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With so many different types of photography to learn, Aperture Academy's Night Owls is one of our most popular classes. Our students spend a good six hours learning to photograph the city of San Francisco at night from Baker Beach to the Embarcadero. On a recent Friday evening, Brian Rueb and I met 13 enthusiastic photographers ready to learn how to capture the magic of this particular type of imagery. We all met at Baker Beach for introductions and a chance for Brian and I to learn of each of our student's skill sets to better help them achieve some great shots through the night.
Leaving our vehicles we loaded up in the ApCab van and drove just up the hill to Battery Godfrey which affords a view straight down the middle of the Golden Gate Bridge. For most of our students it was the first time learning to capture night images, so Brian and I went over some of the basics for setting up. A sturdy tripod and a remote or shutter release cable are necessary to help prevent camera shake over the longer exposures needed for night shooting. We start everyone off at the same ISO, aperture, and shutter speed, then help students tweak settings for their particular gear until they can achieve a nice balance in exposure between the headlights and taillights streaming across the bridge. Using different focal lengths and vantage points our group warmed up their trigger fingers and began creating some very nice shots of the bridge lit up in her nightly glow.
After spending a good hour here, we returned to the van for a short ride over to the Palace of Fine Arts to take advantage of the beautiful golden light of this stately columned landmark. The night was clear and a bit cool but not too cold as our students lined the walkway along the lagoon getting the opportunity to photograph the greco-roman style architecture of the Palace and its reflections. Brian and I helped our group in finding the right focal lengths for their desired compositions, as well as using smaller apertures to create lovely star burst accents of the lights along the structure. Exposures up to 30 seconds and setting the white balance to its lowest number helped to bring out a deep blue sky and add a painterly effect to the reflections in the water. We then all walked around to spend time shooting beneath the rotunda and all the architectural features found here. Shooting the patterned ceiling is always a favorite and many other abstract shots were achieved with symmetry of the columned arches adorned with pottery and statues bathed in the warm, low light of the Palace.
Our next stop is always fun as we explore streaming car lights along the winding and whimsical Lombard Street. Brian and I split our group in two, so all our students would have a chance at shooting car tail lights as they passed down the street and then headlights as they curved around toward the cameras. The upper vantage point also boasts the skyline of San Francisco including Coit Tower, the Bay Bridge, and Embarcadero Center with the curvaceous brick-lined Lombard Street as foreground. Getting everyone in place, we used 30 and 90 second exposures to get as much flow of light through the frame as possible. Student's learned how to time their shots so as not to cut off the stream of light as the cars passed through the frame. It was a busy night on Lombard with practically no let up in traffic which gave our group plenty of opportunity to capture the magic a longer exposure can give. Brian and I continually checked our student's display screens to help them zero in on their compositions, tweaking white balance, and using histograms to help in achieving the best exposures. As instructors, it's always a pleasure for us to hear the oohs and ahhhs from our students when they see what great shots they can get and especially when they realize just how easy it is to do.
With a brief stop for some snacks, hot chocolate, and even coffee for the more serious Night Owl, we drove down to the Embarcadero for our final stop of the night to photograph the Bay Bridge with the old pier pilings as foreground. The installation of 25,000 LED lights along the cables of the bridge between Yerba Buena Island and San Francisco makes this icon an even more beautiful night photography subject. As the light show is always in motion, the cables become long streams of white light over long exposures, while smooth reflections of the bridge and surrounding bay lights glow across the glossy currents of the bay. We began by getting our group shot to commemorate the night, then Brian and I set about helping our students with multiple minute exposures and smaller apertures to help in creating more dreamy and ethereal effects. Wide angle lenses are best here, but as our students became comfortable with their new skills they began experimenting with different compositions, focal lengths and exposures. It was nearly 1 AM by the time we delivered our group back to their vehicles, and although very tired, this great group of Night Owls came away with some awesome shots of San Francisco and a new appreciation of the world of night photography.
Until Next Time,
Jean, Brian 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.)