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It's winter in San Francisco, which means we should be expecting some of the most glorious weather around, right? Well, under some circumstances the weather can be quite cold and miserable in the city in winter...but due to a strange weather pattern in the western US, so far this winter has felt less like winter and more like an early spring day.
On this pleasant, sixty-degree sunny day, under a sky filled with wispy white clouds, a crowd of students met photography instructors Brian Rueb and Alicia Telfer.
The class participated during the orientation and gave the instructors a good idea of their experience levels, gear, and instructional goals for the class. When that was completed, it was time to head out to the beach to begin our day of photography.
We like to get the class shooting as soon as possible at our workshops, and this also allows our teachers to meet with the students right away. For new photographers, we're able to start to de-mystify the manual settings for them and work towards giving them an understanding of the camera settings and the "why" behind it. For our more experienced photographers, we're able to work on composition, creativity and maybe go over some items they might not have a full grasp on, like histograms and white balances.
We spent the first hour on the beach before loading up into the ApCab, our custom-built Mercedes bus, and set off for our second stop...the Civil War era Fort Point!
Fort Point is a great old relic. Not only is this old garrison full of narrow corridors and lovely brick architecture, and more nooks and crannies than an English muffin, but it's built in possibly the best location in the city....RIGHT UNDER THE GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE.
Once the class was inside the fort, we split into two smaller groups so Alicia and Brian could point out some of the smaller areas. We showed them the old gunpowder room, which is very dimly lit, but provides a lot of lessons for photography. Whether it's working on very shallow depths of field and focusing on just one barrel, or a portion of a barrel, or taking a wider approach and using a higher depth of field to utilize the great repetitive shapes of row after row of these barrels, there are so many possibilities for compositions in this little room that it would be easy to spend all day there.
We also took the class through the officers' corridors, which contains a seemingly endless row of doorways that makes a very nice image. This location is great to work on white balance, as well as how to compose images when extreme symmetry is involved. The area provides other challenges as well; it's extremely small and only one photographer can set up at a time, and with the constant flow of people travelling through the hallway, it's often difficult to get a shot off without any people in it.
The third spot is also several rows of highly symmetrical red brick archways. This location is not inside, but outdoors, in natural light. This situation means resetting our white balances, and again working on our compositions. The fort is full of possibilities for photography, and great learning opportunities. With symmetry, it's important to work with the students to create images that are themselves highly symmetrical and balanced, or skewed intentionally to show creativity and vision.
The class enjoyed all the spots we showed them, which are some of the treasures of Fort Point...but the fort is SO much bigger than these places, and there are so many smaller areas a group cannot get to. That's why we turn the class loose for the last 45 minutes of our time there so they can get out and explore and find their own special images. Brian and Alicia walked the halls in a game of photographer hide and seek, looking for students to review images and check to see if they need any help.
Lunch is our next stop, at a wonderful little cafe in Sausalito, at the base of the Marin Headlands. This small stop is a chance to regain some energy, grab a cold drink and engage in photography discussions with instructors or fellow classmates.
We spent just enough time there to eat and relax a bit. Sunset comes early this time of year, and a doozy was setting up on the horizon a few miles away on Rodeo Beach, our next stop.
Our group parked, geared up, and then headed out to where a group of sea stacks sit on a rocky beach awaiting our arrival to capture sunset photographs. This place is probably the best for working with students on the use of filters. The graduated neutral density filters and polarizers really come into play here. The grad filters allow students to place one in front of the lens and hold back several stops of light from only the brighter top portion of the image, leaving a well balanced photo of a sunset that shows great color and detail in the sky, as well as detail in the foreground.
The class spread out across the beach and set up for what turned out to be a truly AMAZING sunset, one of the best even the instructors had seen from this location. The class captured swirls of red, gold and purple as the sky shifted and changed through out the sun's descent. The class worked on gathering images that showed the silky movement of the tide as it washed the shoreline. Everyone was thrilled with the images they got, and walked back to the van with smiles across their faces...although you couldn't actually SEE them, you just had to trust they were there...it was getting dark, which meant it was time for our last stop - The Golden Gate Bridge.
While this isn't a night course by design, it's difficult to make the drive back to San Francisco and drive past those vistas of the bridge and the city without stopping to capture an image. It's such an iconic location and scene that it would be wrong of us to not stop and help the class capture a few images before we took them back.
Night shooting is a lot different than what we were doing for most of the day, while we definitely made strides in learning about longer exposures, nothing quite prepares the newer students for taking shots that last over two minutes. For those who don't have cable releases or remote controls, this stop serves as a great lesson in how ISO can be helpful in allowing students who can't shoot beyond 30 seconds to still come up with nice images even without the cable release or remote.
The spot was great, and the clarity of the city and bridge were stupendous. It was the perfect exclamation point at the end of a great day of shooting in the middle of winter in San Francisco.
Until next time,
Brian, Alicia, 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.
NOTE: You can see more workshop photos below the comments here.