Hit the Road

San Francisco as viewed through the lens

The Golden Gate Bridge, Lombard Street, Alcatraz and cable cars are universally familiar icons of San Francisco, and no one knows them better than photographer Lawrence Migdale. He’s been shooting the city’s sights for years, and his best photos appear in “San Francisco: Portrait of a City” (Graphic Arts Center Publishing Company, $16.95).
If you love the City by the Bay, you’ll enjoy perusing this collection of spectacular color images, some of which will be familiar and some not — like the one on page 80 taken from Migdale’s apartment window some years before he moved to Orinda in the East Bay area.
“It’s a view from our place in the Haight District,” said the native of South Africa who arrived in the Unites States in 1978. “It’s always changing because of the lighting conditions. This one was taken in the late afternoon.”
Despite the hundreds – maybe thousands — of photos Migdale has taken of San Francisco, what he views through the lens never bores him.
“I get to fall in love again with the city every time I photograph it,” he admitted.
Some of his favorite images include those on page 82 of his son, Ari, then 12, playing at one of the colorful exhibits at the Exploratorium; on page 71, four young girls, dressed in black and pink, celebrating the yearly Juneteeth festival; on page 60-61, a double-page photo of a man fishing from the dock at Fort Mason and watching a sailboat skim across the bay.
“That photo is cliché as hell, but clichés in San Francisco are so beautiful,” Migdale said.
And that aerial shot of the Transamerica Pyramid on page 49?
“I was coming back from a corporate assignment at the beach and the (helicopter) pilot asked if I had seen the Transamerica building from the air.” Migdale related. “I said ‘No,’ so he said, ‘Hang on tight.’ He flew a corkscrew around it and I just kept shooting.”
That couldn’t have happened in a fixed-wing airplane, he explained, because it can’t hover and the vibrations are too great.
“When you shoot from a conventional airplane, they have to take off the door and you’re strapped in so you won’t fall out. (When you shoot) you can’t touch any part of the aircraft because of the vibrations.”
And on the subject of technique, one of the most oft-made mistakes by amateur photographers, according to Migdale, is failing to anticipate the action – a problem particular to digital cameras.
“The first digital cameras had a great lag, but the lag time has gotten shorter. You see what you want to photograph, and if you pay attention, you can get it.”
Additional advice: “Get to know your camera and equipment so well that you don’t even have to think about it.”
As for the digital-versus-film debate, there’s no contest in Migdale’s opinion.
“I use a digital camera and love it,” he said. “There’s no polluting the world. Before, (developing photos) created so much toxic stuff. I don’t miss the old-style camera for a minute. The digital camera has democratized photography — made it so much easier. You can concentrate on what you want to say instead of how to say it.”
For more on Migdale and his work, visit www.migdale.com.
And speaking of Northern California … Check out these off-season deals on the beautiful Mendocino coast:
Elk Cove Inn & Spa — Garden rooms mid-week through April with three-night stay: $83/night. Free wine and cookies, complimentary breakfast and wi-fi. Spa offers 40-minute massage for $56. Visit www.elkcoveinn.com or call (800) 275-2967.
The Country Inn — Fort Bragg. Walking distance from the historic Skunk Train and shopping. Rooms $55 without fireplace; $90 with (even on weekends) through March. Visit www.beourguests.com or call (800) 831-5327.
Mar Vista Cottages — Rooms with kitchens and fireplaces as low as $103/night through March. Price includes all the fresh fruit, vegetables, herbs and flowers you can pick from organic gardens, and fresh-laid eggs from resident hens. Visit www.marvistamendocino.com or call (877) 855-3522.