Bay Area photographer Mike Oria captures beautiful images of the San Francisco Bay. His photograph, “Sunrise from Sausalito” won the People’s Choice Award for our Calendar Photo Contest and will be the cover art for our 2016 Save The Bay Calendar.
How long have you lived in the Bay Area and when did you get started photographing the Bay ?
My wife and I have been in the Bay since ‘94. We moved from Texas to California and we lived around the Bay a bit—South Bay, Peninsula, and now we’re out in Brentwood. I’ve been doing photography for seven years. I would say the last two or three years have been pretty intensive for me as far as just really diving in 100% and learning as much as I can to hone my skills.
What inspires you and why are you so drawn to the San Francisco Bay?
First of all it is such a large area, teeming with people, activities, wildlife, and amazing visual stimuli. The mountains, the grasslands, the water—just everything about the Bay to me is like a picture. It is a work of art and so I guess I am inspired by that to try to capture a piece of that into a photograph.
I know a photo can never come close to being able to portray exactly what I am seeing when I am standing there enjoying a great view, but at the same time it evokes a memory of a moment in time for me. It is a way to freeze that moment and later when I look back at the photo that I’ve taken, I go right back to that memory. I remember the smell of the salt air, I remember the seal barking, or the way the flowers were blowing in the wind—you know, things like that. So it is something that is very organic, very stimulating, and of course the challenge as a photographer is how to do that justice and put it into a picture?
Walk me through a day of shooting out on the Bay. What is your approach and how do you capture such amazing images?
Well I found that I very much prefer shooting sunrises and after dark so when the conditions are right for a colorful sky and some beautiful clouds, I find that the ideal time to capture it is twilight—morning or evening twilight. I typically plan my days of shooting around this and what the conditions will be and I do a lot of research before I even go outside. I get on the computer and I know where the sun is rising or setting, I know where the moon is, what time it will rise or set, when twilight is, I know the predicted tides and if there is a low tide, which I favor.
I like to shoot at low tide because more of the underwater coastal treasures are revealed, instead of being covered up by water. I also check wind because a lot of my images are anywhere from ten seconds to two minutes in length and so I am opening my shutter for a long time. If you’re dealing with 35 mile per hour winds up in the Marin headlands your pictures could get blurry.
I also research when the fog is coming in before I get out there and then I try to study the satellite images, such as Google Earth to find a place I’ve never been before and get there in time to try and find a nice foreground subject. Then I’ll just set up and watch what happens. Just wait for the light to change. If I get there before dawn, l’ll sit in darkness and hope that there is something good to look at based on the research I’ve done. That is often frustrating but occasionally I may get lucky. I wait for the first bit of light and color to start and I’ll start shooting. Since there is so much preplanning involved and the “good light” is often very brief, I may return from an outing with only one, sometimes two keepers, but that keeps me going back out for more, I suppose.
Do you have a favorite site along the Bay?
I don’t get a lot of pictures of this because it’s hard to access, but right at the mouth of the Golden Gate looking through to the Bay from Point Bonita where the Bonita Lighthouse is—that spot and the whole area around there (Bonita Cove) looking into San Francisco is a beautiful location and probably one of my favorites. There’s the cliché of the gateway or mouth of the Bay opening to reveal all the beautiful treasures, and of course it is where all the people live. The massive complex of Bay Area cities are a figurative sea of humanity. Being out there on the Marin coast, just outside the Bay, you have so much of just pure nature: cliffs and rocks and birds and other wildlife. It is largely untouched by humans. I like that—being outside it, in unspoiled nature, looking back toward the city.
Do you have any upcoming projects that our readers might be interested in learning about?
I do a lot of night photography and I teach workshops to all levels of photographers from beginners to professionals. I have a workshop series called “Night Eyes Photo Workshops” that I teach with one other instructor and currently we take a group of students out once a month on a Saturday night and we will spend several hours in San Francisco and Marin. We also have a coastal class where we go along the coast from Half Moon Bay down to Santa Cruz. I also shoot commercial work for local businesses and wineries.
Mike Oria creates artistic captures of California’s most compelling locations. His photography has appeared in international publications, calendars, album covers and websites. Prints may be purchased at: www.mikeoria.com