One October evening I set up on Duboce Avenue in San Francisco with my then new F3T and 35mm PC lens (perspective control lens, which allows for movement of the front element) and made this view using Kodachrome 25 color slide film.
Difficult to believe that was nearly 30 years ago!
If this image seems familiar, it is because it’s been published on several occasions, first in Passenger Train Journal issue 210 in the mid-1990s.
It is among my favorite view of the San Francisco Muni light rail.
Working with my old Nikon F3T and a 200mm f4 lens, I made this photo of an in-bound L-Taraval car (worked by a 1970s-era Boeing-Vertol LRV) as it crested Ulloa Street on its way down toward West Portal in early December 1990.
The remarkable consideration is that this is a Kodachrome 25 slide. My shutter speed was about 1/60thof a second. When I lived in San Francisco, I had an un-cropped hand-printed Type R print of this scene pinned to my wall.
Working with my old Nikon F3T and an f1.8 105mm lens, I exposed this Kodachrome 25 slide of a Cal-Train ‘Commute’ departing San Francisco, seen taking the bend at 7thStreet in February 1992.
Interestingly, lately I’ve been making good use of this same camera and lens combination for exposing black & white negatives and Fuji Provia 100F color slides.
If this image seems familiar, its because back in the 1990s it appeared in various publications.
I scanned the slide this morning using a Nikon Coolscan5000 digital scanner and processed the hi-res TIF file in Lightroom to adjust color and produced a scaled file for internet presentation.
Typically, I scan Kodachrome slides at 4000 dots per inch (or higher) to maintain the high resolution of the original photographs. Since these files are in the 120-170MB range they require scaling to upload them to WordPress for presentation here.
Tracking the Light is a work in progress and publishes new material daily!
February 8, 1994, I used my Nikormat FTN with a Tokina 400mm lens mounted on a Bogen 3021 tripod to make this view on Fujichrome 100 slide film of a Boeing-Vertol Light Rail Vehicle pausing for passengers on the N-Judah line.
It was the end of the day and the colors of a sunset sky are reflected in the windshield of the LRV. For me it is the contrast and subtle hues of the evening light that make this photo stand out.
San Francisco’s Muni light rail offers endless opportunities for dramatic photos on the streets of this famous California city.
Often it’s the details that make a difference. In April 1991, I made a few photos at Cal-Train’s Bayshore platforms near the San Francisco-end of the old Bayshore yard.
By that time the yard was but a ruin—a vestige of another era. Southern Pacific’s operational presence in San Francisco, still its headquarters at that time, was a shadow of what it had been, and diminishing.
What caught my eye was the old wooden speed-restriction post with Southern Pacific written on it. Here was tangible evidence of the SP at Bayshore.
I made a point of featuring the sign in this pair of photos of passing Cal-Train ‘Commutes.’ Interestingly, these Cal-Train F40PHs were the last locomotives delivered with the classic SP ‘full lighting package’ which included headlight, white oscillating lights, a red oscillating light, and class lamps.
Pan photo exposed on Kodachrome 25 with a Nikon F3T fitted with a Nikkor f1.8 105mm lens.
In October 1990, Boeing-Vertol light rail vehicles pass on Carl Street, just west of the Sunset Tunnel.
My intent was to show the streetcars against a backdrop of San Francisco gingerbread Victorian houses. Selecting the optimal exposure was tricky owing to the low-angle of the sun. I wanted to maintain the bright highlights without risk of under exposing the background.
Although it is tempting in these situations to expose for the highlights, in this case I didn’t want the unnatural ‘nightmare’ effect caused by surreal dark background.
Unlike today, back then I’d rely largely on my handheld Sekonic meter to gauge exposure. Although the F3T had a built in meter, I never found this to be sufficiently accurate to maintain consistent exposures with slide film.
For my final Night Photo Challenge image, I thought I’d display this image.
This is not an ordinary ‘night photo’, but there are no PhotoShop computer generated enhancements. Except for cropping, which I did after scanning the slide, the rest of my technique was performed ‘in-camera’.
Making it was considerably more involved than my typical night photos. I used my old Nikon F3T with an old school f2.8 24mm lens mounted on a Gitzo tripod.
Are you seeing the whole picture? Tracking the Light presents: A Glinty Electric Bus.
Did I notice this scene in my rear view mirror one morning in the 1990s? I think so. Anyway, a memory of a image—something like this was nagging me.
On the morning September 3, 2009, I set up on Hayes Street in San Francisco with my 100-400mm lens. Just after sunrise I exposed a series of images of an electric bus (trolley bus) catching the glint of the rising sun as it crested Alamo Hill.
For me the wires make the photo interesting. Not only do the dual wires power the bus, but they visually tie the scene together.
I like the dramatic lighting and monochromatic effect of the silhouette. I’ve carefully included the pole at the far left to visually anchor the wire network to the ground. This also adds balance.
There’s a famous vista made just to the left of my location. It features a staggered row of gingerbread style Victorians with the San Francisco skyline. It is an iconic setting that appears on post cards, calendars, books and etc. You’d recognize it if you saw it. While the clichéd vista is typically exposed in the afternoon from the park, my view is from the street in the early morning.
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.
I’ve long been intrigued by the short section of the former Southern Pacific Bayshore Cutoff at the old Potrero Wye, where the railroad runs beneath I-280.
This location offers a graphic contrast; the immensity of the highway shadowing the railroad both literally and metaphorically.
The location also poses a photographic challenge. During high light, the tracks are completely within shadow, so I’ve found the best time to photograph is early in the morning or late in the day, when sunlight is below the bridge.
Yet, low sun also poses a problem, as calculating exposure is neither intuitive nor can a camera meter be relied upon. The overwhelming highway structure will tend to result in overexposure as a camera meter tries to compensate for the darkness, yet the side of the train reflects the full brightness of the sun (which to further complicate matters, may be less than sun at midday).
I made this photograph of an inbound Cal-Train ‘Baby Bullet’ in April 2008, using my Canon EOS 3 with a 50mm lens on Fujichrome slide film. I used my Minolta Mark IV handheld meter in reflective mode to sample the exposure on the side of a gray highway support column, and preset my camera accordingly. (I didn’t make note of the exposure, but it was about f5.6 1/500th of second.)
The resulting color slide looks just about perfect, but my exposure/contrast problem was repeated when I went to scan the image.
Here, I found the scanner software’s auto exposure had the reverse problem of my in-camera meter and tended to underexpose the scan. The result was not only too dark, but unacceptably contrasty.
I switched off the auto exposure, and instead used the software’s exposure histogram to set exposure manually as to better balance the highlight and shadow areas. Using this setting, I made a another scan. Afterwards, I fine-tuned the improved scan using Photoshop to make for a more pleasing image by adjusting both contrast and color balance.
This image is an exception; most of the time I’m satisfied with my first scan. Incidentally, the pictures reproduced here are scaled Jpgs from very large Tiff scans. The file size of the Jpgs is just a fraction of the original scan size, which is adequate for small-size internet viewing.
Some places are famous for fantastic light and San Francisco Bay is one of them.
The combination of stunning scenery and amazing weather and light effects has made this city one of my favorite place to make photographs.
Warm air wafting in from the Sacramento Delta meets cool damp Pacific air producing coastal fog. The sun rises through layers of California smog which gives the light a warm rich quality as it burns through the mists hovering over San Francico Bay, Marin Headlands and the city.
Shortly after sunrise on September 16, 2009, I exposed this view of a container ship heading toward the Golden Gate Bridge. Soon the ship was out on the open ocean and I was airborne headed east on Jet Blue.
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.
Working with Wonderful Light in an Infrastructure-Intense Environment
San Francisco Bay is famous for its beautiful light; the combination of soft sun with rolling Pacific fog and layers of pollution make for a rich textured golden glow in evening and mellow bright conditions during the height of the day.
Following my Northern California theme presented over the last few posts to Tracking the Light, I’m offering a few views of San Francisco Bay exposed in August 2009.
These images were exposed on Fujichrome slide film with a Canon EOS 3 and 100-400mm lens.
On the afternoon of August 21, 2009, I worked San Francisco’s famous hills aiming to make images of Muni’s cable cars, arguably one of America’s most pictured railway operations. I set the exposure manually using the camera’s spot meter to base my judgment. I sample the sky and street and aimed for texture in the highlight areas, allowing the shadows to go dark. My choice of film was Kodak Ektachrome Elite 100 (EB3) which offered an ideal color-balance for such a silhouette. San Francisco’s many above ground wires added a geometric framing to the image.