Thursday, January 1, 2015

Travel Photography in San Francisco, California and Surrounding Areas

Around 20 minutes after the sun crested the horizon.
Nikon D800, Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 with 10 stop ND filter
143 sec, f/16, iso50 @ 24mm
My wife, Amy, and I visited San Francisco mid-Novemeber 2014 to see my Aunt Berger. Her health was quickly deteriorating due to a 5 year battle with cancer. Our primary reason for the trip was to spend time with her, but I also wanted to visit some of the places where she loved spending her time. In particular Golden Gate Park, Muir Woods National Monument, and Point Reyes National Seashore. My goal was to make beautiful images of these locations to serve as a memory of my Aunt Berger. This blog discusses what went into planning, shooting, and editing the images I captured on our trip. This trip was my first opportunity to try out my newly purchased Rokinon 14mm. In short, I'm really impressed with this inexpensive little lens.

WARNING: There are quite a few images in this post... 

One last thing before we get started, I want to thank Amy for running around with me and snapping some bts images. I was like a kid in a candy store :)

Planning
In the weeks approaching our trip I researched the locations mentioned above on 500px, Flickr, and Google to determine the exact places I wanted to photograph. I knew that if I didn't have a game plan and just wandered around, it would be very difficult to hit all the places on our list. It takes some effort to successfully capture landscapes at the best time of day for that particular location - it rarely happens by accident :)

TIP: use the "time slider" in Google Earth to see exactly where the sun rises and sets on the horizon. This will help you visualize how you want to compose your image with respect to the scene.

The online scouting helped me discover some incredibly beautiful vistas and create an outline of the locations I wanted to photograph. We only had one day to accomplish this task.
  • Golden Gate Park - Make image of sun rising over the Golden Gate Bridge and downtown San Francisco. Found a potential vantage point using Google Earth. Sunrise was set to occur at 7:18am and I wanted to make an image of the sun peaking through the left tower of the Golden Gate Bridge.
  • Muir Woods National Monument - Hike walkways in park and make image of calm, serene walkways winding through redwood forest. Needed to be earlier in day to avoid large crowds. 
  • Point Reyes National Seashore - Hike to cliff near Chimney Rock and photograph Pacific Ocean and Drakes Bay from cliff edge at sunset. The sunset was at 4:59pm that particular day.

After determining the best time to visit each attraction I mapped out the route using Google Maps to make sure there would be enough time for us to hit each location - we had to build in time for eating lunch, driving from location to location, etc... Everything looked like it was going to work out.

Shooting
Side note: I used a Vello Shutterboss Version II remote for all of the long exposure shots. This trip was my first time using it and I'm pleased with how it performed.

On Nov 15th we got up around 6:00am and started our journey.

7:00am - Golden Gate Park
Coffee in hand driving across the Golden Gate Bridge at sunrise.
We parked the car just as the sun was cresting over the horizon. The scene was breath-taking. I had a hard time believing I was witnessing such a beautiful scene. We quickly climbed down the hill below the parking lot to a little service road and found a place to set up the tripod. By the way, I used my trusty MeFOTO GlobeTrotter Aluminum tripod for all of these shots.
This is my "excited beyond reason" expression
Setting up the tripod for the first set of images
Another vantage point.
Here are some of the images captured with my D800.
Around 20 minutes after the sun crested the horizon.
p.s. this is a good example of why you should clean your lenses before a shoot :) I hate those spots on the left...
Nikon D800, Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 with 10 stop ND filter
Single exposure. 143 sec, f/16, iso50 @ 24mm
Around 15 minutes after the sun crested the horizon.
Nikon D800, Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 with 10 stop ND filter
80 sec, f/14, iso50 @ 29mm
Let this serve as an example to all who shoot long exposure images; CLOSE YOUR EYEPIECE!!! If you don't, you will have a lovely band across your frame and it will ruin your image(s). I was switching between normal shutter speeds and long exposures and I forgot to close the eyepiece... Rats! Lesson learned.
Nikon D800, Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 with 10 stop ND filter
85 sec, f/20, iso50 @ 24mm
The shadow recovery on the D800 is nothing short of impressive. I have stopped shooting "HDRs" and use a single D800 image to achieve the same results.
9:00am - Muir Woods National Monument
When we pulled into Muir Woods the small parking lot where the visitor building is located was empty - we were pretty much the only people at the park! The park wasn't even officially open at that time and so there was no charge for admission. Sweet! If you plan on going, arrive early. You won't regret it. We walked the peaceful trails and stood in awe at the size and history contained in the redwoods. The paths were filled with sounds of nature and not tourists. We gave ourselves about 1 hour to roam around the paths and photograph the trees.
Towering redwoods at Muir Woods National Monument
Nikon D800, Rokinon 14mm f/2.8
Single exposure. 1/160 sec, f/5.6, iso3600
Selfie amongst the towering redwoods at Muir Woods National Monument
Nikon D800, Rokinon 14mm f/2.8
Single exposure. 1/5 sec, f/8, iso200
Towering redwoods at Muir Woods National Monument
Nikon D800, Rokinon 14mm f/2.8
Single exposure. 1/160 sec, f/5.0, iso3200
Towering redwoods at Muir Woods National Monument
Nikon D800, Rokinon 14mm f/2.8
Single exposure. 1/160 sec, f/5.0, iso1000
As we left Muir Woods there were hundreds of tourists pouring in the entrance and the front gate was charging entrance fees. Glad we got there early :)

4:30pm - Point Reyes National Seashore
After grabbing some snacks and taking a guided horse ride through the forest of Point Reyes near Inverness Ridge, we pointed our car towards Chimney Rock. I underestimated how long of a drive it was to make it all the way out to the peninsula that separates Drakes Bay from the Pacific Ocean. It was at least an hour drive! Oh well, we finally made it to the parking lot for the Chimney Rock trailhead and the sun was about 20 minutes from setting. The quality of light was perfect. There were just enough clouds to diffuse the sunlight, but yet it still maintained a directional quality. That's what makes these images interesting in my opinion. There is some post processing info at the end of this series of images.
A few minutes after the sun went below the horizon
Nikon D800, Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 with 10 stop ND filter
60 sec, f/11, iso50 @ 24mm
The first vista we came across on the trail to Chimney Rock
Beach near Chimney Rock
Nikon D800, Rokinon 14mm f/2.8
Single exposure. 1/1000 sec, f/5.0, iso100
Another selfie :) Sorry
Nikon D800, Rokinon 14mm f/2.8
Single exposure. 1/160 sec, f/11, iso200
Flirting with the edge of the cliff. This portion of the trail was "closed"
These deer were everywhere at Point Reyes. It was awesome!
A herd of deer roaming the plains
A few minutes after the sun went below the horizon
Nikon D800, Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 with 10 stop ND filter
120 sec, f/18, iso100 @ 24mm
A 20 second self-timer and lots of running made this shot possible :)
Nikon D800, Rokinon 14mm f/2.8
Single exposure. 1/160 sec, f/9, iso500
Historic Lifeboat Station at Point Reyes
Nikon D800, Rokinon 14mm f/2.8
Single exposure. 1/160 sec, f/8, iso12500
Awesome trees growing across the road to the lighthouse
Nikon D800, Rokinon 14mm f/2.8
Single exposure. 1/160 sec, f/3.5, iso1100
Point Reyes Lighthouse
Nikon D800, Rokinon 14mm f/2.8
Single exposure. 1/160 sec, f/5, iso3200
This screenshot shows how I color-graded this image and some of the others in this series. I used RGB curves to mess with the colors to my liking. The tonal contrast can be seen in the sliders as well.
Summary
I've already said enough! No need to summarize.

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