San Francisco is a place where you just never know what you're going to see and experience as night falls, and it's always a great time! This particular Night Owls Workshop did not disappoint in presenting us with a unique variety of interesting sights, as is almost always the case.
Brian and I met our group at Baker Beach as the fog was rolling in, and we knew we would have some nice photo ops because of the influence that the roaming mists gives it's subjects. San Francisco and fog go together very well! The orientation was full of anticipation, and everyone was excited to learn more about night photography. We had an excellent group with varied amounts of experience with using a DSLR camera and a wanting to learn more about shooting in the dark. So after we got through with our introductions we headed off to our first location.
We typically would start off our workshop along the beach, shooting the Golden Gate bridge as the sun sets, but this time the fog made it downright invisible, which meant that we had the opportunity to start at the Palace of Fine Arts while the light shifted from day to night. Typically we hit this location after the light has faded so it was excellent to have a chance to whip out the gradient filters and teach everyone how to lengthen an exposure while it's still light out.
We started out under and just outside the main dome and played around with perspectives and some basic framing lessons. In the daylight, the textures and colors of the architectures really comes through, and it's also a fantastic way to learn how to correctly expose an indoor/outdoor scene with the greatly varying dynamic range of light.
After a short time we moved ourselves and set up at the reflecting pond. Here we found great vantage points as the light began to change. It's a whole lot of fun to get images of this place as high fog passes over this old building's dome, swirling and turning colors as the sun sets! When we finished shooting the sunset, we stayed in our places because blue hour (twilight) shooting immediately began. This time is also known as the “Magic Hour” because of the way that colors saturate in the low light of post daylight. This is my favorite time of day to teach this class. The royal blue sky contrasts so well with the warm golden colors of the building, and because of the dark of night beginning to take over, we now have the opportunity to REALLY start playing with long exposures. When you keep your shutter open anywhere from 30 seconds to a full minute, the reflecting pond turns into a beautiful glassy mirror, and the results our students were getting were picture postcard perfect!
Once the blue hour was over, we moved the class back to the areas underneath the dome of the building and were surprised by a sudden and unexpected visit by a large number of bicyclists celebrating a monthly event in the city that is called Critical Mass. During this event hundreds of riders take to the streets of the city and wind their way through it's many streets. Though their numbers dwindled by the time they reached this spot, It was still a very strange sight to see such a large amount of cyclists traveling under the dome in circles, many with various lights attached to their bikes while music pulsed from a big stereo system attached to the end of one of a large modified tricycle. There was even a person riding a unicycle! Needless to say, we took our newfound skill set at shooting long exposures and applied it to this unexpected event. Some in our number figured out very quickly how to pan their cameras in a one second exposure, creating interesting motion blurs in the background while keeping the subject of their pictures sharp.
The next stop was the famously winding Lombard Street. The usual goal we have at Lombard Street is to work on long exposures to capture moving headlights/taillights as they wind their way down the very unique narrow street. Brian usually takes the students to a vantage point at a low angle to catch the headlights winding down the way while I take a higher perch, showing the students how to get both the trail of red tail lights and the iconic city both into their frames. As a bonus, from this place there is a great view of Coit Tower, the Saint Peter and Paul Cathedral, plus the Bay Bridge that shows them tightly fit together which those who have a 100mm ability can also shoot.
After we have shot both sides of this iconic landmark we're ready for a break in North Beach for some refreshments and a quick recharge.
After everyone is rested, warmed and filled we head to our final destination of the evening, the newly lit up Bay Bridge! We set up along the embarcadero where everyone who has a sufficient wide angle can get amazing images of the entire western span of the bridge as the 25,000 new lights illuminate the cables. Here we get to really get into the long exposure, keeping the lens open for two minutes at times. Here we also teach more lessons on how to control the white balance of the camera and explain how the f/stop relates to the focal range of the subject. Nighttime truly teaches a budding photographer how to control their camera and make it do what they want. Brian and I both made certain that the lessons of the evening were making sense to all who were a part of this class and were very please to once again see that the information we had been giving out was sinking in and becoming a part of each of our students photographic skill sets. That always makes our day! ...er, night.
Everyone came away with a bunch of really nice images and experiences to go along with them. It's San Francisco at night...how could they not???
UNTIL NEXT TIME!
On behalf of Brian, Matt 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.)