The only event that my wife and I pre-planned for our visit to San Francisco was a night tour of Alcatraz! A friend recommended doing the night tour due to the smaller groups of people and the different places they allow you to see. Overall we were very happy with the tour itself and the Park Personnel were absolutely fantastic! Everyone of them knew the history in great detail and were happy to tell you all about it.
There are two reasons photographers would want to do the night tour versus the day tour and it involved two shots. The first is seen above. During the day tour the boats do not circle the island so this photo of Alcatraz with the city behind it is not really possible by day tour. As you can see the sun is just perfect as it is behind you and the time of day gives a wonderful golden glow the the prison system. The only retouching on this show was a bit of contrast and some post crop vignette. This is one of the shots I really wanted to take and the night tour is the only easy way to get it.
The second shot is this sunset shot of the Golden Gate Bridge (GGB). This is one of the most photographed bridges of the world so it is easy to go online and see some different shots of it and pick which you would like to take. There are few compositionally strong shots that have not been taken of it.
Here we have an amazing sunset. For those of you who know me I am not a big sunset photographer. The first 10 are wonderful and after that they all look the same. It seems to be a place all beginning photographers want to be at and. once there you quickly tire of it. Plus it is a lazy photograph. You see the photographer just has to wait for a nice weather system and then put down the beer long enough to shoot the picture. Nothing wrong with beer but lazy photography is not really challenging. But when an iconic item is included, and you have an interesting weather system then by all means take the shot!
This vantage point is only available from the Alcatraz prison. Specifically after the first part of the tour you are taken to where the Warden lived (a shell of a house) and from there you get this view. If you take the first night boat you will walk out about 30 minutes before this sunset. Plenty of time to get set up.
This picture came with danger and as it turned out a price the photographer had to pay. See those wonderful seagulls flying around? Well they are dive-bombers and drop their payload directly on photographers. I got hit.
These were the two images I wanted from Alcatraz and I considered anything else to be a welcome bonus. The images below are of the tour itself and I am thrilled I got them. A little bit of history is nice in any photograph.
There are some cells that are set up as if someone lived in them. I took a few of those but there is something about this shot I liked better. Those cell bars right up front help make the image.
I used a high ISO and did a little shutter trick. What I do is set an exposure compensation at -1.5 stops and shoot in raw. This tells the camera you want a darker shot allowing for a faster shutter speed. I then shoot on aperture priority and set to Auto ISO. This allows me to get less hand shake impact and gives me a similar overall grain. I then boost the exposure in post. This is a trick I tried and learned in the dark cathedrals of Europe.
For a more abstract shot, I went into the dinning rooms where the convicts were fed. The tables are all gone leaving this wonderful textured floor. There are benches to rest on one side giving the tired visitor a chance to sit and rest. This gives you a low shot of the floor with the fading light of day coming through the windows. A nice overall shot and one worth taking.
If you are going to Alcatraz I suggest a slightly longer lens for the GGB shot above. I shot it with a 50mm then changed to a VERY old 90mm lens I have. I ended up using the 50mm lens with a bit of cropping as the 90mm was not up to the task as it is an uncoated lens. Between the flares and lack of contrast it was not fit for use.
This is one of two places in San Francisco that a tele lens is of use. The rest of the shots within the prison you will need a wider angle lens. Prisons are not known for their space. I would suggest at least a 35mm but this is a great place to try out that fisheye that has been collecting dust on your shelf.
I shot with a 90mm (unsuccessfully) 50mm, 35mm, 28mm and 15mm.
Patrick...confirmed film & digital photography addict.