How to photograph San Francisco from Berkeley

Sunset at Berkeley Pier

Sunset at Berkeley Pier

Most people know Berkeley for its University, but not too many people know about the excellent views of San Francisco Bay you can have from here.

Located on the East Bay between Oakland and Emeryville, Berkeley does not attract many tourists. In the sixties Berkeley became the center of the Hippie movement and is forever associated with it. Berkeley does have places of photographic value, but you will have to look a little harder for them.

Two of these places are the Berkeley Pier and Grizzly Peak Boulevard. Both offer outstanding but completely different views of the San Francisco Bay.

Grizzly Peak leads you along the eastern hills, affording you grand views, with the entire bay stretching beneath you. In contrast, the Pier has much more intimate views.

How to get there

To get to the Pier, simply take the University Ave exit from I-80/I-580 and head towards the water.  To get to Grizzly Peak Blvd from the Pier, follow University Avenue to San Pablo Avenue, turn left and drive about 1 ¼ miles until you get to Marin Ave. Follow it all the way to Grizzly Peak Blvd. where you will turn right.

GPS position

Berkeley Pier:

Grizzly Peak Blvd:

How to photograph San Francisco from Berkeley

Night Shot from Grizzly Peak Blvd

Berkeley: Night Shot from Grizzly Peak Blvd

I love night photography. The camera sees the night completely different than we do. Our eyes see mostly monochrome at night, as this permits a better efficiency. On our cameras, we simply compensate by longer exposure, while the color is not affected. Hence, the camera brings out the full color spectrum of the city lights that our eye does not see. We thus perceive those pictures as vivid and full of color.

When I am shooting in a city, I will not stop just because it is night. I use my tripod and continue shooting.

Simply put, I stop down my lens one to two stops from its maximum aperture (smallest f-stop), by setting my camera to Aperture Priority, dialing in the widest possible aperture at a given focal length and backing up one to two stops from there. I set the camera to its lowest ISO setting (do not use auto), turn on Mirror Lockup and Dark Frame Subtraction (sometimes called Long Exposure Noise Reduction) and fire away. Then I evaluate the exposure on the histogram, switch the camera to manual and compensate for clipped histograms.

For the shot of the Pier, Alcatraz and Golden Gate, I backed up as far as I could and used a long focal length to pull the Bridge and Alcatraz closer towards the pier. Using a long lens to compress the space between two far away subjects helps to accentuate the bridge instead of having it show up as a small, hard to recognize speck in the distance.

I timed my exposure so that the beam of the lighthouse on Alcatraz was shining towards me. I first pressed the shutter to flip the mirror of my camera, and then I counted the seconds between the beams and started my exposure about the same time when the beam would hit me again. Strangely, I was alone while everyone went out towards the end of the pier. By including the pier I have created a more unique composition.

I used an even smaller exposure (instead of one or two stops from the maximum) to increase my depth of field and get as much sharpness throughout the entire range as possible.

Make sure your horizon is straight. Use a level for the flash hot shoe or the level on your tripod.

I took the photograph of Bay Bridge from a viewpoint on Grizzly Peak Road. I used the same technique, only this time I did not have to worry about foreground elements.

During the day, you can probably shoot handheld, but you should bring a tripod in case you wish to attach a filter. Filters can take two stops of light away from your exposure. When you wish to use a small aperture, you can easily get exposure times too long for handheld photography at ISO 100.

During the day, you can take photographs of Eastshore State Park and people on the pier.

Best Time of the Day and Best Season

Any clear day will be great. You should be flexible with your plans. If it is foggy, go to Sausalito or Muir Woods instead. The best light is during the morning hours for daylight photography. Sunset shots from the park and night shots from Grizzly peak also look good.

Time required

Depending on the Traffic, the drive from San Francisco to Eastshore State Park (and the Pier) will take you between ½ hour to a couple of hours. From here, it is another 30 minutes to Grizzly Peak Road. Plan one hour for photographs from the Pier (including walking the pier) and 30 minutes for photography from Grizzly Peak Road.

Equipment

  • Tripod and Cable Release
  • Telephoto Lens
  • Flashlight or Headlamp
  • GPS receiver or printed directions

Difficulty Getting There

I usually avoid driving on this side of the bay since it is notoriously congested. The multi-lane highways may be intimidating to first time visitors, but with a clear idea of where you want to go you should have no problem. Print your route or use a GPS and you will be fine.

Close Locations

Useful Resources


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5 Comments

  1. Posted 2009/02/13 at 18:38 | Permalink

    Thank you for another great post. This I definitely have to try (as soon as the rain stops). I’ve been to Berkeley before and drove up Grizzly Peak Blvd, I just wasn’t very lucky as I ended up in the clouds and couldn’t see the Bay at all. Otherwise, I’m not a big fan of the whole area, but I will have to stop by that pier now. Never would have thought to find such a view there. Awesome.

  2. Posted 2009/02/14 at 07:04 | Permalink

    Great shots. The view looks beautiful from Grizzly Peak.

    Thanks for the blog comment. Can’t wait to see some shots from the Albany Bulb.

  3. Posted 2009/02/14 at 07:12 | Permalink

    TG: You are too kind as always. Thanks for sticking around on my blog. I appreciate your feedback.
    KP: Thanks again for the tip. I hope I can live up to your expectations.

  4. danielfranksphotography
    Posted 2009/02/16 at 08:37 | Permalink

    Great site. Going up to SF soon so I’ll be sure to look again at your blog before I go up!

  5. Pictures of Brazil
    Posted 2009/03/11 at 13:34 | Permalink

    Very good, great view. Rich in information, perfect. Thanks


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