A Sense of Place (Part 1)

I'm in San Francisco this week, staying near Union Square. There is a photographer on every corner snapping every which way. So how do to create images of a beautiful and much photographed city that will stand out from the competition?
Symbol of San Francisco
Golden Gate
A mentor of mine gave this advice to travel photographers. He said to visit all the places you think you want to photograph on the first day or two upon arriving in a city. Check out the light and calculate when the light will be best for shooting. Study the angle and best place to shoot from. Figure out where you will want to be to get the most famous shot. Then move around a bit to see if you can find a new angle or a fresh perspective. Or see how you could let the landmark become a secondary element of the image. THEN return with your camera.
Baker Beach, San Francisco
Sailing The Bay
Of course this is all great on paper but just imagine how you would feel if you spent two days wandering around a city in beautiful weather just to look out the window and see a driving rainstorm on your shooting day. You might not get the shot you had so carefully planned but I always say in those cases: shoot rain.
Rainy day in San Francisco.
Man in the rain
A famous documentary photographer has joined me one afternoon in San Francisco this week. I asked him to give me some tips to help you create compelling and beautiful images of his favorite city. He took me to three of the highest buildings in San Francisco that have public rooms at the top. He planned it so that we could see the late afternoon light on the skyline and then the sunset and finally the city lights. He pushed his camera directly on to the window glass to steady it as he shot the city below. He also pointed out that every great city always has a bar at the top of a tall building, making for a relaxing end of day as well as a good shooting opportunity.
San Francisco - night Panorama 2
San Francisco - night Panorama
Whenever I'm going to be in a new city outside the US, I ask another friend of mine who travels the world shooting editorial images to recommend a restaurant for dinner. The first thing he asks me is what time I want to eat. This is not to avoid the crowds but because he chooses restaurants by the kind of light that will be available for the best shooting at the magic light times at end of day. (He also knows good food!)
Golden Gate Bridge & San Francisco at night
Palace of Fine Arts at night
No matter what large metropolitan area you live in or visit, there are always new situations and places to shoot. Even long-standing landmarks don't look the same. The Palace of Fine Arts in SF has had a fence around its lake for a long time. Now the fence is gone and new images can be made. What's old is new again.

Photo credits: Lars Christnsen, Hasan Can Balcioglu, Chee-onn Leong, Mike Brake, Haydn Adams, Kushnirov Avraham, Stephen Coburn, Matthew Self.

Your post must be written in English

December 05, 2008


Buildings shot from the street that don't include logos are fine without a release. Others should be posted to as editorial images. And thanks for the kind words.

December 04, 2008


Thanks for the good tips, Ellen. I have started reading them one by one from the beginning and intend to keep reading till i finish all. Together they are a very good Guide to Stock photography. One basic question as I am very new to this. Can such images be uploaded without a release? Photos of monuments like the Taj and city skylines, photos unique to the location.

February 27, 2007


Thanks a lot Ellen for adding my picture to this article. My picture is the one of the sailboat with the Golden Gate in the background. It is nice to get recognized like this. You are right about scouting an area out ahead of time. I was trying to figure out how to get some really different pictures of the bridge so I spent a whole day just walking around , asking questions, getting ideas. Then the next day it came to me. Ask one of the fisherman to take me out on the bay for the sole purpose of taking pictures. He agreed and I paid him for a private cruise. I took many pictures of the bridge that day and several sell almost daily now. I try to "think out of the box" all the time now. Makes it a lot more fun to. Thanks again

February 27, 2007


Another great article, excellent series/blog. Do you or anyone else have any tips on shooting through windows? What do you do in terms of reflections, dirt on the window, which lenses/filter and how far from the window do you hold the camera?

February 27, 2007


Great article once again.

Excellent selection of images to illustrate the points too __ there are so many real gems out there that I hadn't seen before. The library here is of an astonishing high quality.

February 26, 2007


Again this lesson encourages me to go out and make even better shots than before!

February 26, 2007


Great advices, once again.I love going to SFo for the day or w-e and shoot... there is so much to see;so many stories and street scenes, but it is hard to get a unique perspective, something that hasn't been done. Thanks !

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