“Photography is the universal short story. It can capture fleeting moments, share unique perspectives, and delight in the details that others might miss entirely. Photos help us connect with our environment and give energy and context to our communication.”

We are excited to feature the 2021 winner of our Annual Bay Photo Contest, Adam Van de Water! Thank you to all the talented photographers who entered our Bay Photo Contest this year. Your images highlight the beauty and diversity of our region and remind us how important it is to protect.


Learn more about Adam’s work and inspiration

First, please tell us a bit about yourself. How long have you been a photographer? What inspires you?

I moved to California for graduate school at Cal in 1999 and fell in love with the beauty of the Bay Area and ultimately a fellow classmate, now my wife. I’ve been practicing photography since my black-and-white college darkroom days but now mostly try to squeeze a few of my learned concepts of positive/negative space into iPhone snapshots in the hopes that they capture the moment a little more visually. I’m drawn to the ephemeral and love to capture moments of serendipity or just good timing.

Tell us a bit about the photo. What inspired you to take it? Why did you choose to submit it to our contest?

It was March 2021, our girls (12 and 14) were going stir crazy with remote school, and they desperately needed to get out of the house. I wanted to see Charles Gadeken’s ‘Entwined’ light installation before Golden Gate Park’s 150th anniversary closed so I loaded the girls and a friend for an evening in San Francisco. We had a picnic dinner by the Dutch Windmill and ran across the street to Ocean Beach to catch the sunset. It was so windy but so wide open, so free, and so magical. The kids were running around like uncaged animals and when they cartwheeled in opposite directions in front of the sun it made a delightful jumble of reflected arms and legs, making it hard to tell one apart from the other. I loved how the image captured that spirit: the freedom and joy of boundless open space and the privilege of having it so beautifully close, especially in a pandemic.

What do you hope people reflect on or understand when they see your image?

I hope it helps to remind us not only of the necessity of our Bay Area parks, open spaces, and shorelines but the joy they bring to all ages as a respite from our urban lives. From morning bike rides and occasional hikes to my father-in-law’s birding expeditions (100 unique species in each of the 9 Bay Area counties!), our family is in one of our regional parks every week.

How do you think photography can inspire people to be more sustainable and passionate about protecting and restoring nature?

Photography is the universal short story. It can capture fleeting moments, share unique perspectives, and delight in the details that others might miss entirely. Photos help us connect with our environment and give energy and context to our communication.

Where are your favorite outdoor places in the Bay Area? And which is your favorite to photograph?

I live in Oakland and spend a lot of time in Joaquin Miller Park, around Lake Merritt, and cycling through our regional parks so my eyes are more alert when I go somewhere new or when the conditions are right. Many of my favorite photographs are those fleeting moments when the morning sun burns the fog off the redwoods, the poppies are in bloom, the evening light makes the clover look that much greener, or as the turkey fans his tail to court his mate.

Lastly, is there anything else you’d like to share?

I am humbled to even be included alongside so many talented Bay Area photographers and know that mine received the most online votes not because it was the best photograph but because it starred Generation Z and they turned out to support it. Having the “winning” photograph has certainly been fun but I’m really hoping that the next generation flexes this advocacy into becoming lifelong supporters of our open spaces and those organizations like Save the Bay working so hard to protect them for the next generation.


2021 Bay Photo Contest category winners

Falu Bakrania, Wildlife

Jay Huang, Landscape/Nature

Derin Kiykioglu, Bay Area Culture

Annette Kelly, Architecture


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Communications Coordinator

Communications Coordinator