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San Francisco/Marin Headlands Photography Workshop - February 21st, 2010

San Francisco and Marin Headlands digital photography workshop, with stops at Rodeo Beach, Baker Beach, Fort Point and shots of the historic Golden Gate Bridge at night.

Sunday, February 21st. A day that will live in infamy. The weather had forecast rain all weekend in the Bay Area...and on this day it delivered in a big way. Making up for lost time, I'd say. Aperture Academy instructors Brian Rueb and Scott Davis met the sunshine bunch at Baker Beach at noon for orientation.

It was clear that the group was concerned about the weather challenge, but at the Aperture Academy, we plan for EVERYTHING. We make the best of even the worst weather. Photography is about much more than blue skies or killer sunsets. Dramatic weather can lead to so many amazing images, and the light during a storm is often soft and very good to work with. However, due to the nature of the beast, many photographers shy away from working in that environment...and as a result, aren't always aware of how to work with it when it does arrive...or they haven't learned how to approach a day like that from a creative standpoint.

Luckily, Aperture Academy instructors are familiar with less than perfect weather. In this case, Scott Davis had just returned from similar conditions after spending two months in Antarctica. Brian Rueb is heading to Iceland for two months and will face similar weather on many occasions. Both instructors also find themselves in severe weather on their other projects as well. We know from experience that it is very possible to work in inclement weather and get amazing results.

Under the circumstances, starting the day at Baker Beach wasn't going to be possible with the drizzle, so we loaded into the vans and drove straight to Fort Point. Once in the fort, we split into two groups and set out to explore. We have a couple locations we photograph in the fort on our typical fair weather course...and of course, we hit both of those.

One location is inside, photographing a very long hallway of identical doorways as it stretches into the distance. We work on composition and white balance with this shot. How do you use your white balance to creatively adjust for a scene where you have both artificial and natural light? The other scene we shoot in the fort is a large hall filled with old brick archways. This is a great area to work on a scene where symmetry is the dominant factor. How should you compose an image that has so much symmetry? We also work on balancing light in a scene that has half the image being lit very brightly by the natural light coming in through the fort's roof and the darker shadows of the fort's inner walls.

Normally, getting a group as large as ours through both these sections takes a good chunk of time and we're not able to really delve into all the wonderful OTHER areas the fort has to offer in terms of photography....but on a day like THIS...we had that time to really show our classes the hidden gems of Fort Point.

Due to the more even lighting that nature's soft box was giving us, we spent less time working on shutter speed and aperture (although we did certainly discuss them) and more time talking about the philosophy of photography when you approach an area. Many students were curious on how the instructors would shoot an area if they were to go out on a day like this.

We spent a lot of time in the various hallways of the fort, looking for details...whether it was the repetitive shapes in the pillars, or the vivid colors of the different molds growing on the ceiling. The opportunities for working "small" were enormous. Many times, it's easy to get wrapped up in the larger scale aspects of a scene...but taking time to really see the subtleties of a location can be just as worthwhile.

There's also a good chance that if you wait in one place in the bay area long enough, the weather will change. Luckily for us, it did just that...and for 30 minutes we were able to roam the roof and get some great images of the Golden Gate Bridge as fog and cloud lingered around the towers. We spent four hours in the fort, and I honestly believe this group of students came away with some of the most creative and dramatic images we've ever seen there.

We stayed dry in the fort...we still got cold...but after four hours of working hard, it was time for a much needed rest in Sausalito. Folks grabbed coffee, a snack or lunch and got a chance to get to know their other participants more, as they refueled for the remainder of the day.

The weather was very obviously not going to give up its strangle hold on a sunset, and even though it was gray and moody, we still drove to Rodeo Beach and gave it our best go. What luck! It wasn't raining when we arrived, and we were hoping, as we walked out to the beach, that the break would last and we would get some time to work on our long exposures and monochromatic composition techniques. However, the minute we got to our spot and set up...the rain returned. Luckily, most of the class had gear enough to keep their equipment dry, and we toughed it out and everyone got a few shots from the beach before the light faded and it was time to try our last spot.

Sometimes when you endure a day of dreary conditions such as this, a little bit of luck can head your way and you can catch some magic. The Golden Gate, our last shot of the evening, was out...and she was looking amazing. No Rain. Beautiful clouds filtering high above her, creating nice drama in the images we were creating. We had 20 good, solid minutes to make sure the whole class got a few nice images of the bridge shining as it watched over the entrance to the bay. We spent the time using long exposure to really bring out the reflected color from the bridge that showed in the clouds as they moved by. We used higher f-stops to create a "star effect" on the lights and make the images look dazzling. It was as GOOD of a 20 minutes as you'll ever see for this location. And, wouldn't you know it, it only took five minutes for it all to go away again.

Within a 5-minute span, the storm washed back upon us, bringing MORE rain, and completely obscuring any view of the bridge or the city. Thankfully the class and instructors were ready and they delivered the final word for that day and came away on the winning end with some great shots.

Cheers to one of the most resilient groups we've had at the Aperture Academy. Your enthusiasm and creativity helped make this a day to remember. We fought the storm and the storm won...but we sure put up a good fight and got a few good shots in as well!

Until next time,

Brian, Scott, 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.



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