Category Archives: San Francisco Area

Steep Ravine

The past several years during the great California drought the waterfalls on the slopes of Mount Tamalpais have been fairly dry, even in the rainy season. So what a wonderful joy to hike up the Steep Ravine trail yesterday on the western slope of Mt Tam in a break in the El Nino wet weather to see the torrents flowing down the mountain’s flanks!

Steep Ravine © Harold Davis

Steep Ravine © Harold Davis

Special thanks to my friend Mark, who put up with me, my camera, and tripod along the muddy trail.

Oakland 16th Street Station

The Oakland 16th Street Station, also called the Central Oakland Station, was built in the early 1900s as a grand terminus for the Southern Pacific Railway. In service until 1994, the station also served as a transportation hub, connecting the local East Bay Electric Railway and Amtrak with the Southern Pacific.

Hall of Shadows © Harold Davis

Hall of Shadows © Harold Davis

Taken out of service in 1994, the station is now disconnected from all train tracks, fenced, and locked. A local not-for-profit development corporation has owned the station since its closure. Located in what has become a mixed neighborhood with light industry, single-room residence hotels, ad-hoc homeless villages of shopping carts and makeshift tents, neighborhood vegetable gardens, and fancy gated condo communities, in the shadow of the highway maze surrounding the approaches to the San Francisco Bay Bridge, the future of this historic structure is unclear. Currently, it is sporadically rented as a movie set, for parties (there has been at least one wedding here), and to groups of roving photographers.

Bench for Waiting © Harold Davis

Bench for Waiting © Harold Davis

Late in the afternoon I joined a small group of co-conspirators who arranged for legitimate access to the site. Meeting at the gate to the property, we were locked in by the somewhat grumpy caretaker, who planned to release us four hours later. It turned out he was a pussy cat when he came to let us out, and genuinely concerned and excited about the history and preservation of the structure.

Before daylight faded we photographed in the main waiting area, on the train platforms that lead to nowhere, and in the arcades below the tracks.

Dinosaur Climbing Stair © Harold Davis

Dinosaur Climbing Stair © Harold Davis

About the images: The top image, Hall of Shadows, combines two photos, each shot with my Zeiss 15mm f/2.8 wide-angle lens with the camera on a tripod at f/10 and ISO 200. A darker photo was made using a 30 second exposure time, and a lighter one was made at 60 seconds.

One of my co-conspirators brought a self-powered 600 watt strobe. In the first, darker image he fired it just outside the door, and also from the outside of the windows. In the longer, lighter exposure he illuminated the whole room, using sequential light bursts.

I visualized this incredible room with its ghosts of the past as a dim, shadowy place. My idea was that the details should not be entirely clear because of the darkness. People passed through this station, living their lives, having love affairs, taking the train to go to war or to different destinies. All these lives haunt the 16th Street Station, and now they are passing into obscurity.

To capture this idea, I started with the first, dark exposure, then gradually painted in some areas of light and shadow from the brighter image. I took great care not to reveal too much, and to leave the image low-key and mysterious.

Bench for Waiting was photographed while there was still a little afternoon light in the waiting hall. It’s a straightforward monochromatic HDR image, shot on the tripod at 28mm, with three exposures ranging from 5 seconds to 30 seconds, each exposure at f/22 and ISO 200. This bench is pretty amazing, sitting there placidly, with the decaying plaster walls of the monumental space behind it.

The compositional trick was to align my camera at a height to as nearly as possible approach the bench in a completely perpendicular fashion. The point of this was camera position was to minimize perspective distortion, and was harder to accomplish than one might think in the dim light.

End of the Line and Dinosaur Climbing Stairs were photographed in the arcade beneath the tracks. I used multi-image bracketing to render them colorful, and to extend the dynamic range of each image.

End of the Line © Harold Davis

End of the Line © Harold Davis

Special thanks to those who organized and participated in this fun and exciting photographic event (you know who you are!).

Also posted in Monochrome

San Francisco Dreams in Black and White

San Francisco dreams in black and white. Please come visit my new virtual gallery of San Francisco in Black and White!

Noir City Dreams  © Harold Davis

Noir City Dreams © Harold Davis

What goes on behind the shades in the lit window of an anonymous apartment in the big city? Meanwhile, the moon rises over the proverbial skyline.

San Francisco Moonrise © Harold Davis

San Francisco Moonrise © Harold Davis

And the sun sets on a day of low tides behind the Golden Gate…

Sunset at Minus Tide © Harold Davis

Sunset at Minus Tide © Harold Davis

Also posted in Digital Night, Monochrome

New span of the Bay Bridge

When the new Sheriff comes riding into town, everyone needs to adjust. The same thing is true for photographers when a new public structure goes up, particularly when the change is striking and vast enough, like it or not, to totally change the landscape. When this kind of change happens we must assess the alteration to our familiar landscape, and seek out new vantage points to include the new element in our photographs.

New Span of the Bay Bridge © Harold Davis

New Span of the Bay Bridge © Harold Davis

The new span of the San Francisco Bay Bridge, from Yerba Buena Island to Emeryville and Oakland on the East Bay side, is this kind of change. Driving across the new bridge is a compelling experience, with the structured and regular lighting, and a mostly open feeling. In comparison, the old 1930s bridge was a bit closed-in, and far less expansive feeling.

Walking the new bridge is exciting, although the walk is mostly in the shadow of the old structure (the old roadway is shown in this linked story). With the last of the old bridge scheduled to come in staged demolition, the walkway will eventually no longer be dominated by the shadow of the past.

But none of this prepares one for the impact and resonance of the tower of the new Bay Bridge, which can be photographed from a variety of interesting locations around San Francisco Bay. I made the image shown in this story while leading a night photography workshop from Treasure Island, just across the small isthmus that connects Treasure Island with Yerba Buena Island.

Old and new  © Harold Davis

Old and new © Harold Davis

Related stories: Out with the OldBay Bridge Lights. For a pattern I observed on the new Bay Bridge walkway, see Broken Arrow.

Also posted in Photography

The end of the Berkeley Pier

The Berkeley Municipal Pier stretches almost a half a mile out into San Francisco Bay. Along the way out to the end there are views of San Francisco, the Golden Gate, Alcatraz, and Mt Tamalpais. The pier used to go even further, so the end is boarded up with the slats you see here, which look decorative in the sunset light. By the way, the view from under the Berkeley Pier is also pretty cool!

End of the Berkeley Pier © Harold Davis

End of the Berkeley Pier © Harold Davis

This image was shot on a tripod, and used three blended exposures. I used a Nikon D810 and Zeiss 15mm f/2.8 set to f/22 and ISO 64 (the native ISO for the D810). The shutter speeds were 2.5 seconds, 8 seconds and 25 seconds. Post-production included HDR blending and minor perspective correction.

Also posted in HDR, Landscape, Photography

Catching the full range of light

This shot from within an abandoned building on Point Richmond, California is a good demonstration of capturing an entire dynamic range of light. There’s quite a range between the bright and sunny San Francisco Bay exterior, and the far less bright interior (it is hard to describe the interior as “muted” though, considering all the colors on the walls).

Abandoned Building, Point Richmond © Harold Davis

Abandoned Building, Point Richmond © Harold Davis

I used my Nikon D800 with the extremely bright and sharp Carl Zeiss Distagon 15mm f/2.8 lens. There were six exposures, with shutter speed duration ranging from 1/1600 of a second (for the bright exterior) to 1/5 of a second for the comparatively dim interior. This amounts to a range of 320:1 from lightest to darkest. Each exposure was shot at f/16 and ISO 200. I combined the exposures using default settings in the Nik HDR Efex Pro plugin from within Photoshop.

Related story: Craneway Pavilion.

Also posted in Photography

San Francisco Photography Weekend Workshop

Saturday August 23 and Sunday August 24, 2014

The San Francisco Bay area is one of the places on our planet most visited for photography. If you live here, why not spend a weekend photographing San Francisco as if you were seeing it for the first time for the wonder it is?

If you have always wanted to photograph San Francisco but are coming from far away, what better way to go about it with the guidance of master photographer and Bay area resident Harold Davis?

Click here to register for the Harold Davis San Francisco Photography Weekend Workshop

100 Views cover

Following a brief orientation, we will carpool and photograph around the Bay area in an exciting and fun weekend with locations depending on weather, lighting and group inclinations. Group size is limited to twelve photographers. There will be time for image review, and Harold will make suggestions for image improvement and creative thinking about image making.

There will be a night shoot on Saturday, and Harold will present material on photographing San Francisco in both color and black & white.

Why not get the imagery of San Francisco you have always wanted?

City as Landscape © Harold Davis

City as Landscape © Harold Davis

When: Saturday, August 23 and Sunday, August 24, 2014

Where: The orientation and classroom sessions of the workshop will be hosted in Berkeley, California. We will car pool to field shooting locations.

Cost: Tuition is $745 per person. Workshop is limited to a maximum of 12 participants.

Registration: Click here to register for the Harold Davis San Francisco Photography Weekend Workshop

Full Moon Rising © Harold Davis

Full Moon Rising © Harold Davis

Also posted in Photography, Workshops

Abroad at Home

Photographing with a group at Kirby Cove waiting for the full moon to rise behind the Golden Gate Bridge, it seemed to me that I live in one of the most beautiful areas in the world. Wherever I travel, for beauty it is a hard comparison with the San Francisco Bay area—and yet, part of the trick is to look at what is near at hand with the same wonder and curiosity that we automatically give to destinations that are more distant.

Full Moon Rising © Harold Davis

Full Moon Rising © Harold Davis

Also posted in Digital Night Tagged , , |

Craneway Pavilion

“History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce,” wrote Karl Marx. In that spirit, the photo shows the floor and windows of what is now called the Craneway Pavilion. It’s used today for weddings, rock concerts, and trade show exhibits. Its most important historical use was to make military hardware during the second World War.

Ford Richmond Plant © Harold Davis

Ford Richmond Plant © Harold Davis

The Craneway Pavilion is located in Port Richmond, California, and is the largest space in the old Ford Richmond Plant—incorporated into the ponderously named Rosie the Riveter / WWII Home Front National Historical Park. Back in World War II, this space—designed by famed industrial architect Alfred Kahn—was where the military hardware that won the war in the Pacific was built, with more than 100,000 jeeps and tanks coming out of the Richmond Tank Depot (as it was known then).

Information about the image: Nikon D800, 28-300mm lens at 42mm, circular polarizer, eight exposures, each exposure at f/25 and ISO 100, shutter speeds ranging from 1/20 of a second to 20 seconds, tripod mounted; processed in Nik HDR Efex Pro, Adobe Camera RAW, Photoshop, Nik Color Efex Pro, Topaz Ajust and Topaz Simplify.

Also posted in HDR

Beneath the Berkeley Pier

The Berkeley, California Pier juts out 3,000 feet into San Francisco Bay. When originally constructed in the 1920s, the pier was over three miles long, and an integral part of the Lincoln Highway, the first highway across the country. There was a ferry terminal at the end of the pier. While the western end of the pier has deteriorated and fallen in the water, much of the diminution in the length of the pier comes land fill. In other words, there is much less of San Francisco Bay than there used to be.

Beneath the Berkeley Pier © Harold Davis

Beneath the Berkeley Pier © Harold Davis

I have often shot the Berkeley Pier, with its wonderful views of San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge, from the pier itself. For example, here’s one shot of the Berkeley Pier from  a few years back.

Recently, it occurred to me that it might be possible to shoot the pier from below. Yesterday afternoon, I checked the tide tables for the Berkeley Marina, and arrived at the Berkeley Pier at low tide.

Beneath the Berkeley Pier in Black and White © Harold Davis

Beneath the Berkeley Pier in Black and White © Harold Davis

Getting beneath the pier felt kind of weird, almost as if I were descending to the underworld through a crack. The opening was about two feet high, so I really had to slither with my gear and tripod to fit through (alas, I am not as svelte as I used to be!).

Once under the pier, however, I was surprised at the spaciousness. Of course, this was low tide, but the pier construction extended back over something like a chamber carved out of landfill.

Everything was clammy and wet. I shared the space with scuttling crabs, seaweed, rats and assorted broken glass and garbage. As I made my time exposures, every once in a while a wave came through the pilings with a splash that got my attention—and had me ready to move quickly to protect my gear if necessary. I found a place to position the tripod legs between the rocks, and moving them made a squishy sound in the mud. Mentally, I vowed to wash everything washable as soon as I got home!

Exposure data: Shot with my Nikon D800 using a Zeiss APO Sonnar 135mm f/2 lens at 4 seconds, f/22 and ISO 50; circular polarizer; tripod mounted.

Also posted in Photography

Graced with Light in Grace Cathedral

Heading into Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, my idea was to practice HDR photography on the vaulted ceiling of the church. I had done this once before in Grace Cathedral, and also in other churches, such as the Cathedral in Chartres, France (shown here in monochromatic HDR).

Often the best laid plans of photographers “go awry,” which is the best reason I can think of for living one’s life to carpe diem, or to seize the day, which all photographers should do as often as they can. In this case, the interior of Grace Cathedral was taken over by “Graced with Light,” an art installation by Anne Patterson that features some twenty miles of multi-colored ribbons dangling from the church’s ceiling.

Graced with Light at Grace Cathedral © Harold Davis

Graced with Light at Grace Cathedral © Harold Davis

Clearly, the image I had envisioned was not going to be possible because the ceiling was hidden by the colorful ribbons. For photographers, right up there with carpe diem is another cliche: if you are given lemons, make lemonade. Another way of thinking of this is to be open to grace, particularly appropriate in Grace Cathedral when confronted with “Graced with Light.”

I sat down in a pew, and attached my camera to the tripod. The legs were collapsed, so the tripod was low to the ground. I positioned the camera and tripod in the center of the center aisle, and pointed it up and back towards the rose window above the entrance to Grace Cathedral. I wanted the image to be entirely in focus, so I needed a fair amount of depth-of-field. This implied stopping down (to f/18), which in turn compelled a fairly long duration of time (15 seconds) for the shutter speed.

Still seated in the pew, I tripped the shutter using my intervalometer, and gave thanks for the grace that allows me to see images that interest me and show the beauty of the world, and of places that people hold sacred.

Exposure data: Nikon D800, 28-300mm lens at 28mm, 15 seconds at f/18 and ISO 100, tripod mounted, RAW file multi-processed in Adobe Camera RAW and finished in Photoshop.

Special thanks to Jake, without whom I would not have been at Grace Cathedral to make this image.

Also posted in Photography Tagged , , |

Out with the Old

As the new year approaches I am reminded of the saying “Out with the old, in with the new.” As an immigrant to California, this truly resonates for me because—as has often been pointed out—the spirit of California is one of self-reinvention.

Old Bay Bridge Pylons © Harold Davis

Old Bay Bridge Pylons © Harold Davis

What applies to people can also apply to structures. The massive, depression-era pylons of the old Bay Bridge are shown here, photographed from the pedestrian walkway of the white, futuristic new Bay Bridge structure. Sometime in the next few years the old Bay Bridge is coming down, and the Oakland-to-Treasure-Island passage will be spanned by the spanking, brand-new structure alone!

Does a sunset need color?

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.

Sunset in the Headlands © Harold Davis

Sunset in the Headlands © Harold Davis

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.

Also posted in Landscape, Monochrome

In Clarion Alley

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.

In Clarion Alley by Harold Davis

In Clarion Alley © Harold Davis

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.

Death and the Maiden by Harold Davis

Death and the Maiden © Harold Davis

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!


Also posted in Photography

Bay Bridge Lights

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.

Moon Captured by the Bay Bridge - Black & White by Harold Davis

Moon Captured by the Bay Bridge – Black & White © Harold Davis

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.

Moon Captured by the Bay Bridge - Color by Harold Davis

Moon Captured by the Bay Bridge – Color © Harold Davis

Also posted in Digital Night, HDR, Monochrome, Photography