Over the years, I’ve made hundreds of images of San Francisco Muni’s streetcars. There’s a great of variety of equipment from the famous cable-cars to historic and colorfully painted PCCs and other vintage equipment, plus modern European designed trams. The setting is stunning and the weather can be cosmic with wafts of Pacific fog coming over Twin Peaks.
Here’s a sample of a few favorite Muni images.
San Francisco is among the many cities featured in my new book Streetcars of America, co-authored with John Gruber. The book is now available through Amazon and other retailers. John and I wrote this compact 64-page soft-cover volume in 2013. It is priced at under $10.
This isn’t your typical cable car image. Where photographers, myself included, have often focused on San Francisco’s exceptionally steep hills, where cars appear to cling precariously to tracks, instead I’ve tried to make the most of one of more level sections of the cable car system.
I exposed this on Kodachrome 25 this using my old Nikormat FT3 with a secondhand Tokina 400mm lens.
This exceptionally long telephoto was very sharp but had very shallow depth of field. I used this quality to set background highway traffic, include some MUNI Trolley buses, out of focus, thus helping the viewer concentrate on the main subject—the famous cable car.
Although a simple image, there’s a lot to see in it. Despite my use of selective focus, the path of the cable car track (with its trademark central conduit) leads the eye beyond the car and around the corner toward Powell Street.
Aiding my effort was the rich afternoon sun for which San Francisco is often blessed. There’s an exceptionally pleasant quality to Bay Area sunshine that is best experienced in person, but has made for a great many photographic opportunities. I miss that quality of light when I’m not there!
I was on the San Francisco Embarcadero in May 2008. A very thin fog was tempering the morning sun. Using my Canon EOS 3 with 24mm lens, I exposed this view of Muni PCC dressed for Kansas City Public Service working the ‘F-line.’
The similarity in the colors of the car and buildings in the background works well in the soft morning sun, while the wide angle views places the streetcar in its environment. I like the way the wires and tracks frame the car.
In 1992, I was living on Haight Street in San Francisco, just a short walk from this location. One August morning, I got up early to make photos of Muni’s light rail cars exiting the Muni Metro on Duboce in the sunrise glint light.
For this image, I’ve used the trees at the left to shade the front element from direct sun to minimize flare. Although it was a clear morning, the sun was tinted by pollution that I remember as being a common effect in the Bay Area, especially in the summer.
My goal was to catch a car taking the wye from the J-Church line heading west on the N-Judah line, which was a common way for Muni to position cars in the morning. While I did make that photo, I felt this image was actually a better picture.
It shows an inbound J-Church car turning toward the subway portal with an N-Judah car outbound.
Although, I commonly used Kodachrome at the time, for this image I used Fujichrome 100 (before the introduction of Provia), which I processed myself at the photo studio where I worked in South San Francisco. Among my studio duties was running E6 transparency film. We used a roller transport machine and mixed the chemistry on site.
Although less photographed than historic cable cars and vintage streetcars, San Francisco Muni’s light rail routes offer plenty of interesting opportunities to make urban railway images.
San Francisco enjoys spectacular weather and lighting conditions. My favorite times to photograph are a sunrise and sunset. While the modern Breda-built cars lack the flair of historic PCC’s (see San Francisco Muni F-Line, May 2008), they still make for interesting subjects for the creative eye.
San Francisco Muni’s F-Line route operates with a variety of vintage streetcars, including streamlined PCC cars painted in various historic liveries to represent systems that originally operated these cars.
Popular with tourists and residents alike, the vintage cars are fun to ride and photograph. Unlike most modern transit, the F-Line offers continual variety, with different cars operating from day to day.
In May 2008, I made this photograph of PCC 1061 dressed for Pacific Electric in front of the restored Ferry Building on San Francisco’s Embarcedero. Originally built for Philadelphia, this was among the cars acquired for operation in San Francisco in the early 1990s. Some restoration work for out-of-service heritage cars has been done by the Market Street Railway (volunteer support group for Muni’s historic rail lines ); these are turned over to Muni when restoration nears the point where cars are ready for revenue service.