The view through the open door of a San Francisco corner bar
I felt like a bit of a voyeur making this and a few other San Francisco night photographs — but that is part of street photography, isn’t it? After starting in a very different area at sunset — a less touristy area of Chinatown — then working my way slowly down past the gaudy lights and bright shops of Grant Street — I ended up in the popular area of shops and restaurants and hotels near Union Square.
This place is, quite literally, a “corner bar.” It was quiet inside, and I imagined that at least some of the folks at tables or sitting on stools having a drink might be regulars. A few sat alone and a few were in groups of two or more. The most interesting man (in the world) appeared on the television screen. The door was open and I considered that enough of an invitation to make a few photographs.
A group of people waits for a table at the Bow Hon Seafood Restaurant.
This photograph comes from an evening of night photography in San Francisco, mostly in and around the Chinatown district. This is, of course, a popular tourist area, but somehow the night changes things and makes it perhaps a bit less tacky — or maybe just tacky in more interesting ways! Many of the shops seem to close down early here, even though this was a weekend evening in the height of the San Francisco summer tourist season.
This is almost one of those “photographs of nothing special,” though I think that many of us can identify with the feeling of standing outside small restaurant in an urban area, talking and perhaps waiting for a table as the street life passes by. When shooting handheld photography at night I seek out this little pools of light beneath commercial signs or in the light spilling our from well-lit businesses.
Front of a Chinatown tourist shop at night, San Francisco
Like any big city popular with tourists, San Francisco has its share — and then some! — of these little shops whose sole purpose seems to be to sell cheap proof that “I was there!” to folks visiting the city. This one happens to be in the densely packed Chinatown district of the City, right on Grant, but you can find the same thing alone the areas of the waterfront that are on the tourist circuit and in a number of other places.
The items included in the stock of such shops, while often sharing the same level of kitsch and cheap manufacture, are often a sort of study in the ways that cities portray themselves and in the ways they are viewed. Exhibit #1: How about those American flag tights! Wow! It was getting late when we passed through here, and many shops had already closed or were in the process of closing.
Three men sitting on benches in a downtown San Francisco courtyard
This seemed like a rare quiet scene in this part of San Francisco, along busy Market Street, which is crowded with tourists, locals, buses and taxis at this time of year. While walking through this area with my camera I had taken a break to grab a coffee when I saw this scene right outside the window.
There are many things that strike me about the relationship between urban environments like this one and the natural world that is also a subject of my photography. Places like Market Street are so antithetical to almost the entirety of the rest of the world — they noise and bustle and crowds are truly an anomaly on this planet. In some places it is quite possible to see almost no evidence of that non-human world, except perhaps by looking straight up at the sky. Yet in places like this an image of that world, synthetic though it may be, is constructed — and it brings some quiet and stillness.
Reflected image of lights in San Francisco’s Chinatown
This photograph comes from a late-July evening spent doing night street photography in San Francisco, this time working the area between North Beach and Union Square… which of course means largely the Chinatown district. We began photography at dusk a few streets up from the touristy main drag, walking along Stockton street as the last shops closed up for the day. From here we wandered down narrow streets to the main drag, Grant, arriving there as darkness came on.
Even though it was a Friday night during the height of tourist season, there were not all that many people here, at least by the sometimes extraordinarily crowded standards of this area. Some shops were still open — catering to the out-of-town visitors — but many had closed or were closing. Nonetheless, the street held a wild variety of bright lights. At several points I forced myself to take a break from the “normal” street photography stuff and try to look at things in different ways. Here I had decided to look at light reflected in other objects, in this case a parked car.
Sharpening is a very important step for optimizing digital photograph files. If you let your camera save images in the common .jpg format (a compressed image format that is often used on the web) the camera is applying sharpening to the image produced by the camera sensor. If you use the raw format (a high quality format that retains the original sensor data of the exposure) you will find that the photograph looks soft until you apply sharpening during the post production phase.
Sharpening optimizes the visibility of details that are already in your photograph. It is a matter of more clearly revealing what is in the photograph than a matter of creating detail where there was none. Most sharpening works by increasing the contrast between light and dark areas in the image — that’s right, what we call sharpening (which makes sense subjectively) as actually more about adjusting the brightness of portions of the photograph.
The image above is an example of a small section of a photograph. It is a “100% magnification crop” of a tiny area from a much larger photograph made with a high megapixel DSLR camera. A “100% magnification crop” is an image displayed so that each pixel — or individual picture element — of the original photograph is displayed using a single pixel on the screen. (Things are a bit more complicated than that when using modern high-resolution monitors, though I’ll let that description stand for now.) 100% magnification crops let us look very closely at what is going on in photographas “at the pixel level.” In this case, the original full image from which these examples were taken would be equivalent to prints at a width of roughly 10-12 feet.
Today I’ll interrupt the nature/landscape photographs in order to share another photograph of a San Francisco street scene, photographed in late July when I was there for a night street photography shoot with friends. Members of the small group began assembling early enough to start with dinner — though I arrived late and had to meet up with them post-dinner on the street. We figured that if they walked south and I walked north that we might find one another along Stockton Street in the City’s Chinatown district.
This is a favorite area of mine for photography. I love the complex and often quite worn and utilitarian architecture. Shops are jam-packed close together, and at the right times of day the streets are packed with locals. Color and texture combinations can be wild, with colorful signs, painted and repainted walls, and more. On this early evening, there were no crowds. This spot is a ways up the hill from the touristy Grant, and shops were closed or closing for the day. Shops were closed or in the process of closing, so I had more unobstructed views of the buildings.