San Francisco is the quintessential iconic city. It has a little of everything one needs to see in order to satisfy their visual needs. It has an iconic bridge, (two actually) Curvy roads, wonderful architecture, and beautiful natural areas a short drive away. It's this combination of elements that bring in travellers by the millions every year, and will continue to do so for years to come.
You don't have to be a tourist to enjoy the beauty that San Francisco has to offer…there are many places and vantage points that even the life long residents haven't seen. There's really something for everyone…and the best part of all these wonderful icons is that they are just begging to be photographed. The problem is that for many people the technical details prevent them from capturing the best photos of the subjects that live up to the things they see with their eyes. That's where we come in.
Friday evening Ellie Stone and I met a group of eager photographers for a night of seeing some of San Francisco's icons at night and capturing some nice images of them along the way.
Our first stop is on the bluffs of the scenic Marin Headlands National Recreation Area. These rolling hills feel like you are in the country far from the bustle of city life, yet only a stone's throw away the mighty Golden Gate Bridge juts out of the Pacific Ocean lighting the way to the sprawling city skyline. The headlands is one of the premiere places to photograph the bridge and where we make our first stop of the evening.
Ellie and I help the class to get situated and work on the basics of night photography- High apertures, and long shutter speeds. This combination when used correctly will yield amazing photographs of the desired location. We go over the settings and the reasons behind them with the class while making sure to touch on the topic of white balance as well, which is KEY to getting the colors in the exposure to look correct. Night lights are very warm, and we need to use those cooler white balances to make the photos not look like a hot yellow mess.
Everyone loves the Bridge, but we have more to see…so it's back in the van and into downtown to the Palace of Fine Arts…a great classical piece of architecture that looks amazing in photographs. The pond in front of the palace is usually quite calm and provides a chance to get some mesmerizing reflections. Here Ellie and I are just fine tuning the exposure settings, re-teaching the white balance rules, and then helping to tweak compositions to make them look their best. I also take the chance here to go over dynamic range and the limits it has in night photography, especially and how using multiple exposures can help eliminate some of that problem, and give better effects.
After a brief coffee stop for a warm up we head off to Lombard Street to see the twists and turns and capture some moving lights as they meander down the road leaving an aesthetic streak of light in their wake. The street is narrow, so we break the group up into two factions so each can get a shot at photographing headlights and taillights. It also gives us a couple different ways to teach exposure for situations like this. In addition to the lightshow the cars give us, we also can demonstrate here the best ‘S' curve in the city for leading the viewers eye through a frame.
Time is flying by this point…the group has gelled and is starting to get the grasp on the images they are creating…but we still have one more spot to visit…the Bay Bridge on the embarcadero.
This shot I see in magazines and online as much as I do shots of the Golden Gate…it's that popular. The lighting here, in my opinion, is as even as you can get for night exposures anywhere in the city. The images just seem to glow. After a brief group shot we get the gang to line up along the walkway and focus in on photographing the bridge. We use some old pier pilings as a great little foreground to weigh down the bottom of our frame and create balance. Though this shot, it seems, is in everyone's portfolio I never get tired of watching others capture it for the first time…and finally begin to put the pieces of night shooting together…It's the best way to end what is always a fun night traveling the city. Ellie and I had a great time with our group and look forward to seeing you all back in the future.
Until Next Time,
Brian, Ellie, 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. (More photos below the comments.)