Thursday, January 18, 2024

The first San Francisco photo tour: A great success!

As many of you know, I have been teaching photography all over the world for many years now, but I have done very few photo tours within the United States. After repeated requests I decided to start a photo tour of my home town, San Francisco, late last year. October tends to be the best weather in the city, so I picked that time for my tour. 

Having never lead a tour in San Francisco, I did have reservations about where I should take people and how to handle some of the logistics. Obviously, I know the city inside and out, but I wanted to make sure that we could fit in all the best locations for photos and make sure that we captured everything that the city has to offer, all within 3 days. I also wanted a nice place to stay, to provide good transportation, have a driver so that we could easily get out anywhere we wanted (without worrying about parking), and I wanted a security person to watch us and the vehicle while we out taking photos.

After a lot of planning, all the pieces came together and the first San Francisco photo tour went off amazingly well. I had a small group for this first outing, which was ideal for the trial run. And now I want to show you some of the images that we captured on the trip.

I had made a list of all my desired locations, and I separated them out based on weather conditions. Since we had overcast weather on the first day, I decided that our first stop would be the cable cars. I knew the best location to get photos of them coming and going in numerous directions, allowing us to photograph them from different angles and with different backgrounds. I showed everyone how you could get a nice shot of the cable car looking down California Street, with the Bay Bridge in the background.

I figured that the darker skies would be perfect for getting photos while motion panning these iconic cars. I suggested camera settings and everyone had a great time trying to capture photos like this, showing the cable cars in motion.

I even suggested that they try showing motion by rolling the zoom of their lens as the cable cars came up the hill towards us. I had never tried this myself and it was really fun for me to try something new too!

Here are some of our group hanging out with Eli, our security guy.

Our next stop was Chinatown. I knew that the city had recently replaced some of the hanging lanterns with newer and brighter ones, so we headed for that spot to get photos of this iconic area.

There are lots of murals on the walls in Chinatown, so I used those as backgrounds to take portraits of each of my guests. I should mention that, for this trip I used the following gear:

We stopped at one of my favorite Chinese bakeries for some food and then walked to the famous fortune cookie factory. Both for photos of them making the cookies, but also so I could buy some of these tasty treats for everyone. 

We drove down Lombard Street (also known as the crookedest street in the world), and then headed to a spot on the opposite hillside to take photos with our long lenses.  Here is a photo taken while zoomed way in...

...and here is a photo taken from the same location but zoomed back out. I like both of them and how they tell a different story from the same place.

As I mentioned, on the first day, we had dark clouds and rainy conditions, but that can also make for great photos. We used those cloudy skies for a dramatic background behind the Golden Gate Bridge.

I showed everyone how you could zoom in with our long lenses and get this photo showing the extreme curve of the bridge.

While they were taking photos of the bridge, I was having fun taking pictures of them.

Very near to that same location is my favorite staircase in San Francisco, so we stopped by there for portraits.

The next stop was Golden Gate Park to capture some of the beautiful flowers.

Once again, this gave me an opportunity to teach. This time explaining the benefits of selective focus and clean backgrounds. 

Right before leaving, I saw this squirrel climbing one of the plants. I quickly locked in focus and got this funny shot.

I really wanted to do night shots, but the weather was not cooperating. So we had a nice dinner and packed it in for the night.

On the second day, we woke up to clearer skies and no rain. I knew that the remaining clouds in the sky would be beneficial for a long exposure shot, so we headed for the Palace of Fine Arts. We set up our tripods and had some fun experimenting with different shutter speeds. For this shot, I was using a Tiffen 10 stop ND filter and had the camera set for a 13 second exposure. This long exposure neutralizes the water to accentuate the reflection and shows great movement in the clouds.

We made our second visit to the Golden Gate Bridge, this time from a different vantage point.

Since we had rain the day before, there were puddles on the ground. I saw that this could give us good reflections, and so I showed everyone how you could get down low on the pier to get a reflection of the bridge. I always strive to get something different from what the average person with a camera would take. I really like this photo.

Our next stop was to the Painted Ladies, which are probably the best known victorian houses in the world. We took the standard photos of these houses and then I pushed everyone to try motion panning. We waited for different cars to drive by and followed them with our lenses at the exact same speed. I saw this SFPD car drive by and thought that it showed a classic San Francisco scene. This was taken at a shutter speed of 1/15th of a second.

Looking at the previous photo in the eye-piece of the camera, I noticed that I wanted to show more motion blur. For this shot I slowed the shutter speed all the way down to 1/8 second. It is not easy to get a photo like this (where the background is in motion but the car is in perfect focus), but it is a lot of fun to teach and see people push themselves to get one. 

After lunch we walked though the Haight Ashbury district of the city and photographed the classic "Hippie" environment. These people made me laugh, but also provided a teaching opportunity. Specifically, how to interact with people and get permission to take their photo quickly and in a fun way.

At that point, the weather was clearing nicely and so we went to one of my favorite vantage points over San Francisco. 

Speaking of favorite spots. As I planned the tour, I knew that this was a night photo I wanted everyone to get. There is no way to park in this spot, but we had our van and driver, so we could have him drop us off if needed. We drove out to this spot and it started raining. I was really disappointed. We waited to see if it would clear up, but it was not looking good. At the very lat minute, I jumped out of the vehicle to see if there was any chance of a shot, and the rain stopped! I ran back to the vehicle and told everyone to get their gear and capture this moment before it passed. We had great visibility, interesting clouds, and the deep blue skies! We were all shocked that we got this beautiful shot on a night which showed almost zero promise of a photo. 

The next morning I decided to call and audible and added a last minute addition to the tour. I took everyone to the coastline to get some photos at one of my favorite beaches. 

Everyone loved this added stop.

On our third day we had very clear skies, so we went across the Golden Gate Bridge to get photos from the other side of the bay.  From this location, the light on the bridge was not good for a photo, but I saw this view of the city through these sailboats and encouraged everyone to take a photo like this, showing a different perspective of San Francisco.

I wanted to wait for better afternoon light on the bridge, so we stopped for a nice Italian lunch in the quaint town of Sausalito. The food was great and it was a nice break for the everyone.

When we got to the Marin Headlands to photograph the bridge, the sun was now behind us and and in the perfect spot for photos like this.

You can see from this photo, that the sun was in a spot where photos to the left were ideal, but in this direction, the light was not good. Well...good enough to get a photo of them shooting...

Having the late afternoon sunshine on our side of the bridge made for perfect photography conditions. We started towards the top of the mountain...

...and then had our driver take us down to each vantage point, getting a lower shooting position each time. I encouraged everyone to shoot images wide and also zoomed in.

I really like using the suspension cables as leading lines in photos, and I showed everyone that we did not have to have the entire bridge (or even the towers) in every photo. I also reminded them to make sure that the key buildings (Pyramid and Salesforce Tower) were visible through the cables. 

On our last evening, it was clear enough to get night shots from Twin Peaks. We had made numerous visits to this vista point, and I really wanted people to get a night shot looking down Market Street. It was a really great ending to three days capturing images in my home town. 

For those of you interested, come join me this year (also in October) for the second photo tour of San Francisco. You can find information on this on my photo tour page.


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GothamTomato said...

I can't see pictures of the cable cars without thinking of Rice a Roni. Such is the power of a good advertising hook!

Wendy said...

I imagine you had a silly grin when you selected one of those portraits to publish!