The San Francisco Bay Area boasts some of the best weather around, but it is also made up of some crazy micro-climates. You can wake up to a bright sunny day in San Jose, travel just a few miles to Santa Cruz, and end up in thick, damp fog. As a photographer, it is important to understand how these differences can impact your images and how to use them to your benefit.
This is exactly what happened to me on a recent Saturday morning as I headed out to teach another fantastic Aperture Academy workshop. Today I was going to the amazingly beautiful UC Santa Cruz Arboretum, on the campus of the University of California, Santa Cruz. When I left San Jose, it was bright and sunny, challenging conditions for most photographers. But when I arrived in Santa Cruz, I was met with very thick, damp fog. Instead of being disappointed, I was elated. I knew this would offer great conditions for my students and some nice teaching points to work with.
On its own, the Arboretum is a fantastic place for photography. The arboretum is a 135-acre research and teaching facility maintaining over 300 plant families, some of which are rare and threatened, from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and California. This rich diversity offers a unique opportunity for study, research, and of course, photography. Hundreds of species providing an almost infinite palette of colors, textures, and patterns, which is why they are a perfect subject matter. But on this particular Saturday morning, the plants and the grounds were covered in thick condensation courtesy of the fog. It clung to the leaves and flowers, and even highlighted a few well-hidden spider webs. This offered an extra layer of beauty and mystery that we don’t often see.
As my students arrived, I started to think about all of the great opportunity for learning we would have today. Once everyone arrived, we were ready to get underway. We started with brief introductions to get better acquainted. Then I covered a few of the basic principles of photography that we would be practicing during our workshop. I reviewed the technical aspects of the Exposure Triangle and how Aperture (Depth of Field), Shutter Speed (Motion Blur), and ISO (Noise) work together to create images. Next, I covered some of the more creative aspects of photography and compositional basics like Rule of Thirds, Leading Lines, and awareness of your backgrounds and textures.
I covered some basic setting to get started with. Because of the thick fog, it was a bit dark, so we had to adjust accordingly. Then we were off to explore! The Arboretum landscape constantly changes depending on the season, so it is always different and interesting to find out what's currently in bloom and today was extra special. Everything had a light mist covering it, making it all so much more interesting. We started in the Australian garden with its tall Eucalyptus trees and bottle brush plants, made our way through the New Zealand Garden with its variety of textures and character, down into the South African garden and its alien-like Protea. We continued through the California natives section, and ended up in the Aroma garden and the Succulents with their wide variety of textured and patterned plants.
Throughout the morning, I checked with each of my students to help them fine-tune compositions, explore different camera settings, reinforce some of the concepts we were learning about, and most importantly, make sure everyone was having fun!! I challenged everyone to really look at the subject matter, try to see the different angles, move positions to create more interesting compositions, and appreciate the colors, textures, and the setting as a whole. It was awesome to see everyone getting up close and personal with the plants they saw. No one was afraid of getting a little dirty!!
As our time on the workshop was coming to a close, I answered a few more questions, encouraged everyone to stay and enjoy the day. I walked away knowing that my students had enjoyed our time as much as I did.
The big lesson here today was that we should not be afraid of different weather conditions, each of them offers their own unique opportunity for beautiful photography.
Until next time,
DeAnna 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.