Great food, excellent shopping, amazing sightseeing, and now photography; these are just some of the many reasons people come to San Francisco. The photography part is our specialty.
On this late afternoon, Joe and I were ready to help a group of eight eager photographers learn how to shoot some of San Francisco's most iconic locations in dusk's early light into the night. We began the course with a little orientation, and then loaded up into our Aperture Academy van and set off to the highest point we can drive to in the Marin Headlands. We arrived just in time for sunset.
Joe and I helped the students go over some of the basics for shooting sunset. This means filter use and working with them to help create an aesthetic and balanced exposure. The sunset was nice, but the best time of the evening really is those moments after the sun has dropped below the horizon and the sky has turned a beautiful shade of blue. This "blue hour," as it is called, makes for some of the best shooting. It's when the lights have come on in the city, and there is still enough detail in the sky to reduce any noise that might be present. We don't have to push the shutter lengths too long either, which means everyone is able to get many shots of this scene. There were some really nice images captured of this iconic vista... and technically, it wasn't even "night" yet! We'd just gotten started!
Our second stop was the Palace of Fine Arts. Here we found our trickiest set-up of the night. The dark sky and pond mixed with the brightly lit building made for a very high contrast scene. This is also a perfect place to talk about the different methods that can be used to capture a scene like this.
One method is to expose for the building and leave the shadows dark, which is nice and the best way to get a decent image if you don't want to do a lot of processing. The second technique would be to take a couple exposures, one for the structure and another for the sky, then blend them in Photoshop. It didn't matter which method the class members chose to try, the shots always looked very nice. This piece of architecture is about as photogenic as they come.
Our next set of stops was Lombard Street. Here we divided up into two separate groups and worked to capture the movement of headlights and tail lights as the cars they are attached to wind their way down this crooked street. I always love these images. They really, for me, are the perfect examples of how much fun and creativity you can have with night photography. You have S-curves, light streaks, and the whole compositional package. I have my groups do some realtime burning and dodging while they shoot so they can get the best overall exposures of the car headlights as they meander the path to the bottom. This location, more than any, is where the students start to get really pumped about their images, and start seeing some things that they never expected to be able to capture. Such a rush!
Our last stop of the night was the Bay Bridge, from the Embarcadero. Here we used the old pier pilings in the water as a foreground for the wonderfully lit bridge. This shot is very iconic, and a blast to shoot. I think most people have seen this image at some point, and finally having the tools to get their own version of it is a great feeling.
The water was almost glassy this night, which really accentuated the reflected lights from the bridge. By this point in the evening, most people are grasping the settings, so for Joe and I, it's the time of the workshop where we mostly review student shots and help with the compositional techniques. We also continued to go over white balance, and the other parts of a night exposure that help make the image look its best.
We never get done on time, so though the class was scheduled to end at midnight, we didn't make it back to the cars until almost 1 am. Oh well, it's all worth it to get a memory card full of spectacular images!
Until next time,
Brian, Joe, 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.