San Francisco is amazing when the weather is beautiful. A pleasant night in the city, can bring people out in droves, there's so much to see and like most metropolitan areas, the city always has something going on at all times. One of the most popular past times in the city by the bay is photography. With icons like the Golden Gate Bridge, Bay Bridge, and the twists of Lombard street. It's easy to see why photography would be popular. The problem is that once the lights go on and the sky goes black, getting those pretty photographs becomes more problematic. That's where we come in. Fellow Aperture Academy instructor Ellie Stone and I met a group of eager photographers just outside of SF to take them on a night of fun, camaraderie, and photography.
After a brief orientation we load up the van and make the short drive into downtown to the Palace of Fine Arts. This building has striking features, and it's lit so beautifully that it is a must stop for photography. Our group gathers outside the palace looking out over a pond where the reflections of this classically constructed masterpiece reflect abstractly in the murky dark pool. Ellie and I help the students with the settings needed to begin night photography. This includes aperture, and shutter speed primarily. At night the shutter speed is our biggest foe...we must constantly change and adjust it to find that magical spot where the exposure resembles that which our eyes see before us. This means LONG exposures and at the Palace our class is getting long exposures from 45-90 seconds throughout the duration of the time we spend there. Because of the great variation in lighting here with bright and dark areas, I always take time to explain how something like bracketing and processing techniques could come into play here to get a more aesthetic image.
We have a lot to see tonight, so we can't spend too much time in the reflection area, it's time to move under the dome to shoot the shapes and textures there. Here our depths of field decrease, and we're able to in most cases find a more balanced lighting scenario, which gives us shorter shutter speeds. Lots of symmetry and compositional concepts to cover here...we try to stress how to shoot these types of subjects as best we can. Ellie is great at small details so the class is always keen to see what kind of things she can see and get those ideas.
From the Palace to the plummeting twists of Lombard street! We break up here into two groups to shoot headlights and taillights of cars as they snake down the tightly packed turns of the cobblestoned icon. Each place has different techniques used to get the most of the images...and we're happy to share things we've learned and know work. Some of them are unorthodox, like using your glove to shade a shot mid-exposure to limit the number of cars visible in a image, but they all work to give a better overall shot.
Seeing the lines and "S curves" of the lights winding down the road is always an AH-HA moment for a lot of photographers, and we always hear some great “WOW” type commentary as they see the shots on their screen.
The view of the Ba Bridge from Embarcadero is one of the best, and now they hacve lit it with thousands of LED lights to make neat patterns, and also give the whole bridge a little better glow...it's even BETTER now than it was when we started this class 7 years ago. We work here just fine tuning the settings we've been preaching all night with longer exposures, and higher apertures. People have started to get an idea where to start with exposures, so we're just reiterating what we've gone over already, and pushing the class to try different exposures, and compositions...and helping to explain some odd concepts further like white balance...and how that is affected by scenes with artificial lights that LOOK like they are very blue anyway...but still need a cooler WB in order to look normal.
A lot of nice shots here for sure on those student machines. This shot is popular everywhere in SF, so people know the shot, and to have their own version that THEY took means a lot to most photographers...it's like taking the veil off a magic trick!
On our way back to the cars we stop at the most iconic bridge of them all...The Golden Gate. A small amount of fog and clouds linger in the air here and we're able to utilize them to get a little bit of color in the sky to compliment the nice warm tones of the bridge...the cooler white balances are in play again here to help make it look normal warmth...not ON FIRE...which is what a Shady or Cloudy WB would bring to the image.
These are postcard type shots, but it's nice to end the way on a shot that resembles a commonly used style of photography...one that is shown to others to commemorate a memorable trip...and what a trip we had in SF that night!
Until Next Time,
Brian, Ellie 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.)