Frame Your Story Simply – Photographer Danny MacRostie


Livestock sat down with San Francisco-based photographer Danny MacRostie for a wide ranging chat. Among other things, we spoke about his love of time-lapse photography and what inspires him to wake up at 4am before heading to his day job as an engineer. Read the full interview below.

How did you get your start in photography? What made you pick up a camera?

I played with old film cameras on and off growing up but never got too into photography back then. In college I took a photography class for fun when I needed a few more credits during a light semester. That class kind of rekindled my interest in photography. Later on, after college, my wife was shooting some weddings and I started second shooting for her. This really got me hooked on photography and with my love of the outdoors it was only natural that I started focusing more on landscape photography.

You do a lot of time lapse photography of San Francisco. What do you like about shooting the rolling fog and traffic? How did you learn?

Time lapse photography has always been intriguing to me from a technical perspective. There is a lot more that goes into planning, pre-visualizing the final video, camera setup, and editing than there is for standard still photography. As a mechanical engineer I really enjoy the technical challenge that goes along with time lapse photography. It’s also pretty cool to create something that you otherwise wouldn’t really be able to see with your eyes. Speeding up a scene through time lapse transforms the scene into something completely new.

I learned most of my time lapse techniques through trial and error and some YouTube videos from other photographers. I have a ton of footage that’s unusable because I made some silly mistake in the set up but that’s how you learn. I’m still learning a ton about post-processing and have a long ways to go in that realm.

I got into shooting a lot of time lapse starting in the summer of 2015. That was when I first discovered I could get up above the fog on the surrounding hills in Marin and I started making regular trips up there to go shoot the fog.

Walk me through a typical day – you wake up and bike to locations as early as 4am, and then go to work after, right? Where do you get the drive for this?

I usually pre-plan what or where I’m going to go photograph the night before. I look over weather forecasts to try to anticipate where a good location to shoot could be and whether or not I’ll be shooting sunrise or sunset. If I’m shooting locally in San Francisco, I’ll sometimes ride my bike to locations since my wife and I share a car and she needs it for work. I can get just about anywhere in San Francisco on my bike in 45 minutes or less so it’s not a terrible way to get to locations. In the summer, sunrise is generally 6 to 6:30am so I have plenty of time to shoot photos and then still get to work on time. Those early mornings can be a rough but watching a sunrise never gets old. I find it way easier to get out of bed for photos at 4am than for work at 7am. My desire to create and the possibility of catching some really great light drives me to get out for photos on a regular basis. You never really know what the light will do and that’s always exciting to me! I definitely have times where I’ll feel a little burned out but the need to be creative always gets me back out taking photos.

What is your favorite place that you have visited? Do you have a favorite travel memory, something that has really stuck with you?

My favorite place so far is Iceland. There are beautiful landscapes everywhere you look in Iceland. I’ve been twice now and hope to get back again sometime. On my first trip to Iceland with my wife we were standing on a trail next to one of the glacial tongues. We had the place to ourselves and it was super quiet out. I had just said it would be awesome to hear a big chunk of ice break off the glacier when there was a loud crack and a piece of ice plunged onto the ice and water below. It was like the glacier was listening to us and answered my wish. It was a surreal moment that will stick with me for a long time.

What is one of the biggest things photography has taught you? Is there a trick or skill you’ve learned along the way that you’d like to share that would help our readers?

Patience and perseverance. You sometimes get lucky and on your first visit to a new place you get great light but more often than not it takes repeated visits to finally come away with a photo you’re pleased with. There’s a beach near me that has these large rocks out in the water that I always wanted a photo of at sunset. For the photo to work the tides and swell had to be just right and I needed high clouds to light up at sunset. It’s a bit of a hike just to get to the beach and then there are rocks to climb over to get to the good part of the beach. Over the course of a couple years I made at least eight trips to the beach when conditions seemed promising but the clouds never lit up. Finally, after so many attempts, everything came together and I captured one of the best sunsets I have seen there and came away with one of my favorite photos. So really, the biggest thing I’ve learned is you have to make the effort to be there to get the shot. Whether or not conditions look ideal you have to show up early, stay late, be patient, and repeat to capture your best images.

Who are some of your inspirations in regards to photographers?

Some of my favorite photographers that constantly inspire me are Thomas Heaton, Ted Gore, Michael Shainblum, Ben Horne, Dave Marrow, and Eric Bennett. Each one of these photographers has their own distinct style and approach to photography. I’ve learned a lot from them through their YouTube channels or tutorials they offer.

To learn more about Danny, you can view his website here. You can also see his work on Instagram at @danny_macrostie