Saturday, October 29, 2011

USS Iowa

I have caught a few of the news reports the past few days about the USS Iowa being moved from the mothball fleet in Suisun Bay, refurbished, and then eventually sent to Southern California to be on display as a museum. Yesterday morning, everyone in my area at work noticed the large ship being moved through San Pablo Bay down to Richmond.

When the news report came up again last night, I thought to myself..."hmmm...I should try to find it and see if there are any good timelapse shots." So, I threw on my hoodie and a large sweatshirt, and off I went. I eventually found the battleship docked along the inlet near Harbour Way in Richmond, just south of the railroad tracks and just north of Hall Avenue. There was a large transport vessel just north of the ship, and some dredging occurring just south.

I decided to see if there was a better shot on the other side of the inlet, but unfortunately, there are too many refinery or automotive staging areas along the inlet. This area was a vast port area in the past, and still maintains some of the shipping activity in this cove.

So, I went back to Harbour Way and lined up the best shot I could get. I parked right under the street light next to The Canery, dug out my zoom lens, and set up the parameters. Unfortunately, after getting home and looking at the series of shots, someone forgot to turn off the stabilizer. Thus, the camera appears to go through a 30 minute earthquake over the 5-6 second timelapse. It is quite an eerie series, but it was not quite what I was looking for.

I just shot off an email to the USS Iowa organizers in the hopes of gaining dock access, but until then, this will likely be my best vantage point.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Occupy Oakland Skyline

I had a softball game this evening.  We lost.  When driving along 880 on the way to the game, though, I noticed all of the aircraft flying over downtown Oakland covering the Occupy Oakland protesters.  After the game and a little pizza with the team, I decided to check out the view from the other side of Lake Merritt.

I drove along the lakefront for a little bit before noticing an enticing outcropping with a good view of downtown and the lake.  I parked and walked out to the spot.  There was one other photographer there, along with a small group of people.  I walked a little to the east just to see if there was a better view, but the outcropping had a great view of the skyline.  There was a bright light on the other side of the lake that was obstructed, so it provided the best shot.  The small group of people noticed my desire to photograph the skyline, though, and said they were I had plenty of space to set up shop.

It was a little after 9:30pm when I showed up, and aircraft were already buzzing around.  I had the tripod up and was setting up the camera when I heard loud booms and flashes of light from downtown Oakland and the Occupy Oakland protests.  I asked the other photographer if he had heard the booms, and he said it was probably tear gas.  (The news later said that the police used tear gas and concussion grenades.)

I hurried to get the camera running and tried just a handful of shots before turning on the intervalometer.  I tried a 2.5 second shutter, but was afraid I was going to lose a lot of light on any of the aircraft moving significantly faster than the others.  There was one craft kinda doing circles, while most of the others were hovering.  The hovering craft is my preference, as their flight in timelapse looks sorta like a fluttering bug.  Instead, I switched to ISO800 and a 0.5 sec shutter speed.  I wish I had gone to a longer shutter speed, as the circling craft wouldn't have looked so jerky as it does in the video.

I compiled the video when I got home, but since I have been having trouble maintaining resolution using iMovie when adding titles, intros and the such, I simply threw this up on YouTube for now.  YouTube loses resolution as well, so it's something I still need to work on.

Thanks go out to William (the other photographer) for sticking around with me another 25 minutes for safety.  Check out some of his work in the link.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Point Richmond

I was in Point Richmond this afternoon and walked out to the abandoned structures at Ferry Point. I've lived in the Bay Area for almost 11 years now, and I'm still amazed at the amount of historical remnants scattered about. It appears that the railroads used to roll through the Point Richmond tunnel and were able to load their cargo onto the ferry bound for San Francisco at a time when there were no Bay Area bridges.

For my own sake, here's a little summary of the Bay Area Bridges and their construction dates:

Antioch Bridge 1926/1978
Carquinez Bridge 1927/1958/2003
Dumbarton Bridge 1927/1982
Bay Bridge 1936/2013
Golden Gate Bridge 1937
Richmond-San Rafael Bridge 1956
Benicia-Martinez Bridge 1962/2007
San Mateo Bridge 1967/2003

Once the bridges were up, there was less need for the system of ferries, and the respective ferry docks began to deteriorate. Ferry Point is a perfect example of such rapid changes to the Bay Area over the past 100 years. The aging hoist and tracks are still visible against the powerful ocean waves, with the tech savvy San Francisco skyline in the distant horizon. Concrete floors litter the grassy landing where large buildings once stood.

I mainly visited this site to see if it provided a better view of the sun setting over the soft silhouettes of the coastal clouds. I attached the neutral density filter and was able to get a decent shot, but the high level clouds created less of a distinct line between day and night. I think the view from the hills along Point Richmond will actually provide a better view of the cloud dynamic, but that also entails climbing with a significant portion of gear.

After the sun was fully down, the glow from Point Richmond illuminated the cove, so I set up for one last little shot. It was harder to get the proper shutter speed to provide enough light, yet also prevent the cloud action from becoming too blurry. Again, for me, the low level clouds are difficult to incorporate into a nighttime timelapse series.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011


A few days ago I realized that I wasn't taking pictures in the aspect ratio that I preferred.  My Canon T3i defaults to a 3:2 aspect ratio, but most HD video is in the 16:9 aspect ratio.  I looked through my settings and changed the default from 3:2 to 16:9.

A high pressure system has rolled through the Bay Area the past few days.  This means that the coastal clouds typically stay off the coast and don't make their way into the bay.  It also means that the Bay Area gets a bit warmer.

My goal is to get time lapse of all three Bay Area airports at night in some fashion or another.  SFO typically gets more fog than the other two, so I figured this would be a good time to see what shots are available of it.  I'd found one person who shot SFO from Sweeney Ridge and figured I would head up there without any fog issues.  Of course, I didn't decide to head there until a little before 9pm.

I looked on the map before heading out and wanted to see if there were any alternate spots to check out on my way up to the top of Sweeney Ridge.  When I made it to Sneath Lane in San Bruno, all my alternate shots had too much light, so I made my way to Sweeney Ridge Park.  When I arrived, I found an empty parking lot, but no warnings about a curfew or the park closing at any hours.  I also looked at the trail sign which indicated a 1.8 mile hike to the top.


It was already 9:30pm and getting to the top would take at least another half hour, if not longer, and I didn't want to be out all night.  Also, when I checked my flashlight, the batteries were dead, so I'd mainly be in the dark by myself late at night.  After remembering what Joe Reifer wrote in his blog entry about possible homeless people living in the deserted dwellings at the top, I figured I would nix this attempt by myself.  There was a pretty cool view from the parking lot, though, and since I didn't want to go home empty handed, I set up the shot of the hillside and a lone tree, with the back drop of the dimly lit Milky Way behind it.  The camera was arranged such that it was on the driver's side of my car and protected from some of the area light.  I was really surprised that this many stars came through with so much city light nearby.

I had to open up the camera as much as possible and leave the shutter open for 20 seconds in order to get a good picture.  From what I read elsewhere, if the shutter is open longer than 25 seconds, one starts dealing with star trails.  I set the intervalometer for 25 seconds, which gave the camera 5 seconds to store the data before being ready for the next exposure.  I thought I had the 16:9 ratio set, too, but it appears that the 16:9 is only available when you use the "live view" even if the default is 16:9.  It reverts to 3:2 when the "live view" isn't used.

View from the parking lot.
With 25 seconds between shots, that's just over 2 pictures a minute.  At 30 frames a second in a movie, I need 150 pictures just for about 5 seconds of playback.  That equates to about 75 minutes of exposures.  I had my laptop with me and hadn't fully caught up on my How I Met Your Mother episodes, so I had something to keep me occupied.   I started the camera running, and then crawled into the passenger seat to watch a few episodes.

Every once in a while, a car would go by about half a block away, and the car lights would shine on the hillside.  I figured it would probably show up on the exposures.  There were a few planes that flew over, too, and I wondered how they might look, as well.

As the time rolled by, I found I had enough shots, but I had only a few minutes left of the current episode and wanted to finish it.  All of a sudden, my whole area is basked in bright light.  I turn to see a car shining a spot light on my car.

It's a cop.

I close my laptop and place it in the back of my car, before slowly exiting my vehicle.  I suppose crawling out of the passenger side looks bad, but when the female cop approached, I pointed to my camera and said I was just doing a little time lapse photography.

The po-po's lights finished off my shoot.
She'd already called in my license plate and they were reading back my info to her.  She asked to see my driver's license, so I dug it out of my purse for her.  She said they had a lot of trouble makers in this particular parking lot and that they would often break into cars.  She said she wanted to check and make sure I wasn't some missing woman or anything.  I said I was fine and was just wrapping up my shoot...especially with all the extra light kinda killing the last few shots.  She was amazed that I had driven so far for this shoot, but I explained that it was only about a 30 minute drive.

As I was driving home, though, I realized I need to be extra careful out shooting night shots in these "remote" locations.  I also need to get some pepper spray and fresh batteries for the flashlight. After looking at Google a little more, it also looks like there is slightly easier access off Skyline to another trail nearby, which may provide just as good a view.  I'll probably try it the next time we're low on fog.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Lazy Sunday

It was just another lazy Sunday, and as the sun was setting, I figured I would take a walk to see how the sunset looked.  The weather has been nice this weekend and the sky was fairly clear.  I took note of the coastal clouds crawling their way over the area hills, and thought it would make a decent shot.  I had purchased a neutral density filter when I bought the camera, as I had heard it would help take better time lapse pictures when there was extreme light.  I attached it to the camera and adjusted the settings.

This series of shots was 1 picture every 6 seconds, and I tried to continue until the screen was basically pitch black.  There was plenty of light still in the sky, but with the filter on there, the picture went dark fairly fast.  I wish I had started a bit earlier on this, as I think having the sun further up in the sky and the clouds being playful along the horizon would have made this series even better.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

On the Water

I had a gathering in Alameda this evening that ended around the time the sun was going down.  With the Alameda waterfront lending itself a fantastic view of downtown San Francisco and the Bay Bridge, I figured I would give it a go.  I first scanned the view from my perch in Alameda, but the view of the bridge was slightly obstructed.  I figured I could get a closer shot from the northern part of the island, which is, unfortunately, the old Alameda Naval Base.

I drove around the northern end of Alameda, but couldn't find a clear shot, nor an entrance onto the old naval airfield.  I looked at the map on my iPhone and saw a small park on the other side of the thin sliver of water between Alameda and Oakland.  I made my way off the island and around the maze of shipping containers to arrive at the small park.  I parked my car, but noticed the sign indicating the park curfew from 10pm until 5am.  It was just after 9pm, and I figured I could walk out to the end of the park and see what view was available.  As I was making my way, the park's guard made his way along the path I was headed.  I asked him if it was OK to be out there, and he said it was...and that I might be able to stay out a little longer since his replacement came on at 10pm.

I continued along the park path, and soon noticed a pier at the very end.  As I got closer, I noticed two fishermen conversing.  I could also hear them talking about me as I approached, noticing that I was a photographer.

I set up shop on the furthest spot out with the best view.  After playing with the settings, I set the intervalometer and was up and running within a few minutes.  The sky started out with just a few clouds rolling by, but near the end, it seemed to glow with an abundance of fluffiness.

As the series of shots continued, though, I noticed that the pier would slightly shift throughout the run.  I was worried that the shots would looked blurry if the pier moved while the shutter was open.  After looking through the pictures, though, it looks like things turned out fine.

After heading home, I decided to get one last shot in for the night.  I've noticed the marina has very interesting views with the boat masts, and I figured another nighttime shot in the marina would be nice.  I tried to get the best angle looking down the planks, but this was the best I could manage.  When I watch the timelapse, the boats seem to move in this eerie motion that's kinda cool, but the clouds moving by are dark and overshadowed by the looming boat movement.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Gate

I was back at work today after traveling back from China yesterday.  I tried to leave at a respectable time, but with the horrible jet lag, I made it out of work and home just in time to see the sun setting over the Bay Area hills.  The marine layer does this mystical dance along the coast, especially through the Golden Gate.  Thus, I decided to set up shop and catch the clouds playfully move through the majestic scene.

Nine minutes after picking up The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, though, the fog had basically surrounded my area and started depositing water droplets on both my camera and lens.  Doh!

I am not an expert on camera maintenance, but I knew that touching the lens was bad.  It's right up there with crossing streams.  Just don't do it!  Unfortunately, I did it anyway, but tried to touch it gently in order to wipe away the excess water.

After looking through the camera and determining that the image looked OK, I set up for another shot to watch the fog move through the marina.  (As long as the focus isn't set for close shots, anything on the surface of the lens won't show up in the picture unless it's right in the very middle.) 

I'm still trying to figure out how to put together a time lapse with shots that take over 3-5 seconds to develop.  It seems like the clouds that aren't super far away get really blurry at that time period, but any less exposure time doesn't typically allow in enough light.