When you are out photographing, many times weather just doesn't cooperate. You have to be patient and I feel it is just best to wait.
When you have an iconic subject like the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco - you have most of the battle won by have just having a good subject. Here is where we started from:
This evening I was out with four other photographers, which I highly recommend doing as its great to see everyone get to a site and then scatter, so each person gets their own unique view of the area. It can be a great learning experience see what others are seeing an trying to capture.
When we arrived about an hour before sundown the sky was showing overcast, low cloud cover. Not that uncommon of an occurrence in San Francisco. However, there is nice subject to work with, so I thought I'd try a few things.
I knew that later in the evening the lights would come on to illuminate the architecture so I had to be ready. The first thing to deal with is composition. Since it was still light out, the exposure would be dealt with later so I had about 45 minutes to explore some different views.
First things first, I had to decide on a lens. I had with me a zoom lens, Nikon 24-70 so I started with that. I was toying with different compositions to try and incorporate some foreground in the shot, other than just the lake.
I noticed one or two blooming lilies that were a bright yellow and I thought that might make a good foreground. In order to make the composition work, I switched to my Nikon 14mm and started to position my tripod so the flower could be no less than 18 inches away.
Next, I had to deal with Depth of Field. I could have shot the image at f/22 and likely would have been able to get the entire scene in focus but that would cause some diffraction in the final image.. When images are shot at f/22, because of the tiny hole that light has to pass through, that setting can cause the image to not be as sharp as I'd like.
Inspired by a good friend of mine, photographer, David Bozsik, who has been Focus Stacking (taking several images at different focus plains and assembling them later) for quite some time, I thought I'd give that try.
As the light was getting low, I didn't want to run my ISO up very high in an effort keep the image as sharp as possible. I ended up shooting at F/5 the sharpest point of this lens. While I shot several images, I only need to stack two of them to get the foreground sharp and the background sharp.
If you remember, I was shooting on a tripod at a very slow shutter speed so I knew the water would be softly blurred. So the only two shots I really needed were the shot of the foreground and the shot of the structure across the lake. While I could have assembled them in Photoshop I instead opted for Helicon Focus software to combine the foreground with the background image.
The slow shutter speed blurred not only the water but the sky as well giving it an interesting mottled look.
The other bonus of working with only two images, I was able to change the exposure for the flower (lighter) and have a different exposure for the Palace area.
The timing of shot like this happens very fast as the light is changing rapidly. You have to wait for the balance of light from the sky and surroundings to match the intensity of the artificial lights on the buildings. Shot too early the artificial lights would be not making an impact, shot too late and sky would be black and nothing interesting.