San Francisco & Marin Headlands Photography Workshop | September 19th, 2009

San Francisco/Marin Headlands Photography Workshop - September 19th, 2009

While most of the Bay Area awoke to a glorious sunny morning, part of San Francisco, specifically the part where we were having our workshop, hung under a pocket of chowder-thick fog. Such is this time of year in the city by the bay.

When you take a workshop with Stephen Oachs and Brian Rueb, you need not worry about weather. They have been worrying about weather all week, and have prepared a back-up plan (or two), just in case.

Our group met Saturday afternoon at the normal location. Conditions were like the previous workshop, and fog was an issue. So, we proceeded with the backup plan and left immediately for Fort Point, which is located under the beautiful (if only partially visible) Golden Gate Bridge.

The fort is an awesome place to shoot in any weather, but especially when foggy. There is just something about an old brick building and fog. The whole place takes on a more isolated and eerie feel.

Once inside the fort, we broke up into three groups, to allow for better individualized instruction and less crowding within the more cramped shooting locations. One group went with Stephen, one with me (Brian), and one with fellow Aperture Academy instructor Scott Davis, who was along for the day to help.

Fort Point is a spectacular spot for all kinds of photography. Whether shooting the old arched brick walkways that line the south side of the fort, or the interior hallways with their numerous doorways and optical illusion feel, the fort interiors provide numerous compositional and lighting situations for students to practice. The top of the fort (if you're not blown out to sea by the raging wind) gives a great angle on the bridge, and a very good opportunity for grabbing some moody images of the towers receding into the fog.

The lower portion of the building has numerous relics from the days when the fort was a manned part of our national defense. Old ropes, hooks, cannons, and other pieces of history line the alcoves and provide even more subject matter for photography. We only spent two hours in the fort...but one could spend an entire afternoon there and not run out of things to photograph.

After the fort, it was off to the Palace of Fine Arts for more work with composition and architecture. It was also where we took the most dangerous group photo of any of our workshops to date. (See group photo above.) Looking at the photo, what you see is a happy group of photographers lined up a wall. What you do not see is that each of the steps that a photographer is standing on is covered by a board of questionable stability, which precariously lies over a void of unknown depth.

Thankfully, this time we did not lose anyone into the wall. However, we will be one-upping this class group shot when at Glacier Point, in our Fall Yosemite bring a climbing harness! (Just kidding?)

We could not stay long at the Palace of Fine Arts; the day was full of things to photograph, and the sun sets earlier this time of year. We made a brief stop in Sausalito to warm up, grab food or beverage, and allowed the group a brief rest before setting off to Rodeo Beach.

It needs to be stated that after all the previous workshops where I have been given unnecessary grief from Stephen for either being last to show up for the coffee break, or missing the break entirely...he was FIRST this time...and by a considerable margin. He was also first to Rodeo Beach.

When the fog settles in the bay, it can be a long time before it decides to leave. When this happens during the Rodeo Beach portion of our workshop, we shrug our shoulders a bit and set our sights on learning some different techniques, such as ways for exposing moving water, and creating moody monochrome images. The goal of every workshop at Aperture Academy is for students to learn. Learning is the main focus...followed closely by having fun. While it is nice to get great images, we look at them as a bonus. If you learn something, and have a good time doing it...that makes us happy. (And we usually get great shots as well!)

However, for this workshop, a funny thing happened on the way to Rodeo Beach.... The sun came out. The fog left. We had a pretty darn nice sunset.

It's always fun to shoot when the weather changes for the better, and our class made the most of every second of light. The instructors were all really pleased with the images and creative compositions from the group. GOOD STUFF!!

The fact that the fog had abandoned the headlands at Rodeo Beach got us hoping it had also released its death grip on the Golden Gate, and we would be able to finish our workshop as we do normally--overlooking the bay with the Golden Gate Bridge lighting up the night sky. When we drove over the hill and saw the bridge lighting up the horizon, it made everyone happy. The fog was gone.

Conditions dictated that cameras be set to "bulb" mode, and we worked on long exposures with a higher f-stop to create a star effect on the street lights. This spot is always a winner, which is why we try to conclude this workshop here if possible. Hearing the ooohs and ahhhhs as students begin to see the images appear on their cameras is always worth it!

Nobody likes to leave this spot. Even without the camera, the view goes down smooth every time. However, we had put the class through a long day and by this time most of their batteries were nearly dead, so it was a perfect place to call it a night. From the bridge, it is a short drive back to the cars, and twelve happy photographers headed off into the night...memory cards full of new images.

Until next time,

Brian & Stephen, 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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