Category Archives: San Francisco Area

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

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.

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.

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.

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!


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

Smashing Moonrise Workshop

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!

Moonrise over Port Oakland by Harold Davis

Moonrise over Port Oakland © Harold Davis

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 from Sutro Baths

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.

Sutro Sunset by Harold Davis

Sutro Sunset © Harold Davis

Not a pretty face

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.

Abandoned Industrial Building, India Basin, San Francisco by Harold Davis

Abandoned Industrial Building, India Basin, San Francisco © Harold Davis

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.

Lombard Street at night

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).

Lombard Street at Night by Harold Davis

Lombard Street at Night © Harold Davis

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.

Tennessee Beach Landslide

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.

Tennessee Beach in 2007 (original title "Power of the Moon") © Harold Davis

Tennessee Beach in 2007 (original title “Power of the Moon”) © Harold Davis

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.

Tennessee Beach in 2013 (facing north) © Harold Davis

Tennessee Beach in 2013 (facing north) © Harold Davis

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.

Land’s End

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.

Land's End by Harold Davis

Land’s End © Harold Davis

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.

Seeing beyond the obvious

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.

Grace Cathedral Ceiling by Harold Davis

Grace Cathedral Ceiling © Harold Davis

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.

Looking for Light

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.

Basilica Mission Delores by Harold Davis

Basilica Mission Dolores © Harold Davis—Click image to view larger

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.

Pew by Harold Davis

Pews © Harold Davis—Click image to view larger

“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.