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San Francisco/Marin Headlands Photography Workshop - May 10th, 2014

San Francisco Photography Workshop Students

Wind, sand, surf and sunshine greeted Brian and Paul as they welcomed a new group of eager students at Baker Beach on a gorgeous Spring day. Reminding us we live by the very cold Pacific Ocean, there was a distinctly crisp little chill in the air punched up by some gusty onshore winds.

It was fun meeting the new folks as well as some of our veteran students coming back to fine tune their skills, some of them having stayed out late with us the previous evening for the San Francisco Night Owls workshop. Huddling around the ApCab for our customary orientation, Brian 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.

Baker Beach is usually our first shooting location for the San Francisco/Marin Headlands workshop. However, with the gusty onshore winds blowing camera jamming sand across the beach, our first stop was the seacoast masonry fortification of Fort Point. Fearing attacks by hostile warships, the US Army built this lone fort on the south end of Golden Gate before just before the Civil War, but by the time the Confederate Navy made it to San Francisco, the war was over, so the fort never defended against any attacks. Its southern footing soaring over Fort Point in a graceful steel arched truss, the Golden Gate bridge was designed around the 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 Brian 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. Finally we let everyone roam about the fort to applying their individual creative vision with their newly learned manual shooting skills. Walking through the fort in this last free hour, Brian and Paul made themselves available for more Q & A and to reinforce learning points. Winds swirling through the fort's shadowy plaza and corridors, many sought 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.

Chilled and windblown, everyone returned to the van to warm up for a short trip across the Golden Gate to our next destination. Now under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service, Fort Baker served as an Army post until the mid 1990's. An iconically beautiful bay coastal location with many thoughtfully preserved military buildings, it now houses the Cavallo Point Conference Center and a small Coast Guard post. On the Marin County side of the Golden Gate, it offers gorgeous views of the Bridge, San Francisco Bay and the city of San Francisco. With high contrast daylight conditions we worked with the students to optimize their manual settings and trying their hand with filters, extending the camera's shutter speed to create milky smooth textures in the lapping surf. Not knowing their cameras were capable of capturing these types of exposures there was lots of excitement with some looking forward to extending their creative reach and planning to add similar filters to their gear bags.

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, seemingly perfect cuisine for a day of shooting in the Headlands. A mixture of more teaching moments and casual conversation, there's an opportunity to get to know one another a little better. I don't how we manage it, but we're almost always lucky enough to be able rearrange enough tables for us all to sit together.

Recharged and ready for more shooting and learning we piled in the van and headed for 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 present challenges and Rodeo was not going give up anything lightly on this crystal clear evening. Approaching our shooting location above Rodeo's well known sea mounts, the high tide wave sets had us playing dodgeball up and down the beach. Donning layers of outerwear, we arrived amongst the scattered boulders, setting up just out of reach of the highest surf for our group shot. Getting balanced exposures of a coastal sunset can be challenging with the considerably darker foreground and the brighter 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. 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, 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, overlooking the the beautiful Golden Gate Bridge as San Francisco transitioned from white and gray skyline to a 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. Capturing the magic of blue hour with the rich warm tones of the Golden Gate Bridge, the city lights beyond, all in stunning color compliment with the deep sapphire of the clear skies above, all were joyfully amazed with the depth of color they captured in such dark conditions.

After this satisfying end to a wonderful Spring 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.

Until next time,

Brian, Paul 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.



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