San Francisco Bay Paddler (California)

I took the featured photo a few years ago. That spring, I spent a weekend in San Francisco while preparing to fly back to Montreal after a two-week driving trip through California.

I took the featured photo from Treasure Island, located in the middle of San Francisco Bay. Every time I visit the Bay Area, I make sure to find the time—even if it is only a few minutes—to take in one of my favorite city views.

This time, I concentrated on the colors and architectural patterns of the city.

Photographing San Francisco from Treasure Island has its own set of challenges. The island is approximately 2km away from the portal area of downtown. The distance makes it challenging to find a point of interest in both the foreground and midground. Most of the photos taken from the island have a boring foreground comprised of water and nothing else. 

But I have a few tricks up my sleeve to solve this problem. Since the channel between the island and the city is a busy portal area, it only takes a few minutes until another cargo ship or barge passes by. It often makes an interesting compositional element.

In my case, I did not have to wait long for a cargo ship. Instead, I spotted a paddler approaching my location and made sure to include him as part of the composition.

San Francisco Bay Paddler (California) 1

Plus, the color contrast between the blue sky, the orange rock, and the green vegetation was absolutely breathtaking.


I was shooting hand-held and I used the longest focal length (70mm) of my lens to zoom in on the city.

Editing & Processing

It was a single RAW processing workflow.

Lightroom (80%)

My first goal was to improve the composition by removing the empty sky at the top and the empty water of the bay at the bottom. I used the Crop Overlay tool to change the aspect ratio from the original 3 x 3 to more panoramic orientation with an aspect ratio of 2 x 1.

Next, I used the Natural preset from my Landscape Preset Collection as the base for Lightroom Rapid Editing. Then I used TOOLKIT to boost the Contrast and the Clarity.

The Lightroom Preset Editing Formula: Natural (9, 17, 25, 33)

Photoshop (20%)

In Photoshop the main goal was to boost the contrast even further. I applied the contrast selectively by making the area of water and sky, making sure that only architectural details were affected.

The aggressive contrast resulted in excessive digital noise and I had to use a relatively strong noise reduction setting to eliminate it.

Plugins: DeNoise (noise reduction), Topaz Detail (local contrast boost).

Total time: 20min

Before & After Transformation

San Francisco Bay Paddler (California) 2
San Francisco Bay Paddler (California) 1
by Viktor Elizarov
I am a travel photographer and educator from Montreal, Canada, and a founder of PhotoTraces. I travel around the world and share my experiences here. Feel free to check my Travel Portfolio and download Free Lightroom Presets.