Monthly Archives: April 2007

Sausalito at Twilight

This is a photograph of Sausalito and Tiburon from across the Bay as night came on. It is a view of scenic and almost Mediterranean Sausalito that a tourist probably wouldn’t see.

I took the photo from the top of Wildcat Peak, using a telephoto lens, and a thirty second exposure with the lens wide open.

As usual with this kind of long exposure in low light conditions, the digital sensor picked up colors that I didn’t even know were there, like the sunset reflecting off the mist on the water in the bottom left of the photo.

Posted in Digital Night, Landscape, Photography, San Francisco Area

Pirate’s Cove and Marin Headlands

Mark and I left the car where the Miwok Trail crosses Route 1. We climbed the Miwok Trail, glancing at wide vistas of the suburban sprawl of Marin County. From the top, there was a wide and serene view in all directions, with the top of the Golden Gate Bridge popping up through a notch in the hills on the south side of Tennessee Valley.

We wandered down Coyote Ridge, and followed the Coastal Fire Road to its southern junction with the Pacific Coastal Trail. From the junction, we turned north on the Coastal Trail, and followed it up, down, and around for a series of spectacular views of ocean and the hills of the Marin Headlands.

Taking our time, we stopped to photograph turkey vultures, lupine, and textures in the grass. We examined what may have been mountain lion scat. We took a side scramble down to the wild beach at Pirate’s Cove.

By the time we reached the cliffs on the south side of Muir Beach, the sun was quickly setting and the world was getting dark.

Looking back along the coast at Pirate’s Cove and beyond, I exposed this image with my camera on a tripod, holding the shutter open for thirty seconds. There was a light fog coming in off the sea. The long exposure picked up colors in the headland cliffs, mist, and fog not visible to our naked eyes.

If you look closely at the photo, you can see the light from the Point Bonita lighthouse, as well as some of the lights of South San Francisco.

A little footsore, we trudged down to the Pelican Inn in the dark. At 9PM, the restaurant was just closing. Amy picked us up, we had stew and sandwiches at Mark and Amy’s house, then I drove to my home across the Bay.

Related links: Park service trail map of the Marin Headlands.

Posted in Digital Night, Landscape, Photography, San Francisco Area

Bridge Light

This was the last exposure of a very long day (see Hiding, Pacific Golden-Plovers, Alone in the City, and Bridge Time). I pointed the camera straight down on the cove directly to the northwest of the Golden Gate Bridge. I opened the shutter for three minutes, with the lens wide open.

Neat the way the light in the photo comes from the Golden Gate Bridge, but the bridge is never actually seen (you see the bridge shadow, of course).

Posted in Digital Night, Landscape, Photography, San Francisco Area

Bridge Time

Coming up the trail from Kirby Cove, it was fully night. Not a pitch black night, because there was a sliver moon and light pollution from the bridge and city. But as dark as it was going to get.

Up on the fortifications of the Marin Headlands, I decided to see how long a time exposure I could make of the Golden Gate Bridge.

First I did some tests at 30 seconds to get the exposure right. My plan was to multiply out the exposure time once I had the right f/stop at this shutter speed (the maximum I can set on my Nikon D200 before going to Bulb). Based on what I was seeing in the LCD after exposure, 30 seconds and f/5.0 seemed about right.

Based on the 30 second exposure, I calculated that at f/22, the most stopped-down (smallest opening) of the lens I was using, 8 minutes would be about right.

Next I set the D200 to Bulb, which means the shutter will stay open as long as it is depressed. Since I really didn’t want to physically hold the shutter open for 8 minutes, I used the programmable Nikon MC-36 remote release.

It’s not too hard to set the MC-36 to whatever shutter time you’d like with the D200 on Bulb, although you need to remember to set Long to the time rather than Interval (it turns out that Interval means the time between multiple programmed exposures rather than the interval length of an exposure). Even though the MC-36 has a dim backlight, a headlamp really comes in handy for making settings in the dark.

I think the exposure as it came out is pretty interesting. A couple of things are worth noting. For some reason the camera’s EXIF data for the image shows an exposure of 479 seconds, one second shy of the 8 minutes I set using the control. Perhaps this is a round-off issue.

Also, you better have a great deal of patience for this kind of exposure, particualrly in cold and dark conditions. I’m using fast Sandisk Extreme III memory cards. Even so, each exposure took roughly 50% of the time the shutter speed time for writing to the card before I could use the camera again. This meant at least 12 minutes of standing around in the cold and dark for each exposure!

Posted in Digital Night, Hardware, Landscape, Photography, San Francisco Area

Alone in the City

After a fun, but long, day photographing at Duxbury Reef and Bolinas with Mark, we went our separate ways. In the cool of the early evening, I decided to hike down to Kirby Cove.

As I followed the trail down and around the curve of the hill I was alone, buffered from the road and the tourists above in the Marin Headlands. It was shaded, and sunset was near. I felt like I had passed out of the normal paths of civilization.

Alone on the beach, I watched the sunset and the lights of the bridge and city come on. I set my tripod in the intertidal zone, and did a two second time exposure, grabbing the tripod back to safety before it could be tossed by a wave.

Watching the lights come on, I decided one is most alone in the city. In the wilderness when I am alone I usually feel exalted and special, but not lonely. When I am photographing at night from a wild place near the city, distant activity and light pollution makes me feel apart, and maybe even lonely, an outsider looking in.

Posted in Digital Night, Landscape, Photography, San Francisco Area

Pacific Golden-Plovers

After spending several hours with the Duxbury Reef tidepools, Mark and I were hungry for lunch. The only thing open for lunch in Bolinas seemed to be a bar, Smiley’s, where they served us hamburgers. These hamburgers may not have been much even as hamburgers go, but they hit the spot, and everyone at Smiley’s was friendly.

After our late lunch we walked out with our cameras onto the Bolinas beach. This beach is dramatically situated in the corner where the channel from the Bolinas Lagoon meets the open ocean (the Stinson Beach peninsula is a stone’s throw away across this channel).

The plovers in this photo were hopping around the beach, probably having their mid-afternoon “hamburgers” at the Plover equivalent of Smiley’s.

Posted in Bemusements, Photography, Point Reyes


Mark and I thought it would be fun to photograph the tidepools along Duxbury Reef at low tide. Duxbury Reef lies off Bolinas near Point Reyes.

My mistake was looking at the Point Reyes Park Service map, which has Duxbury Beach clearly marked. The best access to Duxbury Reef for tidepooling is actually at Agate Beach. It looked to me like there was a half mile trail going down to this Duxbury Beach. Mark and I agreed to meet at the parking lot, we both had work to get done. As it turned out, there was no parking lot (only a shoulder of the road), and no trail to Duxbury Beach (only a cow path). And Mark had car trouble, so I got there well ahead of him.

I cruised down Mesa Road along the Bolinas plateau towards its dead end parking lot at Point Reyes trailheads, but I couldn’t find the supposed trail to Duxbury Beach. Finally I stopped at the coast guard station that lies within the park boundaries to ask for directions and to use their toilet.

This was a somewhat odd experience. The coast guard people had to buzz me in through a series of doors. Inside, there were posters about homeland security and uniformed people sitting around watching television and talking to me about the protocol they needed to use when they had a visitor (that was me).

I took my much needed visit to their bathroom, and then asked if they could point me to Duxbury Beach (they thought the trail to Duxbury Beach might be about three quarters of a mile down the road but weren’t sure) and if they knew when was low tide (they had no idea). It really struck me as odd that a coast guard installation knew neither about local beaches nor about the tides.

I went back down the road a ways, found a pull over spot near a small creek. The watershed seemed to trend down toward the beach, and there was a gate through the fence into a field with hundreds of cows, along with a display sign about Duxbury Reef. “Aha,” I thought, “I’ve found it.”

Mounting my camera pack on my back, I headed across the field, cows scattering in front of me (cows are certainly messy animals!). In a half mile or so, I reached the ocean, or rather the cliffs above the beach. Maybe I could have got down without injury, but it looked dicey. This was obviously not the right spot, so I retraced my steps.

As the last cow fled before me and I found the road again, Mark pulled up. We agreed that the thing to do was head back down the road to Agate Beach.

By now, it was a little past low tide. The exposed reef at Agate Beach was very beautiful, but the tidepools seemed a little empty of life. As we looked further, we saw anemones, starfish, and even hermit crabs.

It’s clear why the fellow in the photo is hiding: some guy is sitting above his shell with a tripod and a long macro lens clicking a shutter. But what about the coast guard station? I’m assuming it’s not there to protect the coast in the tradional way with boats and rescue operations (if it were, they would know about beaches and tides). So is it hiding something?

Posted in Bemusements, Photography, Point Reyes

Drops of Sky

It had rained overnight, but the early morning showed sun and clouds with only a hint of wind.

Phyllis got the kids to school, and I stripped to my shorts and tank top, no shoes, to photograph the water drops.

These drops on a peony leaf showed the sky and clouds in their reflections. Little worlds, indeed.

I photographed the drops of the sky using my Nikon 200mm f/4 macro lens, a 36mm extension tube, and the Nikon 6T close-up filter. (Nikon has unfortunately discontinued manufacturing the 6T.) I stopped the lens down to f/36, and used manual mode to hold the shutter open for about 1/13 of a second.

Wet (from all the rain drops) and happy, I took myself and photo gear inside for a cup of coffee.

Posted in Photography, Water Drops

San Pablo Bay from Wildcat Peak

San Pablo Bay is the upper part of San Francisco Bay, to the northeast of the Golden Gate. Beyond San Pablo Bay, if you were a ship you could make your way through the Carquinez Strait into Suisan Bay and the maze of the Sacramento River delta.

On Tuesday we were picking up the kids at around 5:30PM from their pre-school, Step One, which sits high up in the Berkeley hills. Phyllis and I looked at striations in the sky, and figured that the sunet might be memorable. I decided to head for Wildcat Peak, which is the highest peak in the Bay area that can’t be reached by road.

I packed my bag, Phyllis made me a sandwich to go, and I was at the trailhead at Inspiration Point in Tilden Park by about 6:15. Wildcat Peak is only a couple of miles, and I was there in plenty of time for sunset.

The really spectacular views from Wildcat are west towards San Francisco, the Golden Gate, Mount Tamalpais, and beyond. There’s also a nice view of Mount Diablo.

As night came on dark and inky in the upper sky, I was struck by the wrap-around effect as the coastal range in Tilden Park topographically stepped down to San Pablo Bay.

This was a one minute exposure with my lens wide open.

Related story: Night for Day.

Posted in Digital Night, Landscape, Photography, San Francisco Area, Tilden Park

Wave Tangent

This is another image from my shoot last week on Point Reyes with Mike Trimble. I pointed my camera straight down at the ocean from the edge of a bluff overlooking Drakes Bay.

The waves were coming rolling in regularly, but the fierce wind was causing some of them to roll back out again, so that in this photo an incoming and outgoing wave are just about touching. Wave tangents, you might say.

Posted in Landscape, Patterns, Photography, Point Reyes

Morning along the Merced

This is a photograph of morning along the Merced River in Yosemite Valley from February, 2006. I’ve just gotten around to post-processing it now.

Morning comes late to Yosemite Valley because of the high rock walls. When the light does shine through, it is spectacular and beautiful, with trees, water, and rocks beginning to glow each at their own time.

This photo looks like spring is just around the corner. Who was to say that it would blizzard the next day?

Posted in Landscape, Photography, Yosemite

Sky of Waves, Sea of Clouds

This Photoshop composition uses South Beach at Sunset and Above Us only Sky as its base elements.

Posted in Photography, Photoshop Techniques


This is a 1/4 second exposure taken at the intertidal zone of Drakes Beach. I was standing at a spot where a small, seasonal creek comes down to the beach. In the middle of the exposure, a wave came in and I had to grab my tripod and camera to move it out of harm’s way.

In the photo you can see the view straight down on the surf (my original photo), as well as the curve of the bluffs surrounding Drakes Bay (the second portion of the exposure after I placed the tripod down on safer ground). The shadowy line on the upper right of the photo may even be my companion, Mike Trimble.

I can’t take full credit for the results since the technique was accidental. But I do think the effect is a bit eerie, mysterious, and surreal. A little like a mellower J.M.W. Turner painting in his later days when he was mainly interested in the play of light on the waves (for example, Snow Storm – Steam-boat off a Harbour’s Mouth).

Posted in Landscape, Photography, Point Reyes

Winner’s Choice

For my 800th Photoblog 2.0 story I embedded 800 in Roman numerals in an image, and offered a print of the image of the winner’s choice as a prize to the first person to correctly spot the Easter egg.

Unfortunately, I got my Roman numerals wrong, but that’s another story.

Aaron was the winner. Here’s what he wrote me about why he chose this image:

I thought I would just let you know why it is that I picked the print I did. First of all, I really enjoy the colors in the scene, and I like the huge depth of field you have captured. I also like the quality of light in general. But the think I like most about it is the feeling that I get when I look around at the scene. With the bush in the foreground the scene to me makes me feel like I have just hiked up to this point and I am emerging from the forest to see the whole valley open up before me. It is a moment of discovery and of adventure and of grandeur as I take in the vast landscape before me. And that is a glorious moment.

Gee! I’m blushing. Thanks, Aaron for the kind words, and enjoy your print.

Related story: Naming the Wilderness.

Posted in Bemusements, Landscape, Photography, Yosemite

South Beach at Sunset

In the gathering dusk, Mike and I left Drakes Beach and headed across the narrow Point Reyes peninsula to South Beach. Unprotected and facing the open Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Farallones, the wind swept in bitter cold and covered cameras, cars, and people with salt spray.

The trick with this capture was to guage the length of the exposure correctly. Long exposures of the surf at dusk can produce interesting effects, but they don’t show the savage and beautiful action of individual waves. Short exposures, with the crispness they imply, are not possible in low light (at least not without boosting the ISO).

To get the effect in this image of some wave clarity combined with wave motion, I exposed the image at almost one second (0.8 of a second) and f/9. By way of contrast, here’s a short exposure of a South Beach sunset, and here’s a long exposure image from the same general vantage point.

Posted in Digital Night, Landscape, Photography, Point Reyes