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.

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