When most people think of San Francisco, they think of the classic Golden Gate Bridge. However, most people find there is truly so much more to this city and the surrounding area as they begin to explore it. Some of the most amazing areas to visit are right under our noses.
Weather makes San Francisco such a unique place for photography. Namely, the seasonal weather that has developed into its own personality and lore - Karl the Fog.
On this particular Saturday, a group of 13 eager photographers joined Scott Donschikowski and I (Aron Cooperman) for a full day of photography in the Marin Headlands, and some of the more secluded areas around the Golden Gate Bridge.
We began class with an orientation, got a gauge of everyone’s skill levels with a camera, and let them know the schedule for the day. Our group was great and came with a variety of skill levels, which always makes the day fun.
Our first stop was Fort Point, where we started to touch on the basics of photography (aperture, shutter speeds, ISO, composition, white balance).
We explored inside the old Civil War era fort, where we showed the class how white balance works in the camera and how it changes the look of an image. One of the more fun exercises for the students was shooting longer exposures of 2 to 6 seconds as somebody walks down the spiral staircase, learning how to tell a visual story of movement and provide a sense of energy in a photo.
We continued to wander into the depths of the fort, into the barrel room, where replica powder kegs are set row upon row, demonstrating how gunpowder was once stored in the fort. The repetition of shape and the soft lighting there allowed us to explore some creative use of shallow depth of field in our photos.
While it is fun to work with the class on the basics, the real fun of a fort is exploring it on your own. We turned the class loose, with a few ideas of cool places to explore.
Most of the class ventured up to the top of the fort to see the great views of the Golden Gate Bridge. Most people would usually expect a mix of blue skies and fluffy white clouds for a last summer day; but that’s not always the case in San Francisco. This time, we were greeted by low fog hovering over the bridge.
While this would upset most folks, we knew that the fog is really a unique part of San Francisco and just added more to the visual story of the Golden Gate Bridge and Fort Point.
When our time in the fort had come to an end, Scott decided to make an "audible" and we headed over to Battery Godfrey for a view of the Golden Gate Bridge from the cliffs above Marshall Beach. (This was not on our original agenda, it is just how we roll at Aperture Academy. If we see something interesting, we shoot it!)
Even though the wind was starting to pick up, everyone was excited to get the opportunity to shoot a different view of the Golden Gate Bridge. Once we got to the cliffs, Scott and I suggested to everyone to use a longer telephoto zoom lens to reach into the bridge and shoot various compositions as the fog moved in and out of the towers.
At this point, it was time to head to Sausalito for some dinner. After all, San Francisco was a bit cold, and a little indoor time to warm up was welcomed by all.
After our meal break, we headed through the Marin Headlands. The main goal: Rodeo Beach. The tide was out, which meant we were able to head all the way out to the sea stacks.
Normally, we would be working with graduated filters, polarizers, and trying to get those long silky exposures of the water; but with the heavier fog today, most students were able to shoot with smaller apertures to give a longer shutter speed and create long lines of water movement in their photos.
Even though we had already photographed the Golden Gate Bridge, there is nothing quite like seeing “Goldie” shine in the night. So we left Rodeo Beach and headed up to the Headlands to get a little taste of night shooting. This gave the group a chance to work with longer exposures required of night photography.
However, after turning onto Conzelman Road, we were greeted yet again by Karl the Fog… who was so thick that we could not even see the Golden Gate Bridge from the traditional views along the roadway.
As we drove on, some people inquired as to where the name “Karl the Fog” came from. While the true origin is unknown, it is believed that the name, Karl, is a reference to the frightening giant in the 2003 Tim Burton flick, Big Fish. In the movie, Karl was not really frighentening, just lonely. San Francisco’s giant Karl is the fog. Some people love how he keeps the city cool, while others hate that he prevents traditional California summers. As photographers, we love the uniqueness of how Karl embraces our city.
Since Conzelman Road was entirely fogged in, Scott had one last idea of where we could take everyone for a different view of the Golden Gate Bridge; the water level near Fort Baker. As the group grabbed their gear bags and tripods from the ApVan, we continued discussing long exposure photography, reminding everyone to make sure their tripods where on stable ground to prevent movement and blurring of their photos.
As sounds of shutters clicked, they were almost immediately followed with voices of “ohh, that’s beautiful.” A successful detour, for sure.
While late summer San Francisco is not always blues skies and sunsets, what we do find is sometimes more unique and amazing....
Until next time,
Aron, 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.
NOTE: You can see more workshop photos below the comments.