Weekly Photo Challenge: Illumination – Sunrise at San Francisco’s Sutro Baths 12 January 2013


Good Morning:

San Franciscans love to explore the ruins of the Sutro Baths; I daresay that we visit them more often than our out-of-town visitors. But my goal in visiting the baths on that very early Saturday morning consisted of more than photographing the photogenic fellow known as Sutro Sam. Since most people visit the baths, the nearby Cliff House, and Ocean Beach to view the sunset over the Pacific Ocean (and yes, it does get spectacular), I decided to respond to the Weekly Challenge by visiting at sunrise and seeing what effects the eastern light would have on the western edge of the continent.

I arrived about 8:30 a.m. to this:



Notice how much remains in shadow for future comparisons, in particular the Seals Rock nearest the shore. I find it odd that such a young city as San Francisco (a sleepy village called Yerba Buena as recently as 1846) can have ancient ruins.

I hardly felt alone; even at that very early hour, a few chill-resistant souls had already made the jaunt to see Sutro Sam, such as this mother and daughter:


My visit took place during high tide, so aside from the almost 100 shots of Sam, I also tried capturing both the stillness of the water in the artificial basins and the power and violence of the thundering surf. Here are some of the better ones.

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Now comes a good time for a caution. I waited ten minutes before daring to venture upon the longer ledge you see in the above picture. I waited to ensure that the surf didn’t reach it. Only a few seconds after I walked out there, the biggest wave of the morning crashed upon the rocks beneath me and splashed me head to toe.

I got out of there fast.

The waves at Seal Rocks at high tide are extremely dangerous even in “calm” conditions; I took extra special care and still ended up soaking. But if the weather had been really nasty, an even bigger wave would have grabbed me, hurled me out to sea and tossed me about for a few moments before deciding between drowning me and beating me to death upon the rocks. Be careful!

If WordPress ever has another Weekly Photo Challenge devoted to reflections, this next photo will serve me well:


Some pictures of sundry items within the ruins:

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Eventually, two hours later, time to leave. A few pictures as I looked back upon the vista. You will observe the differences in the light and shadow areas vs. the earlier shots.

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I walked to the bus stop with a detour through the Sutro Heights Park. On my way, I photographed a pair lovers on their early morning stroll.


Final results: 522 photographs taken with my Nikon D40 DSLR, using the Landcape Mode for almost all of them. Of these, about 25-30 turned out adequately well (an unusually high percentage compared with other photo expeditions); I gave perhaps seven of these pictures 2 stars out of 5 in iPhoto’s rating system. Aside from cropping and straightening, I have made no edits to these pictures. A good start to a good day.

But let us not deceive ourselves; I did not take these pictures. The scenery photographed itself. Let’s face the facts. I just happened to blunder into a scene illuminated by an extraordinary Saturday morning light.

Vonn Scott Bair


7 responses »

  1. Beautiful photos and an interesting location. Thank you. I’m pleased to read someone else also manages to take a large number photos in a short period of time. Thank goodness for digital photography although spending hours in a darkroom choosing and developing prints has a certain charm too.

    • Jillian: I do know a hardcore film photographer who handles a lot of “why don’t you get with the times” questions with a question of his own–“How do you know people will be able to access your photographs a hundred years from now?” Vonn Scott Bair

      • Have would have to agree with him. 🙂 I love digital but technology updates so fast who knows if people will be able to read our files in the future?

      • Jillian: True enough, but I wonder how much longer will film photography will last. It seems more than a little difficult to find B&W nowadays, and Kodak discontinued Ektachrome. Vonn Scott Bair

    • Adam: Thanks for visiting and for commenting. I’m tempted to return soon with a zoom lens for closer shots of Sutro Sam, but the timing will prove tricky–I was very lucky to arrive at high tide with that amazing light. Vonn Scott Bair

  2. Pingback: Weekly Photo Challenge: Forward – Into the Great Blue Open « The San Francisco Scene--Seen!

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