Our cities are, by nature, ever-changing entities in their own right.
From skylines that morph into different silhouetted shapes each year, to businesses and people that come and go as their needs and successes change – these moments in time that I capture in my cityscape images are never the same from one day to the next, and the ones I’ve taken of San Francisco are no exception.
From high above the rooftops, blue hour brings a certain electricity to the city below – the streets come alive, the skyscrapers light up with their signature decorations and we become dazzled by the energy that sits before our eyes.
That’s not to say that the city view across San Francisco is any less special at other times of day – the golden glow of morning sunlight as it rises over the bay, reflecting off the steel and glass buildings of the Financial District and Market area to the east can be really quite special too. That evening warmth, though, that occurs as the sun sets over the Pacific Ocean is where the magic tends to happen as the city below bathes in its final rays of light.
Of course, it’s not always a gloriously sunny day by the bay – indeed, as Mark Twain once commented, “The coldest winter I ever saw was the summer I spent in San Francisco.”
In a city so well known for fog (and hence my previous image – “fog city”!), you come to expect a bit of bad weather, photographically, every now and then – but there’s one amazing landmark in this city that always looks good, regardless of what mother nature throws at it.
Even as a rain-storm approaches, the giant silhouette of the iconic Golden Gate Bridge looks no less impressive than on another “perfect” day in the sky above.
Reaching almost 2 miles, with nearly a mile of that being the central span itself, this giant 6-lane suspension bridge has remained an instantly-recognisable landmark around the world since its completion in 1937.
When viewed from the Marin Headlands to the north of the San Francisco itself, the sheer scale of the construction challenge becomes obvious – linking the north to the south by road while allowing one of the busiest shipping channels in North America to continue to operate uninterrupted, day and night.
While the Golden Gate Bridge is obviously the star of the show, I have to admit to finding myself equally impressed with its sibling to the east : The San Francisco to Oakland Bay Bridge. Indeed, I was selling Bay Bridge prints well before I finally got my chance to shoot “Fog City” several years later!
Viewed from Yerba Buena Island, which in turn is connected to the fantastically named “Treasure Island” sat half way between San Francisco and Oakland, the Bay Bridge rose to infamy in 1989 when a 50ft section of the upper deck collapsed into the lower during the Loma Prieta earthquake.
Since then, the double-decker bridge has been strengthened, had its eastern span replaced with a mind-blowing “self-anchored suspension bridge”/SAS, and is now illuminated with a signature light show each evening. More importantly though, from my perspective, it still offers that one amazing view of the approach to this stunning city by the bay:
With or without a camera, just sitting here watching the city come to life in the distance as the lines of traffic flow to and from the east, is enough to make me smile in contentment for hours on end.
No, I’m not a fan of the new “SalesForce Tower” which has (in my opinion) obliterated the classic San Francisco city skyline I knew and loved before. But I guess that’s the price of progress – and it’s not going anywhere, anytime soon, so it seems like it’s time we all embraced the new addition as a neighbour!
So what about heading back to the Golden Gate Bridge for when the clouds and fog come in? I mean, it’s not always going to be perfect photography weather on one of the most exposed coastlines facing the Pacific Ocean.
While the fog can make the bridge look spectacular, it can also leave you stood well inside a cloud up there on the headlands if it stays a little too long. In that case, heading north to get under the moisture in the air and capturing the glow of the huge span from below is one answer:
You might have to dodge a few seagulls that come out to play with the fishermen in the morning – but you’re also quite likely to see a few sea-lions floating around at that time too. Oh, and there’s that stunning backdrop in the distance to enjoy too!
Back up the hill, onto Battery Spencer when the weather is a little better, and you’ll find the cool blue glow of dusk really boosts the vibrancy of the bridge itself as it’s lit up from below.
As a true 24×7 city, you’ll never be short of car trails running across the bridge, but it’s the perfect positioning of the viewpoint looking through the north tower to the city beyond that captivates me, each and every time…
…it’s almost as if it was planned that way!
So there we have it – many years on since I first started capturing the Bay Area’s bridges and the cityscape of which they form part – to me, the view is no less impressive than the very first time I saw it with my own eyes.