I turned 33 today and decided that I should be out of town for my birthday weekend. My day job is still too hectic at the moment to go anywhere too far away, so I took advantage of my cousin’s generosity and that of his wonderful wife Laura and crashed at their San Francisco condo.
Before heading up I made a list of subjects I’d like to cover, much of which consisted of urban exploration. That is, abandoned buildings, train stations, etc. Unfortunately, with limited mobility and time this was not to be in the cards. So, with the help of websites like this one by Thomas Hawk I reduced my list to a manageable size and prepared to be selective and patient, neither of which I particularly care to engage in very often.
Previous trips to San Francisco had resulted in tough shooting conditions, or basically “every day” in San Francisco: cold weather, fog, rain. As luck would have it, this past weekend was the nicest one San Francisco has seen in the history of always. This meant very little in the way of clouds (sort of boring for photography), and a rare heat. It may have been in the 80s on Sunday.
The reason I mention this is because San Francisco is a city that can be done on foot to a certain degree, and I probably put in about 10 miles in two days. “But Jake,” you’re saying, “that’s barely anything. Even my wheelchair bound grandmother runs 15 miles a day, surely you can handle a paltry 10.” Ordinarily this would be true save for two facts: first, I was lugging around my gear, which weighs in at about 30 pounds. Second, if you’ve never been to San Francisco it’s hard to imagine how hilly it is, but trust me, it is. If this applies to you, imagine a perfectly straight line that goes up and down for like 20,000 feet. That’s every street in San Francisco. Add a 30-pound pack and hot weather to that, and now you can understand why your grandmother wouldn’t stand a chance. Also, she told me that she doesn’t love you. So there.
In any event, my plans didn’t call for shooting the Golden Gate Bridge as much as I did, but I really couldn’t avoid focusing on it. In the end, this trip became a study on the bridge and less a study on the city itself.
Before I get to the bridge, let’s meet Wally and Ziggy, my cousin’s two dogs. Wally (pictured here) is small and full of energy, but knows how to chill. Ziggy is small and full of energy, but is like a nuclear explosion who’s energy just keeps on growing.
Low shot of debris in a standing pool.
Although it bugs me that people tag historical sites, I can’t help but be impressed by talent.
Next, we headed to Baker Beach so that I could scout a place to shoot the Golden Gate at sunset. The northern end of the beach is nude, so it was funny to have shot the bridge and then look at the photos afterwards, only to see the occasional very pink San Franscisan hanging out in the bottom corner. I figured it was safest to post a photo of flowers. :)
Another shot of the bridge, this time from the National Cemetery at the Presidio. The cemetery was peaceful and quite pretty in its way, and has some of the oldest burials I’ve personally ever seen in the States.
Another shot of the bridge, this time near the “Warming Hut” on Fort Point. In the distance is the yacht club where I got the shots at the bottom of this post.
I decided that I picked the wrong place to shoot sunset, so I decided to try my luck at the Palace of Fine Arts. I hoofed it over there and had time to kill before the light show, so spent time figuring out my best angles. At one point I was sitting on a bench waiting for the sun to go down when this eccentric woman rode by on her pink bike with music blaring, lights on her spokes, and bubbles flowing. As she circled across the pond and into the palace proper, I got my telephoto lens out and waited to see if anything interesting would happen. This little girl was with her family and as the lady rode past, just darted happily after her in dancing, bubbily bliss. You could tell by the way her dad was frantically chasing her that it wasn’t a sanctioned event. :)
I took a lot of the photos as the sun set, but this one is my favorite. I like the sort of mystery in the building not being fully illuminated.
A Sunday morning view of the city (and in the distance, the Bay Bridge) from atop one of the ungodly tall hills. That tall pointy building is the TransAmerica building, which stands at over 800 feet tall. Note how relatively close I am to the top. This was supposed to be an “easy” walk to breakfast. ;)
I opted to skip out on the Superbowl and instead get to another spot across the bay to catch the Golden Gate as the sun went down. With a car at my disposal I ended up at the yacht club on Fort Baker with plenty of time to spare. At the top of the hill lie the abandoned remnants of Battery Yates, a former gun emplacement that stood watch over the bay. Here’s a detail of one of the buildings that the guns once stood on top of.
A warning from a time when the buildings held deadly artillery.
As the sun started to get low I cursed the beautiful, empty skies, and pondered how to make my photos more interesting. I decided to try two things.
First, work on a meaningful foreground. As any student of photography will have heard, the best photos tend to have a fore-, middle-, and background. While this seems obvious, foregrounds are not my strongest suit (although I think I nailed it in the cemetery photo). As a result, I spent considerable time trying to find a spot that would give me something of interest in the foreground and line up with the more important middleground.
The second thing I worked on was color cast. Very few photographers know this, but most dSLR cameras have the ability to change color cast in the camera, including color bracketing. I don’t normally like to do it in camera, preferring instead to do it in post-processing. However, with time to spare, I played around a bit. Each of these below was touched, but actually very little. The changing light as the sun set made the biggest difference.
For those of you wanting to try this, the fastest way to do it is via the color balance settings, which can usually be changed via a button or dial. Otherwise, look for color bracketing in your camera menu.
Here’s a shot of a rowing crew coming home.
The gentleman in this photo is called Michael Feldman. I chatted with him for a bit after capturing his silhouette against the bridge. Here’s the scene he was painting. Earlier in the day, I had sat in the same place as his subject. Perched atop the bluff with nothing but the bridge, bay and strong wind on my face, I felt very small in such a large space. I live for experiences like that, which is why I love travel photography so much.
Although this photo has the least obvious foreground of any I took that night, it’s probably my favorite of the bunch. With the bridge lights on and the gradual transition to night in the sky, this photo captures the peace I earnestly felt at that moment. If you’ve never been to this site, I would strongly encourage you to make the drive.