"I'm starting with the man in the mirror" by Keoki Seu

Readers often admire the photography on Berkeleyside and ask us who takes the images. Chances are they are probably referring to the work of Keoki Seu, whose photographs often accompany our daily news Wire, frequently pop up in our weekly “Where in Berkeley?” slot and occasionally are at the heart of a news story.

Keoki’s photography is often nothing short of extraordinary, and we thought you might like to know a little more about the person behind these arresting images — not least the fact that he is not actually a professional photographer. Berkeleyside feels honored to publish Keoki’s work and we asked him to share some of his story, as well as some of his favorite photographs which we reproduce here.

Keoki Seu. Photo by Shannon Jax

Keoki, how long have you lived in Berkeley and where did you move from?

I’ve lived in Berkeley just over three and a half years. I moved here after I completed graduate school in Virginia.

Which neighborhood do you live in?

I live in north Berkeley, at the end of the Gourmet Ghetto. I find that quite a bit of my photography comes from that area, because I walk through there daily.

"Zero sum game" by Keoki Seu

What do you do for a living?
I’m a postdoctoral research scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. I work at the X-Ray facility at the Lab called the Advanced Light Source.

When did you take up photography?
I’m relatively new to photography. I bought my first point-and-shoot about six years ago and used it sporadically. About two years ago, after my brother bought a nice digital SLR and I saw how well it captured images, so I decided to get one as well. I bought my SLR camera off eBay about a year and a half ago, and that is the camera I still use.

So what’s the camera?
I have a Nikon D80. It’s an older model SLR camera. I think it came out in mid-2006. I wasn’t sure how interested I would be in photography when I was looking for a camera, so I decided to buy the model that had just become obsolete because it was much cheaper than the shiny new models. It’s been a great camera to learn on, and I’m already looking forward to my next camera purchase when this one eventually breaks.

As for lenses, I have three prime lenses: a 35 mm, 50 mm, and 85 mm. Occasionally I will borrow a lens from Looking Glass Photo, but generally I take all of my photos from these three lenses.

"It ain't easy" by Keoki Seu

What type of photos do you like taking?
I consider myself a street photographer. I love walking through Berkeley and San Francisco, taking photos of what I see. I also enjoy architecture and street art or graffiti. Shooting graffiti is always a challenge in Berkeley, because the people who take it down quickly.

When do you take photos? Is your camera always with you or do you set out on expeditions?

I have my camera with me most days and after work I go shooting either in downtown Berkeley or one of the major streets in Berkeley (College, Telegraph, Shattuck, San Pablo). Then weekends I’ll travel to San Francisco or Oakland, as well as other places in the Bay Area

"I didn't mean to stare" by Keoki Seu

Do you like editing and photo-shopping your pictures or are you a purist?
I’ve come to believe that a major component of digital photography is learning how to post-process your images.   When one takes a photo, the camera processes the raw data into a JPG image. This processing is out of your control, and depends on the camera settings. What I (and many) photographers do is set the camera to shoot raw images to stop the camera processing, and process each one later to get the look I envisioned when I pressed the shutter button.

Do you belong to a photo community?
I consider my real start into photography as the moment when I joined an online photo community. I joined Flickr in January 2010 and since then I’ve met many Bay Area photographers who inspire me daily with the images they share. The Bay Area Flickr community is a great community. There are photo walks and meet-ups almost every month where I can talk and learn from other photographers.

I also belong to the photography club at Berkeley Lab. The club has a photo show once a year, and they also show their work at LBL conferences and the recent Open House a couple of weeks ago.

"Take my breath away" by Keoki Seu

Are there any photographers, famous or otherwise,whose work you admire?

I don’t know many famous photographers, unfortunately. But all of my Flickr contacts, especially the ones I’ve met face to face, are inspiring. Looking at their photos give me ideas of things I want to shoot, and talking with them is a great opportunity to learn of new locations and techniques.

What really inspired me to take more interest in photography and join Flickr initially was the four people who are part of the Bay Area photo group called CALIBER — Julie Michelle, Travis Jensen, Troy Holden, and Stuart Dixon post powerful and provocative images and portraits every day.

"Go slow" by Keoki Seu

What appeals to you about taking photos in Berkeley in particular?
Mostly because I live in Berkeley and it’s convenient. I must admit that Berkeley is not as photogenic as San Francisco, but it’s where I live. I kind of think of photography as fishing; there are always some big ones out there and whether or not you capture it depends on the skill of the photographer (or fisherman). For Berkeley, when I go out shooting I’m generally happy if I can capture 3-4 great images.  If I can get that many, the photo walk was a success.

What’s next for you with your photography?
I still plan on taking many more photos. I’m looking into buying a wide-angle lens. This wide field of view is something that I’m lacking in my photos. I’d also like to get better at taking candid shots of people in the street. I’ve found that the best way to do this is to get better at aiming the camera without looking through the viewfinder. It’s a little less conspicuous and allows me to look all around for people and scenes to shoot.

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Tracey Taylor is co-founder of Berkeleyside and co-founder and editorial director of Cityside, the nonprofit parent to Berkeleyside and The Oaklandside. Before launching Berkeleyside, Tracey wrote for...