No matter how many times I’ve been, I still love San Francisco. There’s always something going on, and the city has so much packed into the downtown area that every time I go, I always see something I’ve never seen before…or see it in a way I’ve never viewed it prior. It’s beautiful. Once the lights go down in the city, it transforms into a different type of beauty…one that often cameras fail to capture. That’s why we teach our Night Owls photography course!
A group of 12 awesome students joined Jean Day and myself for an evening exploring San Francisco. Summer brings a later sunset so after a brief orientation our class loads into our Aperture Academy van and sets off for Battery Godfrey an old world war 2 structure that has a beautiful vantage point looking right down the Golden Gate Bridge.
This spot is a great location for Jean and I to help everyone begin to get dialed in with their camera settings, and make sure they all know how to work their cameras in manual mode. We help offer some suggestions with the composition as well as help offer a little insight on white balance and how that will change as the night continues.
It’s a great spot and everyone has a lot of fun capturing the last rays of the sun as they warm the red tones on the bridge. When the sun finally disappears it’s time to hurry to our second stop, in time for the blue hour of twilight.
The Palace of Fine Arts is one of my favorite buildings anywhere, and this time of night is probably the best to shoot it. The classical architecture is stunning by itself, but in the evening when it is lit up, it practically glows with a warm orange light…and when the sky has turned blue at twilight, you get a really nice complementary balance of color that makes for some truly amazing photographs.
Jean and I help the group get dialed in with the settings, and go over how these settings will change as the light begins to fade, and darkness settles over the scene. Every camera has some truly great shots on it…and it’s always fun to see people begin to get a few keepers in the camera.
Once the sky has gone through the spectrum of shades of blue, and gone black we move from the outside of the structure to the inside. Once under the dome we offer some tips on photographing areas with highly symmetrical structure, and point out as well how our shutter speeds and apertures changes while in this area, as opposed to outside.
Time flies when you’re night shooting, and before we know it it’s after 9:30pm and time to move to Lombard Street, our 3rd stop of the night. Once we arrive on this iconic stretch of curvy cobblestone we divide into teams so we can explore, and photograph the traffic meandering its way down the one-way lane, and shoot both headlights and taillights.
Jean works with the group shooting taillights and I work with the group shooting headlights. This is really a fun way to work with light. The headlights and taillights paint streaks of light as they work their way down the road, creating compositional ‘S’ curves for our cameras. Each spot requires some different methods to shoot, so Jean and I help the class so they can get the best of each location. It’s always fun here because so many people stop to ask…”what are you shooting?”
The answer is always. "Brad Pitt."
Once each group has shot from the top and the bottom and practiced both of those techniques it’s time to move off to a brief stop for hot chocolate or a snack before we head to the Embarcadero for our last shot of the night, the Bay Bridge.
The tide was really high so the old bridge pilings were just peeking out of the bay, which created a slightly different take on this very popular shooting location. We helped the class with some minor compositional suggestions, and a few adjustments to the white balance…but by this time everyone was pretty set with the way to shoot things, and everyone was getting some really nice work!
Unfortunately our time has to end, and at 12:30am we were in the van heading back to our parking spots so everyone could go home, unload the memory cards, and get to processing all of those images!
Thanks for a fun night!
Brian, Jean 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. (More photos below the comments.)