#88. Short stopover in San Francisco

By philberphoto | News

Feb 22

Photography can be approached two different ways (and no doubt many more). One is to do the best one can, with the best equipement available, and all the talent one can muster. The other is to make do with whatever the circumstances allow. Such was my trip to California, and onwards to Japan. This means: around the world. There was no way I was taking my large DSLR, multiple primes and heavy tripod. Too heavy, too bulky, too conspicuous, too limiting. It is just for such circumstances that I have a Sony NEX 5N, a variety of compact prime lenses, mostly from Zeiss, lightweight tripod (Gitzo 0541T with GH 1780 QR oversized ballhead), mini tripod from Manfrotto and Billingham bag. This last item is interesting, because it does not look like a photo bag. So I could load it with all my photo gear (Gitzo tripod excepted) and go to all my business meetings, pull out a pad or iPad, with nobody any the wiser.

So, off I am to California (Paris to LA, then onwards to San Francisco early the following morning) , with two business meetings in Silicon Valley, likely to finish around 2:30 pm. That would leave me with a whole afternoon of photo opportunitiesin wonderful downtown San Francisco, or on the oceanside of Silicon Valley, plus the next day’s early morning, until I had to depart for the aiport and my flight to from SF to Tokyo. Well, thanks to United Airlines, who saw fit to delay 3 successive flights from LA to San Francisco due to “technical trouble” (confidence inspiring, eh?), and some frantic rescheduling, I was done only by 5:00 pm, and my afternoon’s shooting was done as well…:-(

But, thanks to jet lag, I rose very early next morning, hopped into my rental car, and, by 6:00 am was standing on the one of the city’s favorite spots, the Embarcadero, with the promise of a perfectly clear sky, not a frequent occurrence in late January. Time for some serious night shots.

All these shots were taken with my NEX 5N and Zeiss ZM 18 f:4.0, at ISO 100 and f:8.0. That pushed the exposure to some 20 secs, but, thanks to the Gitzo ‘pod and lack of wind, sharpness is still fine. PP is limited to sharpening and a quick white balance correction to offset the otherwise yellowish tint of articificial lighting.

Opposite this pier is a somewhat strange sculpture-cum-fountain called the Vaillancourt Fountain, but it was waterless, no doubt to to it being January, a month when freezing can happen. Actually, the weather was clear, but I was feeling seriously cold. Oh well, what won’t we do in search of Wow! shots? Here is an idea of what this monument looks like.Confusing? Yeah, me too… Well, here is another one, in case it looks more like your idea of a fountain. But at least you can see that the sky is still dark. Lighting is artificial, requiring just a bit of white balance correction.The faintest of early morning light was begining to appear. Time to move on. You see, for years I have seen guys upload fantastic pictures of ocean sunrises (and sunsets too), and I’d never been positioned to shoot one myself. So I had a serious case of photo envy that needed attending to.

The great thing about the Bay Bridge is that, while not as gorgeously scenic as the Golden Gate, it runs North-South (or South-North, if you insist :-), so a sunrise will light it up perfectly. Well, it was still just a bit too early for that.But being too early is not something to be worried about. Time cures it so well…. I went to the edge of the pier, where I had an unobstructed view looking East, set up my tripod, and waited…There, I had done it! Not that it was hard, either, just a postcard shot really.

The sun rises just a bit more. Time for a different composition.And a bit more…Time to see now what the city waterfront looks like:

By now, other photographers are starting to show up, without tripod, as shutter speeds, even at f:8.0 and ISO 100 are almost within handholding range. The early morning market is being set up, but photos are not allowed. Time to say “good bye” and head back for a heart-soul-and-body-warming stop at Starbucks, drive back to the hotel, pick up my stuff, and head off to the aiport for another mind-crunching 11-hour flight with Delta Airlines.Overall, this stopover illustrates several things I have learned about photography.

First and foremost, the best equipment is the one you can bring to capture whatever it is you want to shoot whenever the opportunity presents itself. For this, as far as I am concerned, the NEX with prime lenses is invaluable. Top glass, such as Contax G is available for not too much money, giving great IQ in a compact, stealthy, affordable, take-everywhere system. And the Zeiss ZM 18 f:4.0 demonstrated once again why it is one of the most appreciated rangefinder wide angle primes, and that it is a perfect fit on the NEX 5N

Second, being at the right place at the right time (meaning usually before sunrise or after sunset, and, again usually, with a tripod ) is so much more important than talent or equipment. Not that they don’t matter, but not even a great photographer can save a shoot if the light is bad. The illusion that Photoshop can “re-do” everything is just that: an illusion. Yes, it helps. But it is just so much better to get up a bit earlier…

Third, a great shoot doesn’t require masses of time. Actually, all I needed was about 30 minutes. Though, this time, I had more on hand, but, in 30 minutes, I could have done all to my heart’s content. How much easier does it get to set something up when all one needs is to create a time window of 30 minutes (plus travel to and from the spot, of course)? How difficult is it to set the alarm clock 30 mn earlier?

Well, I was going to have to live by those words myself, because I was going to Tokyo that day, with a wicked time difference for someone who’d just arrived from France, and who wanted to get out and shoot at 6:00 am.

But that is another story…

  • pascaljappy says:

    Philippe, thank you for this inspiring post. I think your second photograph is particularly fantastic. And what about that sunset in Frisco. Few can really say that have seen the sun rise over the Golden Gate. It’s good to see there are still believers in the tripod in this age of million ISO cravers 😉

  • james says:

    nice pics but that is the Bay Bridge, not the Golden Gate bridge. also, the sculpture/fountain does not have water running through it because it was turned off because homeless people were using it as their shower

  • philberphoto says:

    Hi, James.
    This is what I wrote: “The great thing about the Bay Bridge is that, while not as gorgeously scenic as the Golden Gate, it runs North-South (or South-North, if you insist 🙂 , so a sunrise will light it up perfectly.” I am sorry this did not clearly designate the Bay Bridge, which, as you rightly write, it is indeed.

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