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A Lensman’s Perspective: San Francisco

Is this where we throw in the Oscar Wilde quote?

style // Jul 24, 2017
Words by stab
Reading Time: 4 minutes

It’d be impossible to sum up San Francisco in a single paragraph. That’d be coming in way too hot. Besides, Oscar Wilde said it best: “It’s an odd thing, but anyone who disappears is said to be seen in San Francisco. It must be a delightful city and possess all the attractions of the next world.” 

Sure, there are plenty of warmer alternatives. And when it comes to the surf, it’s big, gelid, and occasionally features the bus-sized shark. Humbling stuff. Grant Ly is a photog who calls the city by the bay home. A few days back, Grant slid some of his frames into our inbox that we couldn’t pass up, so we’re displaying them here, and we asked him a few questions about what it’s like swimming around the icy waters of Northern California to get the shot as well. There’s more to Frisco than just Ocean Beach, Fort Point and Jack Kerouac Street, read on…

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Technically Santa Cruz, but that’s only a brief jaunt out of the city. “This was definitely one of the cleanest waves I’ve ever seen and even more amazing was there was no one else around,” says Grant. “We didn’t see another one like that again.”

Stab: First off, name, age, hometown, how many years have you been shooting and what rig are you carrying?
Grant: Grant Ly, 22, San Francisco, California, five, and a Canon 5D3, 16-35, 50, 70-200 with SPL warehousing.

Who in surf photography do you look up to most?
I’m not sure if I have one single person who I look up to the most. I’m constantly inspired by all the images I see. Of course, there are the pioneers of surf photography I admire, people who’ve dedicated their lives to creating imagery for all of us to view. 

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“This was my first time shooting here despite living 15 minutes away from this spot. I never bothered to check it because I always assumed it wasn’t good. When we pulled up it was hollow and slightly offshore, so we suited up and walked through the tourists who looked at us as if we were aliens.”

How do you feel about the photography game in this modern, digital world?
There is definitely an extensive network online to benefit from. Of course, there are more sinister sides to something that almost everyone is connected to, the whole notion of “blowing up” spots is real and has happened… I won’t go into detail. Another side effect is the number game. Running a wave feature page on Instagram, I get messages from groms asking about how they can get more “followers” or exposure, and my answer has always been to just focus on what you like to do best and you shouldn’t need random people to “like” your images.

And what’s it like shooting in San Francisco and its surroundings?
There’s only a few major spots in the city, and almost all of them only work a couple months out of the year, so I’d be honest that the majority of photos you see from here are from specific days most likely during the winter.

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“This was my first time trying to get this perspective surprisingly. It’s definitely one of the must get shots if you visit here, due to the dense residential areas coupled with the massive A-frames that would roll in. You definitely need the most zoom you can get but the view is simply breathtaking.”

What appeals are there to the area?
Even though the conditions are terrible here for most of the year, when it’s on, it’s on; there is nowhere else I want to be. When there aren’t any waves, there are so many street photos to shoot around the city, and you have amazing places just across the bridge such as Mt. Tamalpais to get epic landscape photos. As someone who likes to do work, I guess the ideal scenario is to be able to go to work without worrying about what you’re missing out on, which is one benefit of having bad conditions all of the time.

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“It was raining and miserable outside, but when we got there it was straight up chocolate barrels. I just decided to sit on the shoulder and shoot the lines that were breaking a little north of where I was.”

Disadvantages?
As I stated earlier, almost nine months out of the year, the conditions suck. If it’s not foggy then it’s windy. The onshores blow hard here almost the entire year, and there certainly aren’t a lot of spots to shoot barrels compared to the Santa Cruz area. The entire coast is beach break, hidden beneath is heavy currents and undertow.

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