Night shooting is amazing. I think frame for frame it is some of the most interesting, and most impressive shooting you can do. With night shooting you’re not waiting for the right light to get color in the sky, and hoping for the waves to be the right height, and the tide to be out to the right distance. Don’t get me wrong, that is all part of the fun of outdoor photography…but night happens EVERY day, which means every night is an opportunity to get some really great shots. The only issue is that for many people…they don’t know how to do it. That’s where Phil and I come in.
Phil and I met a group of eager photographers in Sausalito for a night of fun and photography in San Francisco…one of the premiere cities for coming away with stunning night work. We went over some information in our orientation on settings so that when we arrived on scene we could get working. Our first stop of the night was the Golden Gate Bridge. Unfortunately, the role of the Golden Gate Bridge was being played by a giant wall of FOG…so we were unable to get a vantage point worth shooting from any of the numerous points in the Marin Headlands. We opted to head to the Palace of Fine Arts and make another attempt at the bridge on our way back.
The Palace is never obscured by fog, and always waits to be photographed. We arrived, and after a minor parking hassle we were on our way to the lovely pond outside of the palace, and ready to shoot. Phil and I went over the settings again, and got the group ready to begin making images. We cover Aperture, Shutter Speed, and ISO and White Balance, and how each of those will effect the shots we are making. The time we shoot is also called blue hour…the sun has set, and the sky is a very nice shade of blue. This mix of blue and orange makes for a really aesthetically pleasing image. During this point of the night the dynamic range between shadow and highlight is not as intense and students are able to capture most of it in a single frame. The darker the sky gets, the harder it becomes to capture the whole range of light in 1-frame…but the opportunity then exists to cover bracketing and go into more detail on shutter speed length.
Our next stop of the night is Lombard Street. This twisty road is the perfect stop for getting moving car lights. We shoot taillights and headlights. The group is divided into smaller sections and Phil and I work with them on the different techniques we use to capture these types of images. Headlights are a bit trickier as they are so bright, and will over expose almost instantly. Here we reassure everyone that in some cases it is OK to over expose parts of an image, and the knowing and accepting of this can lead to the ability to make better overall images. As with the first stop, we’re shooting higher apertures (for depth of field) and longer shutter speeds to capture the movement of lights down the street. Of course no trip to Lombard Street is complete without a visit from Sammy the dog, who has been paying our group a visit now for 5 years in a row.
After Lombard Street we make a brief stop for a warm drink or snack before heading out to the Embarcadero to photograph the wonderful Bay Bridge. The fog had made its way in parts to this part of the bay too, and actually created some lovely patterns in the sky…which accented the shots of the bridge quite well. I saw some really tremendous work on the screens, and Phil went over how to simplify the scene with a few of the students who got some really nice vertical shots. For this stop, we really are just finalizing the settings we’ve been using the entire night; Higher Apertures for depth of field, and star effects on lights. Longer exposures to blur out the water, and give proper exposure, Lower ISO to keep quality higher, and then cooler white balances to even out the harsh warm artificial light…by this point it seems everyone had that pretty well ingrained.
With few exceptions night shooting no matter where in a city you go has very similar settings, and knowing that, and SEEING that in action can help give people the confidence to go practice it…and have a place to start from. Once you have a starting point, it’s easy to make some minor tweaks to an exposure to really dial it in perfectly.
Everyone was great on the class, and Phil and I had a lot of fun getting to know people and see them create some really nice shots.
Until Next Time,
Brian, Phil, 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. (More photos below the comments.)