San Francisco Skyscrapers: Exploring leading lines and textures

Skyscrapers of San Francisco - San Francisco, California

Skyscrapers of San Francisco – San Francisco, California

In New York City you tell people never to look up or risk being labeled a tourist, and perhaps increasing the chances of being an easy mark. I don’t know if that’s the case in San Francisco, but as you can see I was in full tourist mode. Coming from a smaller city like Austin, I took the opportunity to shoot tall buildings and in wide-angle to exaggerate the proportions. What resulted is a fun exploration of leading lines, textures and tones.

Skyscrapers of San Francisco #2 - San Francisco, California
Skyscrapers of San Francisco #3 - San Francisco, California

When I was younger, I believed firmly in Bauhaus architecture, the origin of simple lines and minimal ornamentation. Much of the modern skyscrapers these days are built in the “International Style” which have homogenized many of the cities throughout the world. As I grow older, I have to admit that I’m growing fond of details and texture. Perhaps it’s also the influence of photography. The super clean lines of the modern world are well, boring, and usually don’t interest me as subjects.

Skyscrapers of San Francisco #4 - San Francisco, California
Skyscrapers of San Francisco #5 - San Francisco, California
Skyscrapers of San Francisco #6 - San Francisco, California

What I found in San Francisco is a nice mix of the old and the new. Of ornamentation and efficiency. It made for endless compositional possibilities. Unlike my recent photowalk on Burnet Road, where one struggles to find the interesting, the risk in San Francisco is of being overwhelmed. I shot more than architecture but for this post, I’m highlighting just the tall structures of the modern world. And unusual for me, all shot during the daytime, instead of my typical night-time images.

Skyscrapers of San Francisco #7 - San Francisco, California
Skyscrapers of San Francisco #8 - San Francisco, California

I originally intended to post these in color, as they were shot. But black and white looked more compelling — the images took on more abstraction. Texture is now emphasized instead of competing with color.

Skyscrapers of San Francisco #9 - San Francisco, California
Skyscrapers of San Francisco #10 - San Francisco, California
Skyscrapers of San Francisco #11 - San Francisco, California

There’s actually a large amount of technology used to create these photographs, though their effects maybe subtle. These are HDRs but created handheld using the built-in processing on the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II. It’s the first time I explored this feature and I’m really impressed. So much so that I shot almost every photograph during my recent California trip with the in-camera HDR.

Skyscrapers of San Francisco #12 - San Francisco, California
Skyscrapers of San Francisco #13 - San Francisco, California
Skyscrapers of San Francisco #14 - San Francisco, California

In these photographs, the HDR reduces the contrast between the shadows and highlights. The tonal range stays in check and diminishes the harshness. I actually added contrast to give the images a bit more pop. But enough talk about technique, it’s the images that matter the most of course. I’ll talk more about the in-camera HDR in a future post, for today I wanted to showcase the city. And while shooting the Golden Gate is always picturesque, I’m glad I created a different kind of image of San Francisco.


Please support this blog by clicking on my Amazon Link before buying anything.

12 thoughts on “San Francisco Skyscrapers: Exploring leading lines and textures

    1. Thank you, Marilyn. Frank Lloyd Wright was certainly a big break from the past, a tour of Oak Park, Illinois very wonderfully showcases this. But even Wright works, at least in the beginning, have a level of texture and detail that are often missing in modern works. Though his later Usonian houses simplified his designs immensely and made them accessible to middle class.

  1. I agree with the idea that older urban architecture is, on average, more interesting. Many of the high rise buildings of the past few decades have been relentlessly boring. The wilder examples of modern design, exemplified by Frank Gehry’s “dancing house” in Prague and other familiar Gehry designs, are even more interesting — but how many of them would you want to see side-by-side?

    1. I’m somewhat encouraged that some recent works are trying to break free on the simple rectangular box. The danger is that certain Stararchitect’s work wants to sit by themselves and refuse to blend into the fabric of the city. Scale and the relationship with the urban fabric is so important but seem to be lost in the newest cities.

  2. I love, just love the skyscraper picture. Especially the second one…great shot. Over 30 years I moved 3000 miles and ended up in Los Angeles, straight from a small village between Italy and Austria. I survived the shock of the first weeks (smiling) and will never forget my first visit to San Francisco. I fell in love…head over heels. Wanted to ride the cable car all day long and sleep on a bench at Fisherman’s Wharf and eat all day long. Great post, just a great post. Thank you.

    1. nonsmokingladybug, thank you. And welcome to this site. San Francisco is most certainly on the world’s greatest cities. The natural topology and it’s mix of architecture makes it some much fun to shoot there.

  3. Terrific architectural shots, and very glad you went with monochrome processing, it really enhances the cleanliness and simplicity of the lines and perspectives, giving the images more power!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s