It was an incredibly beautiful Saturday afternoon in San Francisco where instructors, Ellie Stone and Jean Day met at Baker Beach eager to welcome their group of 13 students for a day of photographic fun and exploration. Sunshine and mild temps in the low to mid 70s ushered in a glorious Spring day for the often chilly and fog-bound Bay Area. Did we mention how glorious and warm the day turned out to be? Did we mention that everyone and his brother along with a second cousin twice removed also wanted to enjoy the beach on this lovely day?
After circling all of the parking lots a few times and even scouting local neighborhoods for possible space, the decision was made for a Plan B meet up at the Palace of Fine Arts. Calls were made to the students who were also circling the area like vultures trying to find someone, anyone to relinquish their golden parking space. Other beaches would be visited, so THIS beach would have to wait for another day, besides…it's San Francisco and photographic opportunities are everywhere! Did we mention that everyone and his uncle wanted to enjoy the city on this lovely day?
No available parking anywhere near the Palace of Fine Arts that even the tour buses maneuvered illegally through the streets. Ah, the sounds of the city with a cacophony of car horns and raised voices in harmony like a heavy metal band playing at the Filmore! Thoughts of their students asking, "Shouldn't we be taking pictures and learning how to use these polarizing and neutral density filters?" crept into Ellie and Jean's minds as the group managed to gather in one place, temporarily at least. Save for one dear student who had been dropped off at the original meeting place, but for whom Jean managed to rescue in a quick turn-around and carpool back to the group. In spite of the crowds and traffic woes, everyone was intent on making this day work and enjoying the art of photography!
After counting heads, Plan C was implemented with the group caravaning over to the Marin Headlands to begin the workshop at the Point Bonita Lighthouse. OK, so there were crowds here as well, but still room for parking and breathing in the cool coastal air. An hour past start time, but thankful to be out of their vehicles and have cameras in their hands, Ellie began a quick introduction all around, welcoming back returning students, and getting to know new students, their skill levels, gear of choice, and what each of them was hoping to learn or improve upon at this workshop.
The lighthouse, set above a gorgeous blue sea with white surf crashing upon the cliffs gave students the opportunity to work on using those polarizers to reduce glare from the water while deepening the color of the sky and bringing out the rich green grass on the hills. Learning to control shutter speed to capture breaking waves while maintaining a greater depth of field along an extending coastline was emphasized. The character of the old lighthouse itself provided opportunities to work on abstract and detail images of rusting metal, smooth glass, and textured brickwork. As the lighthouse closed for the day, Ellie threw open the big door to the ApCad Van where students climbed in to roomy seats and air-conditioned comfort as they were chauffeured on to the next stop at Fort Baker.
Here the gang had a chance to photograph the city skyline and Golden Gate Bridge, while capturing wind surfers and California Sea Lions. Students learned the importance of using a tripod, even on bright sunny days, for achieving the greatest depth of field without increasing ISO to the point of sacrificing pixel quality. The use of neutral density filters and longer exposures to create a dreamy appearance on the surface of the ocean, as well as learning to use concentrated depth of field to isolate a subject while rendering a background soft but recognizable, was also put into practice. Time for a quick, but welcome snack break, the crew filed back into the van for a stop at Starbucks in Sausalito where coffee drinks were courtesy (the Aperture Academy/Ellie?) as a thank you to our student's for making it through a grueling and confusing start of a very busy day.
Feeling fortified, the next stop was at Rodeo Beach in the late afternoon light where students learned to capture sun stars off the edge of a sea stack. As the sky was clear and bright, learning to think in terms of black and white images and creating silhouettes gave the students additional practice for making the best of the conditions at hand. The tide was high and with the use of longer shutter speeds, everyone had the chance of capturing smooth trails of water receding off and around the shoreline rocks. Graduated neutral density filters were put in place to bring into closer balance the brighter blue sky with darker greens and orange foregrounds of the coastal cliff sides.
As the sun began to set at the end of this amazingly clear day, it was time to get over the hill and photograph the famous Golden Gate Bridge at blue hour. Wide angle lenses were used to capture the span of the bridge with San Francisco city lights in the background. As the scene grew darker, filters were put away and shutter release cords or remotes and mirror lock up were used for the long exposures needed in such low light conditions. Students worked their new skills into the darkness of night until reflections of the bridge lights could be seen in the water below.
Ellie and Jean, along with the entire Aperture Academy staff gratefully acknowledge the efforts put forth by the students attending this workshop and thank you sincerely for your patience, good natured spirits, and flexibility! We hope you enjoyed your time with us and that you all came away with new skills to put into practice taking you to the next level of your photographic journeys.
On behalf of Ellie, Jean and the entire Aperture team, we wish to thank everyone for braving the weather and spending a fun day of photography with us. Until next time....
If you'd like to join us at one of our workshops, you can find the schedule/sign up here.