Painting San Francisco

This is sort of cool. I had to go out to the old Naval Air Station in Alameda again a few days ago (photos from previous visits are here and here), and I took some photos looking across the bay to San Francisco. Unfortunately, they didn’t come out very well, in part because some kind of distortion was introduced into the images. I don’t know what caused it—possibly something I did wrong (I’m still learning how to use the camera properly), or maybe the effects of the heat rising from the old runway where I was standing in the hot sun, or maybe…

Anyway, for whatever reason, the images aren’t very clear, but when I was looking at them in full resolution, trying to understand why they didn’t come out as well as I had hoped, I noticed that the distortion actually produced a pretty nice “painterly” effect, almost as if they weren’t photographs at all, but rather oil paintings done in a slightly impressionist style. I didn’t edit or manipulate them intentionally to create this effect—this is how they came straight out of the camera (I did crop them, so these are just small pieces of the full images).

Telegraph Hill

That’s the Bay Bridge with Telegraph Hill (topped by Coit Tower) behind it. Here’s another one (from a different original image) of downtown SF:


If anyone happens to know what might have caused this particular kind of distortion, I’d be curious to hear an explanation. I checked some other photos that I shot from the same location with the same camera (and similar settings) a few months ago, and while they aren’t necessarily any crisper, they don’t remind me of painted landscapes the way that these do.

8 Responses to “Painting San Francisco”

  1. Ian says:

    looks like heat distortion to me

  2. m says:

    Wow, you must have some serious zoom on your camera. Have you seen my recent pics of the City from Alameda? The City is about 1/100th the size it is in your shots. I hope ournext camera will have a much stronger zoom function and be more usable at night.

    I love the distortion here btw, looks awesome. Would be great source material for a painting.

  3. Carol Polk says:

    Dave, may I send a link to this entry to my neighbor Ron Henggeler, a noted photographer and historian of the city (SF, that is)?

  4. dc says:

    m: I actually don’t have a very high-powered zoom lens, although it’s a bit more than the built-in zoom on many cameras. Note that these images are cropped from wider-angle panoramic shots, and also, I was at the far western end of Alameda, which is about half the distance between SF and where you were (South Shore, I presume, based on the beach and the kite-sailers in your photos). That makes a huge difference.

    Carol: Yes, by all means, you should always feel free to send people to my blog. (Just do it quick, before Richard Posner succeeds in making hyperlinks illegal!) I don’t do much to publicize this blog or to expand my readership (viewership?), but that doesn’t mean I don’t want people looking at it.

  5. ruth gutmann says:

    I also thought that there could be differences in the air quality, i.e., its temperature, such as one can experience on a very hot day. I loved the little red “smudges” among the blue of the houses. I was trying to think of an impressionist painting with those color combinations and couldn’t think of any. It’s not often that you see so many blue hues (except in Monet’s water lillies.)

    Is there a subject Richard Posner has not tackled or attacked? Why hyperlinks?

  6. dc says:

    Ruth: if you click through my hyperlink (!) to Posner’s blog, you’ll see that in a crazy scheme to save the newspaper industry, he suggests making it illegal for anyone to link to copyrighted material without the permission of the copyright holder. Aside from the disturbing and possibly unconstitutional chilling effect this would have on online discourse, it also sounds to me like a good way to kill off newspapers for good, not a way to save them.

  7. jabel says:

    It didn’t dawn on me looking at the pics the other night but now I’m thinking someone may have slipped your camera a hit of acid.

  8. wordnerd says:

    This article (about a non-SLR camera) correlates dimness and blur (and says you can trade blur for graininess by cranking up the ISO, whatever that is):

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