Wei, living in San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge can’t be too far away from you. You must have seen this scene quite a few times before?
Well, actually I live about 50 miles from the bridge but yes, I have seen similar views before although not as beautiful as this one.
What sort of story or feeling were you trying to achieve with this image?
I wanted to create a dreamy effect of a foggy Golden Gate Bridge with San Francisco’s night lights in the background. Although fog is common in the San Francisco Bay Area coastline, the low fog phenomenon does not happen very often. When the height of the fog is low enough to show both the North and South tower of the bridge and just high enough to cover the bridge’s surface, it is called low fog of Golden Gate Bridge.
That’s interesting. I’d got the impression that it probably happened reasonably often. So, you had a limited opportunity. How did you go about capturing it?
I’d visited the location a few times before. There are several good spots from which to take low fog pictures but on this occasion I chose the one which allowed me to add car trails and San Francisco’s skyline to the composition. I wanted the combination of blue hour and the low fog to add mystique and drama to the picture. In order to know when to go, I subscribe to a service from Yiupai which provides cloud and fog conditions on sunrise and sunset every day for local and specific areas. The forecast service predicted there might be low fog in Golden Gate Bridge in the afternoon of that day.
OK, so you’ve got there and I presume you used a tripod. How did you go about capturing it?
Yes, I have a Gitzo tripod so I got set up and took a few test shots to see what worked as exposure. I needed long exposure to create soft silky texture and wave like fog, but that would cause overexposure of city lights and car light trails so a 10-stop ND filter was used. I also wanted a small aperture to give me a large depth of field and well as diffraction stars on the tower spotlights. In the end I chose f16 at ISO 400 to keep the noise down, which needed a shutter speed of 107s.
Could you talk me through your composition choices?
In the foreground, I have the hillside with the sides leading down to the corners of the picture and the path along the top acting as a lead-in line towards the bridge tower. The hill is bounded by the white lights of the bridge on the left and the red car trails on the right, both of which also lead the eye into the picture towards the bridge towers. I positioned the San Francisco City skyline as my background, about 1/3 of the down from the top and in the middle, I have the soft wave of fog which envelops and joins the 2 bridge towers.
That’s all very clear, thanks for explaining. Once you got back to your computer, what did you do in post processing?
Well, I use the combination of Adobe Camera Raw, Photoshop and Nik software. I started off with an adjustment to the white balance to give a contrast between the cool tone of the fog and the warm tone of city lights and car light trails. I then lowered the highlights and white tones and darkened the shadows and black tones. I then adjusted the contrast, vibrance and saturation – and completed the global adjustments with removal of chromatic aberration and enabling the lens profile correction. Lastly, I used Nik’s Dfine2 to reduce noise and cropped to 2:1 format. There are almost no spot adjustments other than removing a few aeroplane trails
That all seems pretty clear. How do you feel about the result? Is this a one-off image or do you plan to take some other variations?
I’m pretty satisfied with the result and for now, it is a one-off but I am considering what other options I could do. Golden Gate Bridge is the icon of San Francisco. There are a lot of good locations for shooting this iconic bridge. When combined with different weather conditions, there are numerous possibilities for different compositions. I definitely will go back to photograph it again.
Many thanks for sharing your techniques with the 1x members, Wei.