San Francisco at night is one of the most awe inspiring places in America for photography. The downtown skyline, illuminated with thousands of lights, the bridges, Bay and Golden Gate, providing perfect foreground subjects against the backdrop of the city, and the architecture, with landmarks like the Transamerica building and The Palace of Fine Arts, all culminating in a photographer's goldmine.
The city comes alive at night. And so do the artists. On this fair Friday night, The Aperture Academy's Scott Donschikowski and Jean Day led a group of burgeoning artists and hobbyists alike into the fray to teach them about the intricacies of nighttime photography.
Like all ApCad workshops in San Francisco, we began at Baker Beach with a round of introductions. Each participant told us a little about themselves and their skill levels, so our instructors could help them learn at the appropriate pace for them to each get the most from this practical class.
With Jean and Scott facilitating a little history of their own, they proceeded to instruct the group on the night's activities, including expected locations and breaks. With all said and done, the entire group piled into our rental van (we miss you ApCab! Have fun in Utah!) and the evening proceeded to our first stop.
On a short windy road on the bluffs above the Pacific ocean, we pulled over to Battery Godfrey, an old pre-WWII gun battlement. It was used until the early 40s as a defensive position to protect the San Francisco Bay, with guns built with ranges of up to ten miles. We did some shooting of own up there, albeit of the non-lethal kind. Battery Godfrey is a unique place in the Presidio area, as it is the only easily accessible place to view the Golden Gate bridge straight through the middle.
We had our students set up shop and begin snapping away furiously at the bridge and with sunset nearly complete, the lights from the cars on the roadway began to streak as our shutter speeds began slowing down into the seconds. With night approaching fast, we headed off to the next location, the Palace of Fine Arts.
The Palace is one of the most well known, most beautiful, and largest landmarks in the area. Its Greek and Roman inspired architecture is a perfect subject for capturing the amber lights illuminating its massive columns and rotunda, that are reflected in the small lake in its foreground. Jean and Scott instructed the students on their favorite places to stand in order to frame this beautiful monstrosity, teaching to take care with their compositions, and to try out new skills like getting closer to the ground, increasing the aperture for a star-like effect from the lights, and changing the white balance to alter the warmth of the images.
After a time, the group moved inside the rotunda itself, to get more detailed shots of the amazing architecture. With our group getting a little cold, we got our shots, packed it up and headed further into the city for a break and some hot drinks.
During what turned out to be an entertaining break, we watched some very helpful San Francisco Fire Department officers try and use a slim-jim in vain, then a professional from AAA used all his guile, cunning and some pretty cool toys to open the rental van after our instructor Scott accidentally locked the keys inside. Once we got access to the van again, we were off to Lombard Street, to do some light painting. Actually, it wasn't us doing the light painting, it was the tourists in their cars doing it for us.
We split the group in two, and each group got a chance to view this amazing phenomenon from different vantage points along Lombard. We waited patiently for cars to slink down the curvy street and with long enough exposures, the light emanating from their head and taillights created a very cool swoosh along the roadway in everybody's photos. After multiple successes from each location, we decided it best to move on to our final spot of the evening, the Embarcadero.
Rincon park, alongside the Embarcadero, provides one the best viewpoints of the Bay Bridge in the area. An old pier that once stood directly off the roadway still had some remaining, ancient pilings looming in the water. Illuminated by the golden light from the city walk, these pilings provided a perfect foreground element for our photos of the beautiful bridge.
Strolling along the waterway, the group had no trouble identifying more cool spots to photograph as the night wore on. With our group shot taken right in front of the Bay Bridge, the night's workshop was nearing to a close. The few miles back to Baker beach to our personal vehicles gave everyone a chance to share their enthusiasm and delight with their photographic haul for the evening. Another successful and satisfying workshop in the bag!
Until next time,
Scott, Jean and everyone back at the Aperture Academy!
P.S. If you'd like to join us at one of our workshops, you can find the schedule/sign up here.