San Francisco/Marin Headlands Photography Workshop - November 15th, 2014

San Francisco Photography Workshop Students

As the Bay Area summer passes along with its accompanying mists of the Pacific costal fog, Fall in San Francisco treats us to refreshing dry balmy conditions, along with rich supple light as the sun drops farther to south. Along with the Spring, Fall in San Francisco cannot be missed; perhaps one of the best times of the year to be out and about in the city by the bay. And this day did not disappoint.

Brimming with iconic locations, San Francisco and the Marin Headlands offer almost infinite possibilities for photographers, so to fill up a dynamic one day photo workshop, Aperture Academy focuses on the distinct goal of exposing unique views of some familiar iconic locations, including Fort Point, Rodeo Beach and the world class bay and city views from Hawk Hill.

One of the most important parts of the day, our Sausalito orientation provides the opportunity for Pro Instructors Scott Donschikowski and Paul Porter to talk about the days goals and to spend a little time getting to know each another a little, with students disclosing the technical or creative aspects they want to work on during the day. Comfortable working with people from all levels of experience, many of our students reveal their experience at a beginner or advanced beginner level, yearning to take more control of their cameras, so we emphasize working in manual modes, getting familiar with the balance between aperture, shutter speed and ISO.

With the Aperture Academy van (affectionately nicknamed ApCab) loaded, we drove across the Golden Gate to our first destination, Scott eagerly providing some rich background about Fort Point, a Civil War masonry seacoast fortification nestled underneath the south anchorage of the Golden Gate Bridge. Fearing attacks by hostile warships sailing through the Golden Gate, the US Army built this lone fort just before the end of the war on the site of a long gone Spanish fort. 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 Scott and Paul started by venturing into the fort as two groups, with the first hour or so 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. For the second hour, we let everyone roam about the fort to craft images with their newly learned manual shooting skills, while Scott and Paul made themselves available for more guidance to reinforce learning points. 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 soaring over the fort across the Golden Gate to Marin.

The sunset fast approaching in late Fall's shortened daylight, we found our way to Taste of Rome for a late lunch in Sausalito. A favorite stop for our San Francisco/Marin Headlands workshops, we gathered round and dined together on some delicious traditional and nouveau Italian cooking, seemingly perfect cuisine for the upcoming coastal sunset shoot 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.

Anticipating a Pacific sunset opportunity, we hastily piled in the ApCab and headed to Rodeo Beach. 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. 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. With the last of this day's high tide approaching, we arrived amongst the scattered boulders, setting up just out of the surf's reach 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 to balance the brighter skies with the darker beach. 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 2 second range, allowing some nice motion capture of the surf curling around the rocks and caressing the sands, without overexposing the sky. Any coastal location can present certain demands on exposure skills and Rodeo was not going give up anything easily, but we were able to capture some rich golden light as the sun dipped below clouds obscuring the horizon.

With attendees capturing some cool surf motion images with their newly acquired shooting skills, we concluded our Rodeo Beach shoot through golden hour and well into blue hour. For the last location of the day we drove to our evening shoot up on airy Conzelman Road near Battery Spencer. With an expansive vantage point above the The Golden Gate Bridge, this location offers some of the best views of the bay area, stretching 180 degrees from east shores of San Francisco Bay to the Pacific, with the San Francisco's luminous skyline as the crowning jewel beyond the brightly glowing Golden Gate Bridge. For some of our students, this was their first opportunity at night shooting, so with camera's firmly upon tripods, it was extra important to review and adjust white balance and to seek a good long exposure, managing the equilibrium of aperture, shutter speed and ISO. All were joyfully amazed they we're able to capture the depth of color and light in such dark conditions.

After a fulfilling conclusion to a wonderful Fall day of teaching, learning and shooting, it was time to drive our students back to Sausalito to continue with their evening. The group rode quietly while 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 farewell.

On behalf of Scott, Paul and the rest of the Aperture Academy team, it was a pleasure having you with us for another San Francisco & Marin Headlands workshop.

Until Next Time,

Scott, 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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