San Francisco – Pt.1 : Night Shooting

Deserves a quiet night…

There are few things more spectacular than the golden gate bridge at night and I was extremely keen to use the excuse of being out in SF to have a first stab at night photography.  In hindsight, it might have been sensible to have a go somewhere a little more boring first, get used to the concept. Nah, jump right in the deep end and see what happens. I do that a lot.

City Behind the bridge

Before we go any further, let me share with you something critical.  There are a number of things you absolutely need if you are going to do a shoot at night. Here, in no particular order is your essentials check list:

  • Tripod
  • Camera manual
  • Mag light (or some kind of torch)
  • Camera (duh)
  • Lens cleaning kit
  • A pre-planned, arranged route home

Failure on 5 of these, is the basic premise of how this journal entry pans out. Do I hear the whispers of intrigue? Probably not.

Camera and Tripod go without saying, the trick to shooting at night is long exposure times and you’re never going to be able to hold the camera steady long enough to get a sharp photo. I don’t yet own a Tripod, but thankfully Gareth had his with him and was happy to share, isn’t he lovely?

While I waited for my travel buddy to hand over his 3 legged friend, I turned the camera round and took pics of the other photographers eagerly setting up. To my surprise, the results were a lot of fun. With the camera resting on my bag and the shutter timer set to 2secs, I was able to get away with a 1.6sec exposure (at1600 ISO). Lightroom’s excellent noise reduction tools did the rest.

Setting up

Oh by the way, it’s all about the location right? In this case we wanted a view of the city and the bridge, so from where our taxi dropped us at Vista point, we had a bit of a trek up towards Battery Point which offered great views. Stupidly I had my camera out and snapped happily away, despite the dust… No lens cleaning kit, means the final picture below has a couple of smears across the face. oops.

Nearly at the money shot!
Once I had my camera hooked up to the tripod the only thing left was to start playing. This was the part of the evening which was undoubtedly the most educational. There is only so much you can read, but seeing the result of what you are doing is really very cool. So, a couple of points:

  • If you don’t have a “remote shutter controller” then you can’t go into bulb mode and most cameras will be limited to a 30secs exposure.
  • You need to get the ISO as low as possible, 100 in my case, and then see how narrow you can get the aperture. I settled for f7.1 in the final shot, but only got there by trial & error. Oh and a lot of advice from Gareth, who is still lovely.
  • The final trick is in the focus, and this is where the Camera manual and a mag light would have been handy. Most modern DSLRs have a neat feature which enables you to (In manual focus mode) digitally zoom in (temporarily) to any spot in your frame and then adjust the focus until it is pin sharp. Sadly after experimenting with many buttons, frustration got the better of me and I resorted to Auto Focus.

When I got back to the hotel, I checked the manual and had it working after 45secs reading. Grrrr.

The end result is the picture you see at the bottom of this page and is the result of all the evenings hard work. Please allow me to offer one more piece of advice, as mentioned at the top of this page. If you are visiting Sausalito at night make sure you have a pre-planned, arranged route home.

We found out the hard way that, a) There is no public transport, taxi ranks or help on Sausalito and b) the Golden gate bridge is closed for pedestrians after 9pm.  We had to resort to walking around the vista point, among the couples enjoying the view, begging anyone who would listen for a lift back across the bridge.

Thankfully a very nice, chatty and we suspect ‘high’ gentlemen came to the rescue and gave us said ride home. That, was, and is my first experience of Night Photography. I’m getting slowly hooked!

Full Moon over the bay

San Francisco – Pt.1 : Night ShootingPhil
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