Withstanding the development boom in Sacramento’s Downtown, Stutter’s Fort claims a large block of prime real estate. It is a monument to the frontier spirit of early California settlers and to globetrotting John Sutter.
John Sutter, a self-made emigrant from Germany, built the fort as a trading post after traveling for years and making a name for himself. His influence grew and his generosity was legendary, until the discovery of gold attracted too much attention and he lost a lot of his fortune.
Sutter’s Fort gives you wonderful insight into the lives of the early settlers, all within walking distance from the amenities of the city. Its easy access makes it an ideal family destination or complement to another photo shoot in Sacramento. Do not miss this opportunity to visit an authentic western fort within California’s Capital City.
How to get there
Sutter’s Fort is located at 2701 L Street, in Sacramento, just west of the Capitol City Freeway.
Take the H Street exit from the Capitol City Freeway. Take H Street west and turn left on 29th Street, which runs parallel to the freeway. Turn right onto L Street after a few blocks. The State Park is just past Sutter General Hospital.
How to photograph Sutter’s Fort
Tall modern buildings surround the Fort, making it nearly impossible to create scenic pictures with authentic flair. Fortunately, the caretakers have arranged numerous items with an amazing attention to detail. The lovingly arranged rooms and items include living quarters, filled stores, and canons ready to fire at a moment’s notice. After a while, you will forget the city and feel a connection back to the 19th Century, especially during one of the living history or reenactment days.
Too much detail can be confusing. Try to eliminate unnecessary details and make order of the chaos in your picture. A good example is the photograph of the rifles in the introduction section or the photograph of the pots below. Cropping all unnecessary objects from the edges will also create a feeling of large numbers. This is especially evident in the photograph of the rifles. I did not give the viewer a clue how many rifles this rack held, by tightly framing the photo.
The rooms are dark and gloomy, while the outside can be extremely bright. The resulting contrast makes it tough to shoot scenes that include outdoor and indoor scenes. Unless you want to go the difficult and cumbersome HDR route, I recommend to shoot RAW and to expose for the highlights. You can boost the shadow level during post processing, but you cannot completely restore clipped highlights. Most modern SLR let you restore one stop of highlight, which means you could overexpose the highlights that much.
For advanced photographers, I recommend that you experiment to learn the limits of your camera. Simply load an overexposed picture into your favorite RAW converter and reduce the exposure slider until you cannot regain any more content. Pay attention to the color histogram, since the amount you can restore will differ for each channel, which could lead to color casts if you go too far. Once you know how far you can push your camera, you can take a meter reading from the highlights and then increase your exposure time by that same amount (e.g. one full stop).
Slide film photographers usually avoid these excessive high dynamic range situations. I have done the same in the photographs of this article.
The dark gloomy rooms of the Fort also require a higher sensitivity ISO speed setting. Pay attention to your exposure time and increase the sensitivity if necessary to avoid blur.
Best Time of the Day and Best Season
Sutter’s Fort opens its doors to visitors daily, from 10am to 5pm. Summer can be very hot in the Central Valley and winter can be rainy. Rain, however, is only a small discomfort. Since many of the exhibits are indoors, you can still create good images. I took most of the images in this article on a rainy day.
To maximize your potential, come during a special program day, when the Fort comes to live with actors in authentic costumes.
One hour is sufficient to explore and photograph the small Fort.
You do not need to bring heavy gear here. A zoom Point and Shoot Camera with image stabilization can deliver good results with sufficient flexibility and ease of use.
- Zoom lens with image stabilization
- CP filter for outdoor shots
- If it rains: heavy boots (mud)
The entrance fee is $5 for adults and $3 for children between the ages of 6 to 17. The admission may be higher on special program days.
- California State Capitol
- Governor’s Mansion
- Stanford Mansion
- Old Sacramento Historic Downtown
- California State Railroad Museum
- Daffodil Hill
- Nevada City
- Bridgeport Covered Bridge
- Locke Historic Town
- Malakoff Diggins SHP
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