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Fire Escapes and Epic Fails in Celebrating The Golden Gate Bridge’s 75th Anniversary

This last Sunday was the 75th anniversary of our gorgeous Golden Gate Bridge. Festivities were to abound, food and drink was everywhere (non-alcoholic, of course) and music acts were to keep many thousands of spectators entertained throughout the day awaiting the fireworks spectacular that was to top off the day at 9:30pm for twenty minutes. I headed down there shortly after noon and thought I was going in with a great plan and great equipment for coming home with spectacular photos of the fireworks display. I’ll cut to the end and make a long story short. EPIC FAIL AND UTTER DISAPPOINTMENT!!!

Now, to tell you how things came about, I’ll go through the day’s events. Once we made it up to San Francisco, we parked over by the ballpark to avoid the many thousands of cars that were trying to pack the whole Presidio Park area. For those of you that aren’t familiar with the City, we were pretty far away from where all the action was taking place. I just Googled the distance and it came to almost 4 miles. I’ve got enough padding around my waist, that a healthy walk wasn’t going to hurt, but let me tell you the hurt I was in the next day. Whoa, Nelly!!!

Back to the story. I ended up finding a spot that I thought I like on an inclined path in the Fort Mason area, so I hung out there for a while. We could see the festivities happening in the distance, so we decided to get closer. As we went through the Marina Green, we got a text message from friends of the family that were also in the area and wanted to hook up for dinner. I would have to say that if it hadn’t been for their invitation and company, I would have been completely pissed at how everything ended up. Luckily, we got the call, met up with them for a while at their place in the Marina, went to dinner at a local taco spot and returned to Crissy Field to view the fireworks display.

It was in the walk through the Marina District on our way to meet up with our friends, that I found my eye continuously looking up at the intricate patterns in the fire escapes of the apartment buildings in the area. It only took one or two to pass me, before I brought the camera up to my face to snap some pictures. The late afternoon sun was casting incredible shadows that added to the mystique of these structures, which made it all the better. There was also a house that stood out with a very modern design that incorporated solar panels on either side of the main entrance. A fire/police street alarm also caught my eye, along with a large rose-bush and a street sign that named the street where my father-in-law grew up on.

After dinner, we hung out at the house a bit before heading back to Crissy Field. As the announcements had been made, the optimal location for viewing the fireworks would be between Fort Point and Crissy Field. So, we found a nice spot in the middle of Crissy Field and out popped the tripod. The wind was nice and calm, so I was sure that I wouldn’t be running into any wind issues like I had the night before. I took out the Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 L wide-angle lens that I briefly mentioned in one of the prior postings and thought I had set myself up pretty good on a wide shot that would encompass not only the bridge towards the left of the image, but also leaving room on the right for wherever the fireworks would be coming from. I expected to have to make some adjustments once the show started, so I knew that I wouldn’t be capturing awesome images from the get-go.

The show was about to start, and the unfathomable happened. The bridge had all its lights turned off. I thought “uh-oh” just before a beautiful waterfall of fireworks started engulfing the span and spewing over onto the water. This lasted no more than a minute and the main fireworks being shot from barges in the bay stole the attention. Over the next few minutes, I kept expecting for the bridge to come back to life with fireworks or lighting, but nothing. Nada. Zilch. The bridge stayed dark for a good portion of the twenty-minute firework display. As I stood there in disbelief, all I could think about was how were these fireworks going to distinguish themselves from any other random firework show if the bridge couldn’t be seen. Had the fireworks been happening right next to the bridge, I’m sure that the long exposures would have been sufficient to capture some residue light bouncing off the towers to make it discernible. NOT!!! Most of the fireworks were getting further and further away from the bridge on the floating barge that kept getting closer to Alcatraz.

I was able to salvage the few images that I included below, but I’m not happy with them at all. I was able to capture a good amount of light in them and the bridge can be made out. I like the fact that I can see the audiences outline in the images to add to the fact that there were thousands witnessing the event. I had to perform quite a bit of post-processing in Photoshop to bring out the bridge as much as possible. I also had to do a bit of noise reduction and cropping, as the wide-angle I was working with was a little wide even at 35mm due to what I had thought would have been good framing with the full use of the bay for the fireworks display. I can’t imagine that I’d be able to enlarge these more than a 5X7 before seeing signs of image degradation due to all the work performed on them.

Since hindsight is 20/20, I would have set up my wide-angle lens at Fort Point, even if that would have cost me to camp out all day long. At least I would have ended up with good and up-close images of the bridge with the fireworks being shot off the structure. I would have had to ignore the rest of the show, but it would have given me some very dynamic and bright shots. Lesson learned for the 100th anniversary in 2037…

Regarding the lens, I thought it performed well for what I was asking for it to do at night under such poor lighting conditions. It still provided great contrast in the images and great color. I will go deeper into the review of the lens when I share the images I took at the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park, since this is where the lens REALLY shined. All in all, this piece of L series glass should be on everyone’s lens list for their camera bag. Of course, the L series price tag will deter a good deal of us from running out and getting one, but one can only wish on a star and play the lotto…


One response to “Fire Escapes and Epic Fails in Celebrating The Golden Gate Bridge’s 75th Anniversary

  1. tyrosine

    Very interesting information!Perfect just what I was looking for!

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