Stephen Bay Portrait
© Kamala Venkatesh

Biography

Stephen Bay is a landscape photographer living in San Diego. He is known for his unique perspective and thorough approach to planning photographs that might take months or years for the necessary conditions to materialize.

Stephen was born in Canada and grew up in Toronto. He studied engineering in college, then moved to California for graduate school in computer science at UC Irvine. During school he started to photograph with a Nikon camera and went through countless rolls of slide film to teach himself the craft.

After earning his Ph.D. in 2001, Stephen moved to Northern California to work as a data scientist in Silicon Valley. He married and became a US Citizen in 2008.

Despite a busy technical career, Stephen continued to pursue photography and focused on travel imagery. He photographed in many countries, but his favorite destinations were Peru for its ancient Incan culture and Hong Kong for the vibrant city life. He licenses his images as stock photography and they are used by many large organizations and national media outlets. In 2006, Stephen was commissioned by Twin Lights Publishers to produce a photographic book of Los Angeles.

In 2014, Stephen and his wife quit their jobs in Silicon Valley, sold their home and most of their belongings except for what would fit in their car, and traveled across the United States. They spent a year exploring and photographing the Midwest and western states.

In 2016 they settled in San Diego and Stephen began working on photography full-time. However, he made a shift away from travel photography to focus on local landscapes, whether it be a natural coastline or a dense urban area. He specializes in finding hidden and often fleeting scenes that others may have overlooked. His images are intended to express the beauty of where he lives and to provide a calming refuge from the pressures of modern living.

Stephen is active in the photographic community. He regularly gives presentations on his art and teaches classes on photographic techniques. He showed numerous images at the International Exhibit of Photography at the San Diego County Fair and won several first place awards. He is a member of the Spanish Village Art Center in Balboa Park.

Artist Statement

I try to create images of scenes that have not been photographed before. I want to share the joy that I get from discovering a new place, finding a new perspective on a well known location, or catching a fleeting moment that will never be duplicated again. I pick locations where I live because I want to show people that there's always something new to be discovered despite our familiarity and that there's no limit on creativity. While I'm photographing, all my worldly distractions disappear and I get a feeling akin to a runner's high because I know I'm in the middle of making something unique, something beautiful, and I want to share it with everybody.

My Approach to Photography

I get my inspiration from a variety of sources but mostly my ideas come to me when I'm walking and I notice a particular detail that I think could be the basis for a scene. Sometimes this might be an obvious subject like when I scramble along the coast and find the perfect tide pool but it could also be a subtle feature like the curve of the terrain that matches with the direction of the sun.

Compositionally, I tend to prefer wide expansive views. I want to see it all. Sometimes it seems like my wide angle lens is glued to my camera. I'm also very particular about the lighting in my images as I use light and dark areas to guide the viewer throughout my scene. Finally, I'm enamored with natural frames and I use this technique often. Whether it be the moon appearing through a gap in a stand of trees or a sunset viewed through the mouth of a cave. I feel like the frame is a window to a magical scene.

Once I have the germ of an idea, I start by brainstorming and then deciding what colors, tones, and lighting I would like in the scene. Then I ask myself what environmental conditions I need to achieve that. This could cover a variety of factors such as the weather, time of day, time of year, phase of the moon, and so forth.

I'll then return to the spot when the conditions are optimal. If I'm lucky everything will line up on the first attempt. But frequently they might not materialize, especially if I'm looking for a specific cloud formation. In this case, I may not even pull out my camera and I return home without taking a picture. I'll keep coming back until the conditions align. Sometimes i can return quickly, perhaps the next day, but other times it might be months or years (e.g. images involving an alignment with the sun or moon). Half a dozen attempts wouldn't be unusual and I have one scene where I'm probably close to twenty attempts. If everything does align, I'll pull out my camera and photograph. I normally focus on just a single composition per outing.

Capturing images is just the beginning. I work digitally and process them in several steps to match my original vision. First, if I've taken multiple images I may blend or combine them for technical and creative reasons. From the technical side, I may average multiple identical images together to reduce noise (graininess) or stitch images to obtain a wider field of view that wouldn't be possible in a single photograph. Creatively, I may take multiple pictures to capture changing conditions in the scene. This could be the movement of light as the sun goes in and out of clouds, or the motion of waves against the shore. This is usually over a period of 10-15 minutes but could be as long as a few hours. Next, I remove dust spots and clone out minor distractions such as an errant branch or any garbage I was not able to pick up. I also fix any distortion from the lens that results in crooked or wavy horizons. Last, I apply creative adjustments which may include modifying global and local contrast, adjusting and changing colors, and transforming the image into black and white. I make decisions here according to my aesthetics and original concept.

Finally, I'd would like to be transparent about my editing and whether my scenes are real. I've thought about this issue for a long time so I have some strong feelings about this. I believe the power of photography comes from a connection to a real place or event. And since photography is the medium for my art, I maintain that connection in my art. So in my images, the objects you see were really there, in that exact same position and size. I will not add in a gigantic moon that was never in that location. I won't paste in a sky from a different location. I won't add a figure to landscape that wasn't there and I don't stage people in my images.

Stephen Bay photographing at Hospitals Reef in La Jolla