The Golden Gate Bridge was shrouded in fog on a recent July morning. This pleased me as I drove across it, for it is my favorite way to see the bridge. Actually, I couldn't see very much of it on this summer day. The bridge was there but mostly invisible. My imagination was needed to complete the picture. The very best thing about the bridge is how it constantly changes in the light and weather. And the best bridge weather for the bridge is thick fog.
The bridge sits in the direct path of the charging fog stream of San Francisco Bay. The Golden Gate acts like a funnel that sucks the drippy stuff in at almost gale force. Therefore, the bridge and fog are almost always dramatic and ever-changing. Yet a few miles further on into the city, things in the fog can be quiet and drab. A foggy morning in San Francisco can be challenging to a photographer. Drab light is bad light—or is it?
I find the Bay Area fog to be a trickster. If it's low enough it creates great drama and mystery. It shifts and changes and swirls like a operatic stage set. As it burns off it is as if a dim spotlight were lit in the far reaches of the theatre. During this grand evaporation the intensity and direction and color of the light is fleeting and fickle. But, as long as the fog is in transition it can be very photogenic.
However, just after sunrise all can be very still on a typical day in the foggy city. It is then that the fog is often high, dreary and stable. The light is boring and flat—bad light for the roaming photographer. And that's just the way I found it on this recent morning in July. The drama of the bridge had faded off by the time I got to the Marina District. I was disappointed.
Yet, all was not lost. The high, diffuse and pearly light would not be easy to exploit but there would be nooks and crannies of the city where it would be advantageous. I'd merely have to walk to seek it. Soon I found myself at the Palace of Fine Arts, a building that flatters most every kind of light. But, my heart sank as I stared at the edifice. Nothing. Even this was anemic and boring. Now inside the rotunda, I stared up with little hope. Suddenly the light shifted but slightly and everything began to glow like alabaster. I gasped as I clicked the shutter a dozen times. The dome was lit with a touch of sorcery!
And just like that…the light changed again and shifted back to bad. The moment was gone, making the few seconds of glowing light all the more magical. I walked off back to my truck, ears now cold from the nippy fog of that San Francisco morning in mid-July.