"When the Lights go down on city..." A famous line by rock band Journey was sung about the inspiration given from the city of San Francisco at night under the lights, and for good reason. The city of San Francisco is absolutely magical at night. Cable cars are full of people at all hours travelling the rails to enjoy the views and panoramas of the cityscape from the numerous high hills throughout the area. It's not uncommon to see hundreds of tourists stopping at the various icons, pulling out their point and shoot cameras and firing off a few shots...using the flash. These tourists will travel across the seas many miles only to find their images are not what they had hoped. They just didn't know how to properly photograph at night.
Which is where we come in. We're the Aperture Academy and we specialize in helping photographers get out at night, in one of the world's best city's and teach them how to create memorable photographs during the most challenging time of the day.
A group of 13 eager photographers met instructors Brian Rueb and Scott Davis on a windy Baker Beach for an evening of fun, photography, and exploration in the city by the bay. The beginning of our course starts with an orientation. We like to get to know our students more, let the group get to know one another and let our instructors find out what it is that each student really want to work on during their time with us. Many students have never photographed during the night, some have extensive experience, but want to work on composition, and others just want to come out with friends and family and have a fun night photographing together.
The first stop is mere feet from the orientation point. Baker Beach. We spend the first portion of our time on Baker Beach, looking at a spectacular view of the Golden Gate Bridge as the sun drops in the sky, and the fading light of sunset washes the beach in tones of gold and orange. This spot gets us right into working on camera settings, and helping some of our more novice students begin to tackle the process of taking their cameras off automatic, and on to manual mode! In addition to the settings, our instructors spend time on composition, and approach to a scene like this. How we use lines from the surf to lead our eyes through compositions.
Time flies, and after an hour speeds by we're loaded up into the ApCab, our custom transport van, and heading to our second stop- The Palace of Fine Arts. The Palace has some of the most iconic architecture in the city, and at night they light it up magnificently. The group spends the first portion of the stop in front of the pond that surrounds the outside of the location. When the wind is clam the pond provides picture perfect reflections of the Palace. When the wind blows the aesthetics changes and the reflection becomes a beautiful impressionistic type painting of colors. Red, yellows, oranges blur to painterly perfection to lend a perfect balance to the beautiful building standing above. Combine this scene with the deep complimentary blues of the twilight sky, and you have it all, a perfect image.
Scott and Brian hopscotch between the students to help them with composition, and explaining the settings needed to shoot the location and why the setting help to create the desired image. So much of photography can be a mystery if you don't understand the 'why' involved with what you're doing. When the sky has gone black, the group moves to the interior of the structure to photograph the pillars and dome under the lights. The symmetry in this part of the location is as stunning as the outside, and students lay down and find the best and most creative ways to capture these details in a way that is original to them. You never know what you'll see in the city, and on this location we had a large group of roller-bladers show up and throw a 10 minute impromptu dance party in the center of the dome area. It created some very interesting aspects to some of the images captured!
The next stop for the night was the famous Lombard Street. Famous for it's curving cobblestone street, this road winds and turns many, many times over the course of this very scenic 3/4 mile. We break the class up into two smaller groups so Scott and Brian can show them the tricks necessary to capture the street, and use long exposure to streak the headlights and taillights from the cars as they slowly meander down the road. These streaks create great 's' curves to lead the eye through the image and create dramatic curves that make viewers 'oooh' and 'ahhh'
The hardest part is finding a car that doesn't want to stop in the middle of the road and take their own photo, or ask us what we're doing lined up along the road.
The group spends time shooting up the road at the headlights, and down the road at the taillights. We really spread this out…and the class enjoyed themselves so much that time flew by and by this time it was almost 11pm, and we only had one more hour together! It was time to make tracks and head to our last location, The Embarcadero.
The Embarcadero has one of the best and most iconic views of the Bay Bridge. We've found a group of old pier pilings that help provide the perfect foreground for this iconic vista. Brian and Scott help the class to find the best way to capture this image and show them the way White Balance affects the overall images. Many students come up with new ways of seeing this highly photographed vantage points, and on each class we always see ways of seeing the shot that are unique and new. This location is so special we often have a hard time prying people away, and even though the class technically ends at midnight, we're usually just leaving by then to head back…but it's been worth it because the batteries have been drained and the memory cards are full of images that need to be processed.
Until next time...Brian, Scott 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.