Photo: Dublin and Pleasanton California on Film

Camera: Leica R7, 70-210mm

Film: Cinestill 800T

Location: Dublin, California (San Francisco Bay Area) with a portion of Pleasanton, California visible, ca 2018

This photo shows Dublin, California, a suburban town in the San Francisco Bay Area. Astute readers have also pointed out that it shows a portion of Pleasanton, California at the right of the frame. (The 580 Freeway, which divides the frame here, also divides Dublin and Pleasanton.)

Dublin is one of the fastest growing towns in the State. Just a decade ago, it was a sleepy, sparsely-populated exurb. Then the Bay Area Rapid Transit train line was extended to Dublin/Pleasanton, giving the city easy transit access to San Francisco in 1997.

Not much changed at first. But in the 2010s, big tech companies like Twitter and elements of Facebook moved into the city after their IPOs. That drove up city rents, and drove new residents further out. Suddenly, anywhere that had transit access to San Francisco became a boom town. And nowhere is that more true than Dublin.

The town has literally sprung from empty fields over the last decade, and continues to do so. It’s become a place to situate big regional corporate offices, and there are thousands of new homes being built. It shows the power of transit access (and high rents) to push workers out into the periphery of a metro area.

In this aerial photo of Dublin, we see many of the forces currently affecting the city at play. A BART train speeds by in center frame. Again, it was BART that was largely responsible for the city’s rapid growth. We also see the 580 Freeway, a major artery for commuters driving to downtown San Francisco.

Dublin is well situated in another way, too. It’s right at the junction point between the Bay Area and the corridor leading to Los Angeles and points South. The 580, seen here, connects to the 5, a major freight transport point to LA and Southern California. Amazon and other big companies have situated their Bay Area distribution centers just a bit East of Dublin for this reason.

Indeed, in the photo we see several freight trucks carrying intermodal containers towards San Francisco on the 580. In the background, we also see a major regional office for technology company Oracle across the 580 Freeway in Pleasanton, Dublin’s neighboring city. Again, the Dublin/Pleasanton area’s growth has made it a newly popular location for technology companies who want a presence in the Bay Area but need more space than the city affords.

The film I chose here makes an impact, too. This was shot on Cinestill 800T, a very special film. It’s basically Kodak motion picture film stock, which has been modified for use in a still camera (primarily through the removal of its anti-halation layer). It’s one of the only tungsten balanced films left, which means it looks entirely different than a daylight balanced film, and was a great fit for the low light, evening rush hour time period when I shot the photo.

For a camera, I used my Leica R7. The best thing about the R7 is that it allows you to let the camera get totally out of the way of the photo if you want. Set properly, the R7 reads very little of its own style into the photo, which is what I wanted for this more documentary style shot. The Cinestill also gives the shot a more cinemetic feel, since it’s literally shot on film designed for movies.

For the composition, I like that both the BART track and freeway are rising up towards the right of the frame, which is also the direction to San Francisco. This captures the feeling of Dublin and the area as a town on the rise, influenced by the growth of the city itself.

Perhaps the most important element in the frame, though, is the little snippet of field to the left. This empty lot is slated to be developed into a massive IKEA superstore, evidence that despite it’s growth to date, Dublin still has lots of empty land to develop and lots of new possibilities in its future.

Thomas Smith

Thomas Smith is a food and travel photographer and writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. His photographic work routinely appears in publications including Food and Wine, Conde Nast Traveler, and the New York Times and his writing appears in IEEE Spectrum, SFGate, the Bold Italic and more. Smith holds a degree in Cognitive Science (Neuroscience) and Anthropology from the Johns Hopkins University.


  1. That’s Pleasanton, the picture was taken in Dublin but looking at Pleasanton. 580 is the divider of Dublin and Pleasanton. The Oracle and Kaiser offices are located in Pleasanton.

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