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San Francisco/Marin Headlands Photography Workshop - June 28th, 2014

San Francisco Photography Workshop Students

From one summer day to the next, the Bay Area can transition from a classic Mark Twain San Francisco summer to a pristine clear warm day by the Pacific. With a gentle breeze drifting off the Pacific Ocean, sunshine greeted Jean and Paul and a new diverse group of motivated photography students at Baker Beach for a day of shooting from the San Francisco coastline to the iconic Marin Headlands.

Jean and Paul love leading photography workshops for students of all skill levels and experience, and it was fun meeting the new folks as well as some of our veteran students coming back to fine tune their new skills. Huddling around the ApCab for our customary orientation, Jean and Paul outlined the day's plans, emphasizing shooting with the camera's manual settings of white balance, aperture, shutter speed and ISO. To get to know one another, everyone in the group shares a little about themselves, including their experience with photography, their gear and anything specific they hoped or needed to learn about. Having mentioned we would be working with everyone to use their camera's manual settings and remote shutter releases while using tripods, many were forthcoming about wanting to graduate from shooting in automatic mode.

Remaining at Baker Beach for our first shooting location, Jean and I discreetly warned the group that on such a nice day, they should be prepared for shooting at the city's one and only clothing optional beach. Looking north on this pristine day, we discussed the compositional elements of the surf's leading line drawing one's eye towards the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance. One by one, we also helped familiarize them with the manual settings needed for the day's shooting. After giving everyone a chance to familiarize themselves with their camera's manual settings, we rounded up the gang for a ride in Aperture Academy's 15 passenger luxury van to the historic Fort Point as our next shooting arena.

One of a few San Francisco relics of the American Civil War, the seacoast masonry fortification of Fort Point was built to defend the bay from hostile Confederate Navy ships attempting to enter the bay. However, by the time the US Army masons laid the last bricks of this lone fort on the south end of Golden Gate, the war was just about over. Unaware of the ceasefire, the Confederate Navy sailed into the bay, only to discover there was nothing to attack, leaving Yankee army nothing to defend. Its southern footing soaring over Fort Point in a graceful steel arched truss, the Golden Gate bridge was designed around the historic fort in a effort to preserve this historical military landmark. A unique example of mid 19th century engineering and mason's art, the fort offers so many creative photo opportunities, with intersecting multiple masonry archways, giant spiral granite staircases, long corridors with seemingly infinite receding perspectives and infinite combinations of light, shadow and form. To optimize shooting opportunities for our students Jean and Paul started by venturing into the fort as two groups, with the first couple hours in predetermined fort attractions, teaching everyone manual settings for long exposures with their tripods and remote shutter releases, pointing out the myriads of unique compositions. We finally let everyone roam about the fort to apply their individual creative vision with their newly learned manual shooting skills, while we walked the fort in this last free 30 minutes, making ourselves available for more Q & A and to reinforce learning points. Many made it to the fort's sunny rooftop location to warm up and take advantage of a singularly unique perspective of the iconic Golden Gate bridge as it soars over the fort and leaps over the bay to the Marin Headlands.

By now, all of us were famished and ready for some early dinner and we ventured over the hill into Sausalito to a "Taste of Rome". A favorite stop for our San Francisco/Marin Headlands workshops, we gathered round and dined together on some delicious Italian cooking, perfect cuisine for a day of shooting in San Francisco and the Marin Headlands. A mixture of more teaching moments and casual conversation, there's an opportunity to get to know one another a little better. It was nice to relax to the soft jazz tunes of one of Sausalito's local trios.

Recharged and ready for more shooting and learning we ferried everyone to Rodeo Beach to shoot a Pacific sunset. A favorite shooting location for both our workshops and local photographers, Rodeo Beach offers numerous options for creative expression. Everything from breathtaking sunsets to longer exposures of surf wrapping around the rocks, this beach's characteristic California coastal sea mounts present many almost foolproof compositions. Any coastal location can sometimes present challenges, but the breaking surf was so calm and easy, almost everyone managed to stay dry. With the sun lazily starting it lazy march to the horizon, everyone was zipping up their layers of outerwear, and we set up just in the beaches boulders for a characteristic animated group photo.

Getting balanced exposures of a coastal sunset can be challenging with the considerably darker foreground and the bright clear dusky sky, presenting a perfect teaching moment to work with our students to fine tune their white balance for golden hour and use graduated neutral density filters to darken the bright sky to more closely match the darker foreground of the beach and swirling surf. With a little practice, cameras on tripods and their remote shutter release cocked and ready, the students were able to increase their shutter speeds in the 1/2 to 1 second range, allowing some nice motion capture of the surf curling around the rocks on the golden sunlit sand, all without overexposing the sky.

Blue hour awaited, but not for long, so we headed back to the ApCab for our final shooting location up along the airy Conzelman Road at Hawk Hill, overlooking the beautiful Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco as the light transitioned from dusk to blue hour over the bejeweled city on the bay. Fining tuning our white balance again, cameras mounted up on their tripods, we worked with each student to try their hand with long exposures using the manual exposure settings we had been teaching them throughout the day. The magic of blue hour upon us, the warm tones of the bridge presented a stunning color compliment with the clear deep sapphire skies above and the resplendent city by the bay bathing in the golden glow of its brightening lights. Our group was ecstatic at the possibilities of shooting in such dark conditions, having no idea of their camera's capabilities of capturing such wondrous light and color. Jean and I had so much fun being thoroughly engaged with our enthusiastic students helping them with numerous compositions, capturing everything from expansive wide angle shots to close up telephoto views.

After this satisfying end to a wonderful Summer day of teaching and learning, it was time to get our group back to their cars. As usual after a busy day of shooting and learning, the group rode silently back to Baker Beach, contemplating the day and reviewing their images. Reminding the group once again to email either of us with any questions they might have, we thanked everyone individually for joining us and bid them goodnight.

On behalf of Jean, Paul and the Aperture Academy team, we sincerely thank you for another exceptional workshop in San Francisco and the Marin Headlands. We hope to see you again in the future!

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.



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