Photographing San Francisco at night is always a treat. The shifting of light reveals an entirely new personality for the city. Reflections and patterns not seen during the day hours slowly reveal themselves to the patient night photographer. Day scenes that often are glutted with tourists walking the streets disappear or become ghostly mirages to the night photographer.
Many people will often mistakenly think that when the sun goes down, the cameras can be put away. Not the case for our Night Owl attendees. They know better.
On this particular evening, Aperture Academy Instructors Scott Davis and Scott Donschikowski met up with one of our largest groups ever for this workshop, with some participants flying all the way in from Canada and Texas to attend. Familiar faces from previous workshops were also present.
It looks like the word is spreading about how fun Night Owling can be.
Gathering at 6pm at Baker Beach, we were able to squeeze an hour at the beach warming up our camera trigger fingers and applying compositional principles utilizing the Golden Gate Bridge as a backdrop. As can be the case in summer time, the sun made its way to the horizon cloaked behind a layer of marine fog on this evening so no glorious sunset — but not to worry. Fog can often be our friend on night shoots, with the myriad colors of the city lights reflecting off the bottom layer of fog.
Next stop was the Palace of Fine Arts. We arrived just as the last bit of fog-filtered sunlight slowly faded from view. With its classic Roman and Greek influences, the Palace is a beautiful structure in which to gather a bit of night time architecture imagery.
Long exposures often brings out details in colors and patterns not usually seen by the human eye, which was the case at this site. It was a bit windy on this evening, so the night reflection of the Palace seen in the lagoon at first glance seemed to be a mishmash of light patterns. However, utilizing long exposure times smoothed out the water's surface and thus revealed an almost mirror image of the Palace.
Following the Palace, we set off for one of San Francisco's more unique, if not quirky, landmarks; the "crookedest" section of Lombard Street. The crooky section of Lombard at night never disappoints. As cars slowly drive down this super steep and super twisty section, actuating their neon red brakes, our long exposures were able to record their serpentine path.
There are so many different angles and vantage points along this little section of Lombard, one could come and photograph here every night for a year and get a different image every time. Everyone seemed to enjoy this spot and judging from what I saw on numerous view screens, some truly excellent images were collected.
Taking a short break to fuel up with some calories and caffeine, we sped off in our big white ApCad van to the Embarcadero area. This is one of our favorite places to shoot. There's a section here where dilapidated cement and steel rebar pier columns rise up out of the water in a slight checkered pattern. Coupled with a fully illuminated Bay Bridge as a backdrop, long exposure times, reflections off the water, the scene begins to resemble something from a science fiction urban Stonehenge.
By this time, everyone seemed to be really enjoying as well as mastering the techniques they had picked up over the course of the night. Once again, some show winner images were starting to pop up on the LCD view screens.
Midnight was upon us, but no one was ready to turn in quite yet. The group was in the zone, super enthusiastic, perhaps a bit giddy from the recent caffeine infusion, so we decided to go for one more spot (my kind of people).
Next stop, across the Bridge to Treasure Island. Historically, "Johnny Law" has been known to frown upon us shooting from a specific vantage point that looks back upon the city. The viewpoint is just too good to pass up, so sometimes tough decisions have to be made. We're an innocent enough bunch (well at least most of us) so we decided that the group's artistic vision trumped a possible parking discrepancy. Guerilla style photography at its finest.
We arrived at our site, quickly set up our tripods, and managed to fire off a series of shots. The fog layer was dropping fast which ultimately concluded our shooting efforts but we made it out unscathed and without a ticket. Well done team.
With CF cards full of night images and new ideas and inspiration acquired, we headed back to our original rendezvous point where I'm sure a comfy bed was the next priority as we said our goodbyes for the evening.
On behalf of Scott and Scott and the whole Aperture Academy Team, thank you for a great time.
P.S. If you'd like to join us at one of our workshops, you can find the schedule/sign up here.
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