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Oh San Francisco at night...what a beautiful sight. That’s not a direct quote from a famous author, but it feels like it should be. San Francisco is a stunning city to witness and to photograph at night. With the increasing high performance of new cameras in lower light, and the popularity of digital photography in general, it’s not a shock that more and more people are getting out and wanting to learn more about shooting at night. What better place to learn than beautiful San Francisco!
A group of 13 awesome students met instructors Paul Porter and myself for an evening of fun, wind, photography, wind, education, wind, and more wind. After a brief orientation, our group decided to forgo our normal starting point in hopes that a short drive across the bridge would yield better (less windy) results.
Thankfully the cliffs of the Marin Headlands provided a much needed wind break, and we were able to set up high on Hawk Hill to get some blue hour shots of the city and the Golden Gate Bridge. This shot is so iconic, and stunning. Paul and I helped the class get started, covered some basic aperture and shutter speed settings, and turned the class loose to shoot. The nearby tunnel, and the rays of sun shining directly in the tunnel enamored several people. The long ray of golden light stretching down the long corridor excited them. I helped them to get their settings correct, and offered a few compositional suggestions.
With the sun behind the Pacific Ocean, it was time to head back into the city to begin our regularly scheduled program. First stop was shooting the tail end of blue hour at the Palace of Fine Arts. While the wind had let up some, the pond in front of the structure was rocking slightly, which gave our longer exposures a very impressionistic feel in the water. Paul and I went over the camera settings, and began to cover the topic of white balance, and how to use it in night shooting, and WHY we make the changes we do in the camera.
The mixture of blue twilight and orange glow on the buildings makes for a very nice composition…everyone got some great shots. As the last bit of twilight faded to black, we begin to cover other topics like how to take two exposures to help cover a more dynamic range of light…and when to do it, why, and how to process them when you are done.
Funny how just moving from the outside of the Palace, to under the dome caused a big change in wind, but underneath the dome the wind was whipping in circles. We are a hearty bunch, however and everyone got some nice shots of all the intimate lines and details in this ornate building. Paul and I gave some instruction on how the settings change in terms of depth of field, and how to compose highly symmetrical areas like this.
Once everyone had their fill of wind, I mean, photography we loaded back into the van and set off to Lombard Street to photograph some long exposures of the cars moving slowly (mostly slowly) down the twists and turns of this famous roadway.
Paul had his group at the top shooting taillights moving down the road while I had my group down the street shooting up at the headlights coming our way. We both offer different ways to shoot similar situations, and the WHY behind it. I saw some really great shots on the cameras on my end, and I heard Paul a few times say some really nice things about the images he saw from his end. From my end, I always like to teach at this location because I get to show the class a little trick of what is essentially in camera burning and dodging, making for more evenly balanced images…and it’s always very strange to look at and most students have never done anything like this before…so the “ooohs” and “ahhs” are always fun to see!
After Lombard we made a brief warm up stop in North Beach for tea, cocoa, or coffee and set off down to our final stop. The Embarcadero.
The vantage of the Bay Bridge from the Embarcadero seems like it has been arranged specifically for making stunning photographs. The bridge lines out perfectly to stretch across the frame, and the water in this section of the bay is more calm to pull in the lights of neighboring cities, and the bridge causing colorful, dreamy reflections throughout the middle portion of the frame. Old rotting wood pilings sit in the water here creating a great foreground that fills the foreground…it’s a textbook example of good composition. This shot is almost always the students favorite…and it’s fun for instructors too, when we see their faces get all excited after capturing a shot that most of them had admired in our gallery prior to this class…now they have their OWN version. It’s quite an accomplishment, and a perfect way to end what has been a long and very fun evening of photography.
Until Next Time,
Brian, Paul 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.)