Now a tourist attraction, Alcatraz was once a maximum, high-security prison. If you only do one touristy thing in San Francisco, visit “The Rock”. Alcatraz island is located 1.25 miles off the coast of San Francisco and is accessible by ferry. I was really looking forward to our trip to Alcatraz and I did not leave disappointed. I was in my element photographing it! We took the first ferry out at 8.45am and if you want to be able to take photographs without other people in them then I highly recommend you do this. Try to make sure you are one of the first people off the ferry and after a short safety briefing, make your way up towards the prison. When you enter the prison, there is a door to your left where you go for the audio tour. Skip this for now. I asked one of the members of staff which way to go to by-pass the audio tour and he let me up a staircase to the right that led straight up into the prison. I was then able to make my way around and explore literally by myself.
Inside was actually brighter than I expected for the most part but I did have to change my exposure settings quite often as the light is changeable in different areas of the prison. You can easily shoot hand-held though, no need for a tripod. If you are not comfortable shooting in manual, I would suggest using aperture priority- just keep an eye on your shutter speed to ensure it doesn’t drop too low, resulting in camera shake. I primarily used my 35mm f/2 lens but switched to the 24-105 f/4 (to give Ross a shot of the 35mm). I love prime lenses and a wide-angle is definitely something you want to take with you to Alcatraz. A fast lens isn’t a must on a sunny day but it is helpful when shooting in darker areas of the prison. I deliberately underexposed some images as I felt this conveyed the atmosphere of the prison better.
Remember to explore outside as, not only are there cool outbuildings, but the views across to San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge are spectacular. There is also a colony of birds that call Alcatraz their home if you are interested in wildlife. Standing, looking across to San Francisco must have been torture to the prisoners of Alcatraz. So close to freedom, and yet so far.
Once you have finished exploring with your camera be sure to head back and pick-up the audio tour. The audio tour is brilliant. You are led through the prison and told all about it’s history by former inmates and guards. You are not only given a feel for day-to-day life in the prison but you are also talked through the notorious stories of escapes and riots. Sound effects are played in the background which make the story really come to life. If I were to revisit San Francisco in the future, I would definitely make the time for another trip to Alcatraz.