Flying over the Golden Gate Bridge

How to photograph the city by the Bay

I love San Francisco and always will. How can you not? It’s arguably the most beautiful city in the United States. (I share the same sentiments for New York, L.A., Seattle—you get the idea, but there’s only one City by the Bay.)

And speaking of amazing views, today I want to tell you about my takeaway from my most recent visit and the most memorable way to see both the iconic Golden Gate Bridge and the city. If you have an extra $200 or so to spare, it’s hard to top the epic view from a seaplane. Up there in the skies, it truly supports my argument that no U.S. city shines like San Francisco.

Flying a drone anywhere near the Golden Gate Bridge is illegal and besides, the best you could do legally, if you were indeed allowed, is to fly the drone 400 feet off the ground. In a seaplane, you get the view from 1,000 feet above.

Seaplane Adventures is a little outfit in Mill Valley, just across the bay from the city, and so immediately next door to Sausalito that it’s surrounded by houseboats. They’ve been at it for over 70 years. They take off from Richardson Bay, near Tiburon, and you fly over Marin, including Mount Tamalpais, the Golden Gate, Baker Beach in San Francisco, Alcatraz Island and a sneek peek at the East Bay, including Richmond and Oakland. There’s another tour of the city that will take you over the Transamerica Building, AT&T Park and other landmarks, some of which you’ll also see on the Golden Gate tour.

The planes are small, with room for six passengers and you get about 30 minutes up in the air. As cool as everything looks, as a photographer you have to contend with lots of distractions up there. The windows have lots of reflections and it’s hard to get a clean shot without pieces of the airplane in your way. Luckily, I’ve taken Kelby classes, and was able to wipe the reflections away in Photoshop, and cropped the photos in Lightroom.

Would you feel safe riding in a plane that dates back to World War II? It didn’t bother me, but I’m sure it might give many people pause. Before you Google “Are seaplanes safe?” I can confirm that there are seaplane crashes, but this company tells me they’ve never had one.

Seaplane Adventures has been flying since 1946. Would there be engine issues in the sky, the company says it could just glide right down to the bay and take it from there.

Postscript: That camera equipment theft while my cameras were rolling happened on May 20th. A nice samaritan snapped a photo of the thieves driving away in their getaway car, complete with a shot of the license plate.

The police finally got back to me this week with an update about tracking the license plate and apprehending my young hoodlums. The upshot? “They were driving with a stolen license plate,” the officer told me. “So we weren’t able to catch them.”

Since the $6,500 worth of Sony A7RIV, 70-200mm lens, Rode Wireless Go II microphones and my Manfrotto tripod got nabbed, I’ve been reading way too many articles about similar thefts in San Francisco. In 2021 alone there was the photo team who were being followed, and had their gear taken from the car while waiting for the light to change, and the photographer who saw all his gear taken from his SUV while parked and taking a gander at the Golden Gate Bridge (on the Marin side.)

It sucks, but again, when in San Francisco, at least for now, use common sense. Don’t flash your gear or leave it in the car un-attended.

Otherwise, did you know that you could get incredible shots with a non-flashy and not as desirable smartphone?

This week’s tech news highlights:

Facebook is “Killing People”

Facebook is “killing people.” That’s what president Joe Biden said Friday, in a rather strong, but hopefully effective quote. His point: all the misinformation on the social network allowing the anti-vaccine to spew their twisted theories has got to stop.

While Facebook offers much in the way of effective COVID and vaccine info on many of its pages, the private anything goes groups (as in the photo above) are where members spin their conspiracy theories to gullible readers.

My take: Facebook is bad, but Fox News and the anchors who spit this stuff out night after night are way worse.

Still, it’s a sad commentary on how the world has changed that a little Social Network with some 2 billion users gets the spotlight from the White House vs. the no. 1 cable TV network. (And it’s not just Facebook and Fox. Just type “No to Vaccine” on YouTube and see all the crap that shows up.)

Will anything change? People have been complaining loudly about Facebook and misinformation since the social network helped elect Donald Trump in 2016. Seen any changes for the better since?

Maybe the strength of Biden’s quote will get Mark Zuckerberg and co. to finally clean up their act. Here’s hoping.

Speaking of misleading people: A new documentary on the late TV host Anthony Bourdain has come under fire for using Artificial Intelligence to re-create thoughts from Bourdain that he never said aloud. The computer says it instead on the soundtrack. My take: I don’t think this is terrible, since these are words he wrote in an e-mail. Had the filmmaker made up the quotes, I’d feel differently. What do you think about it?

Another password reminder: Yet another awful story about bad passwords made the pages of the Los Angeles Times this week and it should be yet another wakeup call for all of us. A firm, SEC Info, got hacked and held up with a multi-million dollar ransomware that took over control of his firm. How’d it happen? The founder’s old Yahoo password, which had been hacked years ago, was the same weak, easy to crack password he used for the firm. Can you believe it? Another reminder that every website we visit needs its own unique, hard to crack password. Easy passwords are just too costly. To keep track of your passwords, I recommend using a password manager. I like Dashlane, many others wear by LastPass.

Tweet of the week

Would you pay $1,000 for a TV? To spring for $5K would be out of the question, right? And $10K? You’ve got to be kidding.

Well folks, get ready for the $100K TV!

Musical Interlude

This sort of sums up my feeling about that theft: it was Just One of Those Things.


Photo essay: The 4th of July in Hermosa Beach

My favorite iPhone photo accessories

Meet the “Pretzel Guy.”

Thanks as always for watching, reading and listening. If you enjoyed today’s edition please let me know with a HEART tab or click reply and tell me what’s on your mind.

Have a great weekend everyone!