Diving into night photography can be a challenging yet rewarding creative endeavor. One's eyes open to a new world of photography only seen with the patience demanded by gathering the light in longer exposures. Aperture Academy's Brian Rueb and Paul Porter spent another joyful evening teaching another fun group of Night Owls students, providing guidance and patient instruction to help students come away with the unique imagery afforded by San Francisco's after-dark light shows and attractions.
Meeting in Sausalito, Brian and Paul rounded up the students in our customary orientation huddle, introducing ourselves, getting familiar with one another, our photographic backgrounds, the cameras we were using and the technical and creative areas we wanted to explore. We also emphasized the importance of taking command of their cameras by using strictly manual settings, prompting some students out of their comfort zone of shooting in automatic or programs modes.
Then after a quick hop across the Golden Gate, we began this lovely clear evening at the dramatic Greco-Roman architectural wonder, the Palace of Fine Arts. Starting at the pond’s edge opposite the Palace, we walked the students through exposure adjustments unique to this setting and began the evening’s adventure. Bathed in the warm glow of amber floodlights, the golden reflections of stately columns flanking the beautifully ornate central rotunda, everyone started to explore unique compositions of the Palace. As the shooting progressed we continued to review the settings required for the long exposures emphasizing those sumptuous golden reflections, while also tuning their white balance to draw attention to the gorgeous midnight blues of the night sky. With so many photo opportunities, we led our eager students around the pond, to start centering their attention on the central pavilion, with its fluted columns terminating high up in the graceful intersecting arches and ornate domed ceiling of the central pavilion. Giving the students a chance to seek out their own artistic vision, Brian and I let the students wander in an around the pavilion, as we checked in with them to assist them with the unique technical challenges of night shooting in varying lighting conditions. For many of the students, this was they’re first exploration of the rewards of night shooting and many were giddy with joy at what they were learning to capture.
With a busy evening agenda, we rounded up the students and chauffeured them to their next destination aboard Aperture Academy's comfy warm 15 passenger van. The crazy twists and turns of San Francisco's Lombard St were next on the program. Its eight sharp turns gracefully snaking down this steep hill, its affectionately nicknamed the crookedest street in the world. Getting the shooting adventure started, we split the class into two groups; Paul working with those capturing the streaking tail lights of cars heading downhill and Brain guiding the other half grabbing long exposures of headlights twisting the switchbacks on their way down. Halfway through the shoot, the groups switched so everyone could experience shooting from both angles. The long exposures of the cars light’s snaking their way is graceful s-curves provide exciting foregrounds for the beautiful lightscape of San Francisco, with Coit Tower and the Bay Bridge beyond. As the night progressed, our students were becoming aware of the advantages of taking control of their camera’s in manual, giving them maximal exposure control and limitless creative possibilities.
Excited with their captures and the expanding possibilities of capturing the city lights at night, we piled back in the van for our next destination, as Paul navigated to the famed waterfront Embracadero to shoot the north side the western span of the Bay Bridge. Having just returned that same day to its traditional lighting, after 2 year long display of Leo Villareal’s superlative light sculpture, the bridge presents such a unique composition with its 4 silver towers and the sweeping curves of it suspension cables, stretching across the bay to Yerba Buena Island. After capturing our traditional goofy group shot, Brian and Paul guided the students to a row of old concrete pilings just offshore providing a wonderfully contrasting foreground element. The receding rows of the pilings, provide a unique contrast to the long legs of luminous reflections from the bridge and the distant Port of Oakland, smoothing to luminous silky white and yellow in our long exposures.
Carved into the southern flanks of the Marin Headlands, Conzelman Road winds its way up through steep ridges and gullies to the 920 ft Hawk Hill, continually presenting wider and wider vistas of San Francisco, the iconic Golden Gate Bridge and the East Bay beyond. So it was fitting that we end the evening’s shooting along this classic road, where students captured the brightly lit “International orange” bridge reaching across the Golden Gate to the shining city of San Francisco. Emphasizing longer exposures, students were excited to capture such a beautiful and luminous scene, some of sweeping wide-angle vistas and others shooting more intimate compositions of just the North Tower flooded in light. Capping another rewarding Night Owls class, we headed back down the hill to Sausalito as Brian and Paul bid goodnight to an absolutely wonderful group of students.
Until Next Time,
Brian, 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.)