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City Lights, Alamo Square, San Francisco, California | by PatrickSmithPhotography
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City Lights, Alamo Square, San Francisco, California

I've decided to do some cityscapes of San Francisco taken during that 3-5 minute window when the daylight becomes even with the city lights. So I'll start with one of the most famous views, Alamo Square and the 'Painted Ladies.' If you're going to shoot an 'overshot' location, make it good! See below. No HDR.


Free wallpaper for over 100 of my images in 6 different screen sizes is now available!


See the 1200 pixel version!!



Settings etc.:



Canon 5D Mark II

Canon 24-105L @85 (with live preview on to get it perfectly sharp)

1-minute exposure @F8 (for the finest sharpness)

LEE soft ND grad (100x150mm - 4x6in) 0.9 (2 grads would make light reflection echos)

Lee foundation kit filter holder with Lee 77mm adapter ring

No polarizer.

ISO 50

RAW file processed with Capture One by Phase One

TIFF file processed with Photoshop

Small Slik Sprint mini II tripod

Manfrotto 322RC2 pistol-grip ball head



The Story



Alamo Square and the Victorian style 'Painted Ladies' are well known photo locations. At least 6 double-decker tour buses drove by in just the 30 minutes I was there. I witnessed hundreds of photos taken as I made mine! So in order to make an image that would stand out, I had to wait for a stormy day where the clouds (behind the camera to the west) would open up right at sunset to produce dramatic light against the clouds and cityscape. You should have seen the awesome sunset happening behind me! It was difficult to ignore it, but I wanted to show the city in a brilliant red light. It made a red stripe in the clouds and painted the cityscape in purples and other soft colors. A 1-minute exposure softened the sky and ensured that none of the people and dogs playing on the grass were visible.


Yes, there were many people walking right in front of the camera, but a long exposure takes care of that. Just make sure that nobody stays stationary for more than 10-seconds. I also made a couple of 5-minute exposures with the Lee 10-stopper (very dark slide-in filter) as the last rays of sun hit the city. No trace remained of the dozens of people and dogs walking and running around.


While I was shooting, a guy from Holland walked over and we had a good time shooting and talking about things. It is amazing how photography can make instant friends!


This image is really sharp and you can see read the licence plates of the car in the driveway and see the photo hanging on the wall inside the right-most house. Also, you can see a poster for the (US Baseball) San Francisco Giants. This photo was taken during the series which they just won.


None of these houses are the location of the TV series "Full House", that house is at 1709 Broderick Street! However, the cast was filmed playing around on this grass for some scenes.


Over the winter, I'll be doing recon and shooting more cityscapes to mix it up a bit. It is hard to resist going right to the ocean (3 miles behind the camera) for seascapes when there is a good sunset, but this is the only way to get really outstandig photos of the cityscape. The best time is right after the sun sets. You get about 3-5 minutes of good light, so be ready. I'm also doing a series of photos high above the sea (2,100ft+/700m+) that are 'zoomed in' to show some nice light on the endless sea.


The map shows the exact location. Tip: Get back as far (and high) as possible to see more of the city behind the row of houses.)



Other stuff



My pictures are featured on the front page of the newly redesigned

The state Gov. of California website. Have a look! It is Flash with my pics cut into layers for a 3-d slideshow. If you are into building apps, the State has opened up lots of data to the public, so check it out!






Google Earth


Simply the best way to scout out locations that there is. You can see sun angles and pre-visualize light under lots of different conditions. Sometimes you can actually pre-compose your shots! This has saved me many thousands of vertical feet of climbing by avoiding spots with blocked views etc.


Satellite imagery (choose 'National' for a local US region or use your fave website)


Tide charting and preditions: (chose your area in US, other countries have similar websites)


Wave Heights (I choose 'North Pacific from Global')

Or Here:


Photos of every inch of the California coastline from a small plane. Excellent for close in detailed views.


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Taken on October 30, 2010