One of the reasons why I love San Francisco during the holiday time is that it gets an extra special treat to its skyline: the four Embarcadero Center buildings outline themselves with over 17,000 lights, the Transamerica Building lights their “Beacon” and several other buildings don themselves with festive colors. Trying to get Sammi to get into photography, I brought her on a trip to the Eastern Sierras with Willie and I where she froze her tuchas off. Wanting to give her a better experience I invited her along for our visit into the San Francisco to photograph its skyline. It wasn’t until I offered to take her to the “Boxing Room” for dinner (Southern Creole) afterwards that she agreed!
Willie, Alan, James, Sammi, and I met high upon this hill overlooking the city. James had arrived early and setup 5 different tripods all over the hill. Reining him in, we all setup and waited. In previous years the Transamerica Building turned its “Beacon” on at 5pm but lately it’s been turned on at 6pm, almost an hour after sunset. The 20-30 minutes after the sun goes down is called “Blue Hour”, where the sky takes a beautiful blue/purple tone. By 6pm the sky is dark, shadows creep in, and the photos become boring. With high hopes for an early turn on I looked at the Transamerica Building at 4:55pm and saw the light was on! Yes!
During the 20 minutes or so of Blue Hour I took a number of compositions. The scene is difficult because the Bay Bridge and its light provide a nice line on the left, but the city beneath it is somewhat boring. The main part of the city lies on the right but I didn’t want to ignore the beautiful lights of the Bay Bridge. To our left were some vines and a building that blocked the view and got in the way of our scene. I decided that a panorama was necessary and I wanted to get to make the city buildings appear slightly closer, so I through on the 80-200mm lens and took an 8-photo panoramic. I took a 9th shot to make the star on top of the Transamerica building even larger. I ended with a 177 megapixel image that I then cropped in various ways.
Wanting to highlight both the bridge, the city, and the lines from the road leading through the photo, I cropped the full 177 megapixel pano into this 110 megapixel photo with a 2.5:1 aspect ratio. Zoom in to see all the amazing detail of the city in all its holiday glory!
Nikon D800 w/Nikkor 80-200mm f/2.8D ED AF
80mm, f/9.0, 6 seconds, ISO 200
8 shot panoramic, blended in Autopano Giga
9th shot at f/16 for the lighstar on The Beacon