I had to give it the old college try. Photographing famous things is always a bit dubious for the traveller. the Golden Gate Bridge, the Golden Pavilion, big buddhas, the Taj Mahal, Mt Fuji, and all of the things we’ve seen a million photos of have all of that baggage attached to them. We’ve all seen fantastic shots of them, and photographers who live near them spend years photographing them, feeling out the situation, and going so many times that eventually, they get lucky. Parachuting into San Francisco for four days on my way back from Chicago, I had a very tiny window to photograph the bridge, and for the most part, it worked out ok. It could have been pea-soup ugly the whole time, and then I would have gone all Tri-X on that bridge, but it wasn’t, and I had a couple good chances to shoot the bridge.
It looks like there are a few agreed-upon places from which to shoot the bridge. I think the one that I’m fondest of, in my short experience, is the first turn off after crossing over to the north side of the bridge. There’s a highway that runs up to the batteries that used to protect the harbor there, west of the north end of the bridge. There are two places to park your car and set up camp, but get to the first one early, because it will be full for sunset. The second one has an obscured view of the north Tower, so I don’t think it’s as photogenic, but if it’s a choice between that shot and nothing, then the answer is pretty clear.
Along the eastern side of the southern end of the bridge, there’s a nice beach, and a fantastic dog park. I completely enjoyed taking photos of other people’s dogs, and letting people engage in every dog-owner’s favorite pastime, telling people how awesome their dogs are. That vantage point has a beautiful unobstructed view of the bridge, and you can walk along the coast, looking for just the angle you want.
You can follow that path to it’s logical ending point, and shoot from under the bridge, which isn’t as satisfying as you might think. At least, I had a hard time finding that shot. Part of the problem is that there is actually a trestle bridge before the suspension bridge-proper, built to arch over the old Fort Point, so that they wouldn’t have to demolish the old building. Another thing that made it difficult for me to find a shot that I was happy with there was the replacement beams. They retrofitted the bridge with seismic isolators, and replaced a lot of the original beams on the trestle with new ones. In the place of the old beams, which are riveted together zig-zags that looks beautiful, are laser-cut monocoque beams. The laser-cut beams are indistinguishable from the original beams when you’re shooting a shot of the whole bridge, but up close, they leave a lot to be desired. They remind me a lot of the functionless marble columns you often see in front of modern banks.
My own failure as a navigator led me to not be able to find my way down to the beach on the west side of the southern end of the bridge. I think that that’s where the shot is on that side of the bridge. From up on the batteries, you had to get pretty far away from the bridge to get a good angle on it, and even then, I wasn’t thrilled with it. I suppose if I had found my way down to the rocky beach, there would have been a nice shot with crashing waves.
My own attempt at a sunrise shot of the bridge was foiled by dense fog. I rolled over and went back to sleep after seeing how thick the fog was, and I gather that fog is the rule rather than the exception, so I suspect that is the reason why everyone shoots sunsets of the bridge. Or maybe it’s the long nights in the Haight. The first shot here was from the first battery on the north side of the bridge, taken with my D700. The second shot is Velvia 50 in my Fuji GW690III, shot from the east side of the southern end of the bridge. I have to include a big thanks to Victoria and Tom, who kindly donated their living room to me while I was in San Francisco.