Usually at this time of year I am already extremely busy shooting all of my winter photography projects in Lake Tahoe. However, Mother Nature hasn’t delivered the goods yet. Lake Tahoe is about to have one of the driest Decembers on record and the forecast looks dismal. Everyone in town (including myself) is going stir crazy.
With everything on hold, I decided to get out of town and create some new work for my fine art and stock portfolio. I hadn’t shot any city scenes in awhile and decided that I would point my lens towards Reno, Sacramento and San Francisco.
My first shoot was in Reno. I didn’t have any images of Reno in my portfolio so I thought shooting an overview of the skyline was a good place to start. I drove down in the early afternoon to scout a good location to frame the city. Within a few hours I found a great vantage point on the top of a hill. The sun wasn’t going to set for another couple hours so I used the rest of the time to scout several locations in the city that I would photograph after I had captured the skyline shot. Everything was shaping up great.
The Reno skyline at dusk
After finding several other good shooting locations in the city I drove back out to the hillside location I scouted earlier. The sun was just setting and the buildings were starting to light up.
Dusk is one of my favorite times to photograph city scenes. There is still enough ambient light to give the sky a nice tone and maintain some detail throughout the scene. Additionally, the vantage point I picked was great but it was also a good distance away from the city itself. The longest lens I carry is a Nikon 70-200 2.8mm. The workaround I use a lot when I want to get a little closer to something is simply shoot with my Nikon D7000 instead of my Nikon D3s. The cropped sensor on the D7000 immediately turns my 70-200mm lens into a 105-300mm giving me the extra reach I need.
A detail of the Reno skyline
After about a half an hour of shooting I knew I had what I needed. I quickly packed up my gear and drove back to the downtown area to capture a few more scenes. My main goal was to get a good shot of the famous Reno Arch. I knew that a good shot of the arch would have a lot of salability, especially in stock. I worked the scene down at the arch for awhile and got what I was looking for. I drove back up to Lake Tahoe confident my time was well spent and that I had some great shots in the bag.
The famous Reno Arch
The next day my fiancée and I drove down to wine country where she had some business to take care of. Over the next several days I used my time to scout and shoot different versions of the San Francisco skyline and bridges.
So much of photography, especially landscape and travel photography, is all about scouting. I definitely spend a lot more time scouting locations than I do shooting them. I usually scout everything during the middle of the day when the scenes are less interesting and the light isn’t as dramatic. Then when all of the elements line up I know exactly where I need to be to make a great image. A lot of my creative process is all about pre-visualization and scouting is a huge part of that.
The first shot I was after was a panorama of the San Francisco skyline with the Bay Bridge. The easiest place to shoot that scene is from Treasure Island, which sits just across from the city and is easily accessible by car. The only downside to shooting from Treasure Island is that I have never felt like the scene is very dynamic. In my mind, the best place to shoot the scene was from the top of a hill on adjoining Yerba Buena Island.
The only problem with shooting from Yerba Buena is that all of the good locations are technically off limits to the public. Luckily things like that don’t usually stop me from doing what I need to do. I spent some time on the island prior to sunset finding a good place to set up my shot. After coming up with some good options I went back over to Treasure Island to wait for the light to get good. I didn’t want to hang out at the locations I scouted on Yerba Buena and draw attention to myself possibly getting me kicked out before I could get my shots.
The sun set and I quickly drove back over to Yerba Buena and began shooting. The scene was spectacular! I shot well into the darkness using a variety of lenses and shutter speeds to get different effects. I shot some of the scenes using a low ISO and slow shutter speed to get the cars streaking across the Bay Bridge. I also shot some of the scenes using a very high ISO (up to 4000) to freeze the cars on the bridge giving the shots a different feel. The capability of the Nikon D3s to produce unbelievable files at such high ISOs has never ceased to amaze me. In fact, I don’t even consider 4000 to be that high of an ISO any more. In the last year I have had several photos published that were shot at a whopping 12,800 ISO!
The San Francisco skyline and Bay Bridge at night from Yerba Buena Island
With all of the shots in the bag from Yerba Buena I went back over to Treasure Island and captured a few more scenes. There is a new sculpture on the island that is lit up at night that makes for an excellent subject.
The San Francisco skyline at night from Treasure Island
An amazing sculpture on Treasure Island illuminated at night
The next day my efforts were concentrated on the Golden Gate Bridge. I had shot the Golden Gate once before from the Marin Headlands with great results. I wanted to mix things up a bit though. I really wanted to create an image of the Golden Gate that was colorful and moody. I also didn’t want to shoot the bridge from any of the “classic” locations over on the Marin Headlands. It is easy to get great shots of the bridge and the city from the Marin Headlands but all of the locations are overshot and you would be hard pressed to come away with anything original.
After driving around for awhile I found a great location with a different perspective at the Presidio Yacht Club. Not only did the location have a great view but I also noticed that the tide was starting to go out.
Low tide was going to coincide perfectly with dusk which gave me a great tool at my disposal for creating the kind of image I was looking for. I knew the exposed rocks at low tide would make great foreground subjects with excellent texture. The moving water around the rocks during a long exposure would add to the mystic feel that I was going for.
The Golden Gate Bridge
As it began to get dark and the bridge began to light up, I crept down on the slippery rocks and set up my shot. I took some quick tests and after a few adjustments I was happy with the composition. The only thing I didn’t like was how dark the foreground was compared to the bridge and the sky. To correct this problem I used a 2 stop Hard Graduated Neutral Density filter. I adjusted my exposure accordingly and was extremely happy with the result. I stayed down on the rocks and took shot after shot to ensure I had what I was looking for. The motion of the waves hitting the rocks created a slightly different effect with each exposure and I wanted to make sure that I had the best possible version of the image. After about 30 or so shots I knew I had what I was looking for. Ironically, when I processed all of the images the first shot in the batch was my favorite.
The next day I joined back up with my fiancée and we began our drive back to Lake Tahoe. We didn’t leave until later in the afternoon so we could stop in Sacramento and photograph the famous Tower Bridge on our way home. It worked out perfectly. We hit the bridge at just the right time and I had the chance to take some general overview shots of the bridge as well as get a little more creative. It was a wonderful end to a great couple days of shooting.
Cars pass over the famous Tower Bridge in Sacramento at dusk
Now, back in my office in Lake Tahoe, everything is processed and submitted to the agency I shot for, Aurora Photos. Ultimately I was able to put about forty new images into the market. On top of that I have several new shots that will be sold as limited edition fine art prints. I would call that a productive week!
Unfortunately there still isn’t any snow in the forecast. I haven’t figured out what my next short term project will be to get me through this lull in the weather but trust me, the wheels are turning! Stay tuned.