It's surprising to think that winter is actually a more pleasant time to be in San Francisco, but it is. The fog that can soak the coastline often stays at bay (haha) this time of year leaving the city clear and free to explore and photograph. Night photography can be tricky to learn and it helps having somebody to ask questions, and provide instruction while you photograph. Scott Donschikowski and Brian Rueb from the Aperture Academy are there to provide the necessary help and instruction to take some of the mystery out of night photography…and they also do all of the driving.
Our class met right at the Palace of Fine Arts so once our basic introductory orientation was completed we could walk a few meters and begin shooting. We begin on the edge of the large pond the flanks the eastern side of the building. The reflections were nice so Scott and I worked with the class to get their compositions set, and then began to work with them on the aperture and shutter speeds necessary to capture the right shot. This time of year it gets dark early, so the nice blue twilight we see in summer has faded, and this can be tricky. We spend some time going over the possibility of shooting two exposures here and bracketing so that the bright lights of the building aren't blown out in the first exposure, and then a 3-4 minute exposure follows to expose for the remaining color in the sky and give us some of the wonderful blue tones that help balance the image. This method requires some work in post processing, but the result can be very nice.
After we shot the pond area of the Palace we moved underneath the dome to work on some of the nice symmetry in the dome. And surrounding pillars. These shots care great in that they provide some nice detail and help work with compositional elements that many students like.
Our second stop was the twisty turning streets of Lombard. We break up into two smaller groups so we can give more personalized instructions and also take up less physical space on the narrow streets and walkways. Once group shoots headlights coming down the street, the second shoots taillights going down the street. Each technique requires some patience, and slightly different techniques, but the results are great. The end result is a magical city-scape with wonderful light painted ‘S' curves caused by the cars meandering down the twisting cobblestone road.
Once we finish our second location it's time for a much needed coffee break. We break in the hustle and flow of North Beach, a neighborhood that never sleeps. Everyone gets a chance to visit a little and warm up with some coffee…or in some cases relax with ice-cream. Winter we see more ice-cream purchases than we do in summer. Quite interesting.
Our final stop for the night is the Embarcadero and the view of the Bay Bridge. The new LED light display is great and projects a whole new vibe to this iconic bridge. We line the sidewalk near a section of old pier pilings. These pilings are great for providing an interesting foreground for the shot. Scott and Brian work with the class not only on fine-tuning their compositions, but also setting the correct white balance to make the scene look right, and not too warm. The class also spent a little time walking along the Embarcadero down to the old tug-boat where we again shot the bridge only with a different foreground. This was also a nice spot to talk about using two different shutter speeds to make a better shot. A longer exposure for the water and sky will often make the boat blurry, because it's moving in the sea…if you raise your ISO and lower the aperture a little, you're able to get a faster shutter speed and then capture the boat nice and sharp. This again requires some added post-processing but if the boat is an integral part of the composition it looks nicer when it's in focus.
It got a little breezy at times, but overall the evening was pleasant, and everyone had a great time learning, and capturing some great shots of the San Francisco city streets and iconic vantage points during the night. Thanks to everyone who joined us!
Until Next Time,
Brian, Scott, 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.)