We love all our workshops, whether they are big groups or small. Saturday's Marin Headlands workshop was a smaller, but no less enthusiastic, bunch of photographers who met Instructors Stephen Oachs and Brian Rueb on Baker Beach on what was looking to be an overcast day.
We get asked about weather all the time on our workshops, and it's a great question. What do you do if the weather is bad, and you want to get photographs? Well, if you're in the minority who can travel and wait for the perfect conditions to come, then you wait. If you're in with the rest of us, you can't wait out the weather...you might have an assignment for school or work that needs to be photographed in inclement weather. You may have a vacation where the weather never improves, and you want to come away with some nice images of the location.
This is what we focus on during days when the weather is less than ideal. However, in San Francisco, the weather can change from hour to hour. What begins the day in the city is not always indicative of what the weather will be when the day ends. Such was the case on this day.
At our first spot, Baker Beach, we got to know the new participants and reacquaint with those from previous workshops. We were able to work with students one on one to help them understand their equipment, and also figure out what it is they would like to work on during the day.
Our beginning students tend to want to focus on using their camera in manual mode, and the relationship between shutter and aperture...or how ISO and White Balance affect an image. Many of these students are unfamiliar with shooting in RAW mode vs. shooting in JPEG, so this is a good place for us to explain to them a bit more on how things work with their cameras, and help them to feel more comfortable with their equipment.
Our intermediate and advanced students tend to want to focus on the use of filters to balance a scene, and how to improve upon composition. They're also curious how the instructors approach scenes, and set up their shots. Many of these students love the opportunity to bounce off ideas and questions with professionals who work in the field on a regular basis.
During days of overcast skies, we love Fort Point, our second stop. There's something about that place that takes on a whole different vibe when the skies are dark and dreary. Light becomes less harsh, and the bricks seem to radiate with more vibrancy. It's fun to photograph in any weather, but we believe it is truly remarkable when the skies are gray.
Stephen and Brian showed the class a few of their favorite locations to help them work on composition, and how to effectively use it when faced with highly symmetrical scenes. We usually spend over an hour in these locations, making sure everyone has a good grasp on the different topics taught. Then, once we feel like they've gotten their feet wet (no pun intended), we turn them loose to explore the fort on their own.
During this period, students are free to use what they've learned from earlier in the day, and also figure out what it is they might want to work more on during the remainder of the class. The fort is full of little nooks and crannies they can explore, and many students come away from this portion of the day with a variety of unique and amazing images.
The next stop, after a lunch break in Sausalito, is Rodeo Beach in the Marin Headlands. The beach is one of our favorite locations in the whole city. We take out classes to a little nook of the beach that overlooks some of the most picturesque sea stacks in the area. Winter storms have brought down a lot of new rocks from the hillside, so the area is fresh with many new opportunities for creative composition.
The tide was in a bit, so we also got to partake of what is quickly becoming an Aperture Academy adventure in and of itself. The Rodeo Hustle.
To get to our spot, when the waves are not too dangerous, we run along the cliffs and avoid the incoming tide. If the waves are too big, one has to scale the rocks to avoid being soaked. During major storms and tides, this dash is not possible, due to danger, but on days like this...it's a good way to get the blood going a bit, and have some fun.
Once we were all safely at our location, it was time to set up and get images. With the darker, moody sky, we encouraged students to think about more monochromatic compositions. We spent time working on longer exposures that streaked the waves as they pulled out back to sea. We also worked the other end of the exposure spectrum, and photographed waves at a higher shutter speed so we could capture them in action as they crashed into the rocks.
This is also the best location for learning how GND and Polarizing filters can be used to really help out a composition in terms of evening exposure. With this much to learn, and the sheer beauty of the location, it's not hard to see why this place is one of the favorites of the day. But we definitely saved the best for last.
Our last stop was photographing the Golden Gate Bridge from high on the Marin cliffs. We lined our class up along the ledge and then worked with them on the right shutter and aperture necessary to get that dynamite image of the bridge glowing majestically in the night sky; to capture the gateway to the city and the most popular icon in San Francisco.
This night was a challenge in that we had winds in the 30mph range whipping us as we tried to shoot. Students learned firsthand the importance of a good tripod, and also how to change your camera settings so you can still get good exposures even when your tripod isn't the most stable thing on the mountain.
When each student had either gotten an image they were proud of, or were just too cold to continue, we packed them up and headed back to our meeting point, so everyone could return to their cars and head home...all eager to see their images, I'm sure.
Until next time,
Stephen, Brian 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.