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San Francisco night owls classes are always an odd but great time. Of all the courses I teach, this one in particular has yielded by FAR the most interesting and bizarre things. Thankfully this night did not disappoint in that department. Jean and I met our group at Baker Beach, and with the time change, and later hour of darkness it means we'll be able to take our class out to shoot sunset...something that is always fun.
The class is eager, and everyone seems super enthusiastic. Night photography is one of those areas where many people aren't sure where to begin...it is fun for us as instructors to take people out and show them how to do it and see those ‘Ah-Ha!' moments.
We worked on sunset at a windy point overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge. I love this bridge for numerous reasons; one of the main is that it has SO many different quality vantage points to photograph it. Sunset photography is not the main focus of our evening, but it is fun to work on something a little different than what will comprise the majority of the evening. Jean and I work with composition, exposure, and if the students have graduated filters or polarizers we also spend some time working with those to try and make the most of what turned out to be a quite nice sunset.
When we finish the sunset it's time for the night shooting begin. This is my favorite time of year to teach this class. We time our arrival at the Palace of Fine Arts RIGHT when the sun has dropped and the sky is a perfect shade of deep blue. Combining the blue of the twilight sky with the warm tones of the lighted Palace makes for some truly stunning shots. It's the best time of night to photograph this scene. We keep the class out along the pond to capture the reflections of this awesome structure as well. Jean and I work first with the aperture and ISO settings we'll need for the shot, and follow that with some tips on composition. Once those are in place the only thing to do is gradually lengthen the exposure time as the sky darkens.
Once the sky has gone from blue to black, we move the class to the nice areas underneath the dome of the building to work on more close-up type shots of the pillars and interesting details. While we shoot we get a lovely serenade from a man playing a banjo. The oddities of San Francisco at night never cease to amaze me.
The next stop was Lombard Street. The goal of Lombard Street is to work on long exposures to capture moving headlights/taillights as they wind their way down the narrow streets. Jean and I work with the class on the apertures and shutter speeds necessary to get the best exposures. While we were shooting one of the cars driving down the road was blasting "Lights" by Journey...which promptly put that song in everyone's head for the rest of the night.
We always split the group up at Lombard so everyone gets an opportunity to shoot both headlights AND taillights...and work on the different compositions associated with changing perspective. Once both sides have been covered we're ready for a break in North Beach for a coffee or for some snacks!
The final stop of the night is the Bay Bridge and Embarcadero. The bridge has been lit up with thousands of LED lights that rotates and move in crazy patterns. This installment will last for two years, and has brought a new found level of excitement to this iconic photo stop. Normally we're the only people at the bridge, but the new display has brought several other photographers to the spot...it's visibly more crowded than I've ever seen it. Luckily we're able to settle in at our normal vantage point and then it's time to shoot!
Jean and I help everyone settle in for longer exposures, and get their compositions all nailed...and we do a lot of checking to make sure the white balance is set correctly too and nobody has oddly yellow images, caused by having too warm of a white balance.
Everyone got some REALLY nice images...they were beginning to get a good grasp on the settings needed, and were putting their lessons to great practice! The only thing left at this point was to get them back to their cars so they could get home and process those images!
Funny, but on the way back we saw some kind of ruckus at the art installation of a giant rocket...someone had put a ladder up on it and they were climbing INSIDE of it, while people tried grabbing their legs and pulling them down...it was crazy....but, then again, it is San Francisco Night Owls, so nothing surprises me!
UNTIL NEXT TIME!
On behalf of Brian, Jean and the Aperture Academy team, we thank you for a another great workshop!
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.)