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Category Archives: San Francisco Area
Photographing from Hawk Hill was truly one of those great moments in the life of a photographer. In front, the extra-large June “super moon” cleared the city of San Francisco and the Golden Gate as a bank of fog added picturesque accents. Behind, the sun was going down in a profusion of layered mist that made the Marin Headlands glow and appear to be a spiritual landscape. The air was warm and almost tropically balmy, in an exposed location that usually bears the brunt of Mark Twain’s famous quip about never finding a winter as cold as summer in San Francisco.
Does a sunset need color? Most people I’ve shown it to like the way I processed this image of a sunset, but I have heard the viewpoint that without color it “isn’t really a sunset.” Of course, it is an image of sunset, albeit reproduced in high-dynamic range black and white—as if one had sketched the sunset in pencil, or with black ink, rather than using color paints.
Is this any way to treat a sunset? What do you think?
Exposure data: 200mm, five exposures at shutter speeds from 1/50 of a second to 1/1250 of a second, each exposure at f/6.3 and ISO 200, tripod mounted; exposures combined and processed using Photoshop CC, Nik HDR Efex Pro, Nik Color Efex Pro, and the Topaz plug-in; converted to monochromatic using Photoshop adjustment layers and Nik Silver Efex Pro.
One of my favorite places to photograph in the Mission District of San Francisco is Clarion Alley—a very magical but somewhat seedy place. Paintings cover the walls, and they are always changing.
What I like about my photo above is that the trompe-l’œil depiction of the alley opening from the silhouette in the painting on the Clarion Alley wall seems to show the scene in which I was standing, duplicated—perhaps in another, parallel universe.
In the photo below, a fearsome San Francisco death head seems to be peering at a woman in the forest. I like that the two very different paintings are interacting, which is why I called it Death and the Maiden.
What will be on the walls of Clarion Alley next time I visit with my camera? Who knows, but I can’t wait to find out!
In this image of the Bay Bridge the moon seems to be “captured” within the tower of the Bay Bridge. The image is a hand-HDR blend of six exposures at shutter speeds from 1/2 of a second to 8 seconds. During one of the exposures the lights for The Bay Lights, an art installation and project by Leo Villareal that will come on “for real” on March 5, 2013 appeared briefly (in testing mode I guess), and I painted them in on a layer at about 30% opacity. Note that this light show has nothing to do with the 75th anniversary of the Bay Bridge, which has come and gone—and is simply a rather wonderful art installation.
The sequence of exposures in this image was shot during Saturday’s smashing moonrise adventure workshop—which I feel was good photographically and a very successful workshop despite the break-in of my van. I started with color images, combined them, manipulated them in post-production to create an image with an extended range of tonal values—withthe results shown below. To finish the image, I then converted it to black and white, using layers and masking to control how each section of the image converted.
The San Francisco Moonrise Adventure workshop on Saturday was a smashing success. Despite some unexpected logistical difficulties—due to a demonstration on Market Street—we settled into our Embarcadero waterfront location in good time. The moon rose mostly where it was supposed to, and is shown here over Port Oakland. The photo was shot under the Bay Bridge using my 300mm lens. I’ll be posting more photos of the moon interacting in complex and photographically interesting ways with the Bay Bridge itself!
Not to take away from the workshop and how much fun it was, but unfortunately “smashing” applies to what happened to my van, parked near the Embarcadero in downtown San Francisco while the workshop was transpiring. The rear window was smashed. The bad guys got a briefcase with my iPad and the prototype of Botanique—currently, the only existing copy.
Well, we’re assembling the actual copies of the edition this week, so there will soon be more copies.
It’s hard to imagine that the smash-and-grab thief has much interest in an archival box filled with oragami-like botanical art. So my fantasy is that it was immediately discarded, and will turn up in twenty years or so when the rest of the copies in the edition are in major museums. There will be much debate about the provenance of the prototype before it is auctioned for megabucks at Sotheby’s.
Returning to earth, if you happen to be wandering in downtown San Francisco and see a box of botanical art in the gutter pick it up! Let me know!
I’m not giving up on San Francisco photography, but will be more careful about where I park in the future. Please consider joining me in the Mission on Saturday February 23—I know it will be a fantastic shoot!
Sunset was spectacular here in the San Francisco Bay area yesterday. I shot west out to the Pacific Ocean from Sutro Baths, shown here with a long enough exposure (15 seconds) to calm the action of the waves.
Not far as the crow flies from the glamorous and scenic parts of San Francisco lies a moldering waterfront south along San Francisco Bay. The structures look like they belong more to Detroit and the Rust belt than they do to San Francisco.
An occasional luxury condo building appears within the zone of shoreline decay. China Basin, India Basin, Hunts Point—you can feel these areas holding their collective breath just waiting for the infusion of massive renovation funds. In the meantime, the ordinary affairs of the dislocated and the 99% continue. As evidence, the sign shown in my iPhone photo prohibits living (“habitation”) in one’s vehicle during the hours of the night (10PM – 6AM) “Everyday” [sic].
Shot with my iPhone 4 camera app using HDR, and processing using the Plastic Bullet app.
The idea of this night shot along the famous curves of Lombard Street in San Francisco was to use my shutter speed setting creatively to get the desired effect with the car trails. So the process was to first determine the duration that was about right for the tail lights of a car slowly moving down the curve to fill the frame horizontally.
Of course, there are going to be variations depending on the speed of the car, but the best effects were achieved using a shutter speed duration in the 8-15 seconds range. With the shutter speed in place, it was easy to calculate the other two components of the exposure equation (aperture and ISO).
The exposure information for this frame was 12mm, 15 seconds at f/11 and ISO 200, tripod mounted. The exposure works in part because of the ambient light of the background scene, which is bright enough so you can see Coit Tower and the Bay Bridge in the background (as well as nearby houses), but not so bright that it is blown out at the settings that work for the cars.
I shot the image just before Christmas while hanging out with a friend and listening to Christmas carols sung by inebriated cable car passengers going by on Hyde Street.
For many years one of the pleasures of the two-mile hike down to Tennessee Beach in the Marin Headlands has been to view the wonderful hole in the cliff on the north side of the beach. This dramatic formation as it appeared in 2007 can be seen in the photo below, which is lit by moonlight. A star appears through the hole in the cliff in the photo.
Sometime during the tumultuous storms of the last few weeks this cliff collapsed, presumably brought down by rain and wind. The impact on the appearance of the north end of Tennessee Beach is tremendous and visceral, as you can see in the 2013 view of the scene below that I shot yesterday.
Looking at the fault line exposed by the landslide, it seems likely that erosion will continue. Perhaps the cliff jutting out into the sea is doomed to become an island sea stack in the course of time. But I am no geologist.
The cliffs looking north from Tennessee Beach are still spectacular, although I miss the unique formation of the hole in the cliff.
This slide in a beloved landscape is a reminder that nothing lasts forever, and that the only constant is change. Confronted with clear evidence that even something as apparently immutable as the iron-bound cliffs of the Marin Headlands are not static we have to conclude that our lives will change as well—in ways that are hard to expect or predict, and out of our control.
Change can be disconcerting, particularly when it is precipitated by exogenous events—the human equivalents to landslide. The way to survive in style is to eschew denial, and accept that the unpredictable is by definition unpredictable.
The past few days have been spectacular in the San Francisco Bay area. Night rain has alternated with crystal clear days. The days themselves have vibrated with clarifying autumn light, while exotic cloud formations have been on almost constant display.
As a photographer with a great love for landscape as a subject I couldn’t ignore this opportunity even though I am supposedly heads-down getting a book done. So with my oldest son Julian out of school early, we drove over to the Marin Headlands.
A short, steep, and sweet hike to us to the top of Slacker Ridge. I mounted my camera on my tripod, and started shooting across the Golden Gate strait. Land’s End is in the mid-ground of this image, but the point of the image is of course the extravagant cloud show over the open Pacific.
In making the exposures that went into this image I want to be sure to get the sun fully resolved. So I underexposed relative to the overall scene (1/8000 of a second at f/9 and ISO 200, using a Polarizer). At these shutter speeds, at least one doesn’t have to worry about motion blur!
In processing the image I layered in lighter exposures to capture the cloud formations and highlights on the water—while making sure to leave the shapes of the hills in the foreground silhouetted and dark.
You can click on the image to view it larger.
In the great seafaring Aubrey-Maturin novels by Patrick O’Brian, the bad guys often get their just comeuppance using a ruse de guerre that in hindsight should have been obvious. Admiral Ramage, the protagonist of a somewhat less literary but still entertaining eponymous naval series by Dudley Pope, puts it this way: we expect to see the obvious, therefore the obvious is what we do see, even when there is something else going on.
The photographer’s job is to see beyond the obvious.
At the very least, seeing beyond the obvious means being acutely aware of one’s environment. Visual explorations help, as does looking up, down, and to the sides. The view straight ahead is not the only one! Ignore preconceptions and prior expectations whenever possible.
In this spirit, when I recently visited San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral with my camera, the view that most interested me was straight up, with the exposed structure supporting the ceiling looking for all the world like the skeleton of some large beast.
What matters most is light. A good photographer has hungry eyes, and will visually examine the world for potentially interesting subjects. But the subject matter itself is nothing without exciting light and its interplay with the world. Light and lighting convey emotion and faith—whether the subject is a church or a country road in the woods near a Zen retreat.
Mission Dolores is the oldest building in San Francisco. A separate building, the Basilica Mission Dolores was built after the great 1906 earthquake. Inside the Basilica Mission Dolores, the chiaroscuro illumination with its moody contrasts between light and dark got my full attention.
“If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”
Intensive Workshop: Photography in Paris with Harold Davis, October 14-21, 2012
My Photography in Paris with Harold Davis workshop is limited to six photographers. I’ve organized the October 14-21, 2012 intensive photographic workshop in Paris as a small, selective group so each photographer will get intensive individual attention.
About the workshop: This will be an intensive photography workshop in the field. In a small group I will be able to give a great deal of individual attention and feedback—and I think everyone who has ever attended one of my workshops will tell you that they’ve gained insights about how to see photographically—changing the way they look at things—as well as how to process their photos. (Check out some of the recent feedback on the Photography with Harold Davis meetup site.)
Paris is certainly a subject that will inspire anyone’s photography, and help them move their work up to the next level!
Workshop curriculum: This is largely a field photography workshop, and we’ll focus our lenses on Paris in autumn and the sometimes stark, sometimes colorful compositions of this season, Paris at night, and Paris in black & white. There will be individual assistance in obtaining the best results. The following topics will be emphasized in the field:
- Oberving light in the field, pre-visualizing the impact of light and lighting, and changing the way one looks at things
- Using manual exposure controls for creative impact
- High Dynamic Range (HDR) photography for a natural look
- Seeing in black & white for monochromatic excellence
- Taking advantage of unusual lighting and exposure situations
There will also be ample time for image review, and for explaining how to best post-process images, particularly HDR and black & white.
About the workshop tuition: I’ve been up and I’ve been down in my life, and I certainly know that not everyone has the tuition money to join my Paris workshop. But I did want you to understand that the fixed costs are the same whether it is a smaller workshop or a larger workshop. Dividing out the costs, the smaller group does cost more per person than a larger-sized group, it is simply the way it has to be.
As I’ve noted, space is extremely limited and this workshop is filling up, so if the opportunity of photographing Paris with me and a selective group is of interest to you, please register right away to avoid disappointment.
Click here for the complete itinerary details of the Oct 14-21, 2012 workshop and click here for online registration. Note that I am offering a $200 rebate to anyone who completes an accepted workshop registration by Friday, July 7, 2012.
Alleys can be magical places. Just think of Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter books. The Mission District of San Francisco has a number of alleys, made magical by the artists who have decorated them. Some of these artists have gone on to fame and fortune. Unfortunately, I have no idea who painted this garage door in Clarion Alley as I could not find a signature.
To make this image I shot five exposures with my camera on a tripod using manual exposure mode. Each exposure was exposed at 35mm, f/11 and ISO 200. My shutter speeds ranged between 1/10 of a second and 1/200 of a second. I combined the five exposures using Nik HDR Efex Pro.
On the fly, while leading a small group of photographers to shoot the Golden Gate during full moonrise, I grabbed this fisheye shot of Fort Point with the Golden Gate Bridge against the sky in the background. A sunburst was coming through the old lighthouse atop the Fort Point ramparts, leading to a scene with fairly extreme dynamic range.
This is an image that renders the full on light of the sun at the same time as it show details in the deep shadow areas in the niches of the fort. You can click on the photo to view it larger so you can really see what I mean.
I exposed for the sky, and in the default rendering the foreground was pretty dark. To recover the situation, I processed a second, lighter version of the file for the foreground. I used a layer mask and a gradient to combine the two versions in Photoshop. This is an example of what I mean by multi-RAW processing.
The Fort Point shadow areas were still pretty dark, so I processed a third even lighter versions, aligned it on top of the two previous versions, set the Blending Mode to Screen, and masked it out. I then “painted” selective areas of this very much lighter layer in.
Theoretically, a single RAW file contains data providing a dynamic range from -4 EV to +4EV of the actual exposure. You can pick and choose which part of this enormous dynamic range you want to use for which parts of your image, but the entire dynamic range is not all usable. In this case, my processing added quite a bit of noise to the dark shadow areas that I had lightened, so I needed to selectively process for noise.
Capturing a dynamic range that includes detail in both the moon and the night landscape is essentially an unsolvable problem. The moon is as bright as daylight and the the night is as dark as night. So even if you create a bracketed sequence that covers this roughly 20EV light-to-dark spread you’ll come up with an image that looks unrealistic to people. Photo-compositing in the moon is even worse: unless you are very careful and unless you get the astronomy right it simply looks fake.
When the problem is unsolvable, the answer is usually to compromise. With this image of the moon rising behind the Golden Gate Bridge I bracketed for HDR in a short dynamic range. The image is comprised of three exposures, shot at five seconds, ten seconds, and twenty seconds. I used a tripod and an 18mm focal length, setting the ISO to 200 and the aperture to f/6.3. I processed the images by hand in Adobe Camera RAW and Photoshop, and partially blended in a layer created from the three exposures in Nik HDR Efex Pro.
In no respect does the image capture the entire dynamic range between the moon and the dark night landscape in the foreground and to the right. But there is far more suggestion of color and details across the dynamic range than there would have been in any single shot.
A celebration today marks the 75th anniversary of the Golden Gate Bridge. As I remarked in my book 100 Views of the Golden Gate, “the wonders of the Golden Gate are simple but profound. The more you look, and the more you wander, the more you see.”
This is a good credo for any photographer in any place, but particularly when the subject is the “topography of water, weather, and light that blesses San Francisco Bay.”
From 100 Views: ”On the beach at Kirby Cove, with the tide coming in fast and hard, I noticed the starfish. With an extreme wide-angle lens it was possible to get the starfish and Golden Gate Bridge in one frame. To get enough depth-of-field, I used a long exposure with my tripod legs deep in the surf.”
I should add, since I’ve often been asked, that no starfish were harmed in the making of this photo, and that shortly after the exposure the whole area was under the tide and the starfish was well submerged.
You can read more about Kirby Cove and the making of this photo in the original story on my blog (from December 2006).
There are many ways to approach a subject as compelling as the Golden Gate Bridge, and I found myself enjoying monochromatic versions of the Bridge and landscape. This is the work that became a Classic California postcard book, as well as a 2013 Classic California wall calendar.
Check out Golden Gate in Black & White and On My Way to Visit Katie Rose, the story I wrote about making the Golden Gate Span image: “To get the views in this story, I followed a path to a stair up an old battery, and then climbed a ladder to the top. From there I had a straight shot at the bridge. Compared to some of the places I shoot at night, this didn’t feel at all precarious. All the same, I was glad to have my headlamp with me.
“This had been a hot day in the Bay area, so I almost didn’t carry my sweater with me. I’m glad I did, because fog rolled in through the Golden Gate, along with a chill wind off the ocean. The fog hit the bridge, and diffused the light, creating the pools of light of different color temperatures in the atmosphere aroung the bridge.”
Happy Birthday, Golden Gate Bridge!