San Francisco

5 TIPS FOR PHOTOGRAPHING THE GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE

The Golden Gate Bridge a half hour prior to sunrise. 30 sec. @ f8, ISO 200.

The Golden Gate Bridge a half hour prior to sunrise. 30 sec. @ f8, ISO 200.

Before I get to my five tips, I will state right up front that much like my blog post,  Five Tips for Shooting Antelope Canyon, this was my first time photographing the Golden Gate Bridge. I say that only to admit that I'm not the expert and in fact, welcome comments, additional tips or even to tell me I'm wrong.

However, as a professional photographer, you might find it interesting how I approach a subject that I never photographed and only have a limited time to do so. In this case, I was in San Francisco for three days, but all of that time was not dedicated to taking pictures of possibly the most photographed bridge in the world. Also of note, all of the photos were taken with a Fujifilm X-T1 mirrorless camera that I had for review.

Consider a rental car or Zip car so you can get to locations away from the crowds, like this photograph of the bridge taken from Point Bonita Lighthouse just before sunset. 1/18 @ f22, ISO 200.

Consider a rental car or Zip car so you can get to locations away from the crowds, like this photograph of the bridge taken from Point Bonita Lighthouse just before sunset. 1/18 @ f22, ISO 200.

Also, while it is possible to get to the Golden Gate Bridge via public transportation, tour bus or even by bike, renting a car seems to be the easiest and most convenient way to get to many of the shooting locations, especially if you have limited time or want the ultimate flexibility to chase light.

1. Location, location, location.

There are numerous locations or vantage points to photograph the bridge and I'll cover just a few even though I'm sure locals have all kinds of hidden spots picked out.

I shot from three basic locations on the North side and two on the South or San Francisco side of the bridge. On the North, it was Vista Point, Battery Spencer, Marin Headlands (Hawk Hill) and on the South, Lands End, and the South Side parking lot.

Vista Point is the first exit after crossing the bridge heading north and while it offers an alright view of the bridge, my suggestion would be to skip the crowded parking lot and head down the hill towards the Coast Guard Station where you can view the bridge from a low angle. Then walk up to the Vista Point visitors center for an additional view.

A different look at the bridge from Battery Spencer. 1/1700 @ f3.2, ISO 400.

A different look at the bridge from Battery Spencer. 1/1700 @ f3.2, ISO 400.

After leaving Vista Point cross under the bridge and start the climb up Conzelman Rd. making Battery Spencer your first stop. This is a great location and it was the first place that I stopped to photograph the bridge. I was surprised how close the bridge was and you feel like you are at eye level with the bridge towers. Nice vantage point to shoot verticals too.

After leaving Battery Spencer, you continue to climb until you reach the highest point, Hawk Hill. From this vantage point, you get a great overview of the bridge with the city behind it. Don't forget to explore the old World War II batteries while you are there and if you continue on foot through former gun emplacement tunnels to the other side, you will have a bonus view of the Point Bonita Lighthouse.

There are several stopping points along the way so take your time and pull over every chance you get either on the way up or on the return trip, because the view is different and unique each time.

Screen shot from my iPad of the SunSeeker App showing my location and sun direction on the morning of March 17, 2015, as I was attempting to photograph the sunrise. One of the nice things about this App is that you can pick a day and time in the future so that there are no surprises, except for maybe rain and fog.

Screen shot from my iPad of the SunSeeker App showing my location and sun direction on the morning of March 17, 2015, as I was attempting to photograph the sunrise. One of the nice things about this App is that you can pick a day and time in the future so that there are no surprises, except for maybe rain and fog.

2. Timing is everything.

Make sure to leave yourself enough time and shooting days to capture the bridge during different times of the day. If you are planning to shoot sunrise or pre-sunrise from Hawk Hill, Conzelman Rd. is closed about a half mile from the top until after sunrise. There is a parking lot, so join the bicyclists and joggers as you make your way to the top. Not too bad, but don't be surprised as I was.

Once again, I used the Sunseeker App to determine sun direction which helps determine where I'm going to start and end my day. Knowing where the sun will be during certain times of the day can help you pre-visualize photographs as you drive around scouting locations.

The Vista Point visitor center gets crowded with both cars and people. I found most people moved on quickly so if you want a particular shot, just wait a few minutes. 1/100 @ f11, ISO 200.

The Vista Point visitor center gets crowded with both cars and people. I found most people moved on quickly so if you want a particular shot, just wait a few minutes. 1/100 @ f11, ISO 200.

3. Avoid the crowds.

It is clear that you are not the first person who has thought about photographing the Golden Gate Bridge, so be prepared for crowds, especially at the visitors centers. Sometimes you may also have to pass by a pull-over because it is full, but remember there will be another. It was my experience that if you have a little patience while people grab their selfies, they will move on allowing you to get your shot.

And as in most situations, you lessen your chance of running into crowds by getting there early and staying late. After all, isn't that the best time to shoot anyway? So take a break in the middle of the day and head over to Sausalito for some tacos and Mexican beer at the Salsalita Taco Shop while everyone else is fighting for a spot to photograph the bridge in the noon time sun.

Think about details and capturing pieces of the bridge, even from underneath. This was taken while walking from the Coast Guard station up the hill to the Vista Point parking area. 1/350 @ f9, ISO 200.

Think about details and capturing pieces of the bridge, even from underneath. This was taken while walking from the Coast Guard station up the hill to the Vista Point parking area. 1/350 @ f9, ISO 200.

4. Look for something different.

The temptation is to go wide and take in the entire bridge. That makes a nice shot and sets the stage, but don't forget about details. With a telephoto lens, you can pick out details from many of the shooting locations I mentioned previously, but there are also places to access the bridge from underneath. And while I didn't get the chance on this trip, you can also walk or bike across the bridge, which would certainly get you up close and personal.

Among the first photographs I took of the bridge, was as I made the short climb at Battery Spencer which puts you at eye level with the bridge towers and in this case almost in the clouds. 1/60 @ f10, ISO 400.

Among the first photographs I took of the bridge, was as I made the short climb at Battery Spencer which puts you at eye level with the bridge towers and in this case almost in the clouds. 1/60 @ f10, ISO 400.

5. Weather can be your friend.

I could state the obvious and just say that the weather, especially clouds and fog, are unpredictable in San Francisco, or I could tell you to embrace it and use it to your advantage. On my first day photographing the bridge, I could only make it half way up Conzelman Rd. before the visibility dropped to near zero. But those same clouds added something to my photos taken from Battery Spencer when they covered just the top of the bridge.

The point is, don't make a judgment from your hotel room downtown. Get out to the locations you scouted and see for yourself because you never know when the weather will change and maybe even change in such a way that takes your photograph from alright to awesome.

Photographed from the trail at Lands End. I rarely use presets, but something about this photograph reminded me of a classic postcard, so I added Yesteryear, and Rounded Corners White presets in Lightroom 5. 1/2000 @ f4, ISO 200.

Photographed from the trail at Lands End. I rarely use presets, but something about this photograph reminded me of a classic postcard, so I added Yesteryear, and Rounded Corners White presets in Lightroom 5. 1/2000 @ f4, ISO 200.

As I said at the beginning of this blog post, there are many more locations to explore and photograph the bridge such as Crissy Field, Fort Point, Point Cavallo, Baker Beach and many, many more. In fact, maybe three days is not enough time.

So make the trip, have fun, and when not photographing the bridge, there are all kinds of other wonderful locations around the city to photograph.

SEVEN DAYS WITH THE FUJI X-T1

The first place I headed after landing in San Francisco was the Golden Gate Bridge. 1/200 @ f9, ISO 200.

The first place I headed after landing in San Francisco was the Golden Gate Bridge. 1/200 @ f9, ISO 200.

I recently spent seven days in and around San Francisco, California, with the Fujifilm X-T1. The X-T1 is the fourth of the Fuji X cameras that I've had the chance to use, starting with the X-10 in 2012 and most recently the X-Pro1 during seven days in New York . Of course, my everyday carry camera continues to be the X100S.

Fujifilm X-T1 mirrorless digital camera. Photo courtesy of Fujifilm.com

Fujifilm X-T1 mirrorless digital camera. Photo courtesy of Fujifilm.com

As with the X-Pro1 and my first experience with the X100S, I rented the X-T1 along with the 18-55mm kit lens and a spare battery from Borrowlenses.com. Before a review camera arrives, I download the manual, then read and watch other reviews or tutorials in order to familiarize myself with all the features. Then once the camera arrives I check to make sure the firmware has been updated and in this case while the camera was up-to-date, I did have to update the lens.

I never really felt as comfortable doing street photography with this camera as I have with previous Fuji X rangefinders such as the X-Pro1 and the X100S. 1/15 @ f6.4, ISO 200.

I never really felt as comfortable doing street photography with this camera as I have with previous Fuji X rangefinders such as the X-Pro1 and the X100S. 1/15 @ f6.4, ISO 200.

Right out of the box I liked Fuji's attention to detail and style. The camera felt nice in my hands and the shutter speed, exposure compensation, and ISO dials were solid and easily accessible on top of the camera. In fact, once I went through the electronic menus and set up my preferences, I did not have to return to them for most shooting situations. Fuji really has this down and with the Q menu feature, which is now standard, your most used menu items are only one-click away, and if not, then you can customize them.

I found the 18-55mm lens very sharp at all focal lengths and appreciated the zoom, especially during this review period where I was covering a variety of scenes. 1/13 @ f4.5, ISO 200.

I found the 18-55mm lens very sharp at all focal lengths and appreciated the zoom, especially during this review period where I was covering a variety of scenes. 1/13 @ f4.5, ISO 200.

Three things I noticed right away that made this camera different from previous Fuji cameras I've reviewed. It is not a rangefinder, the SD card slot is separate from the battery chamber and there is a tiltable LCD screen. Two of these I really liked.

The rangefinder is what first attracted me to the Fuji cameras and it remains what I like best about my X100S. In the X100S and the X-Pro1 you have a choice between an Optical Viewfinder (OVF) and an Electronic Viewfinder (EVF), but with the X-T1 you only have the EVF. And while the EVF is good, using it all the time felt like I was missing something. a connection with my subjects. This was especially true when I was shooting in continuous focus mode and it never seemed to lock focus. When I took the photo and the preview would appear, the photo was sharp, but while framing shots the focus just never seemed to lock in, even with camera on a tripod.

Having a tiltable LCD screen meant that it was extremely easy to take this shot with the camera pointing straight up.

Having a tiltable LCD screen meant that it was extremely easy to take this shot with the camera pointing straight up.

I never gave tiltable LCD screens a second thought. In fact, when reading rumors of an X-Pro2 it always mentioned a tiltable screen and I would roll my eyes. However after using the tiltable screen on the X-T1, I think I'm a convert and found myself using it often. It saved me from laying on my stomach when shooting macro or low angles and seemed to be a wonderful option when shooting straight up.

Lastly, having the card slot separate from the battery compartment seems insignificant, but there were definitely times when it comes in handy. Such as when the camera was mounted on a tripod (or has the tripod plate attached) it is nice to still be able to access the camera card. Maybe it is just me, but I always seem to release the battery when what I really want to do is eject the camera card, and this eliminates any chances of that. Although I think the real reason Fuji did this was to accommodate the vertical battery grip which I'm sure also adds balance to the camera, especially with longer lenses attached.

Fujifilm XF 18-55mm f 2.8-4 R LM OIS zoom lens. Photo courtesy of www.bhphotovideo.com

Fujifilm XF 18-55mm f 2.8-4 R LM OIS zoom lens. Photo courtesy of www.bhphotovideo.com

During the review, I used the Fujinon XF18-55mm f 2.8-4.0 zoom lens "kit lens." A "kit lens" normally denotes an inexpensive starter lens that comes with a camera, but I found that this lens performed very well. I noticed good contrast and sharpness throughout the zoom range and nothing felt "cheap" about it. One feature I did miss was having the f-stops printed on the lens barrel. I typically shoot in aperture priority mode, so knowing what f-stop I'm at is critical to controlling my exposure. When walking around with my camera, I'm always checking my camera settings so that as light or situations change, I can make adjustments before I'm ready to shoot. With this lens, I had to bring the camera up to my eye and look into the viewfinder. A new Fujinon XF 16-55mm f2.8 lens is now available and would have been my choice if street, or low light photography was my goal. 

This camera does not have a built in ND filter like the X100S, so the slowest shutter speed I could get was 1/18 in this situation when I would have preferred something slower. 1/18 @ f22, ISO 200.

This camera does not have a built in ND filter like the X100S, so the slowest shutter speed I could get was 1/18 in this situation when I would have preferred something slower. 1/18 @ f22, ISO 200.

The 18-55mm lens has Optical Image Stabilization, which I left it on during the entire review period, so I don't have any examples of it turned off for comparison, however, looking at my photos now, even shots taken hand-held at fairly slow shutter speeds, they are sharp. A small lens shade is included, although I experienced considerable lens flare, even with the sun at 90 degrees. This is something I did not notice when using the XF 35 f 1.4 lens during my review of the X-Pro1.

One thing about carrying a mirrorless camera, I am much more likely to notice shots like this during lunch in Sausalito. 1/140 @ f5, ISO 400.

One thing about carrying a mirrorless camera, I am much more likely to notice shots like this during lunch in Sausalito. 1/140 @ f5, ISO 400.

I spent the majority of the seven days shooting landscape or outdoor scenes with the camera on a tripod which is very different than my previous reviews of the X-Pro1 and the X100S. So while that let me learn a few things about this camera, it really made me feel like I was missing what I really like about Fuji X cameras - street photography. The X100S and the X-Pro1 are naturals for street photography, but I just never got the same feel with this camera. For some reason, I also seemed to draw more attention to myself with this camera. The lens does stick out from the body which might be more intimidating, or I maybe I just didn't appear comfortable or casual while carrying it.

There is built-in WiFi that when paired with an IOS or Android device, lets you browse and transfer images or control the camera remotely. After some initial difficulty getting the camera to pair with my phone*, I found that it worked well. And it was useful to browse photos and transfer some for sharing on social media which I previously did using an Eyefi Mobi card. What I really would have found useful in this App, is to have the film simulation modes so I could process the photos without having to do it in-camera first.   

Like with previous cameras, I set the X-T1 to shoot Raw + JPEG with the JPEG set to MONOCHROME + Ye filter. With the Firmware V3.00 update, you will be able to enable the classic chrome film simulation mode. 1/600 @ f7.1, ISO 400.

Like with previous cameras, I set the X-T1 to shoot Raw + JPEG with the JPEG set to MONOCHROME + Ye filter. With the Firmware V3.00 update, you will be able to enable the classic chrome film simulation mode. 1/600 @ f7.1, ISO 400.

Final thoughts. This is another nice camera from Fuji and I would have no problem recommending it to someone as their primary camera, even to someone considering going pro. If, however, you already own a DSLR and are looking for a second camera to carry around every day or when working the streets, then I would stick with the X100S or the new X100T.

But you know what I really want is an update to the X-Pro1. An updated rangefinder with interchangeable lenses. Now that's what will get me to spend my money.

*I originally downloaded the wrong App, which wasn't very clear in the Play Store. And based on the one-star reviews, I don't think I was the only person making this mistake.