What’s better than our Aperture Academy Marin Headlands workshop? THE EXTENDED REMIX VERSION! 13 photographers joined fellow instructor Matt Granz and myself for the longest Marin Class IN HISTORY!!!
The class normally runs 7 hours, but due to a previous rain-out, and because we forgot about the time change we scheduled everyone for what would ultimately be a 10 hour tour! As luck would have it, the fickle SF fog was also going to play a big part of our day as well. This was not to be a typical tour in any way, shape, or form.
We normally begin our courses walking out on Baker Beach to start shooting the Golden Gate Bridge…but due to the fog, there was no bridge to see, or photograph. Part of photographing landscapes is ‘punting’ when conditions aren’t favorable in one area and moving to plan B. IN this case our Plan B was to move up the Marin Headlands to Hawk Hill to get a higher vantage point of our scene…. the fog was thick, but it was a low blanket that left the tops of the bridge towers poking out. This viewpoint is only visible from the very high vantage point that Hawk Hill provides.
Once on scene Matt and I worked with the class on the settings, Aperture, Shutter Speed, and ISO to get the best possible shots. Once the class was up to speed on shooting, and the settings we began to cover topics like reading a histogram to check exposure, and different ways to compose the image both in wide angle and closer zoom.
It was really cool to see this scene, as it is not often that the fog is this low, and sticks around for the afternoon crowd! Not being one to pass up a good thing, we left the Hawk Hill vantage point and drove down to Fort Baker, and a great waterside vantage of the bridge from the east side. This eastern vantage point allows us to still see some of the bridge, as the fog ebbs and flows in and around the towers before dissipating in the warmer bay air.
Matt and I begin to really get more into composition here and how to approach a scene. Composition is a tough concept to teach, and it is fun to see people begin to realize that it’s important to start with composition first before moving into the settings. Once you have your vision, then you can begin to think of the technical aspects needed to put it on the camera.
After our fog-fest around the bridge it was back to our regularly scheduled program…and off to Fort Point on the south side of the bridge. Once here we break the group up into 2 smaller factions and Matt and I take these groups to a few of our favorite teaching spots within the fort. Each of these spots allows us to cover not only technical issues like aperture, shutter speed, ISO, and white balance but also compositional elements.
We talk a lot about symmetry here how to shoot it, and how to skew it so it looks intentionally composed. We cover shallow depth of field, repetitive shapes, and how to place them all together. I really saw some nice different compositions on the cameras here. Once we cover the locations we’ve selected for the class…we turn them loose to go find their own spots. The fort is huge so there are always a lot of little nooks and cubbies to explore. Many people braved the stinging cold wind that is as much a part of Fort Point as the bricks to get some great shots of the bridge from the roof.
I worked with a couple people in the front of the fort to shoot the surfers who were taking full advantage of a high sea advisory for the day. This requires not only discussion about composition, but also changes in settings for fastest shutter speeds…and switching our shooting drive to incorporate a AI Servo so we can track the subjects while they surf. A few people got some really nice action shots of these brave souls.
We soon put Fort Point in our rearview mirror and made our second trip across the Golden Gate for a nice lunch/dinner break before heading out to Rodeo Beach to dodge waves and shoot sunset.
With the high wave advisory in effect, we were nervous about shooting the beach from our typical spot…but were relieved to see that the waves, while MASSIVE off shore, were not impeding our ability to get to our normal shooting area in front of a set of three really iconic sea stacks.
The surf was angry this day, but fortunately the biggest waves seemed to be rolling like mountains a mile offshore driven by a strong wind. Everyone was glad we were on solid ground and not on a boat.
Our first order of business was to go over the basic settings we would need to shoot sunset, and the movement of waves. The sun was still hanging in the sky sour ability to get longer exposures at this point was very limited without a solid ND filter. What we could do though is plan our composition, talk about settings, and prepare for the time when the sun has set and we are able to capture longer movement in the waves. We discussed the use of graduated neutral density filters to help hold back the exposure of the brighter sky, and even out the exposure on the black sand.
The goal here is higher aperture (f18-20) for depth of field, and longer shutter speeds. We keep the ISO low to allow even longer exposures…and then wait for sunset where we can finally start to shoot 1-3” exposures. When the sun has fully set the class was getting exposures as long as 10-15” which turned out great. I think everyone also started to see the importance of using those grad filters to really help balance the exposures.
With the sun finally gone, we decided to take advantage of the fact nobody had been wiped out by a wave, and hurry back to the van for a last stop in the headlands to shoot the bridge with the lights on.
Funny how much difference a few hours’ makes with weather in this part of San Francisco. The fog wave from earlier in the day was gone, and the city sparkled with a renewed clarity. We line the group up along a look out point and go over the basic settings needed for shooting night photography. Everyone got some great shots of the bridge at night, and we were able to reiterate a lot of what we talked about earlier in the day, white balance, composition, etc. It was a perfect way to end what was the longest Marin workshop EVER!
Thanks so much to a great group of hearty photographers who endured a VERY long, and awesome day in the city. Until next time, Brian, Jean, and the rest of the Aperture Academy Team
Until Next Time,
Brian, Matt 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.
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