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Mike Hillis

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Featured Photo Wednesday – Mike Hillis

This is the first Golden Gate Bridge picture posted on the site, and it’s amazing! The lights, the water, the silhouette of the tree just under the bridge.

As a photographer, you see the shot you want. You get up early, stay out late, venture to spots unknown, all to get the shot. And when you do, you know it! Mike went on quite the adventure and ended up with the prize image for his efforts! Thanks for sharing with us today!


I often go out with my camera with an idea in my mind, and just as often return with something a little bit different. This is one of the times that things turned out almost as planned, but with a few twists along the way.

I was in San Francisco for a conference in October, and hoped to have an opportunity to take some photos, but knew that because of other commitments it would have to be early, before or around sunrise, or out in the evening around or after sunset. I also wasn’t really sure what I was looking for. The first few days I was there I managed to get up early, and get out late, looking around the waterfront, and took a number of photographs of the Bay Bridge, getting an idea of the light and exposure times. The weather was perfect, with daytime temperatures of 23-24C, and mostly sun with a few clouds.

I thought I should get to see the Golden Gate Bridge before leaving, and on my last afternoon was able to get away a little earlier than expected. The evening before I looked over satellite views on Google Maps to try and decide on a good location. I have to admit I didn’t really look at photographs of the bridge until after, or I would have realized just how many there are. Two stops on BART, and a forty five minute bus ride, and I arrived at the toll booth area of the Golden Gate. After wandering around a bit, I decided to follow the trails down on the harbour side and get out to Fort Point which is just underneath the bridge. After getting down to the road, my heart sank. There was a barricade across the road leading out to Fort Point, with a large sign that said “Closed due to Federal Government shutdown. No pedestrian traffic”. I stood there for a few minutes thinking about what to do, when I realized that a large number of walkers, runners, and cyclists were completely ignoring the sign and going around the barricade and out to Fort Point anyway. I decided to go out the road and see what would happen. It was about 5:00 pm, with sunset to occur about 6:40 pm.

Out at Fort Point I had an hour or so to decide on location and composition. In the interest of traveling light, the only tripod I had packed was a Gorilla Pod. The best location for the mini tripod was right at the edge of the concrete seawall, which still allowed me to get some of the rocks along the shore into the foreground. Fortunately the harbour was unusually calm. I think that the waves and spray can often come well up past the place I was set up. I wasn’t really sure how the light and the bridge would change as the sun went down, so I started taking frames every few minutes. Supper was two packages of Peanut M&Ms, and luckily I had thought to pack a sweater, jacket and hat, as the evening began to cool.

The combination of light from the sky and lights on the bridge turned out to be about best twenty minutes after sunset. By this time all of the other people seemed to have left the area, and I was alone. I had just finished taking the frame which I liked the most in the end, and was taking another one, when I noticed flashing lights on top of a vehicle coming up the road. Well, I thought, this is going to be great – Canadian tourist busted trespassing on U.S. Government property. I picked up my camera in the middle of the exposure, and holding it in view started walking back down the road, ready to take my medicine. The vehicle just kept driving on by, went out to the building at the end of the road and parked there for a while, with lights flashing. My heart was pounding.

Not wanting to tempt fate, I walked as quickly as possible back up the road and around the barricade. By this time it was quite dark. I was approached by a man and a woman who were running. They asked me if I thought it was safe to go up the paths in the dark – exactly the direction I had to go. I had to admit I didn’t know, and they turned around and went the other way. I, on the other hand, had to get back up to the toll booth area where the bus would stop. In the dark. In a strange city. I brought up Google Maps on my phone, and using the little blue GPS dot made my way up the dark roads, trying to hide the light from the screen so I would be hard to see. I got up to the bus stop without seeing a soul. The government shutdown must have kept the bad guys away too. My heart was pounding.

After all of that, I think I got the photograph I was hoping for. Like most of my photographs, when I look at it it really brings back the memory and the feel of the evening I took it. Of course, I have since seen more than a few shots of the bridge from his location, but I am sure that not too many of them have a story like this to go along with them.

Fujifilm X-E1 / FujinonXF 18-55 R LM OIS / 18 mm / f/18 / ISO 200 / 30 seconds

Link to my Flickr stream: http://www.flickr.com/photos/portview/

Link the the photo on Flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/portview/11008970895/