San Francisco Night Owls Photography Workshop | June 14th, 2013

San Francisco Night Owls Photography Workshop - June 14th, 2013

Night Owls Night Photography Workshop Students with Aperture Academy

San Francisco Night Owls classes are always an unusual and great time. You just never know what you’ll run into while roaming the various parts of San Francisco late in the evening. Jean and I met our group at Baker Beach, and as is our custom, did our orientation portion of our meet-up there in the lower parking lot where we learn a lot about each other and our various levels of experience, share a laugh or two and prepare to start our evening long journey.

The class was eager to get started, and everyone was super enthusiastic as we headed down to the beach on this sunny San Francisco day towards the landmark known as the Golden Gate bridge. Here we introduce our students to the essential controls they will be using while in Manual mode while it is still daylight. The main goal of our class is to get everyone extremely comfortable with operating in manual mode so that they can be complete control freaks with their cameras just as Jean and I are. After a half an hour of late day shooting, many of our class came away with some nice sweet sunset hour images of the bridge to start the class off with. Confidence with new skills was already growing as we headed back to the ApCab and drove off into the dark of night!

Because night photography is one of those areas where many people aren't sure where to is fun for us as instructors to take people out and show them how to get spectacular results at our next stop… the Palace of Fine Arts. We arrive right after the sun has dropped and the sky is a perfect shade of deep blue. The glowing blue of the twilight sky with the golden tones of the lighted Palace gives everyone the chance to create what will surely be their next computer screen desktop wallpaper. The results are always picture postcard perfect! It's the best time of night to photograph this particular place. Keeping the class along the edge of the pond allows everyone to play with long exposures, reducing the water to glass and making perfect reflections of the old building. Jean and I work first with setting the aperture and ISO settings we'll need for the shot, and follow that with some tips on composition. Once those are in place the only thing to do is gradually lengthen the exposure time as the sky darkens.

After the blue hour is over, we move the group under the rotunda of the palace to shoot some completely different compositions. The architecture is astoundingly cool, and there are so many vantage points to shoot as well! Here Jean and I help the students understand how Aperture works and the ins and outs, pros and cons of long exposure in various situations. For example, you do not want to do a long exposure of a tree being blown in the wind unless you want a big blurry blob in your picture… stuff like that. There are so many ways to make fantastic abstract images as well, and many students like to play with that aspect of this old building as well. We were also visited by a large group of inline skaters who played chill tunes on their boom-box and some were lit up with various LED lights. This allowed a few of our students to play with long exposure light trails. Very exciting! The time passed all too quickly, and soon we were all gathering up ourselves for our next stop... the famous Lombard Street.

But first we went to iHops to get a quick little refreshment, and to warm ourselves back up a tad before hitting the rest of our journey.

The goal of Lombard Street is to work on long exposures to capture moving headlights/taillights as they wind their way down the narrow streets. I myself am a light trails freak, so it’s a huge honor to teach others what excites me so much! Jean and I work with the class on the apertures and shutter speeds necessary to get the best exposures as cars full of revelers shouting and hooting pass on by.

We like to split the group up here so that everyone gets an opportunity to shoot headlights as well as taillights...and work on the different compositions associated with changing exposure needs. Many of our students will also take a moment out to get pictures of the famous Coit Tower and even the Bay Bridge, which is standing above the city from this vantage point.

The final stop of the night is the Bay Bridge from the vantage point of The Embarcadero. Normally we're not the only people at the bridge now that the suspension cables have been illuminated with thousands of lights that dance in patterns. Luckily we are always able to settle in at our normal vantage point and then it's time to shoot some long exposures!

Jean and I help everyone settle in for two minute exposures, and get their compositions. We do a lot of checking to make sure the white balance is set correctly, and nobody has oddly yellow images, caused by having too warm of a white balance, but because of Lombard Street, and our previous lessons on this aspect of night photography, they usually have it all down, and this class did in spades!

As so often is the case, by this time, everyone has their skills sets pretty honed. If there are questions, it’s more about “how do I make this image different than everyone else’s?” rather than “why F/16?” which is a huge leap and makes Jean and I very proud of what our class is doing and how far they’ve come!

The banter inside of the ApCab was cheerful and happy as we headed back to the parking lot where everyone was parked. We hope to see many of the images that came away from the evening. So many great shots!


On behalf of Matt, Jean and the Aperture Academy team, we thank you for a another great workshop!

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.)

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