You Don’t Say

The road curves again, this time to the right, and suddenly a stop sign looms ahead. I hit the brakes and the Harley behind me rumbles to a stop.

I’m not sure where I am.

I’d lost my way twice trying to get to the San-Francisco side of the Golden Gate Bridge; although I have a good head for directions, the streets of San Francisco occasionally throw me off. First I drove along the border of the Golden Gate Park, forgetting its east-west orientation and ending up at the Pacific Ocean instead of the shores of the bay. Driving along the Great Highway, I knew I’d made a mistake. Now I didn’t how to find my way to the hills to the west of the bridge.

I squint at the sign and ignored the ominous rumbling of the Hog behind me. Did that say – wait – yes! – this was it. Quickly I turn my signal on and peel right, up the hill. It was 5:30 PM and the sun was already sinking lower. After a two minute drive I saw a gravel-lined vantage point and pulled in, wincing as the tires kicked gravel against the Cobalt’s underbody. Time to photograph.

I try to express myself through photography.

It’s harder than it looks. To try is to experience and accept constant failure, but to push on with the blind hope that practice will hone your skills. There are days I return from photographic day-trips and as I view my takes, keep pressing the Delete key. I am unhappy because I don’t do justice to the world.

Our world is a riot of color, of beauty in which I immerse myself. I may have a “moodier-than-average” personality during the week, but when I am out there, everything’s different. Walking the hills on Sunday I laughed out loud – so loud people would have doubted my sanity. If at that moment I’d died, I’d have died happy.

Mike once asked me why I spent half a night on one photograph. “Because I enjoy it.”

I’ve learned alot from the many friendly people from around the world who frequent photography forums. I’d like to share some of my experiences in photographing the Golden Gate. Some of these tips may appear odd, but keep in mind that I get cold very easily and when I’m cold, my motivation to stay outside and take time and trouble goes downhill.

  • The Golden Gate is often covered with a light brown haze. This obscures the rich, orange shades of the bridge and ruins the clarity of your photographs. I’ve been advised to use a polarizing filter and take pictures at dawn.
  • Use a tripod. I arrived at the Golden Gate at 5:30PM and taking handheld pictures was hard. The low light levels made it a challenge to shoot handheld. I had to remove my polarizer and even then I had to take pictures at f/7.1, 1/160s, ISO 200. I lost DOF. I was under the sweet spot for my lens.

    The strong, cold winds blowing in from the bay cut right through my clothes and made it a challenge to hold my camera steady. Since I was constantly compensating for the wind, I had a hard time composing and often took multiple pictures from the same viewpoint since I knew my angles would be slightly ‘off’. It’s a pain to sort through later.

  • If you use an aluminum tripod, cover the legs with neoprene covers or pipe insulator. Metal cools down fast and my fingers get numb alarmingly quickly.
  • If you have a tripod:
    • Consider buying a ballhead instead of the 3-way pan heads that are usually supplied. I have a Velbon Sherpa with a pan head and I get frustrated because there are too many knobs to adjust.
    • Get a tripod as close to your eye level as possible. This is easier said than done – I know.
    • Consider getting a leveling base or a hot-shoe level. It’s tedious to have to correct leveling issues after the fact.
    • Junk the tripod bag – at least for short hauls. Attach some sort of strap directly on the tripod. It’s so much easier to use a tripod if you reduce the number of set up steps.
  • Use a Graduated ND filter. I picket up a Hitech 0.9 hard edge kit with Cokin holder and 67mm adapter ring from 2filter after last week’s experiences. Often a scene’s dynamic range exceeds that of a digital camera’s sensor and this can lead to exposures you don’t like.
  • Get windproof clothing, especially if you get cold fast like me. By the time I got back to the car, my fingers were so stiff I couldn’t hold my pen properly. The notes I took right afterwards look as if an epileptic scratched them out.
  • Use glasses instead of contacts. My eyes dry out quickly and using contacts accelerates it. I found that using contacts in strong winds while peering through a viewfinder to be very challenging. If I didn’t blink often enough, the scene would fall out of focus. I didn’t have this problem with my glasses.

I hope that my advice will help someone – just as others’ have helped me.

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