Photography, Cycling and the Internets

A San Francisco Morning

A San Francisco Morning

In continuing this small San Francisco series, it’s about time I posted the shot that isn’t the one I really wanted to get.  This is the closest I managed to get to that illusive shot.  This particular photo doesn’t impress me  since, without the ship, it really isn’t anything other than a photo of San Francisco that everyone has.  Instead, the  lesson I learned in acquiring this image will stay in my memory longer than the image itself.

To get the shot I really wanted, I planned, spent time in Google Earth picking the location, setting the sun angle and time-of-day, choosing the position on the hill and frame the shot  with the 3D buildings turned on.  Everything looked wonderful and sounded like a decent plan.  The morning was forecast to be a rare sunny one, free of the fog that San Francisco is famous for.  Additionally, I did some research on other photos with a similar angle.  I saw several from other photographers a the correct location, so yes, it could be done.  The idea was to have the bay bridge strongly prominent on the left side of the frame with the southern edge lit up by the sun.

The "Planned" Shot - As setup in Google Earth

The city would then appear where the last of the main cables joined with the island.  The sun would to light the bridge up a nice gold-tone, and the white on the buildings would to catch the same beautiful glow.

That isn’t what happened.  I live in San Jose, which is an hour drive away from San Francisco.  This meant waking up and being on the road by 5am at the latest to catch the show.  Again, this assumes I know exactly where I want to be and what I have to do in order to catch the 6:30am light.  Yerba Buena Island is one tough tiny island to navigate on with its windy roads.  To top it off, there is no parking.  To get the angle, I would have had to hike about a half mile at the very least.  Arriving at the island at 6am and then getting lost didn’t help matters.

Alas, I drove over to the Treasure Island portion where parking is plentiful and the angles are not.  I settled for this shot which is a good reminder of how to better prepare next time I’m going to drive an hour away and a horrible hour for a 10 minute window of opportunity.

The last bit I learned was that sunrises are not nearly as cool as sunsets.  No dust, no glory.  I wonder when that volcanic dust from Iceland will reach the Bay Area. 🙂

Google Earth still seems like a great tool for planning a shoot.  Here is the shot I ended up with as seen by Google Earth.

Google Earth view of the Photo Above

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10 responses

  1. Lol at your summary…. Yeah I have to agree that sunsets are the better option normally… plus there’s the bonus of not having to get up quite so early to catch them…

    April 22, 2010 at 2:07 am

    • The early part is a real killer. The serenity is the wonderful part if you can manage to capture it in a photo.

      April 22, 2010 at 10:47 am

  2. Sean, I like the colors in your shot better than the Google Earth view of it. I never thought about using Google Earth to plan photos, but I will be heading to St. Louis in a month and I’m going to do some research on Google Earth to see what I can come up with. Thanks for the tip.

    April 22, 2010 at 9:51 am

    • Oh, I agree about the colors. You have to use your imagination more than what Google Earth will show you. I was mainly using it to get a sense of shadow and highlight and when and where I needed to be. I was expecting more of a sunset-like set of tones, however.

      As for the tip, I’m happy to share. Please share if it works out or not for you after your trip to St. Louis.

      April 22, 2010 at 10:45 am

  3. Sean, it is so great to read stuff like this. No one really understands the trials and tribulations photogs go through to get a photo. And, many times, like your story, all the planning in the world means little. BUT, it will help for the NEXT time! I think your image is nice but I do understand the feeling of it being a ‘consolation prize’. We’ve all been there (more times than we’d like to admit!) 🙂

    April 22, 2010 at 4:04 pm

    • I’m glad I’m not the only one. 😉 I debated on this image since it isn’t horrible, but it isn’t great. Do I try to post only great shots here, or do I share the fact that I still have TONS to learn and there will be many failures along the way. I opted for the latter.

      April 22, 2010 at 4:32 pm

      • Hey Sean, I may have an incorrect concept of blogging, but I feel the same way as you about what I post on my blog. I’m hoping to share the good as well as the not so good, and maybe other bloggers comments will help me improve. If I want to promote myself as a top notch photographer (which I’m not yet) I will create a professional website where I only display my best photos. Cheers!

        April 23, 2010 at 12:48 pm

  4. aswirly

    Even I wouldn’t head out to Treaure Island at dawn and I live more like 15 minutes away! lol… Love this spot though. Sometimes I jump the railing and scramble down the rocks in this spot. I’ve never shot from the other angle though. Like you say, no parking and it’s just such a challenge to set up there.

    April 23, 2010 at 4:41 pm

  5. My hat’s off to you for being so meticulous. Recently I’ve come to appreciate the planning part of photography. You might really like a software package called The Photographer’s Ephemeris. It’s free (but users are encouraged to donate) and plots sun and moon rise and set locations, times, elevations etc. Amazing really and has helped me with some of my planned photos.

    April 25, 2010 at 5:32 am

    • Well, some shots I plan out, especially if it involves any amount of ‘real work’ on my part. Also, a big thanks for the tip on The Photographer’s Ephemeris. I have been looking for just such an application. There is a shot that I have been imagining for a very long time involving the moon and observatory. Despite the other tools I do have (Google Earth, Magic Hour, & Focalware) I haven’t been able to pinpoint exactly where and when I should be for the full moonrise.

      This looks like it will help. Thanks for the tip, and thanks for stopping by!

      April 25, 2010 at 6:43 am

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