We all want to capture the grandeur of what we see on camera, often to the detriment of being creative and in the end, being unoriginal. We sometimes need to … Continue reading Sausalito (CA), Marin Tower, Roadway, Long Exposure
I am as guilty as any other photog of planning trips to shoot a certain location or building, even more so when I am shooting landscapes. When time is limited, I do my research online, create an ordered checklist of locations to shoots, pack up the SUV, and hope the timing works out. More often than not, I end up leaving my “good gear” in the car and spend time hiking, exploring, and taking snapshots with the cell phone. I am pretty inefficient at checking off that list of what to shoot. At least I did get to spend time (almost entirely by myself) at the Marin Civic Center. That was an unexpected treat as I had a feeling the entire building would be closed on a weekend – but it wasn’t!
I didn’t know it at the time but this trip to Marin County, just on the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco, was a catalyst for the recent conscious decision to spend time in the Sacramento Valley area to capture architectural photography. Instead of spending at least a couple of hours each way driving to locations in the SF Bay Area and hoping for the right conditions, I would work with what is here locally. For the last 6 weeks, I have ventured no further than 30 miles from home. Sacramento certainly is not SF when it comes to the quantity of photogenic buildings or structures, but the challenge of finding an interesting compositions is exciting to me.
EXIF data: Nikon D7000, center-weighted metering mode, ISO100, 18mm, f/13, 1/13 sec
San Rafael (CA), Open Floors, Domed Skylight, Monochrome. Marin County Civic Center, San Rafael, CA. December 23, 2017. © Copyright Steven Tze – all rights reserved.
A backup plan is really backup plan if it was, well, planned. I had loosely scheduled two weekend days of architectural photography in and around San Francisco before Christmas. One of the elements I had hoped for were partly cloudy or partly foggy skies, neither of which were being forecast. Regardless, I packed up the car and was off to the Bay Area. The first stop was the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Marin Civic Center. As was forecast, clear skies. What was not expected was public access to part of the building on a holiday weekend.
This is the “kid in a candy store” scenario for a photographer. Virtually the entire southern half of the building to myself without the usual hustle and bustle associated with a government building. I could take my time to actually “see” the building and not worry about being in everyone’s way with my camera and tripod setup.
The initial plan was to take exterior shots of the building with long exposures of the atmospherics, yet it worked out for the better with a couple hours of undisturbed interior photography.
EXIF data: Nikon D7000, center-weighted metering mode, ISO100, 55mm, f/11, 0.6 sec
San Rafael (CA), Walkways, Domed Skylight, Split Tone Monochrome. Marin County Civic Center, San Rafael, CA. December 23, 2017. © Copyright Steven Tze – all rights reserved.
The last time I was in Berkeley, it was specifically to take photographs inside the famous Berkeley City Club. Designed by Julia Morgan (the architect of Hearst Castle) and built in 1929, this steel-reinforced concrete building dubbed “The Little Castle” began as a women’s only social club with 5,000 members and residence to now a club with both women and men and doubles as a historic hotel.
This time, we were here as hotel guests. Quaint and perhaps a little dated by today’s luxury hotel standards, it was the cozy, intimate, and throwback vibe that made it a perfect weekend stay location.
Shockingly, in the 3 days spent as a guest, this was the only composition made with the dSLR camera and only 2 shots were taken. There are times when it is better to enjoy the surroundings and the person you are there with than the need to capture every nook and cranny with a camera and a tripod.
EXIF data: Nikon D7000, center-weighted metering mode, ISO100, 18mm, f/14, 1.6 sec
Berkeley (CA), Concrete Stairwell, Light Bulbs, Shadows. Berkeley, CA. February 22, 2015. © Copyright Steven Tze – all rights reserved.
There are times I lived closer to the San Francisco Bay Area, not that 2.5 hours is really that long of a drive time. Yet the area has so much to offer photographically. Each well-chosen location yields a handful of compositions and a handful more if you have the time and patience to revisit a location for the various atmospheric and weather conditions.
This day in the Headlands was not the usual photography exploring free-for-all (translation: finding slightly original compositions in overly shot locations) that I am used to. I usually pick one or two sunrise locations, leave the house extra early for the drive, shoot said locations, and explore for the rest of the day. This day was centered around the sunset hike workshop we were lucky enough to be chosen for with Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy (web, Facebook) photographer Mason Cummings (web, Facebook). The two of us, two more lucky photogs, and Mason.
He contacted us a few days prior and asked what type of photography or locations we wanted to do or see. I had requested less seen compositions of familiar sights, a place to shoot panoramas, and maybe some macro-type shots using kit lenses. After scouting a few locations near Mt. Tam and the Headlands, he decided on a ridge above Fort Cronkhite and just below Hill 88. The location provided sweeping views of San Francisco and all the way up the coast, Mt. Tam, macro work, and the sunset dipping into the Pacific.
The conditions were a bit tough since we were mostly shooting perpendicular to the sun on a windy cloudless day. I had to be aware of lens flare from the sun, intended and unintended silhouetting of foreground objects, and just the overall high contrast of the scene. Of course, when given the opportunity to capture layered hills, I am all over it. While the brief 90 minute shooting time frame did not help a low-volume shooter like me, it was helpful to hear how Mason close the location (rock outcroppings forming leading lines to the sunset — that somehow none of us remembered to shoot). At least now I know of additional spots to shoot from. It is a matter of walking a few (thousand) extra steps, taking that trail, and finding that shot.
EXIF data: Nikon D7000, center-weighted metering mode, ISO 100, 68mm, f/13, 1/60 sec
Marin Headlands (CA), Layered Hills, Pacific Ocean. Marin Headlands, CA. April 05, 2014. © Copyright Steven Tze – all rights reserved.
Continuing with attempts to not shoot the same compositions we frequently see, I have been focusing on smaller vignettes, particularly the details of structures or where are areas of light and shadows.
You may think I am against shooting the iconic shots. I am not. But there are mainly 3 non-mutually exclusive reasons to shoot “the shot” at a well-known locations. 1) It’s your first time there and how you shoot “the shot” helps you gauge your work against the photogs before you. 2) You sell your photographs as a stream of income. If you have “the shot” in your portfolio, there is a chance someone will buy it. This also applies to photogs that have been to a spot tens or even hundreds of times to hopefully capture those one or two rare moments. 3) Hmm, I’m sure I had a third reason that escapes me right now.
Yet, it is exercises like the image above that make you a better photographer. The ability to see beyond the obvious. The ability to search for compositions. While the beginning photographer or even a casual tourist/visitor snaps photographs in a documentary-style catalog of images, the more seasoned photog should have a different mindset.
The seasoned photog needs to evoke emotion, feelings, or thought from their images. That may mean taking a relatively bland midday scene, but seeing enough in the structure, light, and shadows to see a possible B&W/monochrome photograph in their head.
So when I visit the next iconic location, I will take “the shot”, but I will also try to remember to search for the smaller vignettes fewer photogs look for.
EXIF data: Nikon D7000, center-weighted metering mode, ISO 250, 55mm, f/5.6, 20 sec
Sausalito (CA), Bridge, Bay, Shadow, Bay with Shadow, Monochrome, Long Exposure. Marin Headlands, CA. February 17, 2014. © Copyright Steven Tze – all rights reserved.
A closer view of a well-known scene. The Golden Gate Bridge has been photographed every which way over the years. Ultimately, this composition is probably no different from dozens of others. So the key is to process the image in a way to convey a specific mood and feel. In this case, a bit of a Christopher Nolan-esque gritty Gotham City look.
EXIF data: Nikon D7000, center-weighted metering mode, ISO 250, 65mm, f/4.5, 4 sec
Sausalito (CA), Golden Gate North Tower, Light Trail, Monochrome. Marin Headlands, CA. February 17, 2014. © Copyright Steven Tze – all rights reserved.