Category Archives: Tilden Park

Sunset Koan

On Christmas Day I calculated that from the summit of Wildcat Peak the sun would set directly behind the middle of the Golden Gate Bridge. This seemed like a great excuse for hiking off some excess holiday indulgence, so in the afternoon I grabbed Julian (my oldest son) and we made for the Inspiration Point trailhead my cameras and tripod in tow.

We had a jolly time on the trail, and there were lots of happy people out and about, mostly with dogs and extended families. But up on Wildcat Peak it seemed that the band of coastal clouds would prevail. The Golden Gate could not be seen.

Stubbornly, we waited for sunset on the off-chance that there would be a brief respite in the weather—preferably just when the sun was setting behind the bridge. One of Julian’s endearing traits, and one that serves him well, is that he is almost never willing to give up on anything, even against all odds.

But the shot I’d prepared for didn’t seem likely. The sun was still above the cloud bank, but it was going down without the bridge being visible.

So I started fooling around with my 70-300mm zoom lens.

Sun Koan by Harold Davis

Sun Koan © Harold Davis

If you’ve ever pointed a lens with telephoto focal lengths at the setting sun and rotated the manual focus ring, you’ll have observed that the closer you focus the more out-of-focus the sun gets—and (this is the interesting part) also the larger the sun gets. This optical phenomenon is particularly true when you are shooting wide open at the maximum aperture of the lens.

I was having fun making the sun into a big orange ball that filled the entire frame by focusing my 300mm to about ten feet when all of a sudden the thought struck me, why not put something in the foreground?

There was no time to be lost. The big round ball at the horizon was setting into the fog bank. I hurried to try to find something interesting and close, and focused on a patch of bare weeds. Then, before I knew it, the sun was gone and the world turned gray and colorless. 

The actual exposure settings for this image were, using my lens set to its maximum 300mm focal length, 1/8000 of a second at f/6.3 and ISO 200, hand held.

Back home, when I showed Julian the finished image, he was perplexed: “You made that photo from that litttle, random weed?!!?” he asked. 

In life, often we go out looking for the dramatic sunset behind the Golden Gate Bridges in our lives. But it may be the little random weeds that really matter.

Somehow, in these days of renewal when the sun starts to come back from its long journey towards apparent oblivion, I find myself looking to photograph the sun, perhaps to assure myself that it is real.

Wave by Harold Davis

Wave © Harold Davis

It always helps to put something in the foreground like the waves shown crashing in their interference patterns at North Beach on Point Reyes, California.

Foregrounds, random weeds, and the return of the sun: the makings of a meditation.

Wave 2 by Harold Davis

Wave 2 © Harold Davis

Also posted in Bemusements, Landscape, Photography, Point Reyes

Escape from the Shadows

Escape from the Shadows

Escape from the Shadows, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

A few weeks ago there was a freak snowstorm in the coastal hills above Berkeley and Oakland, California. It doesn’t usually snow here, so I rushed up with my camera.

Temperatures were above freezing, so the snow on branches took on a look almost like ice.

This tree was lit with subdued sunlight in a nook with towering dark fir trees behind. I intentionally underexposed to let the background go dark, and to bring out the contrast between the white branches and tha dark background. During the black and white conversion process, I worked to bring out the subtle properties of the light.

Also posted in Landscape, Monochrome, Photography

Coastal Range Snow

Coastal Range Snow

Coastal Range Snow, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

It rained most of the night, and towards morning got cold enough to snow at the crest of the coastal hills. Snow is rare indeed around here. In the morning, Phyllis got the kids to school and I headed for the hills above Oakland. As the sun burnt the fog and snow away I made this image facing towards Mt Diablo. You can see the clump of trees on the upper left in this wider view from 2007.

Also posted in Landscape, Monochrome, Photography



Hill, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

I’ve been thinking about lines in composition, and black & white. Here are two examples where both visual effects come into play.

Above: A fence divides the water utility (EBMUD) lands from the public park in East Bay, and a path follows the fence up the hill. You actually have to payan annual fee to hike on the EBMUD land, and they have their own private force policing this.

Below: How often do you see a sunset in black and white? It’s like seeing flowers in monochrome.

Watching this sunset fron the end of Point Reyes, I was surprised how contrast increased as the sunset progressed, and I realized there really is a simple compositional story here.


View this image larger.

Also posted in Landscape, Photography, Point Reyes

Furled for Winter

Furled for Winter

Furled for Winter, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

Like the winter thistle, I found this frost-covered fern frond on a chill early morning in Tilden Park.

Also posted in Patterns, Photography

Winter Thistle

Winter Thistle

Winter Thistle, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

The morning dawned cold (for around here).

I grabbed the kids and ran up to Tilden Park. Nicky and Julian played with frost and skim ice, a rare treat for them, and I photographed frost covered thistles. The sun came up, and I rushed them to school a bit late, all of us flushed from the outdoors and happy.

Also posted in Patterns, Photography

Miracle of Light

Miracle of Light

Miracle of Light, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

It was a chilly (for the Bay area) December afternoon with intermittent squalls of rain. Around 3:30PM I drove to Inspiration Point in Tilden Park. I dressed in several layers of wool and a down jacket. With about thirty pounds of camera gear on my back I headed for Wildcat Peak.

I got to the summit in good time, about half an hour before sunset. There was a chill and moist wind blowing, so I bundled up. I was ready with camera, tripod, and long lens as the sun sank behind the Golden Gate Bridge. After a brief moment showing the miracle of light, the sun disappeared into a fog bank, and all was cold, dark, and gray. I made the trek home bundled in my balaclava as one by one the stars came out.

[Nikon D300, 70-200mm VR zoom lens, TC20E extender, effective focal length 280mm (420mm in 35mm terms), 1/1250 of a second at ISO 100 and f/14, tripod mounted.]

Also posted in Photography, San Francisco Area

Wildcat Peak Sunset

Wildcat Peak Sunset

Wildcat Peak Sunset, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

I went for a walk at twilight, hoping to clear my head after the excitement of the last few weeks. Sea-born clouds and fog were ramping quickly into the coastal range, so I didn’t have too much hopes for photography. Still, I brought my photo gear, because you never know.

Turning the corner on the trail, I got a view of Wildcat Peak with the disk of the setting sun visible above it. By the time I got my camera out and was in position, the sun had vanished in the fog. I held on to the bitter end. The sun appeared, setting behind the peak, at the last.

I took care to expose for the sun itself, letting the foreground go dark (because I know I could fix this in the digital darkroom, and I didn’t want the sun to blow out). Fix or no fix, much of the drama of this photo is in the contrast between the setting sun and the dark hillside.

[Nikon D300, 18-200mm VR zoom lens at 200mm (300mm in 35mm terms), 1/400 of a second at f/7.1 and ISO 100, handheld, image stabilization engaged.]

Also posted in Landscape, Photography, San Francisco Area

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.

Also posted in Digital Night, Landscape, Photography, San Francisco Area

Bay Sunset from Wildcat Peak

This afternoon I took off to Tilden Park with my photo gear to enjoy the sunshine. How nice the sun seems after all the rain we’ve had.

Wildcat Peak is a great vantage point for photographing Bay sunsets. It’s very dramatic, also cold and windy this evening. And a long trek down in the dark. But I’m glad I was there for sunset…

Golden Gate Glow

Check this photo out larger!

Also posted in Landscape, Photography, San Francisco Area


These wonderful bush morning glories are California natives. Of course, they are small and fragile flowers.

I photographed them over the weekend in the Tilden Park Botanic Garden. The kids were running around like wild kids, my camera with macro lens and extension tubes were on the tripod, and it was hard to have the patience to wait for a lull in the breeze amid the cacophonic cries of “Daddy, Daddy!”

Still, you got to love glory morning or evening in whatever form it comes!

Bush Morning Glory

Also posted in Bemusements, Flowers, Photography

Mount Diablo

I drove to Inspiration Point in Tilden Park this morning after dropping Nicky off at pre-school. Here’s a photo from Inspiration Point of Mount Diablo with a trace remaining of fog…

Also posted in Landscape, Photography, San Francisco Area

The Hills Turn Brown in the Summer

There’s an amazing wilderness less than a mile from me consisting of Tilden Park, Wildcat Canyon Regional Park, some other East Bay parks, and municipal water supply land. True, the water supply land (“EBMUD”) has its own private police force, and you need a special permit to hike in it.

But the rest of the area is accessed by beautiful trails. Once this was grazing and ranch lands, and you still find cows along with wild turkeys, the occassional mountain lion, and a wonderful variety of animals. It’s amazing that this is so close to San Francisco.

As folk singer and song writer Kate Wolf wrote in memorable lyrics:

Here in California fruit hangs heavy on the vines
There’s no gold I thought I’d warn you
And the hills turn brown in the summertime

The hills are indeed golden brown, and Julian and I went for a wonderful and strenuous hike in these golden hills in the wilderness in our back yard!


Also posted in Hiking, Landscape, Photography

Wild Orchid, Tilden Park

Tilden Park is a great and extensive wild area very near me. It is about 1/2 a mile up to the top of the hill and to the park entrance (right by Nicky’s pre-school).

The park is part of the California State Park system. Although bisected by high-tension power wires, and with wonderful attractions such as a narrow gauge steam railroad, animal farm, and merry-go-round, it is really, truly pretty wild. Wildlife includes the occassional mountain lion, eagle, and rattlesnake.

The park has miles and miles of trails and views of San Francisco Bay to the west, Mt Diabolo to the south and east, and Napa and the Straits of Carquinez to the north. It includes the entire Wildcat Basin, Wildcat Peak, Lake Anza, a botanical garden featuring California native plants, and an extensive nature preserve.

Mid-June is a little late in the year for wild flowers in the park. Mostly, everything turns a golden brown – and will keep getting crisper until the autumn rains. But even when everything is dry, one can still find treasures – witness the photo of the wild orchid hidden in dry grass that I found along the Meadows Canyon Trail this afternoon.

Here are a few more images from my set today taken along the Meadows Canyon Train in Tilden Park:

Wild Orchid, Tilden Park Dragon Fly
Wild Orchid, Tilden Park
Also posted in Flowers, Hiking, Photography

The Carousel in Tilden Park

Tilden Park Merry-Go-Round

Nicky and I went first to the steam trains and then to the carousel in Tilden Park today.

We both had a lot of fun.

It’s great to be able to spend time one on one with the kids, and as the middle boy Nicky sometimes seems to get a little less attention than his younger or older brother.

Nicky on the Tilden Park Carousel

He rode the merry-go-round at least five times, many of them in the rotating saucer. The double rotation made me dizzy after just one ride.

This carousel in Tilden Park near us is an elegant and wonderful thing for kids of all ages!

Also posted in Bemusements, Kids, Photography