The Great Highway Panoramas | Ocean Beach, San Francisco

I was on a recent real estate shoot in the Outer Sunset of SF and part of the assignment was to capture some of the surrounding area, landscape, city scenes, Golden Gate Park, etc. for the listing. Just in time to finish the exterior shots of the home, in typical not in the forecast but it happens out of nowhere San Francisco weather, it starts to rain. And not just a foggy drizzle, a full on big drop shower. Still determined to capture something to pull this one off, I hid under trees while I made a few neighborhood snaps and headed down to Ocean Beach to make some panos of the beach and the city from the top of the dunes. I came away with two pretty cool panoramic shots and confirmation of the desire to continue to incorporate this type of photography into every shoot going forward. Where there’s a expansive view, there’s a panorama to be made!

Click images for larger views.

Full gallery here.

Time Lapse Photography of Foggy San Francisco Bay from the Top of Nob Hill

Click the play button above to watch embedded video, or for an high res experience, follow this link to watch the 16:9 HD version on Vimeo.

1400 images over 5 hours, 10 seconds apart, compressed to a minute and a half 🙂

I decided to play a role in this one, alongside a glass of our favorite Husch Sauvignon Blanc and a Rolling Stone magazine. It was WINDY & COLD up there, and a misty drizzly rain started falling when I decided to leave my post, as evidenced by the mist on the lens filter in the video about mid-way through. Instead of bail on the project, I cleaned the filter, tightly plastic bagged the camera and let ‘er roll! Was a fun way to capture the afternoon and early part of the night.

What I’ve learned about time lapse photography over the past few years:

  • Prepare everything in advance. When you’re going to do it, how you’re going to set it up, your composition, etc. Otherwise you end up moving the camera or making other changes on the fly. Follow up point: be willing to adapt. Nothing sucks worse than planning for a 5 hour exposure and then realizing that when you used the lens hood to attach a plastic bag to protect your camera from drizzly rain falling upon it, you left it partially in the frame for 30 minutes of exposures…
  • Use a solid tripod. I never use a tripod in my professional work, so the one I have sucks, it’s one I got as a gift from someone in college like 10 years ago… and in the borderline hurricane force winds on our roof above the Bay, a weak tripod will wiggle and shake as you expose the camera over a long period of time. You can argue that artistically it adds to the experience… but if I had $400 in my photography budget for a nice tripod, I’d have lugged that puppy up there with a big fat sandbag and saved myself some shakin’.
  • There’s no way you’re going to sit there clicking the shutter for each exposure, so use an intervalometer. This gives you time to enjoy the view, run downstairs to fill up your glass of wine, have dinner with your girlfriend, watch an episode of Law & Order SVU, and still have 878 frames left in your sequence… I’m blessed with a sometimes annoying to set up, but conveniently built in intervalometer with my camera. Many new DSLRs have this option built in. On my camera (and possibly yours) the option is placed under the “shooting menu” accurately titled “interval timer shooting.” They all setup a little differently, so poke around your menus or your camera manual until you figure it out. For example, the Nikon D700 has you choose 1) the interval, then 2) # of shots, so you have to do some math depending on how long you want your time lapse to be… (for reference, when you create your image sequence, you’ll want anywhere from at least 15 frames per second to 30 frames per second, so plan accordingly).
  • When possible (and it wasn’t really in this video), use slower shutter speeds for your individual exposures. This will make the “video” you’re creating come together in a smoother fashion as each frame will drag easier into the next, much like, wait for it… a motion picture.
  • When shooting faster moving objects (windy days with clouds moving quickly overhead, sports, etc.) use a smaller interval. You can use a longer one with more static, slower changing elements, or when studying glacial movement over a number of years like these guys: Extreme Ice Survey.
  • Shoot in JPEG. Unless you feel like converting thousands of RAW images into a format your time lapse program can read (and if that’s your idea of a good time, good on ya mate), keep it simple. I chose a 10 second interval here, and ended up with 1400 image files to put together, but if I had used a 1 second interval for the same time period, I would have had 14,000… I’ll get there, just not right now.
  • Unless you’re making a career in it, you can use free software on the web, or give Apple another $30 of your hard earned money and purchase Quicktime 7 Pro. I used QT 7 Pro for both of the time lapse vids on my site. It’s easy to put all of the images in one folder, open the image sequence, and make the magic happen.

A couple of resources I have found useful:

The first time lapse I did from our roof lives here: I’ll have to do a sunset one soon. Tonight would have been a good night… Until next time!

Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco Bay Sunrise & Sunset Panoramic Photography

I’ve been seemingly obsessed with creating Panoramic images over the past year or so. I tried it out a couple of years ago, and to be honest I kinda sucked at it. Exposure was all off, and even the wonders of Photomerge in Photoshop couldn’t properly align and setup my images : ( Practice makes perfect, and though I’m far from that accolade, I have taken mentorship from a few pro photographers I admire as well as multiple attempts at it to heart, and I typically don’t make an image of a landscape these days without trying my hand at a pano during the shoot. The one thing that’s still a big pita, is that sometimes they take a lot more time on the computer than I’d like to complete a ‘single’ image. I didn’t quite get into photography to be a computer technician, and for an average shoot, most of my digital images take 1 minute or less to post process in Lightroom or Photoshop (sometimes none), but for some reason, I’m happy to spend an hour or more, often at midnight once I’ve gotten the rest of my work done, to finesse a group of images into a spread I can be proud of.


Sunrise view of the Golden Gate Bridge, the San Francisco Bay and the City of San Francisco from Nob Hill, San Francisco, CA. 4 image panorama.

Not a week goes by where I don’t sit at the desk in our home office, peer out the windows of the sunroom at sunset, run to the other room, grab my camera and snap one, two, or a hundred images of our vista during the fleeting hours of daylight. Not traditionally a morning person, but once in a while I’m awakened in the early am. It’s a habit of mine that whenever I get up, no matter what time it is, I go over to the window, pull down the blinds with my fingers and peer out into the Bay. It’s something I’ve come to know and love, and I know it’s part of the reason I stay sane living in the hecticness of city life. On this particular day, I was blessed to see this display of clouds and golden sunrise over the city. I’d be lying if I said my first instinct was to grab the camera. With an hour or two left before the alarm was set to go off, I was halfway back to bed when my mind finally kicked my body into shape with my conscious saying “grab the camera and make a few images of this dude!” 5 panned images and a photomerge later we have the image of the sunrise above. A few days later I went up on our roof to capture the sunset in the 9 image pano below.



Sunset view of the Golden Gate Bridge, the San Francisco Bay and the City of San Francisco from Nob Hill, San Francisco, CA. 9 image panorama.

Of course, like the rest of us I’m enamored by the Golden Gate Bridge and the San Francisco Bay. Partly because it’s one of the most beautiful bays in America, and partly because over the past two years, I’ve been blessed with a ridiculous view of it while living in the city by the Bay. For two years I’ve studied the weather (including the fog, the clouds, the wind! and the occasional lightning storm), the sun patterns, the shadows, the container ships, the sailboats, the buildings, the homes, the city, the Marin Headlands, the bridge traffic, and the neighborhood around us. All of these things have become as near and dear to me as the places where I grew up. I’ve never been so in love with living in a place in my life, not since moving away from New York and trying out all the places I’ve been over the last 15 years. My not so April fool, was capturing the image of the Golden Gate at sunset on April 1 below.



View of the Golden Gate Bridge, the San Francisco Bay and the City of San Francisco from Battery Spencer in the Marin Headlands of California. 5 image panorama.

If you’re interested in learning how to shoot panoramas, you can start with the ever present and often helpful Google search for something like “how to photograph panoramic images” or something of the like. Of course, once you have a basic understanding, I suggest getting out there with your camera and giving it a try! A few words of wisdom I can offer from my experience:


  • Use a digital camera. Though this can be done with film, it’s well outside the scope of my skillz and this brief commentary. There’s another one for the photography bucket list…
  • Shoot vertical, portrait oriented images. This allows you to capture a larger spread top to bottom for your panorama. You’ll undoubtedly have to crop a bit on the top or bottom once you merge the images, and shooting vertical allows a lot more leeway once you get ’em all together.
  • Shoot in manual everything. Choose an exposure by locking in the ISO, aperture and shutter speed that works for most of your scene. This means some of it may be darker or brighter than you like. That’s OK because if you shoot it in RAW format, you can typically recover up to 2 stops of light in either direction in post processing before the quality of your image breaks down. Often, I prefer to underexpose instead of blowing things in highlights out. Once you lose it on the top end, it’s gone. I often find it easier to recover dark parts and shadows of the image (assuming the minimum amount of light necessary to bring back detail in post was captured). Sunsets and sunrises are notoriously difficult as one side of the sky is significantly brighter than the other as you pan, and sometimes I shoot for highlight detail and lower the exposure in post… Experimentation.
    • Example settings, if you’re going for daytime long distance grand vista panos like the Golden Gate Bridge at sunset photograph from this post: ISO 100-200, f/11, 1/125th sec. I went against my own advice (rules are made to be broken) and lived with the lack of detail in the highlights on the right side of the image as the low angle sunset light on the bridge was most important for me to protect in this capture.
  • When shooting, overlap each consecutive image by 1/3 to 1/2 of each frame. This is really important and one of the top 3 keys to any panoramic image. In order for Photoshop to merge your images in Photomerge, it has to be able to reference enough data across the images to figure out the scene and line everything up. In practice, I have greater success with overlapping more during capture, and then combining more images in Photoshop. 3 is the minimum, and have used up to 11. Some big ballers use 100 or more images, HDR techniques, etc. If you’re heading to be a baller, start by Googling “how to photograph hdr panoramic images.”
  • Use Adobe Photoshop (along with Adobe Bridge) or equivalent program(s). My method is usually quite simple: 1) Select the images I want to merge in Bridge. 2) Go to Tools –> Photoshop –> Photomerge –> Choose the ‘Auto’ option. Viola, most of the time if you shot it well, PShop does a great job of putting it all together.
  • Crop and publish. Orrrrr (more likely), develop using camera RAW settings (exposure, highlights, recovery, fill light, brightness, contrast, vibrance, saturation, etc.) as necessary, tweak, tweak, tweak, dodge, burn, crop, publish.
  • As you develop your panorama aptitude you’ll find what works best for you as you define and refine your style. Give it a try!


View the full gallery and larger renditions of the images above here. Or to really experience the full breadth of the scenes, you can purchase the high resolution images using the Buy button above, or come visit us for a session at the studio and view ’em on the big screen!

San Francisco Skyline – Nighttime Views from Treasure Island

I don’t often go to Treasure Island, but today I just wanted to get out for a drive, and it seemed like the place to visit. A short jaunt from San Francisco, and dramatically placed right in the middle of the San Francisco Bay is the site of one of the most awe inspiring views of the city in the entire area. Second to only the Berkeley hills, this can’t be beat. Plus, if you’re already in SF, you can get there and back sans toll. I highly recommend this trip, worth it’s weight in unforgettable scenery of the City by the Bay.

I didn’t get out of the house until close to 4pm, but it was just enough time to get out there to catch the last few rays of sunset. I decided I wanted to get there for sunset, but once I arrived, I decided I’d stick around until after dark to catch some nighttime shots of the skyline. It was worth the wait, and the battering winds and extreme windchill… to capture some views on one of the first weekends with the holiday lights on.

I totally froze my butt off, but it was a nice way to spend some time semi-alone just working the long exposures. My tripod is crap and hopefully someday soon I can upgrade. I’d likely need to sandbag  50 pound scaffolding to withstand these winds without blur at 30 seconds +, but for now it’s cheapo Focal tripod to the rescue. Was cool to get out there at night again. This is also one of the few galleries where I include multiple versions of the same capture. I had a little fun with the post-processing on a few of these so included a few versions of a couple of them. Hope you enjoy 🙂

See the full gallery here.

Photographer’s notes: Nikon D700; ISO 100; Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 lens; F/8; Exposures between 2 seconds and 20 seconds.

Update – 1/5/2011 : A lesson in SEO. Set your filenames, headers/titles, keywords/tags, and categories (in that order of priority) and search engines will find you. Search Google for “best place to see sf skyline by night.” Yesterday I was the top hit. Very cool.

World Trade Center, New York City – October 23, 2010

It’s a powerful place to visit. Having grown up in New York and now living under western skies, I don’t often get back to NYC. This particular trip lead to a ride up to the 86th and 102nd floors of the Empire State Building (they have a very cool sustainability exhibit on display), as well as a subway ride down to The World Trade Center and Ground Zero.

I took the trip by myself, friends having been too pooped to make it out of the apt that day, and I’m kinda glad I did. Gave me time to sit and reflect, to soak in the scene and wander, to really pay homage to this place. I stopped by the 9-11 Memorial for Firefighters, Policeman and Rescue Workers and the WTC.  If you have the opportunity, you should make the trip.

See the full gallery here.

Sunrise View over the San Francisco Bay at NDP

The sun rises over the San Francisco Bay on October 14, 2010. Air moves fast by the coast, and the clouds are often wispy and long. They don’t ever quite get this pillowy and cottonbally, so even though there were still a few hours of bedtime to be had before heading into this day, I just had to jump out of bed, grab my camera and make a few images of the sun rising over the city. I don’t quite expect that we shall see these puffy clouds again any time soon…

Fantastic day to be alive.

Fleet Week San Francisco, October 2010

All types of military and stunt planes scour the San Francisco Bay for the Fleet Week celebration each year. The stars of the show, the ever-magnificent Blue Angels scream overhead at mach whatever-the-f while we all watch in wonder. Luckily, for the past two years, our apartment has been on a few of the paths they take to circle back to the bay, and we’re able to catch them tear ass right over our heads like nobody’s business.

See the full gallery here.