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The lure of night photography is that it provides views of the world that we seldom see. Most photography is done when the sun is out. It's a comfort zone, and the cameras we use often perform at their best when the sun is out. Night photography requires us to learn how to use our camera and what the settings to put it on in order to achieve usable images. Putting the camera on Auto Mode will not cut it with night photography.
Friday night a group of eager photographers met Aperture Academy instructors Brian Rueb and Scott Donschikowski at Baker Beach for a night of education, photography, and fun.
The sky was shaping up to be great, so rather than start at the typical location, the group loaded up and set off to Rodeo Beach in the Marin Headlands to try their luck at capturing a nice sunset prior to getting into the "meat" of the night shooting.
The group set up on the rocks, and spent a solid hour finding that perfect composition, and working on capturing some of the waves in action as they exploded on the rocks. The goal was to get dialed in with the aperture settings, and then when the sunset started they would be ready and only have to adjust the shutter speed to capture the scenes they had sought out.
Everyone was dialed in for a great sunset, and then ten minutes before the show was to begin, the clouds left...and while the light was still very nice, and students captured some nice images, the magical sunset we'd been hoping for was not to be found.
We took our next stop at the Golden Gate overlook in the Marin Headlands. This spot we normally reserve for our Marin Headlands workshop, but being as we were already there, it made sense to stop and photograph the bridge and icon from one of the city's finest vantage points.
This also began the night portion of our workshop. We got the class situated on the ledge, and went over the use of a higher aperture for this type of photography so that we would get a star-effect on the bridge lights, and allow us to use longer exposures, which really helps intensify the colors in the image. The scene is always magical, and the class came away with some awesome images.
The main issue we encountered in this location was wind. Wind can be a huge obstacle in photography...even the slightest vibrations can ruin an image. To overcome this, we adjusted the tripods as low as we could to limit the surface area that could be hit with the gusts.
We also were forced to limit our exposure times during windier moments. By increasing our ISO we could increase the sensitivity of our camera sensors and decrease the amount of time needed to make a good exposure. Less time exposing is less time for wind to screw up a shot. It's usually not ideal to increase the ISO, due to risking an increase in image noise, but when the shot depends on it, you won't lose any quality going up to 200 or 400 ISO.
Then it was off to the city...
Lombard Street is an amazing place, especially one small section of it, which is often referred to as the "crookedest" street in the world. It was built that way to reduce the grade of the road, which in the 1920s was too steep for most cars to handle. Now it is a tourist and photography destination.
Our goal there is to work with the students on capturing some long exposures that show off the awesome architecture of the area, as well as adding some interest to images with the blur of traffic lights streaking through. From wide angle shots, to shots with tail-light streaks perfectly dividing images, we saw GREAT stuff in the student view-screens. We even got creative and had Brian use a flashlight to try and create some "different" light streaks. This worked to varying degrees of success, but was entertaining none the less.
When we were finished doing the "Lombard limbo" we took a break in the hustle and bustle of San Francisco's North Beach area. The first half of the night had been a bit chilly, and it was nice for the class to get a warm drink or sandwich before heading out to the last two spots in the workshop.
The next stop was the Embarcadero, where we had an awesome view of the Bay Bridge. We continued to work with our high f-stop and long shutter speeds. The location we chose for this part of the workshop is perfect for photography in that the old pilings in the water provide a captivating foreground to help balance out our images. The funniest thing we've been seeing here the past two workshops is a large group of roller-bladers that ride by with disco clothing and a boom-box placed in a baby carriage. This spot never ceases to amaze us, from an entertainment stand-point as well as a photography one.
Our last location was a ledge on Treasure Island overlooking the city, and a view of the Bay Bridge from a different vantage point. The group had just set up and was on their 3rd or 4th exposure when "Johnny Law" rolled up. In the four years we've been doing these classes, the police have never shut us down...until this night. They've even driven by us out there photographing before with groups of 13-15 people. Tonight, was different. They were not happy with us being there, and were not going to move their cruiser or turn off their perp lights until we moved. Such is life on the streets.
We drove back to the meeting point, content with what we had accomplished pre-police shakedown. Thankfully, the group handled the abrupt ending with the same great attitude they'd had all night...many students vowed to go back and try it again. Way to stick it to the man!
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.