Shooting San Francisco at night is awesome. Heck, shooting anything at night is awesome...the problem is that for many, they don't know how and as fun as it sounds to make photographs at night...the frustration they encounter trying to figure out all of the settings, where to go, etc. can be enough to dissuade people from trying. That's where we come in! The Aperture Academy puts instructors like Alicia and Me with a fun bunch of photography enthusiasts eager to learn some new tricks, and we take them out for a night of fun shooting in the city, and help them with the settings and answering all of those questions in real time to minimize the frustration and maximize the fun and learning!
Thanks to the government shut down we met our group at the Palace of Fine Arts, one of San Francisco's most iconic buildings. IN addition to a great place to hold orientation the Palace of Fine Arts is also our first stop for photography. Once our We walked our class out to the pond in front of the structure where we helped them get the right lens, and then start to work with the settings. We like a higher aperture here to make sure we get strong detail from the reflection all the way back throughout the scene. This time of day is the best for shooting the palace as the blue of the twilight sky mixes perfectly with the orange glow of the lights on the building...SUCH awesome shots!
As the light fades and the sky darkens we have to move our efforts under the dome...the shot becomes very contrasting and in order to open up the possibility for more compositions and better light we move on. Those blue hour shots with the reflection are very hard to beat anyway! The dome is great and the symmetry and shape in this part of the Palace is worth time working on using the lines, repetitive pattern, and warmth of light to make some great images. In this location Alicia and I focus a lot on composition, and then making minor tweaks to the aperture (our depth of field shifts, and we can get by with f11 or f10 where we were at f16 before.
Once we're done at the Palace it's off to Lombard street. One of my personal favorite locations on the workshop. The twists and turns offer a great lesson not only in capturing moving lights, but also ‘S' curves, long exposures, partially blocking exposures DURING the shot to achieve a desired effect, and continued work on aperture and other technical issues like white balance.
Alicia shoots with half the group looking down, and I take the other part and we shoot UP...each offers different a different look and feel, plus different methods in capturing the image. Alicia works with 30-second exposures, while my group uses longer 90 second exposures or more! My group also gets to meet the neighborhood dog, people leaving for work, and other timely oddities I have come to know over the course of teaching this course for the past 6 years. Alicia is a great light writer so for her group she usually writes some words to demonstrate how this technique works...granted, it's probably much easier if the other instructor isn't yelling letters at you while you try to concentrate...OOPS! ☺
This is a great stop and the class really came away with some nice work on their cameras...while some of these shots might be considered "classic" or "typical" it's important for people to practice learning so that they know what to do when they head out on their own...and try to get fancy...the basics are always the same and cementing those into your brain will help you get those crazy shots down the road.
Our hands and ears were a bit chilled after Lombard, so it was off to North Beach to get a cup of coffee and a snack to tide us over on our last stop...The Bay Bridge. For a long time we were concerned that the America's Cup race was going to remove the old pier pilings from this location and we would be stuck trying to find an alternative location...but thankfully they left them in...we like to think that due to the popularity of this spot for photography, they had no choice.
This shot is so iconic and popular it's one of the main reasons folks come to this class...they see the shot on the website, and in the gallery, and want to learn how to do it...and we're happy to oblige!
We spread the class out here, and by now they are mostly comfortable with the aperture and shutter speed terminology and how we use them in night photography. This location becomes about composition and white balance a great deal. The cooler tones prevalent in this scene often make people want to set their white balances to a warmer setting, like Shade or cloudy...but artificial lights like this are VERY warm, and setting the white balance in the cloudy area will yield shots that are super yellow and gross...we really push the WB all the way to the opposite end of the spectrum, and use a Kelvin of around 2800 (lower than even the fluorescent setting on your camera) This is also a good time to re-teach the importance of RAW vs. Jpeg. RAW shooters will have better color control when they work on the image in post-processing than those who shoot in jpeg.
Lots to learn for sure! The nice part is seeing it all applied in the shots on the student cameras. They really did well. Alicia and I had a blast, and we look forward to them sharing some of their finished pieces with us down the road.
Until next time,
Brian, Alicia, 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.)