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July 4th Photoblogging
Posted by: Dale Franks on Wednesday, July 05, 2006

On this beautiful July 4th, The Lovely Christine and I went down to Coronado Island to photograph, and participate in, the July 4th festivities. Much picture-taking was included, and a portion of my photos appear below.

This is the skyline of the city, as it appeared on July 4th. You always have to add the date qualification, because the city's skyline is always changing. There is a huge amount of construction going on downtown, as the city father are aggressively determined to make downtown livable. Over the last decade, the skyline has changed completely.

Many people were on the Island today, playing in the water. Here, a group of unruly youths jump off the ferry pier, in blatant—and fun—defiance of the law.

I want one of these. It seats 4, which is perfect for The Lovely Christine and I. And it is also unreasonably fast for a small craft. I don't know how much they cost, but I do know that Sea-Doo offers 7% financing for up to 15 years, so surely, I can afford at least one.

The building in the foreground is one of many new apartment/condo buildings that are going up in San Diego. I like the Victorian architecture. The architecture of the building behind it—which is a Pac-Bell telephone building, and not, as you might suppose, some sort of futuristic prison complex—is less appealing. I never understood why architects got the idea that people wanted to spend their days in featureless, windowless, concrete cubes. Sure, there is something interesting about the Pac-Bell building's severe style, but I find the faux Victorian exterior of the condo building far more appealing.

San Diego. Where man and nature live side-by-side in peaceful harmony.

Safety first! Even in San Diego Bay. I just liked the colors of these life jackets, hung out to dry on the pier where jet-skis and personal watercraft are rented.

This is a navy ship berthed at the 32nd Street Naval Station. Unlike Punch Sulzberger, I hope pictures like this don't give away valuable military secrets to Al Qaeda. But, like Punch Sulzberger, I don't care if they do. You, the public, have a right to know what our navy ships look like. After all, you paid for 'em.

This is the underside of the Coronado Bay Bridge, showing clearly where explosives should be placed to bring down the bridge, thus making the whole local economy higgeldy-piggeldy.

Maybe it's different where you live, but in California, houses bedecked in patriotic bunting and flags are the exception, rather than the rule. Coronado Island, however, seemed well decked out for July 4th. Surprisingly, I didn't see a single Mexican flag all day. That's unusual for Southern California.

Flying into Lindbergh Field in San Diego is much like I imagine strapping yourself onto a Tomahawk cruise missile would be. In both cases, you find yourself zooming through the city 50 feet off the deck, while stunned office workers look down at your aircraft. The first time you fly into San Diego is an...unsettling experience, what with looking up into offices and all.

Finally, we get to the true meaning of July 4th: Impressive fireworks displays.



This gives you a pretty good idea where the fireworks display appears, in relation to the city proper. They load a barge with pyros, tow it to the north side of the bay, and let 'er rip.

Once the fireworks are over, getting off the island is...problematic. Rather than battling through this, we decided to stay on The Island for a while to get more pictures. It took about the same amount of time, but was far more fun.

San Diego at night. I don't know why, but I just never get tired of this particular shot. As of today, I have this exact shot, taken with about 5 different cameras over the years.

This, on the other hand, is a shot I've never taken before. In the foreground is the Coronado Island Ferry pier, with the downtown skyline in the background.

Finally, here's a shot of the Coronado Bridge at night.


One note about night shots in cities: Back in the day, you used to be able to take cityscape night shots, and they would come out pretty good, without any post-production alteration. Sadly, since the 1980s, street lighting has switched to yellow sodium lamps, instead of the old carbon arc lights.

That saves the city a lot of money in electricity charges, but, for photographers, it means that city shots at night now almost invariably take on a sickly, brown hue, as the yellow lights reflect back through the atmosphere. That means that the picture you take looks almost nothing like the view that your eyes see.

But, with digital photography, that can be fixed, as long as you have decent photo software like Macromedia Fireworks or Adobe Photoshop. (Although, now that Adobe has acquired Macromedia, the future of Fireworks is...questionable. Which irks me, actually, since I far prefer Fireworks over Photoshop.) In both applications, however, you can adjust the color curves. Below is an unadjusted cityscape picture:

Nobody wants to see this. It's all...icky brown, and stuff.

To fix this in post, you need to punch up the blue curves. For Photoshop, click on the Images menu, then select Adjustments, and Curves from the sub menu. In Fireworks, select the Filters menu, then Adjust Colors and Curves. In both cases, a very similar dialog box will appear. At the top of the dialog box, there is combo box with the following choices: RGB, Red, Green, Blue. From the combo box, select Blue. This will allow you to punch the blue curve. That will get rid of the crappy brown reflections. At the outset, the curves dialog box will appear like this:

When you click and hold the left mouse button on the diagonal line for the curve, you can drag the blue curve higher. When you're done, the curve should look something like this:

By punching the blue curve, you eliminate the crap-brown reflections, and end up with something like this:

This looks much better, and gives night-time cityscape shots the bluish-purplish color that our eyes see, and that seems more natural for a night-time photograph.

Thus endeth the lesson.
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Previous Comments to this Post 

A small point:

"...instead of the old carbon arc lights."

Carbon arcs haven’t been used in municipal lighting for many decades. About the only place to find them anymore is in older theater follow-spotlights that haven’t been changed over to enclosed-arc bulb types. The change "since the 1980s" was away from mercury-vapor lights. I agree that the high-pressure sodiums are not nearly so attractive.

Nice shots.
Written By: Billy Beck
URL: http://www.two—
Thanks for these pictures. I went to law school in San Diego and these photos really bring back memories.
Written By: J.C. WIlmore
The change "since the 1980s" was away from mercury-vapor lights.
Damn perfectionist.
Written By: Dale Franks
Let me just vouch for the fact that Billy KNOWS lighting.
Written By: McQ
(hah) I hate to grind anyone up with details over this, but it’s just that, well, you know how some people can get over their work.

In fact, I was never all that crazy about what comes out of mercury-vapors — because they run way too blue for my eye — until the high-pressure sodium craze came along. I really hate those things.

For sheer eye-quality, halogens would be the way to go, but they’d be pretty damned expensive for these applications.
Written By: Billy Beck
URL: http://www.two—
Excellent pics Dale.

Looks like you guys have one of those bridges to nowhere:

Written By: markm
URL: http://
Thanks so much Dale! You know I just love your San Diego photos. I put them as my desktop wallpaper and get all homesick.
Written By: Wacky Hermit
I went to UC San Diego and recall fondly landing at the could literally see people eating their lunches in skyscrapers during final descent.

Do they finally have actual connectors between the terminal and plane? I used to have to walk out in the open and board via staircase. Then again, SD usually has cooperative weather.
Written By: Harun
URL: http://
Great article on both Coronado and photography. I own Coronado’s most popular website ( and work for an Adobe software training company (Total Training).

I was on Coronado and I had the same amazing 4th of July experience.

Well done.

Written By: Steve Johnson
High-pressure sodium lighting sets an orangish glow to things, which I find to be... softer? I don’t know. I do know that when you’re out in the middle of nowhere, and there is one or two lights in the midst of the darkness, the sodium lights seem more friendly, like a campfire, rather than an attempt to batter away darkness. "Here’s people", they say, not, "I’m afraid of the dark".

Enough rumination. The push to sodium was created by the astronomy community. Many observatories, built in what was the boondocks at their construction, have been surrounded by "civilization". Lick Observatory on top of Mt Hamilton in the South SF Bay area is a prime example. It was all farmland, with the closest big city SF, 60 miles to the north. Today, San Jose and the Silicon Valley encroaches on the bottom of the mountain. The mercury lights that you all miss play holy hell with spectral analysis of starlight. Those lights have a broad spectrum and the skyshine reflected back into the telescopes obliterated much of the information that astromnomers were looking for. Sodium light have a single, well defined peak that can be easily filtered out.

And that, ladies and gentelmen is why I only do one show a night.
Written By: bud
URL: http://

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