From Baker Beach to the Embarcadero, our Night Owls workshop is all about photographing the city lights at night. With so many different types of photography to learn, this is one of Aperture Academy's most popular classes. So on this cold and foggy Bay Area summer evening, instructors Jean Day and Paul Porter greeted 13 eager photographers ready to learn the skills necessary to bring out the magic of San Francisco at night. We met at Baker Beach and took some time to introduce ourselves and learn of our student's skill levels, what type of camera gear they brought with them, and any particular needs they wanted to work on through the evening.
The heavy, wet fog consumed the Golden Gate Bridge so our first attempt at night lights was a no show, but that did not deter our instructors who decided to take advantage of the conditions, and location at hand. On the bluffs at Battery Godfrey we began our workshop with a twist on learning to "see" in black and white by photographing the backlit cypress trees in the mist. The students had a chance to warm up their trigger fingers finding a nice balance in their compositions whether they chose to show the trees silhouetted against the bright fog, or bringing out the textures with a more high key look. An exercise in high contrast creativity netted our students with some very unique images and for many, a new way to take their photography to the next level.
As the foggy daylight dimmed it was time to get back in the van and travel over to the Palace of Fine Arts and take advantage of the beautiful golden light of this architectural landmark. With the students lined up along the lagoon, Jean and Paul moved about helping with their compositions, shutter speed, depth of field, and the importance of stabilizing tripods for longer exposures. Amazingly, the fog began to clear right at blue hour, the time between sunset and the dark night sky, giving our group the most wonderful conditions of the azure blue sky with the clearing fog and accents of the first stars. Students were instructed on using a smaller aperture to create the sparkling effect of the lights on the building as well as lowering white balance to bring out the contrasting colors of the golden Palace against the deep blue sky. We then moved our team of Night Owls to the rotunda so students could explore the many architectural features found beneath the dome. While our students photographed the high arches, patterned ceilings, and filagreed columns, the local Friday night group of skaters arrived with their colorful LED lights and boom box playing. Our photographers had the opportunity to get their first chance at capturing streaking lights in their images as the skaters continually made passes around the rotunda and our group in boisterous fashion.
Back on our way through the streets of the city, we made a brief snack/restroom break before heading over to the famous Lombard Street for some fun shots of car lights winding their way down this very curvy drive. Paul and Jean divided the group to give everyone the opportunity to shoot from two locations achIeving very different images from both headlights and tail lights. Beginning with 30 second exposures, our students were instructed on capturing some wonderful streams of light trailing from the cars as they passed through their frames. Adjustments for smaller apertures were made to help tame exposures and create sharper star points from the street lamps. The upper vantage point includes the skyline of San Francisco including Coit Tower, the Bay Bridge, and Embarcadero Center while the lower vantage point accents the brick-lined street as foreground with the apartment buildings and sky above. It was a fairly busy night on Lombard with practically no let up in traffic which gave our group lots of opportunity for these longer exposures and capture images with their cameras which are not seen by the naked eye.
Our students really enjoyed this type of photography and achieved some excellent shots, but it was time for our group to get to our last stop of the night at the Embarcadero for some iconic images of the Bay Bridge and old pier pilings in the foreground. It was high tide on this evening with the pilings just barely peaking above the sea, but Paul and Jean went to work helping our students with 30 second and multiple minute exposures which could capture the streams of moving LED lights from the bridge and reflected colors of other lights on the water. Our instructors worked with students once again on changing the look and feel of a scene by changing white balance and ensuring sharp images with the use of a shutter release cable or remote. Students experimented with wide angle and longer focal length shots as each was finding his or her own personal creativity. More wonderful and ethereal images with the bridge lights reflecting off the glossy San Francisco Bay were achieved and everyone finished the night with unique shots and some new skills for the world of night photography. With memory cards filled and tired but happy, we returned our group of Night Owls back to their cars to say our farewells sometime after midnight.
Until Next Time,
Jean, Paul 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.)