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San Francisco at night is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. With its tall buildings, iconic bridges and steep winding streets, this city has something spectacular at every turn. While anyone is capable of enjoying the city lights of San Francisco on a given evening, capturing that beauty with a camera can be a much more difficult task...which is exactly what brought a group of eager photographers to Baker Beach on a Friday night in November to meet Aperture Academy instructors Stephen Oachs and Brian Rueb.
The group met under cover of darkness in an almost empty parking lot. The instructors went over the evening's agenda, and then the group immediately began their photography. On the beach, the instructors worked with the group to better know their gear, and discuss how to properly expose the tricky night scene before them. Not only did the group work on learning how their cameras worked, but the instructors went into more depth to teach them WHY the settings were used, and how changes in the scene would affect those settings.
Once our photographic "work" on Baker was completed, the group packed into the van and we headed into the city.
The first stop was the Palace of Fine Art. As fine a piece of architecture as any in the city, the palace lights up like a Romanesque jack-o-lantern at night. The scene is perfectly reflected in the pond that surrounds the front of the building...which is where our class made its stand. We spread out and worked on capturing various compositions of the area, both vertical and horizontal.
This is a great location for instructors to continue to help imprint the camera settings of night photography, as well as get more into the compositional aspects. The Palace is also a great example of places with drastic extremes in light and dark. We use this as an example on how post-processing can be a useful tool for presenting a scene in a more natural way than the camera can sometimes properly display.
Our 3rd stop for the night was the world famous Lombard Street. It is always a favorite among the students, but we always strive to keep improving the "ahh factor" with every location. Lombard is so iconic that people go out of their way to take their vehicles down this crooked street at all hours of the night. (After so many night workshops there, we suspect some people try to make personal best speed records as they come down the street.)
Our group spread out into smaller sub-groups led by instructors who helped them see the numerous composition options the street holds. The idea here was to give some basic instructions, tips and ideas, and then give the class a few minutes to try things on their own...so they can find out what they remember, and ask more questions if they're still foggy on the concepts. This location is ALWAYS interesting, and a lot of fun for both the students and instructors who see so many unusual and creative new takes on this well photographed icon.
We normally take our break after Lombard St. so our classes can warm up a bit after several hours together in the chilly night air, however, the conditions on this November evening were perfect, and the weather couldn't have been more ideal, so we were reluctant to leave. We still took a break so the class could grab a small bite to eat, or a warm beverage to give them that last push to midnight...and get us to the last location for the night.
The last stop of the evening is usually everyone's favorite, and for good reason. The view of the Bay Bridge from the Embarcadero has become somewhat of a landscape photographer's hot spot, and everyone wants a shot of the bridge with the old pier pilings in the foreground. Many photographers aren't sure where this spot is, or haven't been able to capture it the way they want. This last stop gave them all of that... and more. We spent a good amount of time there so students could really explore the scene from a compositional standpoint as well as a technical one. Vertical, horizontal, we shot it every which way and more. The oohs and ahhs from the class said it all. They'd spent an entire night in the city working on long exposure night shots, and now they were seeing the results, and the knowledge they needed to make the shots was starting to register with them...and the results were in the camera for them to enjoy long after their night with the world famous Aperture Academy had ended.
Until next time,
Brian, Stephen 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.