Monthly Archives: July 2009

Tripods of the World, Unite!

Transamerica Tower

Transamerica Tower, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

Wandering around downtown San Francisco last night taking photos, my tripod and I managed a “two-fer”: we were evicted from two locations. Now, the lot of the night photographer is to get kicked out of places. I’ve been told to move on by park rangers, cops, transit police, airport security, irate private property owners, and private security guards. And for some reason my poor, innocent tripod seems to trigger the worst of this harassment. Nobody seems to care if you pull out the old point-and-shoot, but stop for a moment to expand the legs of your carbon-fiber Gitzo and you might as well have a target painted on you for every two-bit officious official.

I’ve heard all kinds of reasons, from invocations of national security in a post-9/11 world to interference with foot traffic (when there’s no one around). What’s a poor tripod to do?

The general rule of law in the United States is that you can take photos of whatever you want in public places, with a few slight exceptions for things like military bases and nuclear installations. I carry around in my camera pack an article written by attorney Bert P. Krages II, Your Rights and Remedies When Stopped or Confronted for Photography that makes this pretty clear, so I can show it to people who try and stop me from photographing in public places.

The security guards last night were having none of it. Inside the Ferry Terminal the light was great, but they made me and my tripod leave without an articulated reason anyway. On one of the bridge overpasses in Embarcadero Center, the security guard said my tripod was a “tripping hazard”—hard to see with no one around, and me off to one side. You could make a pretty good argument that both these places are public: they are open to the public all the time, and largely paid for with public money. But the private security people can pretty much do what they want, it seems.

When I got to the tram platform on Market Street (below), I was afraid I would get a third tripod eviction notice, but it didn’t happen.

Wandering around this part of San Francisco at night is an interesting experience. There’s obviously tons of wealth: glossy people, glossy buildings. But everywhere I looked I saw people sleeping in alleys and parks. It is like I wandered into the “bad” alternative universe in the Back to the Future movie in which the evil bully Biff rules everything, and the future has gone sour.

Don’t we have better things to worry about than night photographers with tripods?

So I say, tripods of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but your shutter speeds.

Market Street Tram

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


Sumi-e Bark

Sumi-e Bark, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

Sometimes it really pays to look close-up. The markings on bark that appear like a Japanese sumi-e ink painting of a landscape are, in fact, a macro detail of the grand old bristlecone pine shown below.

Grand Old Bristlecone

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Posted in Bemusements, Landscape, Photography

Day of Reckoning

Day of Reckoning

Day of Reckoning, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

To make a fisheye composition work, usually you need an interesting foreground subject up very close and personal as well as an exciting background. I think this view of an old Bristlecone Pine at sunset in the Patriarch Grove fits the bill, and looks appropriately apocalyptic.

Technical data: 10.5mm digital fisheye, two combined exposures (one at 1/60 of a second, one at 1/40 of a second), both exposures at f/22 and ISO 200, tripod mounted.

Related story: Touching the Rainbow; my Bristlecone photos on Flickr.

Posted in Landscape, Photography

Coming and Going

Coming and Going

Coming and Going, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

After dark, before moonrise, I set my tripod up on the median strip of University Ave at Sixth Street in Berkeley, California. I selected the location because there’s plenty of traffic, and the road makes a little bend before heading up the overpass over train tracks and Interstate 80. You can see the sign for the well-known Spenger’s Seafood Grotto restaurant on the right.

The main challenge was not to get so engrossed in photography that I forgot where I was. I imagine that if I’d swung my booty out over the traffic lanes it would have been swiped.

When cars stopped at the Sixth Street light some of the drivers spoke to me: “Hey man, what’s your exposure time?”

For the record, this was an 8 second exposure at f/29 and ISO 100, with a moderate wide-angle focal length (36mm).

Posted in Digital Night, Photography

First Light

First Light

First Light, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

Briefly noted: This is a re-cropped (and slightly re-processed) version of Upper Yosemite Falls. (See the original story for info about making the image.) I enlarged this portion of the photo to focus on what matters: the first light of dawn on the cliffs and water.

Posted in Digital Night, Landscape, Photography, Yosemite

Chasing the Moon

Moon Caught

Moon Caught, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

Late afternoon yesterday was clear and wonderful here in East Bay. I knew the full moon would be rising at about 8:35PM, the same time roughly as sunset. In these circumstances, there was no alternative except engaging in a bit of moon chasing.

The heavy sea horse cranes down by Port Oakland were mostly idle, a sign of the times and something I have never seen before.

I positioned myself across a small bay from a group of cranes and waited for moonrise. There was no one around, and to tell the truth I am more nervous in this kind of situation than anywhere in the wilderness.

But I concentrated on the technical photography problems. The good news: at sunset the dynamic range between moon and sky was manageable, a little later the range of lights and darks would have made this kind of shot impossible because of the difference between the lights and darks.

The real problem: there was a very strong wind. My long lens on the tripod (400mm, or 600mm in 35mm terms) was vibrating, even though I took all possible measures to stabilize the setup, including hanging my camera bag as a weight on the center pole.

There was no other option besides using a fast shutter speed. Without the wind I would have taken longer and longer exposures at ISO 100 or ISO 200. But in the circumstances, I kept the shutter speed at 1/200 of a second, and started boosting the ISO, first to ISO 800 and then to ISO 1,000.

With my strategy in place, I waited. I chatted with a friend on the phone. Then the moon rose between the chains of the equipment, and my chasing was done…this moon was captured!


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Posted in Digital Night, Photography

Moon Walk

Moon Walk

Moon Walk, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

This is a shot by moonlight, taken in the high, arid White Mountains along the California-Nevada border.

The two minute exposure gives the clouds some motion, and makes for a dreamy effect.

Properly exposed, moonlight can seem as bright as daylight. The light of the moon is slightly cooler in color temperature than sunlight, but the only way you’d know for sure this image was captured at night is by looking for the stars.

Posted in Digital Night, Landscape, Photography

One Year Ago

Katie Rose loves to play, and gets great joy from simple things. She’s shown here playing with her double in a mirror.

Double Trouble

What a difference a year makes! Back then, she was the tiny thing shown below who had just found her thumb for the first time.


And we spent our Independence Day last year paying a family visit to the NICU (Newborn Intensive Care Unit). In contrast, today I’ll be out photographing.

Katie's Family

A year ago, things were beginning to look up but we had no idea how well Katie Rose would do. Katie Rose sends a message of hope, joy, and the possibility of miracles. And, yes, she does still like to play Peek-a-Boo.

Background on Katie Rose:

Posted in Katie Rose, Kids

Touching the Rainbow

Touching the Rainbow

Touching the Rainbow, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

In the Patriarch Grove, abode of some of the oldest living things, the Bristlecone Pines, the weather was wild with sun, rain, hail, and a rainbow. These ancient Bristlecone Pines are located in the White Mountains near the California-Nevada border, across Owens Valley from the Sierra Nevada, at an altitude of between 10,000 and 12,000 feet. It’s hard for me not to approach these trees with an attitude of reverence.

Related story: Seeking Methuselah, a story about the ancient Bristlecone Pines when I visited on a road trip in 2005; my Bristlecone Pine set on Flickr.

Posted in Landscape, Photography

Shaving Spirals

Shaving Spirals

Shaving Spirals, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

Briefly noted: a photo composite created from the shavings left after sharpening a pencil.

Posted in Bemusements, Photography, Photoshop Techniques