Once the digital camera revolution happened, it wasn't long before night photography took off. With constant improvements in the technology inside of cameras, the scope of what is possible with a DSLR is constantly increasing. In the days of film, night photography was quite challenging, and only those with a great deal of practice were able to come up with compelling imagery. Now you can barely go out on an evening in any major city without seeing many people out shooting.
Night photography, even in this advanced digital age, is still tricky, but never fear... the Aperture Academy is here to help! On this Friday night, Phil and I met a group of 10 awesome photographers for an evening of photography and fun in, arguably, one of the best places for night photography... San Francisco.
We conducted a brief orientation before setting out to our first location. We stopped high on the Marin Headlands to watch the sunset and the lights come on in the city. From there we could really see the whole spectacular picture; the iconic skyline, expansive bay bridge, and of course, the majestic Golden Gate Bridge.
Phil and I helped the students deal with the transition from sunset to night, which meant higher apertures on the cameras, and longer exposures as our available light faded. Of course, once the lights of the natural world are gone, the lights of the man-made world take over, which causes a change in white balance (that we cover as well). I've been shooting a long time, but nothing is quite as magical as the blue hour over the city. The blend of warm and cool tones is just stunning, and our classes have some really nice images to start their night.
Our second stop was the Palace of Fine Arts, where we faced our trickiest lighting situation. The difference between light and dark is extreme. This gives us a great opportunity to go over different ways to deal with that problem and the importance of realizing the sacrifices and trade-offs that come with photography. For that situation and location, we kept higher apertures to preserve depth of field, while we remained vigilant to working towards an exposure that could either sacrifice some shadow detail to preserve our highlights, or lose some highlights in favor of more shadow detail. It's up to the photographer to make that choice, or go with some bracketing to try even longer exposures to get some color in the dark sky, and blending it later with the shots of the perfectly exposed architecture. And Phil and I were there to help everyone through the lighting obstacle course. The location is as good as architecture gets in the city, and definitely worth the learning curve...and as instructors, along with our classes, we all enjoy the time spent there.
Our next stop was Lombard Street. Here we broke up into two separate groups to shoot moving tail lights and headlights coming up and down the curvy, iconic road. For my group, I have them practice a technique that uses a little bit of real-time burning and dodging to get the best exposure possible. It's a little confusing when I explain it to people. "You want us to cover up our cameras mid exposure?" Yes, yes I do. Once they see the results though, they all get it and the results are stunning.
By this time of the night everyone was beginning to feel a little more comfortable with the settings, and the results on the cameras were showing Phil and me their knowledge.
Our final stop of the night is one of the best on this workshop. We headed down to Embarcadero, to the Bay Bridge. This location is one of the most photographed vistas in the city for night shooting. There are great old pilings from piers past, and their battle with time lends a look that makes an interesting foreground for the wonderful angle of the bridge. To make the shots even more memorable, the Oakland skyline looms in the background, which helps the scene have an added layer of warmth and glow.
Time flies at night when you're having fun and making great images, and before we knew it, it was well past midnight and time to call it a day (or night)! Phil and I loaded back up into the van with our tired participants and we set off back to the starting point so they could all head home, grab some sleep, and get to processing those unforgettable images!
Until next time,
Brian, Phil, and the rest of the Aperture Academy team
P.S. If you'd like to join us at one of our workshops, you can find the schedule/sign up here.
NOTE: You can see more workshop photos below the comments.