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It was a beautiful, sunny and fog-free Friday evening in the Bay Area when a group of eager students gathered to experience the world of night photography. The hustle and bustle on the streets of San Francisco were amplified by a pennant race between the Giants and Dodgers, which created a bit more traffic and caused a couple of late entries to the scene.
One poor student's exercise in patience was tested further with a flat tire, needing to bow out for the night, but will be more than welcome on a future workshop at his convenience. Another student's camera died half way through the evening reminding us all that we are often at the mercy of forces beyond our control, but that diligence and love for our art keeps us coming back as each day presents new opportunities.
Aperture Academy instructors Scott Donschikowski and Jean Day greeted the remaining twelve students at Baker Beach for photo fun and education. Photographing the city at night can be an exciting and surreal experience.
As is always the ApCad practice, Scott began the evening giving everyone a chance to introduce themselves, and find out where each person was at in their technical skills and knowledge of their gear. Our instructors always begin by learning what their students hope to learn in the workshop, in order to better tailor the night to their individual needs.
Following the introductions, the group climbed aboard the ApCab for a quick trip to Battery Godfrey above the Pacific. Composition, shutter speed, depth of field, and the use of a polarizer were first on the agenda. Our instructors took the opportunity to familiarize themselves with the each student's particular set-ups, to assist them in capturing the best images possible.
Our workshop began with the warm glow of the evening sun reflecting on the Golden Gate Bridge, and continued in this location until the lights on the bridge and the car headlights gave students their first opportunity for long exposure light trail shots through the twilight hour.
Happy with some new experiences and photos, it was time to travel over to the Palace of Fine Arts to photograph the beautiful golden light of that landmark during the blue hour. The clear evening sky deepened to a cobalt blue and students learned to capture the golden columns and dome of the Palace as it reflected the darker light of the sky in a pool of water. Accents of pinpoint stars from the buildings' lights were achieved as students learned of stopping down apertures for this effect.
Photographing at night requires longer exposures and the use of tripods and remote shutter release capabilities. Students were given tips and instruction on white balance to tame the warm lights of the building and increase the color of the sky, as well as varying compositions and shutter speeds that allowed them to achieve smooth reflections in the foreground water. The filagreed columns and high ceiling of the rotunda were another subject for students to enjoy while learning about leading lines and abstract architectural shots.
After a brief stop for a snack, the crew headed over to Lombard Street for some fun shots of car lights trailing down this famously winding drive. Scott and Jean divided the group to allow time for shooting at two locations, and with the tools and skills needed, they were able to bring out the glow and mystery of night scenes not readily seen with the naked eye.
Higher up on the street, students were able to capture the streaming tail lights of cars over 30 second exposures with the iconic landmarks of the city in the background. Further down, another group was photographing the headlights as the cars careened around the curves accenting tall apartment buildings and the red bricks of the street. Our instructors also provided a little light painting fun to show students how easy it is to get creative and come away with a more personalized composition.
For the last outing of the night, the group traveled over to the Embarcadero to capture the iconic Bay Bridge with the old pier pilings in the foreground. On arrival, we found construction crews were busy along the shoreline, which was casting harsh light on one area of our foreground subject. However, our students at that point were completely able to put into practice the skills they'd learned through the evening, and they created great images using multiple minute exposures.
The students had learned how to make creative use of white balance and depth of field in order to capture the bright bridge lights in the background, with the foreground pilings bathed in ambient light from the surrounding city. Their longer exposures created smooth and colorful reflections of the bridge lights, adding a more beautiful and ethereal look to the huge structure. The student images this night expressed the excitement of their new experiences with the magic of night photography!
Well after midnight, Scott and Jean returned the students to their vehicles. Although tired, they were still eager to continue using their new skills at every opportunity, and with what they learned that night, they have the knowledge to make many, many beautiful images for endless nights to come.
As always, Scott and Jean and the entire Aperture Academy team thank all our great students for spending your evening with us. We wish you further success as you continue on your photographic journeys!
P.S. If you'd like to join us at one of our workshops, you can find the schedule/sign up here.