The United States is the land of the free, and the home of the brave. In the case of the Aperture Academy Night Owls workshop, never has “the brave” been more evident. A group of eager photographers assembled at Baker Beach under cold windy conditions to learn night photography from professional photographers Scott Davis and Brian Rueb. The wind howled, and for the first time ever the orientation meeting was conducted from the warmth and shelter provided by our beloved “ApCab”
The orientation gave everyone a chance to warm up before being thrust to the elements at Baker Beach, our first stop for the evening. The beach gives our instructors a chance to get to know the students a bit more, as well as familiarize themselves with the students gear, and help the newer photographers with using their camera on manual settings…a requirement for all our courses.
In addition to the many questions students have regarding their gear from the technical side of things, the instructors spend some time working with students on the aspects of composition and approaches to photography from a creative stand point.
Baker Beach is an introductory spot, and the real magic begins at the second location. I think it's safe to say the class was blown away with this spot. High on the bluffs the class was treated to an amazing view of the Golden Gate Bridge, and the colors provided by a very nice sunset. It was beautiful, and would've been very enjoyable to photograph if it weren't for the 40mph winds blasting the classes' faces as they tried with determination to stand their ground. The instructors did their best to avoid being blown over the side of the cliff and helped the students to dial in the exposures, shield their gear from the wind, and make the most of what is a very successful vertically orientated composition. While our class were gluttons for knowledge, it seems they were not so gluttonous for punishment and very quickly we were back in the warmth of the ApCab, and heading to the Palace of Fine Arts.
The Palace of Fine Arts is beautiful at any time of day, but at night it truly sparkles. The golden tones of the lit architecture meshed with the blue hues of the twilight sky makes for a complementary color compositional jewel. The wind was still blowing, so the normally serene reflection was reduced to colors that were streaked abstractly by our long exposure times. Conditions like these, although chilly, can be great ways to teach how long exposure and aperture combine to make interesting and almost painterly images. The class reveled in the opportunities to put their own spin on this Bay Area icon. They moved all along the pond area in the front of the building and tried their own compositions. When they had their fill of the front, we took the class to the interior area of the dome to work on some of the more intimate compositional possibilities provided by the unique columns and sculpture.
Time flies, and by this point in the night the class was nearly half completed! We loaded up into the ApCab and set off for the next location, and many of our students favorite of the night- the twists and turns of Lombard Street. One cobblestoned section of this street has more twists and turns in a ¼ miles section than probably 95% of the streets in the world. We take the class right to the turns and set them up to capture the magic of motion. The goal is to use the movement of headlights and taillights streaked creatively through the image to create movement in the composition as well as creative interest. This lesson really helps instructors to teach how long exposure works and provides tips how to properly expose images to make them shine. The class moves about the street dodging cars, and other pedestrians and tries to capture images that will put a new “twist” on this very picturesque location. This also happens to be the area with the least amount of wind, due to the surrounding buildings that provide a windbreak. I don't think any of the students wanted to leave…we promised to take them to a location with hot coffee, and snacks so they packed up the van again and off we set.
With a small break to warm up under our belts it was time for one last stop before concluding our evening out on the town. The Embarcadero is a magnet for tourists, those out enjoying some of SF's famous nightlife, rollerbladers, and photographers. The spot we choose on the street has a great view of the towering Bay Bridge as it spans the water connecting San Francisco to Treasure Island. The spot also provides some interesting old dock pilings that create very interesting elements to the foreground of our compositions. We place them in the bottom of the frame to give balance to the image, and provide a good supporting cast of characters to the star of our image…The Bay Bridge. This place gives students a chance to work on white balance and how it plays a part in nighttime photography. Additionally some students find that they get to really put that ‘bulb' setting to use, and are taking exposures nearly three minutes in length…something many haven't done before. The night is designed to give students a chance to learn, laugh, and enjoy a safe evening out with professionals whose purpose is to provide them with answers to many of the photographic questions that have plagued them for years. I think it's safe to say after learning so much, and coming away with a few great new images…many were blown away.
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.