All it takes is one nice day in San Francisco after a spell of rain for everyone to rush out to enjoy the lovely weather. It was fitting then that the April 24th class was our biggest of the year. Twenty students met instructors Stephen Oachs, Brian Rueb, Scott Donschikowski and ApCad intern Rachel at Baker Beach for a day of gorgeous weather and photography.
Despite the heavy traffic throughout the whole Bay Area, everyone arrived nearly on time and we were able to start right on schedule. We began with an orientation, to introduce ourselves to the class and get to know a bit about everyone before we took them on to Baker Beach for photography.
Everyone was out in force on this sunny day, which meant, for the first time really all year, we had an abundance of naked folks gathered on the beach. For those of you who don't know, Baker Beach is one of San Francisco's only nude beaches, and on sunny, warm days it certainly lives up to the reputation. In four years of doing these classes, we've never had anyone complain about it...we take it with a grain of salt, and chock it up to experience.
Baker Beach is a good spot to work on composition, as well as familiarizing ourselves with the types of equipment the students bring with them. We're also able to get in some work with polarizing filters, and helping some of the more beginner students with learning to use their cameras on manual mode. There are a lot of comments from instructors like, "If you exclude the naked guy, this composition is strong." Or, "We're going to wait for those naked dudes to pass through our frame, and then go ahead and take the shot."
The second stop for the day was Fort Point, an old World War II fortress located under the towering Golden Gate Bridge. It seems regularly over half our classes have lived in the Bay Area for many years and never set foot inside this piece of history.
With a group this size, it made sense to break up into three smaller groups so we could move through some of the fort's more confined locations, and make sure everyone had a chance to get the shots. Fort Point has practically an unlimited well of good compositions to draw from, which is why we only focus on 2-3 with the groups before turning them loose to find some of their own. While the instructors are with the groups, we focus a lot on longer exposure settings, white balance indoors, and composing images in locations with high symmetry. The fort's hallways and paths contain many areas with arches and doorways that display very symmetrical lines. Learning how to incorporate them into a balanced and aesthetic composition is a valuable skill.
After the fort, we took a break in Sausalito to let everyone get a bite to eat, or something warm to drink. It's also become a nice spot for the group to build camaraderie and swap stories from the field.
Sunset saw the group making their way to Rodeo Beach, to a nice little secluded spot full of rocks and sea stacks. Hauling twenty people out there was easy...it was getting them back after the tide came in that proved to be a bit challenging. While we were there, we helped the class find good balanced compositions, and then when the sun was still higher in the sky, the class worked on using faster shutter speeds to capture the rather large waves in action as they smashed into the shoreline rocks. When the sun was nearing the horizon, it was time to set up our favorite compositions and work with some Graduated Neutral Density (GND) filters to balance exposures. By far some of the biggest photographic revelations the classes have during our day is that A) filter use makes a HUGE difference in landscape photography, and B) GOOD tripods are a big help.
The hike back to the vehicle was much more difficult...the tide was coming in and on several occasions members of the group had to scramble to avoid getting wet feet. While we didn't lose anybody on the return trip, many took a good soaking to their legs and shoes.
It's all part of getting the shot though. We love to see the students getting into their work!
We always save the best for last. Shooting the city and lights on the Golden Gate Bridge from the top of the Marin Headlands is always a favorite for a majority of the class. Many students are familiar with the shots from this vantage point, but never knew where it was, or how to get the types of images they'd seen from there. We spread our class out over the cliffside and worked with them on how to properly set their cameras for night exposures. Once everyone had gotten a good idea on how their cameras should be set, we encouraged them to try some vertical compositions and selectively place parts of the bridge in the frame using a larger telephoto lens. It's always fun to see the different images students come away with from this point, in addition to the typical ones. It's such a great way to end a full day of learning and fun!
Despite the fact the class has been photographing for eight straight hours, it always seems on the ride back to their cars the class wants MORE stops...good thing we offer other classes!
Until next time,
Stephen, Brian, Scott, Rachael 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.