It is time to celebrate another published book; my latest release, “Portrait of San Francisco” hits the bookstores this month. This is my first title focused on an urban landscape of streets and buildings. It represents a radical departure from my other 13 book titles focused on elements in nature, and is an exciting revelation in a long career. As a photographer, I like to “stretch” and shoot outside of my comfort zone in order to keep the perspectives fresh and the interest high. A change in subject matter is not too surprising for a person who always strives to see what is around the next corner.
I really feel a positive vibe in San Francisco that I connect with spiritually. Perhaps, counterculture lives on in my soul. I love the architecture and the history of the grand buildings and structures that grace the winding streets. The ding of a passing cable car, the aroma of another amazing restaurant and the grunt of walking up steep streets peak my senses and I feel very alive in this vibrant scene. I even got married in the grand City Hall and cannot think of a more romantic and fun place to hold such a momentous occasion.
The same principals apply to shooting in a city environment as a nature scene. It is all about the light and compositions. My favorite time to shoot cityscapes is the twenty to thirty minute windows at dawn and dusk when the lights of the city blend harmoniously with the soft ambient light, creating a magical mix that has an astounding impact on the final image. Given the short window of time, it is really important to have your location scouted ahead of time. Several times I had in mind more locations than time would allow and had to come back the next day. Once the sky gets darker and blacker it just lacks the punch of the pastel or deep blue sky.
Hustling to get to tourist spots before they became overrun with other people in the shot is key. I made sure to be the first one of the day in the Coit Tower elevator and sprinted uphill to reach the cell blocks at Alcatraz Island before they were filled with roaming tourists. I literally had no more than three minutes at each location to myself. It’s a good thing that I work fast!
There were many pleasant surprises like the gardens and nesting birds just outside of the old prison walls at Alcatraz. While tour boats unloaded throngs of tourists to the cell blocks, I enjoyed the solitude and amazing beauty just a few yards away. Visiting the historic Fillmore was a special treat as music is such a big part of my life. I could have gazed at the posters lining the walls for hours. Hanging out with a bunch of local “Instagrammers” while shooting an amazing cityscape from the 40th floor of the Loews Regency Hotel was a precious moment that resulted in some of my favorite shots. Finding lesser known places like the spiral staircase at the Mechanics Institute Library, and numerous hidden stairways around the city that lead to quaint parks filled with flowers is always a treat. Funky watering holes like the Comstock Bar and Vesuvio lead to great conversations and images alike, and are a great place to wind down the day.
Having a shot list and a plan to cover the breadth of San Francisco made for an exhilarating experience and one that lifted my career to new direction and heights. I hope that you enjoy the book!