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Photography encompasses many different types of light, but nothing is as difficult as photographing when the light has gone. Night photography poses many challenges, not only artistically but technically. If you've spent any time at one of the scenic overlooks near the Golden Gate bridge (or a similar scenario), the sheer number of people using a flash will confirm how many people struggle with the technical aspects of night photography, and how to do it correctly.
The Aperture Academy is here to help take the mystery out of night photography and add some fun in along the way. A group of 13 eager photographers met instructors Brian Rueb and Scott Davis on Baker Beach for a fun and informative night of photography in and around San Francisco.
The evening began with a short orientation to allow Scott and Brian to get to know the students, their photographic background, camera models, and what they really want to work on during the class. With the night course, most everyone's main goal is to learn how to make interesting night photos.
We set out first to Baker Beach, to work on composition and catch some of the last bit of the glow of sunset on the magnificent Golden Gate Bridge. Scott and Brian walked the camera line and helped the newer photographers learn more of the basic settings, and assisted those with more experience on composition. This was a warm up stop. The real fun of night photography began at the second stop....
The Palace of Fine Arts is a truly iconic piece of architecture in a city full of icons. We began by photographing the reflection of the lit up palace in the scenic little pond that lines the east side of the building. Scott and Brian explained the basics of composing the scene, then walked around the students and helped them with the technical aspects of exposing the scene, and what to do in post-processing if they should want to take things further.
The class was enthusiastic and everyone really spread out along the pond and made some truly unique and wonderful images using foreground and trees as frames to show off the wonderful architectural features of the Palace. From the outside we moved our effort to the inside of the palace dome and the great symmetry and patterns there. The exposure times were shorter, but the shots were no less exciting to see as we corrected white balances, shifted compositions, and came away with some really nice shots of this classic 1930's structure.
The next stop on the agenda was the scenic curves and twist cobblestone of famed Lombard Street. As a plus, Coit Tower was glowing green for St. Patrick's Day, in the distance. The group split into two, and Brian and Scott each worked with the group on different aspects of photographing moving cars and streaking headlights and taillights.
The goal is always, compositionally, to use the streaking car lights as leading lines and 'S' curves to guide the viewer's eye through the composition. From the bottom looking up, the class learned to minimize the number of headlights allowed into the compositions, so Brian worked with the students to use a "secret" method (ok, it's just a dark cloth in front of the lens) to prevent more light from headlights entering the exposure than we need. This allows the rest of the exposure to increase in brightness while minimizing the amount of overlap in the light streaks from the cars.
Scott showed the students a little different strategy. From the top, using long exposures and numerous cars, they created a crisscross pattern of color as the cars moved down the street, creating interesting patterns and lines that draw the eye through the image.
Lombard St. is one of our favorite locations because it's where the students really start to see some of the magic of night photography by understanding how things work on their cameras. The images the class came away with from this spot are always fun to see in the view screens, and I can't tell you how many times this place garners squeals of, "This is SO cool!!" as the students begin to see the images appear.
San Francisco is always chilly at night and everyone was ready for a much deserved coffee break in North Beach. It's a great point of the evening for everyone to have an opportunity to recharge their batteries and get ready for the last stop - The Embarcadero and Bay Bridge.
When people look at us online or come into the gallery, the images they comment on most are the night ones, and most specifically, the shot of the Bay bridge and old pier pilings. For many, this image, and those like it, symbolize the pinnacle of night photography excellence. It's always fun to take people to the spot where that image was created, and then go through the steps needed to make their own version of this iconic location.
At the Embarcadero, Scott and Brian worked with the class on composition tips, as well as any clarification they needed on creating their images in terms of technical aspects (although, by this point, many of the students were becoming familiar with the settings and getting very close to their desired image by themselves). It's another joyous moment for the participants as they begin to see the images on their screens, and know they have some real keepers to go home and work on. It was a great place to end a fun and educational night of photography in one of America's most iconic cities.
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.