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Cable Car in Motion

Posted by
Stephen Phillips (San Francisco, United States) on 7 January 2009 in Transportation and Portfolio.

...warp speed, Gripman Sulu.

This was one of those accidental strokes of luck that befall a persistent photographer. I'd been at Union Square that pre-dawn - photographing our Macy's Christmas tree ( 22 December 2008). I had no intention of shooting a cable car that morning - I was crossing the street with the thought of getting a wide view of the square.

Yet here came this cable car - on its first morning run towards Fisherman's Wharf. The camera was on the tripod. The exposure more or less set. As the old relic stopped and without much thought - I was placing the tripod and depressing the shutter release.

It was a 8 second exposure. Just after it began, the cable car pulled forward about five feet. After resting about three seconds - the signal changed and he was off and rolling. I almost deleted the exposure. It didn't seem possible I'd have anything worth saving.

Canon 5D w/ Canon 16-35mm f/ 2.8 lens at 17mm - ISO 50 - f/18 for 8 seconds. Second curtain shutter.

© copyright 2018 by Stephen Phillips Photography / Oakland, California /
please respect these rights - do not copy or use these images without permission.

Bernard from Toronto, Canada

i am VERY glad you didn't delete the exposure... it's absolutely wonderful - the colors, the lighting, the composition...

7 Jan 2009 5:38am

@Bernard: Thanks for the kind words, Bernard.

Rags from Plano, United States

I am glad you got the chance to shoot this amazing image.

7 Jan 2009 6:14am

@Rags: Thanks, Rags.

Anthony Lambert from Bielefeld, Germany

A wonderful shot.It´s 8am here now as I´m viewing this picture and thinking,"what a great way to start the day" Cheers Stephen !!

7 Jan 2009 6:55am

@Anthony Lambert: Happy to be of service, Anthony. Thanks.

Inés from Namur, Belgium

Un train fantôme en pleine ville, très cool !

7 Jan 2009 8:05am

Mike from Lichfield, United Kingdom

An excellent stroke of luck. Turned out really well. I'm just wondering why your EXIF data doesn't show up to the right of your pictures?

7 Jan 2009 8:52am

@Mike: A fair question - It has to do with my work flow through Photoshop™. After creating a large 'master image' - I create a smaller version via the 'save to web & devices' option which unfortunately strips the EXIF data. I experimented doing this another way but much prefer this method. I am always happy to provide the information on any post.

Giovanni from Milan, Italy

Love this photo! I'm happy you didn't delete it! Perfect timing!

7 Jan 2009 9:05am

@Giovanni: thanks, Giovanni - me too...

Eric Fry from Houston, TX, United States

I really like this one, Stephen, and all of your motion-blur shots. You inspired me to give it a try around town, and I just happened to have posted one today, also.

7 Jan 2009 10:12am

@Eric Fry: Hey Eric - glad to hear from you and I can't wait to see your image. Right now - I'm running for the door for an out-of-town appointment. See ya a little later...

djedfre from schaumburg, United States

you couldn't ask for a much better shot!

7 Jan 2009 10:35am

k@ from Paris, France

Great ghostly one !

7 Jan 2009 11:01am

Lorraine from Gatineau, Canada

Yes indeed you took full and perfect advantage of this great movement photo, bravo!

7 Jan 2009 11:14am

Paco Díaz from Spain

You are a lucky photographer, my friend, and did it perfectly, as we can see in this image.
The hazard makes that Eric posted one on the same subject this morning: I will try to do one similar here in Mallorca.
And I like to see the Spanish flag there :))

7 Jan 2009 11:48am

@Paco Díaz: Cool, Paco - I look forward to seeing your effort. Cheers!

dobbino from Cape Town, South Africa

Agent Phillips - the truth is out there! Proof positive. Wonderful capture.

7 Jan 2009 12:27pm

@dobbino: Uh, oh - the secret is out. Way out... Thanks, dobbino.

Viewfinder from Bradenton, United States

Nice work on this motion shot.

7 Jan 2009 1:05pm

dogilicious from Millerstown, PA, United States

Well done. The stop and start during the exposure makes it look like a ghost train.

7 Jan 2009 1:21pm

@dogilicious: Indeed - and I came so close to erasing it on-the-spot. The 'ghost' must have stopped me.

Wolfgang - vu@granby from Granby, Québec, Canada

It shows once more that one should never delete before seein it on a big monitor. Talk about serendipity!

7 Jan 2009 1:30pm

yz from Budapest, Hungary

Luck goes to where the talent is! Amazing shot.

7 Jan 2009 2:21pm

@yz: aw, shucks, yz - - - thanks.

Marcie from United States

Love the blurr. Wonderful image!

7 Jan 2009 2:23pm

@Marcie: That's me - Blurz-R-Us.

hugo poon from hong kong, Hong Kong

Wow, Stephen, how spectacular!!! This is life, what you want may come or may not come, but when it comes, it comes incidentally... O.K. I love the subtle treatment of the yesterday's pic, but I enjoy these star lights just as much.:-)))

7 Jan 2009 2:42pm

@hugo poon: Thank, Hugo - your portfolio proves much the same process. I love detailed 'realistic' imagery - but nothing creates more joy than trying things that are out-of-the box. I work for and love the unexpected. Neither exploration negates the value of the other.

Calusarus from St Sorlin en Valloire, France

A very nice motion blur !

7 Jan 2009 3:17pm

melodia from ffm, Germany

maybe a bit too much yellowish but i like very much how you captured the movement on the picture. and the contrast between the lights and the deep grey/blue house walls...

7 Jan 2009 4:09pm

Darin from Seattle, United States

Cool shot.

7 Jan 2009 4:22pm

Evelyne Dubos from Le Mans, France

Great capture of motion and exposure is perfect...

7 Jan 2009 5:10pm

Chris from South Jersey, United States

what a great "accidental" picture - really a great capture and lucky that you were in the right spot at the right time.....

7 Jan 2009 5:52pm

Alun Lambert from cheshire, United Kingdom

great shot, love the movement

7 Jan 2009 6:07pm

Suzanne from Huntington Bch, United States

Amazingly beautiful. Love the colors, sense of movement and the star flare from the lights.

7 Jan 2009 6:40pm

Betty from New Jersey, United States

THAT deletion would have been such a mistake! Amazing, Stephen! Just beautiful!

7 Jan 2009 8:25pm

Alphons from Kaatsheuvel, Netherlands

Experiment succeeded. Nice capture.

7 Jan 2009 9:37pm

willow from Chelsea, United States

Very, very cool. Glad you didn't delete it - feels a bit like time travel...

7 Jan 2009 10:21pm

JJ from Jersey City, United States

I am glad you did not delete this, such an interesting capture with the lighting and light trails, add the beautiful colors makes a great shot

7 Jan 2009 11:40pm

grant from kansas city, United States

i started to write "very, very cool" and then saw willow's comment. but, that's what it is!

8 Jan 2009 12:37am

@grant: Thanks, Grant - I love the idea of 'Time Travel' at 9 miles-per-hour, which is the speed the cable moves at.

Scott Schilling from San Martin, United States

Great photo - I love the movement and then the clarity of the rest of the image - awesome! I also use the same process you do for exporting your photo from photoshop using the save for web command - it gives me the best looking option for computer viewing - however, I never have any exif data either - kind of a bummer!

8 Jan 2009 1:53am

@Scott Schilling: I'm glad you took a look at this too, Scott. The 'save-for-web' feature is the only way to go.

John Maslowski from Dallas, PA, United States

The lighting and motion effects are spectacular in this shot. Love those cable cars. Excellent perspective and view of the downtown.

8 Jan 2009 2:32am

EYES WIDE SHUT from The library of my soul, United Kingdom

This is simply awesome. The effect works so wonderfully. The ghosting is amazing

8 Jan 2009 4:55am

sherri from Little Rock, Arkansas, United States

Wonderful capture...I love the yellow motion.

8 Jan 2009 5:16am

Louise from Toronto, Canada

Love this shot! Love the vibrant colours!

8 Jan 2009 8:09am

Rui from Leiria, Portugal

WOW This is what I call an amazing lucky shot. And I'm glad you didn't delete it. This motion effect is great and if you didn't explain that is was an "accident", no one would understand.... SPLENDID!!

8 Jan 2009 12:28pm

@Rui: Thanks, Rui - I learned some time back that part of being successful in photography is positioning one's self for the opportunity of 'luck'.

Rui from Leiria, Portugal

Yep... I agree with you... I've always heard that "luck" is also what you do for it... ;o)

8 Jan 2009 6:39pm

@Rui: Mmmmm. Interesting thought. I'll need to ponder that a bit. This would apply to both good and bad luck, of course. As Spock would say, "Fascinating, Captain."

Walter from Watkinsville, United States

Being in the right place at the right time, having the skills necessary, envisioning scene, having the right equipment and then a major dose of engineered skill (or luck). But in reality, most of it is just taking the chance and taking it often. Image what would not have happened if you had just said, "Nah, it won't work." .... note: I finally got lightroom and cs4 so any tips like exporting to web are much appreciated. Got a learning curve ahead.

9 Jan 2009 3:18am

@Walter: Hey - thanks for the observation - and congrats on the software. I'm still chugging along with CS3 and Lightroom 1.4 - so you're a version ahead in both cases. But my exporting path goes way back. After I create a master image - I create a duplicate - add my copyright bug - size it to 8" x X" at 150 dpi - and use the 'save to web and devices' tab at "up-4". From the image at the upper right I use the slider to set the image between 680 - 700 KB and save in a separate web folder. I highly recommend you buy Scott Kelby's book on both software apps and develop your work flow based on his methods. He'll also teach you a bunch more. Well written and easy to digest - even through my thick skull.