Shooting San Francisco with Platypod

Photographing San Francisco, one of the world’s most beautiful cities, inspires me with endless artistic opportunities. On my recent trip, I took Platypod with me as my primary means of camera “support.” I was shooting different scenes with several lenses including my wide angle Nikkor 16-35mm and my Nikkor 80-400mm zoom lenses. I was shooting with the Nikon D850, mounted on Platypod Max. I’m always impressed with the stability and support Platypod offers when shooting longer focal lengths with my long lens or shooting long exposures, especially when absolute stability is required with exposures from a few seconds, to 30 seconds or longer.

Choosing a hotel close to the Embarcadero near the San Francisco- Oakland Bayside Bridge meant I only had to walk a few blocks, sharing my journey with the city’s 5:30am pre-dawn joggers. This is an easy well-lit route I can navigate in the dark, with the beautiful bridge as my beacon. Arriving at the seawall, my only task is to choose what might be the best fit for my composition in the pre-dawn light. I can see the cloud formations and reflections on the water, all so beautiful. I decide to include the remnants of an old dock in the composition, which appear to be rugged posts, and in some cases, only fragments are left. They make a fascinating addition to the composition. This is my spot. If I have time, I think I can move farther south and include a fire station boat, but my first choice looks amazing and I know I won't want to move as I watch the dramatic clouds develop before my eyes.

Platypod proved essential for my early morning shots, here’s why... The real trick about this location is setting up a traditional tripod. The seawall is wide, and to use a wide-angle lens, the seawall is often in the shot. I’ve photographed this area many times and trying to jockey the tripod into position is a long struggle to get close enough, frequently repositioning, all the while losing time. The most effective solution is to set a Platypod on top of the seawall; job done in an instant. I like to use the silicone pad that comes in the accessory kit to add even more grip to the bottom of Platypod’s surface for added stability. I don’t need to use the spikes that come with Platypod for this shot, although they have come in very handy for irregular surfaces (like the rock I was shooting on my last trip to San Francisco. See my previous article)

I set up quickly, with Platypod sitting securely on the seawall, ready to shoot. I keep my camera strap in front of me, just in case, but there is no need, the camera is very stable with the silicone pad gripping the seawall surface. I’m only paying attention to the developing clouds, and making my pictures the best they can be, watching changing conditions, making adjustments along the way. Before I know it, a dramatic pink glow is replacing the deep colors of the sky during blue hour. I’m ready for a new set of photos as the blue hour segues to the rising sun. The clouds are changing fast as I make exposure adjustments to reflect a brighter and more vivid composition. Relying on the complete stability of Platypod, I decided to shoot a short movie to show the gentle waves, ripples, and pink glow of an amazing morning. This is a simple task with the Nikon D850, changing my settings to Movie mode, and choosing the slow-motion option to create a more tranquil rendition of sunrise along the Embarcadero.

On another morning I returned to Fisherman’s Wharf, this time with Platypod and my 80- 400mm lens. It might seem like overkill to bring such a long lens to this area where everything is relatively close to me.

However, having photographed this location before, I wanted to concentrate on the detail shots this time around. In this location, there is also a seawall where I can place a Platypod, a combination which offers my long lens complete stability. I can shoot reflections, detail shots, and beautiful fishing boats with my Nikon D850. No need to crouch down and try to peer through the viewfinder or position my tripod legs to try to get closer to the seawall. I used the D850’s tilt monitor to see everything in the scene, easily creating my composition, while making exposure adjustments on the fly. Platypod made it super easy to shoot with a variety of lenses, switching back and forth from shooting photos to creating movies with reliable stability, even in the windy conditions.

Two of the great benefits of carrying Platypod are its compact and lightweight. It can fit in my backpack, it even fits in the side pouch of my F-Stop Gear Kashmir camera bag, the backpack that I use most frequently. As I was getting ready to leave, I noticed another photographer was watching me, as she struggled with her tripod, I couldn’t resist a little friendly advice.... “You need this!”

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About the Author: Deborah Sandidge is a professional photographer specializing in world travel and artistic imagery. Deborah is a photography instructor and the author of the book Digital Infrared Photography.