San Francisco is a photographer's dream. Iconic architecture, world famous bridges, rolling coastal hills and beaches, each with unique qualities to photograph. It is no wonder our Marin Headlands workshop is one of the most popular courses we offer at the Aperture Academy.
Sunday, a full group met instructors Stephen Oachs and Brian Rueb on Baker Beach to attend just such a class. We had a brief orientation so instructors could get an idea where every student was with their experience, as well as find out what it was they wanted to focus on learning during the day. Within ten minutes of the class starting, we were on the beach, cameras out, and ready to learn.
We spent time with each student making sure they understood the relationship between aperture and shutter speed. Several students had questions regarding how to compose a scene, or approach a scene and scout out a composition. Stephen and Brian, while very similar in philosophy, each have unique and varied ways of explaining their approach to photography, and this dynamic is what we feel makes our classes so special. Both instructors worked the beach, helping to explain concepts in ways that made sense to the participants. Our primary goal for Baker Beach, and really the entire day, is to learn...so when the better light at the end of the day is upon us, our participants are ready to tackle the challenge with the new tips and skills they've worked the day on.
Fort Point, the second stop of the day was a treat for everyone. The old archways, and many twists and turns within the fort, provide countless opportunities for photography. Once inside, our group split into two, with Team Stephen and Team Brian setting out to work different, more intimate parts of the fort, working on composition and shutter speed. The smaller groups also ensured we wouldn't be too crowded in the more confined interiors, and everyone had the opportunity to work closer with the instructors on getting what they wanted out of their time.
There are a few areas the instructors use to work with the students that are personal favorites of theirs, but we also love to turn the group loose for a bit and really let them explore. The top of the fort, often gusting with wind, is a great place to explore looking for unique macro shots, or just taking in a spectacular front row view of the Golden Gate Bridge.
While the class was off seeking their own perspectives of the fort, the instructors wandered about helping individual students with technical questions, or showing them some special little nooks of the fort they may have overlooked. Sunday's weather was chilly to be sure, and after two hours, many were ready for a little break to get some food or drink to warm them up and give them the energy boost to finish the day.
Sausalito is a charming little town on the end of the headlands, and a perfect spot to spend an hour while we wait for the sun to drop a bit more in the sky. This group was eager as any we've had, and many students ate quickly so they could wander out to explore the marina and take more images. Our instructors love it when they get a group that is so excited to learn, and is out gathering images even when they can be relaxing.
Once the class was rested, warm, and full, we loaded back into the van and set off for Rodeo Beach...hoping to capture a nice sunset.
The tides on Sunday were a bit higher than they had been the previous night, so the military approach we had used with the other class was not an option. However, the group split up and Team Brian headed down to the beach via an alternative route, while Team Stephen chose to shoot a different composition from higher on the bluffs.
The group on the beach wandered the cove looking for a spot that would protect them from the large surf, and provide them with a good composition when the sun finally set. Brian walked the beach helping students work with higher shutter speeds and lower apertures for capturing waves in action as they smashed into the sea stacks and rocks. As the sun continued to drop, members of Team Stephen defected and came down to take their crack at capturing a good sunset on the beach.
We spent a lot of time on the beach working with filters. Graduated Neutral Density (GND) filters were passed out to let students practice a bit with balancing an exposure using the filters to hold back the brighter sky area while adding more exposure to the black sandy foreground. We also covered how the polarizing filters can be used to creatively enhance a photo.
When the sun finally set, the class was scattered throughout the rocky coastline, each with a composition they thought fit the scene. A low marine layer caused the good light to shift away from the sea stacks, and more to the headlands side of the compositions, but for a few minutes the color was spectacular, and many students were able to successfully switch their compositions to capture that fleeting color.
The time on the beach was great, but the hike back to the van was more interesting...at least for one person. Even though the tide was heading out, the waves were still too intense to make the route navigable, so all but one of us ventured the way we had come. However, one person "didn't mind getting a little wet" and ventured on her own to brave the waves...and she almost made it. However, "almost" doesn't count when dodging waves, and unfortunately, she went down...and lost her tripod. The ocean is unforgiving to camera equipment. Luckily she had a great camera bag and the agility to save it!
She gets the golden floaties award for her valiant attempt and being a great sport.
When the group was finally reassembled back at the van, the marine layer had turned into a big fog bank that descended upon the whole headlands. The bridge was not visible. However, the group was getting tired. They had spent a long day in the field, and had a lot of new information to process. Many were ready to call it a day. We went back to the meeting point and dropped off the group that was heading home, and let them know they could join us to shoot the bridge at any of our other Marin workshops. A few students weren't ready to give up, so we made one last effort to see if the Golden Gate was visible from a different vantage point. The bridge toyed with us for 20 minutes. Was it going to show? Or stay hidden in the fog?
Unfortunately, we were unable to get any shots of the entire bridge, but we used the opportunity to work on the skills we would have used had the whole span been visible, and the remaining members of the group had learned of another point from which to shoot the bridge should they come back to the city for another photographic expedition.
All said, it was a great day in the field. Students were given a ton of helpful hints and information that will hopefully benefit them in all their future photographic forays. The instructors both had a great day working with this enthusiastic group, and look forward to seeing them again on future workshops.
Until next time,
Stephen, Brian, 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.