San Francisco Photo Spot series: Treasure Island and the Blue Hour

» Posted by on Dec 15, 2012 in Featured, location, photo spot, San Francisco

Another installment of my San Francisco Photo spot series; this time it is about Treasure Island. I love Treasure Island because it has one of the nicest views of the Financial District. That’s from where I get some of my favorite images of the city at night. Especially at this time of the year where all of the Embarcadero buildings are illuminated for the Holidays. In addition on Treasure Island (TI), there is the gigantesque statue Bliss Dance made of lights and also the spot called forbidden access. Now, I personally like taking photographs where you can see the city lights. But for your camera to see these lights (and the sky), the city lights need to be at least as bright as the sky. In order to get those images, timing is crucial.

First, where is Treasure Island?
From Wikipedia: “Treasure Island is an artificial island and was created in 1936 and 1937, from fill dredged from the bay, for the Golden Gate International Exposition. The island is now a California Historical Landmark, honoring the site of the exposition…” [Wikipedia link]. Below, I have included a screenshot of Google Maps so you can get an idea of where Treasure Island is located. To get there from San Francisco, take the I-80 (go on the Bay Bridge and stay on the left lane so you can exit at Treasure Island).

Map of Treasure Island

Like I said, timing is everything here, especially at that location since you will be facing the sun directly. I try to get to TI about 15 minutes before sunset, so I have a chance to do a bit of scouting, select a spot and unload my gear peacefully. Here is what to expect if you wait for the sunset to take a picture:

Coit tower at sunset (sunset time exactly)

Some people might be in admiration looking at these sunset pictures because of the dramatic oranges that color the sky. Personally, I find that these pictures are lacking character.

What I really like is what happens after the sun sets. It’s sometimes called l’heure bleue (the blue hour). It’s when the sky gradually goes from light blue during the day to dark blue at night, when it’s almost black but not quite. The first hour right before sunrise or right after sunset is where you can get those nice blue tones in your sky. In the next image, you can start to see the gradient from dark blue on top of the images to bright orange where the sun did set. At this point though, the city is still a black silhouette.

Sunset over San Francisco from Treasure Islands (sunset time + 15 min)

If you wait even more after the sun sets, the brightness of the sky and the one the city lights are getting closer. You know it is starting to happen when you camera can capture the city lights.

Panorama of San Francisco from Treasure Island (sunset time + 36 min)

From that time on, it’s a matter of preference and creativity. In this image, I was trying to get as much buildings lights as possible while keeping the sunset glow. Speaking of city lights, if you want the buildings to have as many lights as possible, go shoot on weekdays. If you want the office buildings with less lights, 3- or 4-day weekends are best.

San Francisco at night (sunset time + 46 min)

Now compare this image, with the previous image of the Coit Tower. The difference is 50 minutes! I like this image better, because you can really see the Coit Tower and yet keep some of the orange and blue tones from the sky.

Coit Tower at sunset (sunset time + 50 min)

After one hour, the sky is getting really dark. At that time it is called night photography. And you can keep shooting but you won’t have colors in the sky anymore.

Ferry building and the Embarcadero buildings (sunset time + 61 min)

The timing I gave here is for San Francisco in late November, early December. Obviously you need to adjust it for your own region and season.

San Francisco at night (sunset time + 67 min)

On TI, there are two other nice locations for photo opportunity. One is a temporary exhibit called Bliss dance by Marco Cochrane. One of the most popular pieces of art at Burning Man in 2010 was Bliss Dance, a 40-foot-tall metal sculpture of a nude dancing woman with changing lights.

Bliss Dance (sunset time + 50 min)

The last spot would require some personal research; it is sometimes called Forbidden Access or Under the Bay Bridge. Here is one of my images from that spot.

Under the bay bridge (sunset time + 37 min)

I hope I gave you some motivations to explore the blue hour and Treasure Island. Happy holidays to all.