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I have to say, San Francisco and the surrounding headlands with its sheer diversity yet relatively easy and quick access to prime vantage points completely rocks as a photo destination. Even though this is a full day workshop, we only begin to skim the surface of photo potential. Having said this, our instructors absolutely love taking our always fun groups out and spending a day shooting around the area and that was certainly the case on this outing.
Our newest group of 15 gathered at our traditional Baker Beach meeting point where Aperture Academy Instructors Scott Davis, Scott Donschikowski, and Tony Medina were eagerly awaiting everybody's arrival in anticipation for another great day of shooting. Weather conditions in the city by the bay are always, suffice to say, somewhat unpredictable. Clouds can move in, sunshine can break through, rain can drizzle, fog can swallow you up and then everything clears up again but this all can make for very dramatic images. On this day, San Francisco and Marin showed us once again her fickle nature and we responded by walking away with some truly outstanding conditions and images.
First stop, Baker Beach. Baker Beach is a good spot for our instructors to help fine tune what each student hopes to learn throughout the day, with the added bonus of getting some iconic images of the Golden Gate Bridge. We use this time as a photo warm up spot to assess where each student is and custom tailor our approach as far as knowledge of aperture, shutter speed, and composition, and find out which filters, if any, they have...or might want a chance to experiment with that day. We typically don't spend a huge amount of time here during the high sun of the day as we like to get the ball really rolling at some other prime locations and as mentioned, lots of places to see and photograph in this city.
The second location we stop at for the day is Fort Point. Built nearly 150 years ago, it is located almost directly underneath the south end of the Golden Gate Bridge. From its vantage point overlooking the spectacular Golden Gate, Fort Point protected San Francisco harbor from Confederate & foreign attack during & after the U.S. Civil War. With its long corridors and spanning archways, the fort is a beautiful example of the art of the master brick mason from the Civil War period. This fort is full of photographic possibilities. Here, we can point our cameras in a number of directions focusing on symmetrically interesting compositions while working through the technical challenges that allow one get what they see in their mind's eye onto their camera's memory card. It's clear to see that this place is somewhere somebody could spend all day photographing and not run out of ideas. We spend time working on shutter speed and aperture in some pretty tricky lighting. At times we practiced using our filters to help balance the scene and give those shadow areas a stop or two extra exposure providing a much more balanced exposure.
Inside the fort, the lighting varies between natural ambient light coming in the windows and various types of interior lights. The mix can be hard to deal with from a white balance standpoint, or it can be a fun way to explore how changing your white balance manually can give your composition some more interest and pop. Our goal all day is to learn and hopefully everyone comes away with several images they really like.
Finishing up at the fort, we headed north across the GG Bridge to get a new perspective. We timed our short refreshment break perfectly in Sausalito as a small rain cloud unleashed it's load while we were all comfortably sipping our espressos and eating our sandwiches in a local restaurant. As if on schedule, the rain stopped just as we finished our meal and headed to our next destination.
The rocky outcrops of the Marin headlands along Rodeo Beach make for very dramatic landscape/seascape imagery, especially when unsettled skies are on the menu. Here, we continue working on techniques we've been practicing throughout the day such as exposure, f-stop, custom white balance settings and the use of different filters to gain creative changes or balance out a scene more naturally. Its also where we can fully utilize creative neutral and graduated filter effects that allow for longer exposures that can give us those truly unique surreal images. It was great to see how many unique takes the group had on the location. It was even more fun to see the "Wow" moments happen as some of the newer students began to learn what their camera was doing, see its potential as a creative tool and realize that "manual" settings aren't quite as intimidating as they had been.
Finishing up at Rodeo and with night time approaching, everyone still had plenty of energy which inspired us to go to one last spot for the evening which turned out to be better than expected. The vantage point of the Golden Gate Bridge from the Marin side with San Francisco as a backdrop is about as iconic as you can get. Conditions for this shot can sometimes be hit or miss though when the weather is "unsettled". Low cloud cover can obscure the view. Rain can come in, etc...As we rounded the curve in the road, absolutely perfect conditions awaited us, and I mean PERFECT! The cloud ceiling had lifted, leaving a smattering of cotton ball shaped clouds just in view, crystal clear views of the city and a deep cobalt blue color of the sky and of course, the majestic Golden Gate filled our foreground. Our instructors have been to this spot dozens and dozens of times but I have to admit, the conditions that were present on this evening rank among the top 5 witnessed. Absolutely perfect. I think I mentioned that, right.
Amazing shots were popping up on people's LCD's making the instructors green with envy, oh wait, I meant to say proud. Techniques learned and practiced throughout the day were really coming into play. With batteries drained, memory cards filled with some fantastic images and full darkness upon us, we made our way back to home. A perfect way to end a really fun day.
Until next time...Scott, the other Scott, Tony 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.