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Every photographic journey has a beginning. For many that beginning is the Aperture Academy Marin Headlands workshop. This is our most popular course, and it's a great way for a group of eager photographers to spend a day in the city having fun and learning more about photography. A group of 10 eager photographers assembled on a foggy, bitterly cold Baker Beach to meet instructors Brian Rueb and Scott Donschikowski for just such a day.
The class begins with orientation. This is an opportunity for the class to get to know one another, as well as give our instructors a chance to learn more about the students and their needs for the day. It's always our aim to provide students with instruction that meets them where they are in their photographic journey. Many are beginners, this class is the chance for them to put their cameras on manual and learn how it really works, and to practice under the guidance of the instructors…with the goal being a better understanding of the gear and how it works. Other students are more experienced, and for them they want to focus on the use of filters to help balance the light of a scene as well as how to improve their compositions.
Normally we spend the first portion of our day out on Baker Beach, learning some of the basics and familiarizing our instructors with the different cameras the students have. Due to a thick fog that covered the entire bridge that option wasn't a good one. It was off to Fort Point to spend the first portion of our day.
While Fort Point wasn't any warmer than Baker Beach it was visible, and ready to be explored by our eager group of photographers. Those newer to photograph went with Brian to work on F-stops and shutter speeds, and some of the basics of working in manual mode. Scott took those wanting to work more on composition and approaching the scene.
The fort has so many unique options. Long hallways full of symmetrical doorways, time-rusted brick archways, old canons, and rooms full of old powder barrels, this place has it all. The hall of doorways is a perfect place to work on composition and placement of highly symmetrical shapes as well as using vertical and horizontal compositions to capture the best of a scene. For the beginners it's a place to begin conquering the mystery of shutter speed vs. aperture and how they relate.
The brick archways are also perfect for working on composition. It is also perfect for dealing with tricky lighting. The right side of the corridor is shaded by the roof, while natural light streams in from the left side that faces the courtyard. This creates a tricky situation that is easily remedied by using a graduated neutral density filter. Many folks don't think about using filters INSIDE of a fort so this is a great way to show off the diversity of the filters and what makes them so essential to photography. Students are shown how to use the symmetry to best create a balanced scene as well as how to skew it so it looks intentionally off balance, and creates some different, but equally dynamic compositions. We encourage students to get as creative as they can in this location and we always see some new and interesting takes on this scene.
The Powder room is a dark and compact area of repetitive shapes. It's perfect for working on the other end of the aperture spectrum. While in the hallways we use a higher f-stop to ensure a greater depth of field in the powder room we use those lower f-stops and really work on selective focus to bring out certain areas of a composition and place emphasis on them. It's fun to see the students laying down or really getting up close and personal with the subjects.
The first 2 hours are jam packed with instruction from the teachers, but the final hour the students are let loose to find their own special compositions inside the fort. The Instructors wander the premise and help the students with any issues they may have as well as lend an eye to help composition questions. It's great to see how the students see the fort and what new and exciting compositions they come away with. Nobody ever wants to leave Fort Point. Many locals never even know it's there and this class is their first exposure (pun intended) to this location.
When the class is finally wrangled up we're able to head to Sausalito for a warm cup of coffee and lunch. The class is always fun at lunch as we're able to really sit and get into some questions regarding stories from the road, or philosophy of photography, or even just questions about the business side of things. Just because the cameras aren't out, doesn't mean the learning has to end!
From the café to the beach…the next stop is the moody Rodeo beach. Under sunny skies the beach is a warm inviting often stunning array of colors and clouds. Under a foggy San Francisco spring it becomes a moody brooding location to work on monochromatic images that show the power and contrast of an amazing seascape. Weather is great when it's perfect, but it doesn't need to damper the creativity and prevent you from shooting. The class was really able to spread out and work on compositions. We used the rocks and the sea stacks to create balanced and interesting compositions that used the lines created by receding waves to tie everything together. Even though the sky was grey and moody we were still able to use the graduated filters to balance it out and shed more even light on the sensor and create a better overall exposure. Polarizing filters were also taught in this location to cut glare from the sky as well as give contrast between the dark water and white foam.
It's a fun spot to photograph as waves crash and splash all around you really have to keep on your toes! The class spent almost an hour here climbing rocks, laying in the sand and finding that one of a kind unique take on the subject.
The final spot for the day was the Golden Gate Bridge. The fog had come in hard and heavy and the road construction tried to steer us clear as well, but our group of eager photographers would not be denied the opportunity to see the location. Despite a cold breeze and damp environment the class was still game to try a crack at shooting the bridge. What a gang! We hiked up to the overlook and the bridge was shrouded in a thick fog leaving only traces of the first tower visible as the wind powered the thick curtain of fog into the city. The class set up, and the instructors worked with them on composition and the setting necessary to capture this scene. Even though the bridge wasn't highly visible the shots were stunning. The fog created a nice soft light that really almost looked like a pastel painting in most images. The high winds blew and blurred the green grass of the foreground further adding to the mystical painterly feel. A few students commented that their shots of the Golden Gate were some of their favorites of the day.
It was cold and getting late so time to head back to the city. On the way back the students remarked at how quickly the day had gone…and many were talking about how excited they were for the next time they could get out with the camera…even a gray day can be a great way to learn, and have fun.
Until next time...Brian, Scott 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.