mind. “California Suite: Grey Day” and “Ridgetop” remain two of my songs for “rotten outside, paradise indoors” days (in fact, I’m listening to the saxophone solo in “Grey Day” right now). The funny thing is that the music felt perfect watching the New England snows of January, when after 30 years in San Francisco it becomes obvious that Young lived in either Marin or Sonoma County when he released the two albums. One comment by “KINDOY2” on a YouTube video cites Point Reyes Station (an unincorporated town near Tomales Bay) as his home at the time.

Hot chocolate, “Ridgetop.” Paradise indoors, improved.

Market Street During Severe Rains

Market Street During Severe Rains

6. A River of Rain.

San Franciscans sometimes use the term to describe a day like today, Sunday 23 December 2012. Depending on the storm system, the rain changes: straight down and hard; from the west at an angle; steady from the north; light enough for the wind to shove every which way; driven almost parallel to the ground by the violent winds in the Financial District; but one storm after another, rarely with a pause between storms. I cannot complain. Aside from the fact that we only need six weeks of rain to avert drought, aside from the fact that the remaining 46 weeks of the year we live in a beautiful “cool summer Mediterranean climate,” I think the bad weather  helped San Francisco develop, establish and maintain its reputation as one of America’s literary capitals.

On a day like today, of course you remain indoors and write a poem, a play, a novel, a blog post. What else can you do? Well, you could make hot chocolate. Which has begun to feel like a very good idea.

A river of rain, writing, “Ridgetop,” and hot chocolate. Paradise indoors, perfected.

Vonn Scott Bair


Weekly Photo Challenge: Big – Alaska


Good Evening:

In 2005, I spent a week in Valdez, Alaska because my one-act play Allegro Passionato had been selected for Presentation at the annual Last Frontier Theater Conference (actually spelled “Theatre” but I refuse to use that spelling whenever possible). A number of playwrights flew into Valdez (pronounced “vall-deez”) from Anchorage in a small propeller plane. The approach to the airport proved most suspenseful as the tip of the left wing was never more than 50 feet away from one mountain whilst the tip of the right was never more than 50 feet away from another mountain. We landed safely at an airstrip that lies less than 100 feet from the base of another 5,000 foot mountain. When I disembarked, I met the conference host and asked what was the name of the mountain next to the airstrip.

He replied, “Vonn, this is Alaska. We don’t name our foothills.”

Yup. Alaska is big.

Snow is big in Valdez–the locals like to boast of having the heaviest annual snowfall in the world. Which explains why the sign below reaches 8 feet high.

You see, if the sign did not reach so high, the snow drifts would cover it and the snowplows would knock over the fire hydrant.

Here are two more from the collection (all shots taken with a Nikon CoolPix 4300 in Landscape Mode and unedited).

Mineral Creek near Valdez, AK

Remember, those are only foothills in the background.

I still can’t believe we bought America’s largest state from the Russians for only $7.2 million.

The Crow’s Shows & Pose


Good Evening:

I like crows and ravens. True, they have little in the way of gaudy colors or feathers; I like them for their intelligence and resourcefulness. So when I disembarked from the 71-Noriega at the last stop (Ocean Beach) and discovered that Muni had run fast and I had arrived half an hour early for my friend’s “table reading” (very early drafts of plays receive these private shows–no acting, just reading the script in one’s living room, sometimes around a table), I went looking for something to photograph and found a crow exploring an uncovered rusty trash can near the beach. Using that marvelous beak (corvid beaks are the Bowie Knives of bird beaks–they can do anything), it deftly pried open a discarded KFC box with a delicate motion, plucked a chicken leg bone that still had a meal’s worth of meat, and flew to a nearby post.

Since the bird had selected a post with a marvelous background, I had to take pictures. It did not appreciate my appreciation of its beauty; it thought I wanted its dinner.

Crow Defending Its Dinner with Show of Aggression

This was one of many shows of defiance, intended to warn me away from his prize. But then something changed in the crow. It stopped acting belligerent and held still. Like this:

The Crow’s Pose

As you can see, that background really is perfect for a crow. But check out this bird! It held still for me as I snapped one picture after another, kept its head held high, and didn’t even ruffle a feather. It did not move at all until after I walked away, when it flew off to feast in private on another bird’s leg.

How did it know I meant it no harm? How did it know that I wanted it to hold still? Did this critter recognize my silvery Nikon as a camera? Was it posing for me??

Pondering Avian Mysteries, I Remain,

Yours Truly,

Vonn Scott Bair

Solitary, Part 1: People.


Good Evening:

The old photo library contains a scintillating surfeit of suitable subjects for selection (ah, poesy): I will divide them into three groups (People, Animals, Things) for easier digestion. Today, the people.

Walking on Folsom Street Near 16th, San Francisco

I had originally planned to zoom in on the corrugated steel and photograph that, but then she appeared in the distance, and yours truly had just barely enough time to capture the shot (Nikon Coolpix 4300 set to black & white). This became one of my earliest pictures in the “Dwarfed” series, so named because humans are one of a very small number of creatures that build structures that dwarf themselves.

I published this one before in The Photographer as Crocodile, but it seems appropriate to the subject. Also a Coolpix 4300.

Because the Laundromat Was Too Hot That Day

This one comes from the iPhone 4, taken in the parking lot of the laundromat on Oak near Divisadero. Looks like a busy weekend of photography.

Vonn Scott Bair

Someone Notices the Contrast of White on White


Good Evening:

My sincerest apologies to Counting Crows for slightly twisting the lyrics of one of their best songs. During my latest probably doomed efforts to organize 22,111 photographs (!), not including the dozens not yet downloaded from my Nikons and my iPhone (!!), I noticed that the Instant Minimalism series included a few hundred exploring textures and shadows involving the “color” (or lack thereof) white.

Exterior Wall of Orpheum Theater, San Francisco

White Onions

The irony is that white is rarely white; shadows have a way of affecting the color. Light is critical to the pictures in the Instant Minimalism series. Light casts the shadows that bring out the textures and help the human eye see what is really there.

I think the above picture represents a portion of a wall at Yerba Buena Park. I think.

“Diamonds 6.” From an exterior wall near Theater Artaud.

I do feel fairly certain that the pictures are color, not B&W–but not completely certain.

I didn’t have geotagging on my Coolpix 4300; who knows where this is.

Nature does a pretty good job with white; here are some mushrooms from the Civic Center Farmers Market. But note how nature knows when to add a little color:

White Cultivated Mushrooms at the Civic Center Farmers Market

The next one illustrates the never-ending change that is San Francisco. The last time I looked, this wall near the Museum of Modern Art looked nothing like this. But it’s been awhile and the wall probably looks still more different today.

Wall Near Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco

The next time you find yourself next to a “plain old white” wall, take a closer look. I hope everyone had a good weekend.

Vonn Scott Bair

The View from the 8th Floor


Good Evening:

Frankly, one can find little to praise in 1155 Market Street, the former home of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (this month, we moved into our new HQ at 525 Golden Gate Avenue). The building is too old and obsolete; it has bizarre floor plans with partitions that waste space; the physical plant and HVAC are inferior unless you like the air conditioning running at full blast during the winter; the building wasted energy everywhere, which is a bit of a problem when the tenant is a public utility; and the colors of the rugs, walls and signs scream Sixties Office Functional Dullsville. Yes, those colors.

Then again, there was the 8th Floor. Just the right height from ground level, some of the rooms (esp. Conference Room A/B) afforded great views of downtown San Francisco, and I spent quite a few breaks and lunches capturing the world with my Nikon CoolPix 4300, CoolPix S9100 and the iPhone 4. Here are a few, starting with City Hall, one of America’s most photogenic buildings.

Rain seemed to have a good effect–literally watercolors.

The Orpheum Theater, one of San Francisco’s great old theaters.

Two large buildings, one offices, one condominiums, arose on Mission Street south of 1155 Market during my time there, and the projects both provided some pictures worth taking.

Workers Awaiting the Next Segment of a Construction Crane to Arrive

“Scaffolding Problem During Construction.” Good news–they fixed it.

Roofer Between the Shadows, UN Plaza, San Francisco Civic Center, Market Street Between 7th & 8th

For many years, a seagull (possibly the same one; my supervisor couldn’t be sure) used the ledge outside her window as a nest to hatch and care for a clutch 3-4 eggs annually. The chert among the plants made for a perfect camouflage. When her chicks held still and ducked their heads they were almost invisible to human eyes.

And a few miscellaneous shots, starting with smoke from a fire north of us.

One morning after a particularly violent evening storm during the winter of 2010-11 (a rough one; my apartment building sustained serious damage), we came to work to discover that one of the windows in A/B had been cracked into thousands of pieces. Fortunately and amazingly, the pieces remained in place long enough for a crew of glaziers to safely remove them. It also made for a curious photograph.

“Chiaroscuro During the Storm.” I swear this is natural light, unedited, and that the scene looked exactly as you see it here.

I might revisit the collection at a later date to see if there exists anything else of interest. I hope you liked studying the pictures here.

Vonn Scott Bair

The Self-Proclaimed Pickpocket on the 6-Parnassus


Good Evening:

San Francisco public transit is experiencing another meltdown, possibly worse than the infamous “Muni Meltdown” of the mid-Nineties (seriously, if you look up “muni meltdown” on Wikipedia, you will find a reference to it). The result is that the evening commutes have been sufficiently packed lately to make tinned sardines revel in their elbow room (well, they would revel in their elbow room if they had elbows).

6-Parnassus, 7 May 2006, Mid-Afternoon. Nikon CoolPix 4300

So I was standing inside such a packed bus during another meltdown evening commute recently. In front of me sat a middle-aged African American woman. Next to her sat a possibly Filipino woman in her early thirties, I would guess. Behind me stood two African American men in their early twenties. Next to me stood a short boy, possibly Filipino, who struggled to reach the black loops for standees to hold onto for dear life. Oddly enough, the only person whose race matters in this story is yours truly the white boy.

One of the young men behind me wanted the whole bus to know that he was a tough guy, not to be messed with at all, and his partner was willing to play along in the play acting.

“So I’m gon’ f— his head up, gon’ f— his head up real good. He can’t do tha’, can’t do tha’ to me and not ge’ f—ed real good.”

“Hear dat.”

“Then I gon’ go to the cannabis club, score some bud, jus’ chill, y’know, cuz I’m gon’ wanna chill after I f— him up.”

“How you get a card, man? I ain’t got one.”

“Went to this doctor chick, tol’ her I had that Fiber Malaysia stuff you see on the tube.”

“That all it took? Man, can you hook me up with the lady doc?”

“No prob, man, jus’ tell ‘er you got that Fiber Malaysia. You gon’ share some o’ your bud, aintcha?”

“Yeah, we cool.”

Just then, the middle-aged woman got off the bus. I called out, “Who wants a seat?” The struggling short boy immediately pounced upon his opportunity. The Filipino woman said, “Thank you very much sir for letting my son sit next to me.”

“Aw man, you see dat? White man did a favor for a person of color! F—. Now I can’t pick his pocket. I was gon’ pick his pocket, but I can’t do that now. Jus’ ain’t right.”

He and his buddy laughed their heads off and disembarked. Just think about that. If it weren’t for me, you would never have learned that pernicious pickpockets proudly proclaim their perfidious planned pilferage to packed passengers on public prams.

Ah, poesy.

Vonn Scott Bair

PS–Nah, I also knew he wasn’t serious. Just trying to mess with everyone’s heads.