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Posted by Instructor Brian Rueb
Jean and I met our class on a wonderful sunny December day in San Francisco on Baker Beach. The weather could not be better. Perfect clouds, no wind, small waves all look great for a day of shooting and exploring.
The class was all on time, and it was great to see two familiar faces from the [Night Owls] class the night before. I think they were tired though! That class didn't get done until after midnight!
After orientation, we went out on the beach to get some work with the cameras. Jean and I try to work with the students here on the basics, shutter speed, aperture, ISO, and then composition. For a lot of students, they're really confused on manual settings, and it helps to not only hear us talk about it, but to SEE it in play as we help them learn their camera.
One of the compositional tips I usually give here is that when you're photographing bridges, it's important to give firm beginning and ending points with the surrounding cliffs. Our eyes, when we see a bridge, tend to visually travel across it. If the bridge goes off the frame, the eye does, too. By putting a cliff on either side of the span, you keep the eye ON the frame and give a starting and ending point for the eye.
The second stop is Fort Point, an old civil war era garrison under the Golden Gate. It's normally quite cold and windy there, but today, although a little windy, it was tame compared to some days I've been there.
We split the group up into two smaller factions and then Jean and I took them around to a few spots that we really like, that not only give us great compositions to work with, but also some different lighting and opportunity to talk about composition, white balance, and again help push the aperture and shutter settings.
One of the stops is a long row of doorways. It's very cool, and very tough to photograph because other tourists keep walking in and out of the frame. They always make really funny faces when they walk around the corner and see all the cameras. The students get a little annoyed when a person walks in their frame 3 seconds into a 4 second exposure...but I try to lighten the mood and tell them the figure will appear ghost-like in their shots, and they should just tell their friends it was a ghost, "That wasn't THERE when I took the shot."
Once we've shown the students the few places we have in mind, we turn them loose. It's such a big building, and so much to see. It's really good if they get some time to explore and practice on their own. Jean and I play photo hide and seek with them from that point, and try to wander the halls to see where we'll find them. I found a lot of folks on the roof shooting the great vantage point of the Golden Gate; I made sure to remind them to use those polarizing filters to help bring out the blue sky, and get some pop in those white clouds!
Everyone was great, and we all met right on time at the entrance to the fort to set off for our lunch stop at Taste of Rome café in Sausalito. The food there is reasonably priced, good, and they make it really quickly, which is perfect for a hungry group of photographers on the run and excited to shoot sunset!
I was a little nervous in the beginning that the waves might be really bad at Rodeo Beach, our sunset stop. The tide chart said 5.9 tide, which when I checked was the highest mark since September 1st. I was hoping we wouldn't be dodging waves, or scrambling up on the bluffs to shoot. Thankfully the water was at a good, manageable level, and we were able to make it out to the spot, and set up with nobody getting sacrificed to the waves.
The sunset was REALLY NICE, and everyone got some good stuff. Jean and I really used the graduated neutral density filters a lot to show students how well they balance exposure, and hold back some of that bright sunset sky! The goal for the shots here was to combine a higher aperture setting to allow for greater depth of field, and longer exposures to really make some cool dreamy swirls in the water.
By the end of the sunset, the class had some outstanding images. The color lasted forever it seemed, even after we had photographed and left the scene, there was a vibrant red glow on the horizon that lingered.
We made a last stop shooting the Golden Gate from the top of the Headlands. This isn't a night photography class, but it's a good spot to give everyone a little taste of how it's done.
The city looked fantastic from the top, not a lot of haze, so there was great clarity in the shots. I always notice that when we stop here at the end of the night the students start losing batteries left and right. I think I counted three different batteries that died at some point during the shooting. Thankfully it happened at the end of the night after they'd gotten shots of the bridge!
On behalf of myself (Brian), Jean, and the rest of the Aperture Academy team, thank you for another great workshop!
If you'd like to join us at one of our workshops, you can find the schedule/sign up here.