San Francisco's Jolliest Holiday Decor—and How to Capture Insta-Worthy Pics
SF designer and photographer Daniel Triassi captured this Corona Heights house, which he calls "storybook," at its most romantic: decorated for Christmas on a rainy day. (Daniel Triassi)

San Francisco's Jolliest Holiday Decor—and How to Capture Insta-Worthy Pics

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From lights to garlands to festive tablescapes, a local iPhone photographer shares his secrets for capturing a great shot.

A glimpse at Daniel Triassi’s Instagram feed would have you believe that he’s a design photographer, globetrotting to the world’s most beautiful destinations to capture each locale’s architecture and interiors in all their glory. His images are dreamscapes of stunning buildings, cozy spaces, and delectable spreads. Each feels like an intimate moment, dripping with detail and nostalgia. But that’s just part of the story. Triassi is an all around creative with backgrounds in journalism and graphic design. He’s a visual communicator, and he's capturing San Francisco at her best.


A festive spread at Le Marais Bakery.A festive spread at SF's Le Marais Bakery.(Daniel Triassi)

A one-time design fellow at Chronicle Books in SoMa, Triassi has designed the covers and pages of books on architecture, art, interior design, cooking, travel, and photography. For him, it was a dream role that fused all of his interests. Now, he’s a full-time packaging designer for Williams-Sonoma and Pottery Barn and also collaborates with brands including Pendleton and Airstream.

“My path to photography was not linear...I believe that if you have a creative mind, you can use that in whichever medium you are drawn to and practice.”

Triassi has maintained a love/hate, on and off again relationship with Instagram, starting an account in 2010, pausing for a few years, and then posting again with more intention.

“My main goal was to share a romantic version of my city, to elevate the everyday to something special,” he explains. “One of San Francisco's defining characteristics is its unique architecture. The mix of Victorian homes, quirky steep streets, cafe scene, as well as the proximity to the ocean, nature, and iconic Golden Gate Bridge are endless sources of inspiration. I love to go out for a wander, to find something new, and see how all these elements change with the seasons.”

It’s his eye for moments, not just a pretty scene, that differentiates his images from those of the everyday iPhone photographer—that, and an understanding of how to use the built-in camera and editing apps. While we just open the camera, point, shoot, and then throw on a filter, he applies basic knowledge of photography, including editing in the Lightroom app, to create visual gems. Just in time for the holidays, Triassi shares his secrets to timing, why he uses an iPhone rather than a DSLR, and his top tips for capturing beautiful pictures of festive decor.

The glittering lobby at SF's Palace Hotel.(Daniel Triassi)

7x7: What are your favorite places to shoot holiday decor in the area?

DT: The first place I look is usually Pacific Heights. There are also a few homes in the city that are famous for their Christmas displays, notably the storybook house in Corona Heights, the ornate Santa Claus house on Castro Street between Duboce and 14th Street, and the Tom and Jerry House on 21st Street in the Castro. While in the Castro, I always stop by Le Marais Bakery for a coffee and pastry and grab a seat by the window. It’s one of my favorite places to lounge.

Most of the places I find by chance. I love to walk around the city and try to notice as many details as possible. I’ve been taking photos in San Francisco for so long now that I recognize certain cars that belong to certain homes and have even come to know some homeowners whose houses I routinely photo stalk. If I go on a walk, I will try to look up on the way there and down on the way back. I do my best to play these little games with myself to constantly discover and notice new things. There have been times I’ve walked over 50,000 steps in a day just around the city taking photos!

An explosion of lights and ornaments in Castro. (Daniel Triassi)

7x7: Is there a best time of day to shoot?

DT: I prefer to take my photos either at sunrise, sunset, or on cloudy days. The light is a bit softer and idyllic. I also enjoy the mood and cozy atmosphere that can come from shooting in the rain or during a storm.


7x7: Why do you choose to shoot on an iPhone?

DT: As far as photography, I’ve never officially considered myself to be a professional. I’ve taken a few photography courses both in high school and college, but never studied photography. I’ve owned DSLR and mirrorless cameras, which I’ve used in the past. The one thing I’ve found with my iPhone is that it’s always on me, intuitive. I’ve lived by the mentality that the best camera is the one that’s with you.

Availability aside, the quality of the photos that come out of my iPhone coupled with some basic editing skills results in something I’d argue is close to most DSLRs. Many people are surprised when they find out my photos all come from an iPhone! I’ve never posted anything on social media that wasn’t from my smartphone, and have always used Apple products.

Pretty plants perched on this Pacific Heights porch.(Daniel Triassi)

Triassis' Top Five Tips for Shooting Exterior Holiday Decorations:

  1. Clean your lens!
  2. Hold the phone like a camera, with intention. You can straighten and adjust photos within the camera dialog box but I still try to line up all my shots while I take them. You can also use the volume button to snap photos and reduce camera shake.
  3. Turn on the gridlines to help with composition and the rule of thirds. The grid lines help me make sure my horizon is straight. Shoot multiple angles of the same thing to create different compositions.
  4. Tap on the subject to control focus, light, and depth of field. Using portrait mode for photos (and cinematic mode for video) can create depth by controlling the f-stops. F-stops are basically the amount of blur: the smaller the f-stop, the more blur; the bigger is less blur.
  5. Use burst mode or live photos to capture action shots.
  6. Bonus tip: If you use a lot of video, change your settings from the standard to something that is a bit higher quality like 4K at 60 fps.


(Daniel Triassi)

A storybook house in Corona Heights.

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