As busy as the cities of the Bay Area become, there are the spaces in the fire trails (like the one in the foreground) to get some quiet and distance. There’s an odd orthogonality of the senses in being able to see all of the commotion below with none of the accompanying sound.
Cityscapes function best with depth: layers of structures and pathways for the eye. The Bay Area view from Grizzly Peak was one of the earliest cityscapes I experimented with photographing. In those early times, it was Berkeley and San Francisco in the distance that most interested me; after my sabbatical at Berkeley Lab, the winding roads where I rode the bus to work and the bright shapes of the Molecular Foundry and JCAP in the foreground hold my interest far more. I enjoy the way in which subsequent experiences can retroactively shift the meaning in an image.
Grizzly Peak’s high vantage point means that a plethora of Bay Area landmarks can be stacked together in one image: From the faintest shadow of the Farallon Islands beyond the bridge, to the Golden Gate, Alcatraz, the Berkeley Marina, the busy travelers on University Avenue, to the Joint Center of Artificial Photosynthesis atop a hill in Berkeley Lab.
No offense to Salesforce, but the rainbow sunset reflections off the curved surface of their tower seem to fit much better with a building named “Transbay Tower”—particularly when it sits on the skyline near the Transamerica Pyramid. The darkened and humble shape of Alcatraz in the foreground makes for an appropriate memento mori to San Francisco’s grand architecture.
Alcatraz remains an icon of twentieth-century America. With a 500 mm lens and a view from Berkeley Lab, I was able to arrange the island with Golden Gate Bridge behind it (but not overlapping).
This is also part of my ongoing experiments, of late, trying postprocessing techniques that produce dramatic (if a bit less photorealistic) results.
Red sunset light hit the hilltops of Marin and the span of the Golden Gate Bridge and just a bit of San Francisco, but the little hikers in the foreground are sheltered from it. So too, I assume, are the people on the streets between San Francisco’s skyscrapers. Many of my favorite photographs are those that show the gradient from nature to dense urbanity, and I think this one fits that bill.
I sometimes sift through the RAW files I took long in the past, searching for meaning in images I captured long ago. In the case of this particular photograph, there’s more to the image than just my favorite Bay Area gradient of differing environments (e.g. Oakland and San Francisco and Alcatraz and two different enormous bridges and so on): there’s also a feeling of place and moment. The dramatic clouds and the grasses and the hint of the Golden Gate’s span are all spectacular, but the optics of a raindrop spattered across the lens add just as much to the image. You can practically smell the petrichor in the air.
Going back through old photos is always a trip. This particular shot reminds me how far I’ve come in the past year. At the time I don’t think I thought anything of this picture but now looking at it I really like the contrast between the colors in the sky and the darkness falling over the bay and the silhouette of the Golden Gate Bridge. The clouds rolling in from the ocean also add a neat effect.
Normally I’d have thrown a shot like this away as its no good for HDR (there are no details to enhance, only shadows) but looking at it and playing with the white balance and composition a bit I think I like the effect. There’s a sense of grand scale here with the top of the bridge emerging from the haze and with the infamous Alcatraz in the foreground.