Search Results for: tamalpais

Eucalyptus Grove in the Fog

We’ve been living under a cloud cover in the San Francisco Bay area for the last week, sometimes high clouds, sometimes low fog, sometimes bright, sometimes not, but always grey. Since the weather around here is generally wonderful, I’ve no right to complain. But it does make night photography kind of questionable.

Yesterday Mark was over in East Bay on business, and I thought it would be nice to show him Wildcat Peak in Tilden Park, since we’ve done so much walking around the Marin Headlands in his “back yard.”

After dinner, we set off from Inspiration Point. Normally, there’s a panoramic view from Wildcat of the Golden Gate, San Pablo Bay, Mount Diablo, Tamalpais, and more. But last night everything was socked in with a thick wall of fog. It was chilly, in the low forties, and a stiff wind blew. We didn’t linger on the summit.

Coming down from Wildcat Peak past the Memorial Grove, I stopped along Nimitz Way in the Eucalyptus grove. The trees were creaking and groaning in the wind. In the background, there was a bright white light, possibly the moon coming through the clouds.

Using my 12-24mm wide-angle lens, I placed my camera on my tripod and exposed this image for 80 seconds. Long enough to capture the trees in the dim light, and to let the moving branches turn kind of “liquid” as they moved in the foggy time exposure.

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

Improv on Mission Peak

Jack invited me on a hike up Mission Peak, along with his friend Eric. The plan was to meet in the late afternoon for an early supper, then get to the top of Mission Peak in plenty of time for sunset, staying until it was dark so I could photograph the landscape at night.

Mission Peak was a new destination for me. It rises from the East Bay hills, more-or-less to the east of Fremont. The trailhead has an amazing feel to it. There are quandrangle after quandrangle of gated McMansions, and you park right near some of these structures with their faux porticos and feel of conspicuous tastelessness. But right away when you start up the trail there is nothing around you but the empty spaces of the California hills, at this time of year golden brown and ascetic. In the distance the world bustles: if you know where to look you can pick out the Google campus, Palo Alto, and much more. It’s hard to miss the acres of shining new cars for sale in the Automall far below.

It’s roughly a three mile climb up to Mission Peak at about 2500 feet, starting from near sea level. So this is a bit of a trek, and it is possible to imagine unprepared hikers on a hot summer day having a pretty tough time. There’s an actual summit approach up a ridge line, and in a kind of minature way more like a “real” mountain summit than anything else I’ve experienced in the Bay area. (Diablo and Tamalpais are mountain-like, but you can drive up them, and they don’t have Mission’s pronounced summit.)

I imagine I have a good twenty years on Jack, who in any case seems to do triathalons before breakfast. So I tried not to feel patronized when he expressed concern about whether I was in shape for the hike, and later at the summit when he gave me a “Good job” like I do with Julian, my nine-year-old, when he finishes a hike that is tough for him.

Actually, it was totally sweet of Jack to be concerned about me, and I enjoyed getting to know Jack and Eric, and really appreciated their company as sunset turned towards night, and on our descent in the night. So a special vote of thanks to Jack and Eric for introducing me to a wonderful new hike, and for being such great company. (You can read Jack’s blog here, and his Friday Mission Peak Hike story here.)

But going back to the starting moments of this adventure, when I opened the trunk of my car to put on my hiking boots and grab my camera pack, I found I had left my tripod at home. I’d been rushing to get alot of things done before the hike, and then wanted to beat the Friday rush hour down I580 to south bay. As I’d backed out the garage, I’d had this nagging feeling that I’d forgotten something, but, alas, I had dismissed the feeling.

So I wasn’t going to bag the hike, and home was too long a drive to go and get my tripod. You need a way to keep a camera steady to take long exposures at night. What was I going to do?

Part of being a good photographer is being willing to improvise, to look for creative solutions, even when the materials at hand aren’t perfect.

On top of Mission Peak there’s an old, hollow pipe that sticks about a foot out of the ground. I was able to plant my camera in the top of this pipe. Using a bunch of small rocks, I could pretty much get stable time exposures in all directions. Admittedly without the flexibility and precision of my tripod, but still, it worked.

The photo above is a thirty second exposure showing Mount Diablo, Pleasanton, I680, and a fog bank sweeping across the hills. The photo below is a cropped detail showing the upper San Francisco Bay beneath a cloud bank, with “the peninsula” behind.

The summit of Mission Peak is truly a grand view in all directions, and I’ll be posting more photos as I post-process them. I’m sure I’ll also be going back. Up there, you get this weird feeling of aloneness. You are witnessing suburban sprawl and the intense hum of human activity in Silicon Valley. But you are witnessing it as an eagle might, high above it all.

Coming down at about 11PM, the trail seemed endless. We passed a California King Snake on the trail, who seemed more awake and alert than we were.

Then it was back among the McMansions in the cubicle world, and drive drive drive up the endless freeway until I reached home with my family fast asleep.


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Posted in Digital Night, 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.

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

Maserati and Mount Diablo

But for Maserati of America and their badly misguided promotion I never would have taken this photo.

Here’s the story. I got a mailing from Maserati suggesting that if I test drove one of their cars I would get a $100 gift certificate. What marketing list did they get me from? I mean, with a love for wild and rugged places, and three kids with car seats, bikes, trikes, scooters, friends and fellow travelers, do I look like a viable candidate for a $150,000 sports car described as an “affordable” Ferrari that compromises between race track and road? 450 horse power under the hood is a great rush, but inquiring minds think, “Nyet!”

Something was terribly off-track with this marketing campaign, but Nicky, our five-year old has watched the movie Cars an infinite number of times and is sports car mad. If Maserati wanted to pay me $100 to take Nicky sports car driving, who was I to say no?

So I called Maserati of San Francisco in Mill Valley (now there’s an oxymoron!) and made an appointment. And a couple of days later picked Nicky up at his pre-school and showed up at Maserati Nicky and car seat in tow, where “Alessandro” was snooty as all get out and basically told me to forget it.

So I went next door to the Ferrari showroom (it turns out that Maserati and Ferrari are both owned by Fiat) and Nicky got to jump in and out of Ferraris, and a nice salesman named Evan, with three kids of his own, took us for our test drive in the Maserati. For a minute there I felt like a power stud sports car king gunning those 450 horses on the short on-ramp to 101 at the Sausalito entrance under the shadow of the Golden Gate, and Nicky had a great time.

Nicky had such a great time, in fact, that I figured we should do it again, even without the gift certificate. So I tried to think about what kind of vehicle might actually sort of qualify as a sports car and that I might realistically take into the back of beyond. Anyway, Nicky and I ended up driving a red Porsche Cayenne at a dealer in Walnut Creek. (Nicky’s verdict: “Good, but not as good as the Maserati.”)

Since we were already out in Walnut Creek, after we had driven the car I took Nicky to the Jungle and then for dinner to an Elephant Restaurant. My not so devious photographer’s plan was to end the day at sunset on top of nearby Mt Diablo.

What I didn’t know then that I know now was that Nicky was coming down with an intestinal virus that would knock out 15 of the 24 kids in his pre-school class, reduce the teachers to wiping all surfaces down with bleach, roll through my family, and present me with another sick child vomiting in another restaurant a few days later.

All this doesn’t really come into the story of the image of Mt Tamalpais from Mt Diablo, nor does the fact that Nicky took a couple of bites of his Mac-and-cheese, said, “Daddy, my tummy doesn’t feel too good,” and proceeded to vomit. More vomit than I could image coming out of the body of this small five year old, filling bowls, plates, and the entire banquette seat of the booth we were sitting in.

We paid a belated cleanup visit to the bathroom, I scooped out my loose bills to partly pay for the damage, and you can imagine we got out of there fast.

Nicky said he felt better, and I didn’t really know what was to come, so I suppose as a parent I don’t need to feel too bad that I took Nicky at his word and headed up nearby Mount Diablo to photograph sunset. It’s a pretty quick, although winding, road from the Elephant Restaurant to the top of Diablo, and it is a sign of how unwell Nicky was feeling that he didn’t even take much interest in the little bit of snow at the top. In fact, Nicky’s contribution to the top of Diablo was a little more vomit.

I took a look at the view reversing my normal view of Mt Tamalpais and Mt Diablo, saw how sick Nicky was, snapped this photo, and headed home.

And that, in somewhat the same spirit as Arlo Guthrie’s conflation of his ticket for littering with avoiding the military draft in his song Alice’s Restaurant, is the story of why I owe this photo to Maserati.

Posted in Bemusements, Landscape, Photography


I photographed these trillium along the Steep Ravine trail under Mount Tamalpais this weekend, using a tripod, long exposures, and a stopped-down lens.

Trillium 1

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Trillium 2

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Posted in Flowers, Photography

Calypso Orchid

The Calypso Orchid grows up from the detritus of the evergreen forest. This beautiful, small flower can be found poking its way up from piles of brown leaves and twigs. If you don’t know where to look, you are likely to miss it.

I photographed this Calypso last Saturday on the slopes of Mount Tamalpais, at the southern end of the range for the orchid in California. I used my 105mm macro lens with a 36mm extension tube and a +4 diopter close-up filter.

At best, depth of field in this close is very shallow, so I needed all the depth of field I could get. To get maximum depth of field, I exposed at f/36. Even on a bright, sunny day on the forest floor the small aperture meant opening the shutter for a second.

I was lucky to have the flower hold still for me for a full second.

Close up, I love the iridescence of the orchid, and the way the “slipper” part of the flower is almost transparent.

Posted in Flowers, Photography

Steep Ravine

Late afternoon on Saturday we hiked up Steep Ravine, on the ocean side of Mount Tamalpais. This is a deep and lucious gorge, which flows exotically to the Pacific Ocean near Stinson Beach. Sunset was near, and the woods were getting dim. Pointing my camera straight down at the creek on my tripod, this time exposure solidified the rushing water.

Posted in Landscape, Photography

Eyes of Newt

There was great clarity yesterday after all the rain. Great fluffy clouds scudded in from the Golden Gate. I decided to hike to Wildcat Peak to photograph sunset.

Wildcat Peak (in Tilden Park) has a panoramic view of the Bay area. As someone put it to me, it is the highest mountain-without-roads in the Bay area. You can drive up both Mt Diablo and Mt Tamalpais, and they have structures at the top. The only way to get up Wildcat is to walk. Then you can enjoy the views of the Golden Gate, Tamalpais, and Diablo (the top of Diablo was fretted yesterday with fresh snow).

On the way up my pack felt a bit heavier than normal. I stopped to take a look, and discovered I had packed my bulky and heavy 200mm macro lens. I don’t normally carry this lens around on treks.

Coming out from the memorial grove of redwoods below Wildcat, I saw this salamander, a perfect subject for the telephoto macro. I believe it is a red-bellied newt, Taricha rivularis, native to California coastal areas north of San Francisco.

The newt had a dirty top and a bright pink underbelly. If he is indeed a red-bellied newt, his skin also contains strong toxins.

Part in the sun and part in the shade, he posed for his close-up portrait, and then ambled on all four legs into the bushes.

Posted in Bemusements, Photography

Peace and Serenity

This is another image of Cataract Falls on the slopes of Mount Tamalpais.

Posted in Landscape, Photography

Cataract Falls

This is Cataract Falls on the slopes of Mount Tamalpais. Cataract Creek runs heavily following winter rains, but it is most notable for a kind of Japanese beauty than for pure volume of water. No Niagara, or even Vernal, it is an equisite, mossy series of dells.

I’ve made several recent pilgrimages to this spot with my friend Mark. The first time in a world of wetness, this benign waterfall was indeed a tumbling waterfall. The second time, I was rained out. Third time pays for all, and the weather on the day I took this photo was perfect, with the creek still running fairly strong.

Posted in Landscape, Photography

Pine Mountain

On Wednesday, Julian and I hiked to Pine Mountain, which is officially part of the Marin Municipal Water District and topographically part of the ridge that circles round and up Mount Tamalpais.

The weather was cloudy, drizzly, and frankly–for the Bay area–somewhat chilly. It’s about a five mile hike (round trip) with close to 1,000 feet of elevation gain. As you can see in the photo, we had some breaks in the grey weather.

This view is looking northwards, you can see the beginnings of Tamales Bay and Point Reyes in the upper center. We saw one other walker during our hike. The astounding thing is that so much solitude in such a vast and apparently empty landscape is to be found so near to a major city.

Posted in Landscape, Photography

Sunset and Moonrise

It was a beautiful evening yesterday, with a hint of the day’s fog still in the atmosphere. I had my eye on a house about half a mile up the hill from us that looked like it would have a wonderful view of the Golden Gate and the rest of the San Francisco Bay. They’d recently under-grounded all the power and phone wires in the area, so this view was newly unobstructed.

I drove up to this house, parked my car, and rang the bell. They were very gracious about letting me set up my tripod, stay as long as I liked, and take as many pictures as I liked.

The view of the Golden Gate was great, but I also liked sunset towards Richmond and Mount Tamalpais (above).

I was getting ready to pack up when I turned around and noticed a great big moon rising over the Berkeley hills (below).

Both images show a range from dark to light far greater than could have been recorded on film. The so-called dynamic range is also greater than that possible from a single RAW capture. The sunset over Mount Tamalpais comes from three different RAW captures, and the moonrise comes from four different RAW captures.

Within a single RAW capture, there’s a five f/stop range from dark to light, depending on how you do the conversion from RAW. That 5 f/stop range translates to 2 to the 5th power, or 32: there is a 32X possible exposure range within a single RAW capture.

The sunset used seven different RAW conversions from the three (differently exposed) RAW captures, and the moonrise used eight different RAW captures (from the four RAW captures involved).

Each RAW capture was incorporated in the image in Photoshop as a layer. I used layer masks and a Photoshop Paintbrush to blend the various layers of the image to get the effect I wanted.

All in all, the end results are closer to the way things appeared to me than any single capture would have been, however well processed. I think you’ll really be able to see the increased exposure range in these images if you look at each in their larger size.

Rising Moon

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Posted in Landscape, Photography, San Francisco Area

Sunsets and the Bay

Lately I’ve been photographing sunsets over the San Francisco Bay from my various eyries in the Berkeley Hills (see Bay Sunset Silhouette, Sunset Over San Francisco, Lights of the City, and Brilliance of Venus).

This is really my first season photographing sunsets and the Bay, so I don’t know for sure. But I’m told the last month or so has been unusually spectacular. I’ve certainly enjoyed it.

Here are some more of my Bay sunset photos.

Bay Sunset Cloud:

Bay Sunset Cloud

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I’ve always felt Mt. Tamalpais is a very special, sacred place. It seems that way in this photo of Mount Tamalpais Sunset:

Mount Tamalpais Sunset

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A Cloudy, Golden Gate Sunset:

Cloudy Golden Gate Sunset

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Shipping Lanes was taken at 400mm (or 600mm in 35mm terms) with my Nikon D70 tripod mounted. The exposure was three seconds, which was long enough to see the freighter move compared to the bridge:

Shipping Lanes

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Here’s a gentler view of a Golden Gate Pastel Sunset:

Golden Gate Pastel Sunset

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Here are some more of my photos from around the San Francisco Bay area:

Posted in Landscape, Photography, San Francisco Area

Bay Sunset Silhouette

It’s hard to know how to frame the whole wide Bay. An extreme wide-angle, like this fish-eye shot, can be groovy. But it gives more of a sense of gimmick, or gadget, than of the wonder of the landscape.

There are five elements in the Bay landscape: the Bay, the sky, the city, the Golden Gate, and Mount Tam. A possibility is to stitch together a panormama. But single frame solutions can show the sky and water, and two of the remaining three (at least without obvious distortion). Even showing two of the three (San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge, and Mount Tamalpais) there’s still a compositional question about integrating the elements.

That’s why I like this photo I took the other evening, with the silhouetted tree between the Golden Gate and Mount Tamalpais making these parts of the landscape function in a compositionally interesting way.

Posted in Landscape, Photography, San Francisco Area

Bolinas from Above

Bolinas from Above, photo by Harold Davis. Click to view large size.

Meta information: essentially the same as for Bolinas Lagoon.

I like this photo of Bolinas Bay and Duxbury Point–taken from the ridge leading up to Mount Tamalpais–because of the two different wave patterns that meet, and the golden glow on the water and in the sky!

Posted in Landscape, Photography, Point Reyes, San Francisco Area